Thursday, 10 February 2022
Aberdeen Reservoir Military Structures
PB at the dam at Aberdeen Upper Reservoir
During the Battle for Hong Kong 'C' Coy Winnipeg Grenadiers had their Company HQ situated near the Upper Reservoir. There are still a number of war ruins to be seen around the area of the reservoir. A metal road (closed to vehicles), Aberdeen Reservoir Road, leads from Wan Chai Gap to the Aberdeen Upper Reservoir. The Winnipeg Grenadiers (WG) Battalion HQ was located at Wan Chai Gap. As you approach the Upper Reservoir from Wan Chai Gap a road on the right-hand side leads off to the Lower Reservoir and from there to Aberdeen. The naval dockyard was operated from Aberdeen and the main naval base had relocated from Victoria and occupied the former Aberdeen Industrial School (AIS). To the south and overlooking the Upper Reservoir was the hill feature known as Bennet's Hill. Aberdeen and the vital naval facilities were immediately south of this hill feature.
Aberdeen Upper and Lower Reservoirs
The inverted sketch map (south-up) shows the positions of the remains war rains in 'C' Coy WG area around the Upper Reservoir and Bennet's Hill.
Inverted sketch map showing the dam and the position of war structures
'C' Coy was commanded by thirty-four year old Major John Albert Bailie.
The officers and senior ranks comprised:
Major John Bailie
Captain Edward Walker
Lt Railton Campbell
Lt William Nugent
2/Lt John Parks
CSM Frank Logan
CQMS William Pigott
C Coy's area was important because of the reservoirs supplying drinking water to the Island and because of the proximity to the Aberdeen naval facilities. 'B' Coy WG were positioned around Po Fu Lam Reservoir for the same reason. 'A' Coy was at Shouson hill before being destroyed at Jardines Lookout and Stanley Gap on 19 December. 'D' Coy were positioned at Wong Nai Chung (WNC) Gap and were pinned down at their company HQ opposite West Brigade HQ from 19 to 22 December.
Sgt Leo Berard, No. 12 Platoon Sgt from 'C' Coy recalled seeing one of the privates put his rifle muzzle under his chin, press the trigger and take his own life. Berard does not state the date but presumably it was after the Japanese landings on the Island. Berard commented that "the stress and anxiety caused by our position and the fear of capture by the Japanese were more than some of the men could tolerate". (See Note 1)
Line of Gaps PB between Wan Chai Gap and Aberdeen Upper Reservoir
Water tank near 'C' Coy HQ
I assume the structure shown above is a water tank. There is a similar one at Stanley Gap. After passing the water tower there is a set of two (now bricked up) Type 'A' splinter proof shelters with cement globule cladding for camouflage.
Set of two splinter-proof shelters on Aberdeen Reservoir Road
This collection of five adjoining splinter-proofs were most likely used as 'C' Coy HQ
A set of two splinter-proof shelters at the road junction (Upper Reservoir and Lower Reservoir Roads)
The same set of two shelters at the road junction (just after Coy HQ)
The roof of the PB at the Northern end of the dam
The dam (sometimes referred to as the bridge) from north to south with Bennet's Hill in the background
Flt Lt Donald Hill was in charge of a party of RAF personnel based at the Aberdeen Industrial School (AIS) which had been commandeered by the Royal Navy. On 13 December, he was ordered to set up anti-aircraft light machine-guns (AALMG) on Bennet's Hill and on a nearby hill referred to as Reservoir Hill. From 15 December. Donald Hill and the RAF personnel were ordered to report to Major Bailie commanding 'C' Coy WG. After the Japanese landings naval parties (mainly HKRNVR) also joined 'C' Coy.
'C' Coy had three platoons, 10, 11 and 12. Each Platoon HQ was linked by telephone to C Coy HQ. After the inclusion of the airmen and naval personnel and other assorted personnel, Sgt Leo Berard described how his platoon (No. 12 Platoon) which he commanded in the absence of a subaltern (Lt Parks had bee reallocated) totalled sixty-eight men. This was twice the normal size of a platoon. A lot of weapons training, including use of grenades and mortars had to be carried out after the battle had begun. On one occasion, Pte Ralph Forsberg, while on sentry duty, noticed a small boulder that had not been there before. Berard ordered him to take a shot at it. It turned out to be a Japanese sniper under a groundsheet resting on his heels and silently observing the company positions disguised as a rock. (2)
Donald Hill write in his diary for 19 December that Lt Campbell was ordered to take a platoon from 'C' Coy to join a counter attack on WNC Gap. The Upper Reservoir, Bennet's Hill and AIS were heavily shelled, mortared and bombed but the main attack came on 24/25 December. On 24 December Hill and other members of 'C' Coy WG are positioned to guard the dam over the Upper Reservoir (shown above). Hill wrote in his diary for 24 December: "My party consists of twelve Canadians and ten RAF. Up to midnight (24 Dec) all is quiet. Soon after midnight heavy firing starts just across the bridge. The Japs' (sic) weird war-cry is plainly heard, and soon a small party of Canadians retire over the bridge [from the north side]. They report a heavy attack by Japs who crept up on them and broke through. We open up with everything we have across the bridge. ........ The Japs start shelling us and confusion sets in, and the men start leaving their posts. (3)
Hill describes how Major Bailie came down the road to their position waving his revolver and shouting at the men who had left their posts to return to their positions. Hill described how some of the troops obeyed but others did not. Bailie tried to rally and cajole the men and called for volunteers to cross the dam with him. He set out across the bridge on his own, at first nobody, other than Hill, followed. The Japanese had moved away from the dam, and the two men reached the northern end of the dam without injury. They must have then withdrawn to the southern end of the dam. Hill describes how a mortar was set up but the first bomb fired hit the branches of an overhanging tree and exploded causing severe injuries to some of the crew. The operator lost an arm and another soldier had serious leg injuries. An ambulance eventually arrived from Aberdeen to take the injured to AIS. Hill described the chaotic situation at the Upper Reservoir. Discipline had broken down. At one stage Lt Campbell and 2/Lt Parks threatened to arrest Major Bailie who in turn threatened to arrest his men.
The next day, Christmas Day, there was a truce during the morning and the surrender took place in the afternoon. The battle was over - these war structures remain around the reservoir. These days, when I cross that dam I think of Major Bailie charging across - trying to lead by example - and Flt Lt Hill close behind. I can imagine the war cries of the Japanese and the night sky lit up by tracer rounds and explosives ..............and the fear.
1. Page 75 of 17 Days until Christmas (1997) Leo Berard
2. Page 82 of 17 Days until Christmas (1997) Leo Berard
3. Pages 267-268 The Code of Love (2000) Andro Linklater