Thursday 12 October 2023

The tragic loss of the submarine HMS Thetis

The submarine HMS Thetis was built by Cammell Laird at Birkenhead. She was laid down in December 1936 and launched in June 1938. A year later, in June 1939, three months before war began, she sank during sea trials in Liverpool Bay with ninety-nine fatalities. She was salvaged, repaired and renamed HMS Thunderbolt and commissioned in October 1940. She entered war service with considerable success but was sunk, for the second  time, in March 1943 with the loss of all hands. 

The accidental sinking of HMS Thetis in 1939 was, and remains, the worst peacetime loss of a submarine in British naval history. Thetis was carrying it's naval crew, other naval officials and a number of Cammell Laird personnel. The submarine carried a total of 103 men on that fateful day and only four survived. The submarine had an estimated thirty-six hours of breathable air but this was reduced by a half because of the number of personnel onboard - double its normal complement. The sinking was not without it's share of controversy. Did the Admiralty do all that they could to save the crew and official passengers as opposed to just saving the submarine? Why did she sink and why did so few survive?


HMS Thetis beached on Anglesea after salvage (Photo Source: Facebook)

The 'T' Class Submarines

Thetis was a T-class submarine and one of the first of the class to be built. Fifty-three of these diesel-electric submarines were built before and during the Second World War. They were designed to replace the older 'O', 'P' and 'R' class of submarines.  They had a surface displacement of 1,290 tons, a length of just over 276 feet and a beam of just over 25 feet. Their top speed was 15.5 knots while surfaced and 9 knots when submerged. They carried a normal complement of 48 to 53 men. They carried sixteen torpedoes which could be fired through six forward torpedo tubes. In addition, they were equipped with a 4-inch quick firing deck gun. 

The Accident

On 1 June, 1939, the submarine, commanded by Lt Commander Guy ('Sam') Bolus, was undertaking sea trials in the Irish Sea before final acceptance procedures. Thetis was accompanied by the tug Grebe Cock. The tug's skipper was Alfred Godfrey. The tug was to standby and render any assistance necessary. On board the tug were two RN personnel, Lt Coltart and Leading Tel Crosby. At 1340, Lt Commander Bolus sent a signal to HMS Dolphin, the headquarters of the submarine service at Gosport. The signal gave his position in latitude and longitude and advised that he was about to dive the submarine. He used a megaphone to advise the skipper and the two naval men on the tug that they were about to dive. Some of the passengers and officials may have normally been expected to  transfer to the attending tug. However, nobody left the submarine because they all wanted to experience the dive. Lt-Commander Bolus must have assented but this meant he had double the normal complement and they were operating in a confined space. 

Thetis prepared to dive, her tanks were flooded, but she was not diving bow-first and was submerging very slowly. Something was wrong. Checks were carried out including checks to the torpedo tubes. The accident occurred when the inner door on one of the torpedo tubes was opened while the outer one was also open. The sea came rushing in and the forward two compartments were flooded. The weight of water in the forward compartments caused the boat to go into a steep dive in shallow water hitting the soft muddy seabed nose-first. They were unable to blow the main tanks and resurface. The sinking occurred at around 1500 hours. 

The men on the tug realised something was wrong because she was meant to have settled at periscope depth and released smoke flares. The tug failed to anchor at the point where the submarine sank and drifted some four miles from the stricken submarine. Some reports suggest it was too deep for the tug to anchor. The water had a depth of 150 feet at this location, whereas the submarine was more than 270 feet long. It was relatively shallow water. The submarine was unable to send radio messages whilst submerged. Accordingly Lt Coltart on the tug sent a message on the radio but because of the short range of the ship-to-shore radio it had to be relayed through a telegraph office ashore. The message did not reach HMS Dolphin until 1815 hours. A search was put into effect. The destroyer HMS Brazen was nearest and was one of the first ships on the scene.

The inner torpedo tube door had been opened by Lt Frederick Woods, the torpedo officer. A test cock on the inner torpedo tube doors should have alerted him to the presence of water in the tube, but the test cocks were not functioning properly as the test cock apertures had been painted over and blocked by dried paint. When opening the cock only a trickle of water came out and so Woods thought it was safe to open the torpedo tube door. As the water gushed in, Woods and another crew member attempted to shut the door but they were unable to close it against the torrent of water. The most forward watertight compartment was evacuated but the bulkhead door could not be closed and as a result both the forward two watertight compartments were flooded causing the submarine to sink bow-first.

It soon became evident that the crew and passengers may have to escape from the submarine by way of one of two emergency escape hatches. The next morning some of the fuel and the fresh water was pumped out in the hope of getting the boat to rise. However, only the stern lifted with part of the stern section sticking out above the surface level. After dawn, the rear section of the submarine was spotted in the daylight and the rescue vessels converged on the location. 

Two of the naval officers, Captain Harry Oram, not part of the crew, and Lieutenant Frederick Woods, the torpedo officer, were able to escape and reach the surface. They were picked up by boats from HMS Brazen which had just located the stricken submarine. Captain Oram was commander of the 5th Submarine Flotilla which Thetis would have joined. He and Woods volunteered to try and escape through the hatch. It was a dangerous task and few of the crew let alone the passengers had experience of using the Davis Submerged Escape Apparatus. This consisted of a nose clip, goggles and an oxygen breathing facility. The men would then enter the escape hatch, seal the door to the submarine, flood the escape chamber, and finally open the door in the hull and then ascend to the surface. Lt Cdr Bolus then ordered a second escape with four men. The more men that could escape the longer the breathable air would last. One of the four men is said to have panicked and opened the outer door too early and had damaged the hatch door. They were dragged out but three of them had drowned. A further escape effort was made by Leading Stoker Walter Arnold and Frank Shaw, a civilian, from Cammell Laird. They successfully escaped and were the last to do so. It is thought a further escape was made but something went wrong resulting in flooding. Th is caused the submarine to sink to the seabed snapping the hawsers that had been tied to the exposed stern. Only the four men referred to managed to escape from the submarine. The rest, ninety-nine men, died from carbon dioxide poisoning or drowning. Those who lost their lives included fifty-one crew members,  twenty-six Cammell Laird staff, seven officials from the Admiralty, four from Vickers-Armstrong, two caterers and a Mersey harbour pilot.

HMS Thunderbolt

After HMS Thetis had been salvaged and repaired and after completing sea trials she was commissioned in 1940 as HMS Thunderbolt under the command of Lt-Cdr Crouch. Lt Stevens was apppointed First Lieutenant. She saw service in the Atlantic and in December 1940 sank the Italian submarine Capitano Tarantini.  In 1942, she was equipped with two 'chariots'. These were manned torpedoes for use against enemy ships in harbour. She and her sister submarine, HMS Trooper, wee dispatched to the Mediterranean. Their first mission was unsuccessful and Trooper was  sunk. A further operation took place at Palermo in January 1943. Thunderbolt's chariots sunk an Italian light cruiser and a freighter. However, two months later, in March 1943, Thunderbolt was depth-charged by the Italian corvette Cicogna. She sank - there were no survivors.

HMS Thunderbolt (ex-Thetis)

HMS Thunderbolt returning from a successful war patrol 


It was a shocking tragedy, with great loss of life that occurred in the few months before the outbreak of the Second World War. There was controversy and there were suggestions of a cover up or a white-wash by the Admiralty. There were questions raised as to why the exposed rear section could not have been cut open in the period while the rear section was above the surface and before the submarine finally sank. Some felt that the Admiralty was reluctant to damage the hull in this way because they wanted to salvage the submarine - even at the risk to the lives of the men trapped aboard. War was looming and the Royal Navy needed more submarines. There were questions raised as to why it took so long to find the sunken submarine and as to why the hawsers around the after section had been insufficient to prevent the submarine from sinking to the seabed. 

The remains of the ninety-nine men who lost their lives were extracted from the salvaged submarine and buried at Hollyhead on the Island of Anglesea.  

Further Reading

HMS Thetis Secrets & Scandal (1999) David Roberts

Thetis Down - The Slow Death of a Submarine (2008) Tony Booth

Thetis Submarine Disaster (2014) David Paul 

Thetis - The Admiralty Regrets (2018) C. Warren & J Benson

Sunday 9 July 2023

Lt Ralph Shrigley, HKVDC, who took his own life while under interrogation and torture

Ralph James Shrigley was born in Scotland in 1898. During the First World War, he served with the 2nd Bn Royal Scots Fusiliers. He must have been wounded in action because his army service records indicate "GSW" or gun shot wound (to abdomen). He was discharged from the army in January 1919 a couple of months after the war ended. I believe he enlisted in 1917. As a matter of interest, Winston Churchill also served with the Royal Scots Fusiliers.

Ralph Shrigley (sourced from Facebook Battle of HK Page)

At the age of thirty, Ralph married Janette Agnes Whyte Howard (nee Brown) in Glasgow in 1928. Janette was known as "Nessie".  Her first name is variously spelt in documents as Jeanette or Janette. 

In October 1932, the couple are shown on the ship's manifest as passengers on the P&O liner Strathnaver. Their country of intended future residence was given as India and they disembarked at Bombay. I assume they worked in India for some years and at some point relocated to Hong Kong. Ralph was employed by Reiss Bradley. In 1936 Reiss Massey acquired Bradley & Co. These were two long established British trading companies focused on the UK-China trade. It was a well known corporation before the war. After the war they were acquired by Hutchison. 

Ralph and Janette were in Hong Kong when the Japanese invaded the territory when the Pacific War began in December 1941. Compulsory service was introduced in 1939 and Ralph Shrigley joined the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps (HKVDC). Perhaps in view of his previous war service he was commissioned and held the rank of Lieutenant at the outbreak of war. Assuming Janette was in Hong Kong in June 1940 she forewent the compulsory evacuation of British women and children. Nurses and government employees were amongst those that were exempted. Janette had enrolled as a nurse in the Auxiliary Nursing Service (ANS) who during war time were assigned to civilian hospitals rather than military hospitals. 

After the Christmas Day surrender, Ralph Shrigley was interned at Shamshuipo (SSP) POW camp and Janette was interned at Stanley Civilian Internment Camp. Ralph was later transferred to Argyle Street Camp in April 1942 when it became designated as an officers camp. Later he was moved back to SSP Camp.  Ralph and Janette were not to see each other again because Ralph took his own life while under interrogation by torture at Victoria Gaol in June 1944. 

Information on Ralph Shrigley is limited, for example what was his role with the HKVDC and what unit of the corps did he belong to. I suspect he served in Corps HQ in Garden Road. He is credited with burying the regimental colours of the HKVDC at the time of the surrender somewhere between  Corps HQ and HQ China Command (the Battle Box). These were not retrieved after the war as only Ralph Shrigley knew the exact whereabouts. What was left of them was reportedly discovered during construction of the US Consulate in the late 1950s. The colours had disintegrated and only the flag poles survived.

Some accounts suggest the Japanese tortured him to force him to reveal the location of the colours. Perhaps that is right but I think this is unlikely. The Japanese most probably had no idea that the Volunteer's colours had been buried. Furthermore in 1944 when Shrigley was killed, they probably had little interest in retrieving them. They had beaten the British, and occupied the territory and they were more likely to be interested in what he knew of escape plans or communication with outside agents. BQMS Charles Barman, RA, wrote in Resist to the End (2009) that 'Colonel Mitchell, HKVDC, and Lt Shrigley were taken out of SSP camp by the Japanese authorities on 20 June 1944.  Barman writes that they were returned in the evening.  He added that those that returned from interrogation came back in a very poor physical state, and that some of those taken out of camp did not return at all. 

At war crimes trials held after the war, in January 1947, Lai Chung-yiu gave testimony (1) to the court concerning the interrogation, torture and subsequent suicide of Lt Shrigley. Lai had been charged with espionage and was being held at Victoria Gaol. Lai had been forced to act as an interpreter translating  from English to Chinese during the interrogation. The Formosan interpreter presumably translated from Chinese to Japanese. Lai witnessed the interrogation of Lt Shrigley on two separate occasions. He also witnessed his death on 28 June 1944. The principal interrogator was a Japanese gendarme by the name of Ushigai. On the first occasion (20 June 1944) Lt Shrigley was subjected to the water torture and beatings with a leather strap. This went on all afternoon. Lai testified that he saw Shrigley a second time about a week later (28 June 1944).


Q. I want you to tell me what happened on this (second) occasion?

A. When the gendarme asked him (Lt Shrigley) questions he still refused to answer - then he was given the water torture again.

Q. How long did it last, this water torture?

A. That day, the whole morning.

Q. What was Shrigley's condition at the end of the interrogation?

A. Very weak

Q. Did you have any conversation with him ?

A. On the way to his cell

Q. What did he say?

A. He said he could not bear such torture, he would die.

Q. Did you see Shrigley again?

A. After that time, no, until he committed suicide and jumped down from the third floor of his cell (block).

Q. Tell me what you can of his suicide..........?

A. After this last interrogation he walked back to his cell, his condition was very poor, he could not walk very well.

Lai was asked when he committed suicide and replied 'on a Sunday morning'. However 28 June is reported as the date of death but that was a Wednesday. Lai mentioned that he committed suicide the morning after the last torture session. 

Q. Tell me what you know about that suicide the next morning.

A. That morning about 10 o'clock I heard the sound of a dull thud ......I then peeped out from my cell and I saw a man lying on the floor. The Formosan interpreter (who had assisted Ushigai in administering the water torture) came to my cell and opened my door and asked me to come out, then he told me to take a last statement from the deceased (Shrigley) but at that time Shrigley was unconscious. They then shifted his body to the open yard and asked Dr Ramler to save his life.

Doctor Siegfried Ramler was an un-interned third national who was later arrested by the Japanese and held at Victoria Gaol which was alongside the Central Police Station. He provided medical attention to both prisoners and gendarmes. He gave evidence at war crimes trials about the use of torture at Victoria Gaol. He stayed in Hong Kong after the war and became a popular and successful practitioner. Lai stated that Dr Ramler gave Lt Shrigley an injection but it was already too late. A Japanese doctor arrived later and officially declared Lt Shrigley to be dead. The Gendarmerie must have felt cheated - no longer able to extract information under torture. Lai states in his testimony that one of the gendarmes kicked the motionless body and said in Japanese bakayaro, a disparaging insult.

POW records (2) indicate he was buried at the POW cemetery alongside Argyle Street POW Camp. His remains were exhumed after the war and reburied at Stanley Military Cemetery in May 1947. 

It is not clear when Janette Shrigley, interned at Stanley Camp, first heard of her husband's death. She was billeted in Block 13, known as the Indian Quarters. The block still remains and is still used to house the families of prison officers (now called Correctional Services Staff). 

The Indian Quarters - Blocks 12- 18 (just after the war)

She shared a room (Room 87) with Alice Campbell, Clementine Cock and Dorothy Piercy. They were each married to members of the HKVDC who were held  in the military POW camps. The three other wives were more fortunate in that their husbands survived the battle and the subsequent incarceration. After the Japanese capitulation, Janet was repatriated on the Empress of Australia and arrived at Liverpool in October 1945. She passed away in Scotland in July 1977 aged 79. 

I went down to Stanley Military Cemetery one summer afternoon to take a photo of his grave and to remember him and what he endured. He suffered so much from the torture and beating that he would rather die than live. He cheated his interrogators and as far as we know he did not talk. Whatever secrets they were after - he took to his untimely grave. His grave lies well tended in the peaceful cemetery so well maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Janette's message inscribed on the memorial stone bears the poignant message:

In remembrance

of my dear husband

so sadly missed


(1)    UK National Archives File No WO 235/999

(2)    Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Tuesday 18 April 2023

Henry Jemson Tebbutt

I first saw the name Henry Tebbutt in the The Hidden Years (1967) by John Luff.  One of the houses on Repulse Bay Road is captured in a sketch map on page 98 of this book and is described as Tebbutt's House. In those pre-war days, as depicted in the sketch map houses were often known by their owner's name. In the map we see Danby's House and Compton's House. Two of the villas, Altamira and Holmesdale are still extant, although now respectively referred to as Estrellita and No 4 Repulse Bay Road. Beautiful pre-war villas like Postbridge and Twin Brooks have been replaced by high-rise apartment blocks but some still retain the old names of the villa that once stood on the plot. As for Tebbutt's house, it was close to the road junction at Repulse Bay Road/Island Road. It may have been near the site of present day Pine Crest or Manhattan Tower. Here's the sketch map from that classic book on the  Battle of Hong Kong. 

Repulse Bay Road (Source: The Hidden Years (1967) by John Luff

Henry Jemson Tebbutt was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on 4 July 1893. During the First World War, he served in the British infantry and was commissioned as a lieutenant in 1917 in the Royal Fusiliers. At some point he qualified as an architect in UK. There is a record of him sailing from UK to Shanghai on the SS  Somali. Another shipping record shows him travelling from UK and bound for Hong Kong in October 1925 aboard the SS City of Cairo. This ship that carried him to Hong Kong was torpedoed and sunk in the South Atlantic in November 1942. At the time, the ship was carrying nearly 300 passengers and crew including a number of  women and children. The survivors took to the overcrowded life boats. They were nearly 2,000 miles from Brazil and 500 miles from the nearest land - the Island of St Helena. The German commander of the U-boat surfaced and gave the survivors a course to steer and before departing, he said "Goodnight and sorry for sinking you" ................but that is another story and the subject of a book by Ralph Barker.

In Hong Kong he was employed firstly by the well known Hong Kong architect firm Palmer & Turner and later by Davies, Brook & Gran a Shanghai based firm of architects. He married Elizabeth (Betty) Ada Hindmarsh in November 1932 at Muswell Hill in North London. She was, 22 years old,  seventeen years his junior. They returned together to Hong Kong.

He joined the HKVDC in the rank of lieutenant based on his wartime service in the First World War.  Betty joined the Nursing Detachment of the HKVDC and served as a volunteer military nurse during the battle. She may have served at both the Military Hospital at Bowen Road and the Temporary Military Hospital at St Albert's, Rosary Hill. After the battle she was interned at Stanley Camp. She was billeted in Block A3 which was part of the American Quarters and would have moved there after the Americans were repatriated in July 1942.  She shared a room with Philip and Joan Witham and their infant child and another married couple John and Emile Richardson. Henry Tebbutt was incarcerated at SSP Camp.

Tebbutt's POW Card from SSP Camp ( 

The POW card shows 'next of kin' as Mrs E. A. Tebbutt and gives an address as c/o St Albert's Hospital, Rosary Hill. After liberation Henry Tebbutt was repatriated to UK on the SS Highland Monarch which docked at Southampton in November 1945. Shipping records on show him returning to Hong Kong alone in 1946 on the SS Otranto with a number of other returnees. The marriage seems not to have survived their respective internment in Japanese prison camps. Betty appears to have remarried after the war to Richard McCaffery an American working for the Foreign Service. They moved to Malaga in the South of Spain. She died there in 1984 and he (McCaffery) in 1988. They were buried at the English Cemetery in Malaga. There were no known children in either Betty's first or second marriage. 

There is little information about the Tebbutt family, no photographs, no detailed record of service in the HKVDC, just a few miscellaneous records and passenger manifests and a sketch map and what first caught my attention..........a house called Tebbutt's House on Repulse Bay Road.  



Desmond Hindmarsh:

Betty Tebbutt's brother Desmond Ernest Hindmarsh was also in Hong Kong before and during the war. He served in the HKRNVR. He was the commanding officer of HMS Indira (an auxiliary patrol vessel).  It is possible that  Henry Tebbutt met Betty in Hong Kong although marrying in North London. Desmond Hindmarsh died in Hong Kong in 1951. 

Tebbutt was incarcerated in the following prison camps:

North Point  29 Dec  1941 to 23 Jan 1942

Sham Shui Po 23 Jan 1942 to 18 April 1942

Argyle Street 18 April 1942 to 4 May 1944

Sham Shui Po 4 May 1944 to 4 Sept 1945

Wednesday 29 March 2023

Robert & Marjorie Grindley

I received an email at home in Stanley, Hong Kong, from Peter West, the Museum Manager at the Eastchurch Aviation Museum located on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. He described how a set of medals awarded to one Robert John Vaughan Grindley had been passed to the museum. I immediately recognised the name and was able to confirm that Robert Grindley had been a prison officer in Hong Kong and had served in the Stanley Platoon of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps (HKVDC). 

During the battle in December 1941, he had taken part in the close quarter fighting in and around Stanley Village and the road approaching the prison. He and his wife, Marjorie Betsy (Betty) Grindley, a volunteer nurse, were interned at Stanley Civilian Internment Camp (a Japanese run prison camp) from January 1942 until the Japanese surrender in August 1945. In the mid-1950s they retired and settled in Minster, on the Isle of Sheppey. It seems firstly at 110, Wards Hill Road, the address was given on a 1951 and 1954 passenger manifest, and later at No. 2 Seaside Avenue which connects with Wards Hill Road. The medals were found in a faded brown envelope in the attic of a bungalow named 'Tintagel' in nearby Whitethorn Gardens in 2018. The medals were recently passed to the museum who were interested in identifying whether there were any direct descendants, children or grandchildren to whom they could pass the medals, otherwise the museum will continue to look after them. 

The War Medals - courtesy Peter West (Eastchurch Aviation Museum)

The medals from left to right consist of:

1939-1945 Star, 

the Pacific Star,

the Defence Medal

1939 - 1945 War Medal

Hong Kong Efficiency Medal 

The two star-medals have Robert Grindley's name engraved on the reverse and the other three medals have his name engraved on the rim. This is unusual as WW2 campaign medals issued to members of the British forces were not named (engraved or impressed). Peter Weedon, a war medal enthusiast, advised me that some recipients of such medals had their names privately engraved. Apparently Boots, the high street store, offered this engraving service at that time. It was only because these medals had been engraved that they could be  linked to their original owner. Peter Weedon advised that the Efficiency Medal is quite rare as only 224 were issued with the Hong Kong clasp. 

The reverse of the medals - courtesy Peter West (Eastchurch Aviation Museum)

So who were Robert and Marjorie Grindley. We know a bit more about Marjorie because in 1980, six years after her husband's death she recorded an oral history interview for the Imperial War Museum (IWM) about her wartime experiences during the battle and her recollections of life at Stanley Internment Camp. 

Robert John Vaughan Grindley was born 9 December 1904 in Coventry. He shared the same name as his father who was born in 1877 and died in 1968. At the age of 16, in 1920, he joined the Royal Navy. His service record shows a history of good conduct and details the warships he served on. He discharged himself, by purchase in 1934, while serving on HMS Tamar the base ship in Hong Kong. He then joined the Hong Kong Prison Service.  Many of the European prison officers in Hong Kong were ex-servicemen like Robert.

Marjorie Grindley (I have not yet discovered her maiden name) was born in March 1917 in Luton a suburb of Chatham. She was brought up in Gillingham. In 1922, aged five, she went to Hong Kong for a period of 3 years while her father, a civilian working for the Admiralty, was assigned to the colony. Marjorie and her family returned to Gillingham in or about 1925. After leaving school, she went to secretarial college and after graduating worked for a firm of solicitors. In 1936, her father was assigned again to Hong Kong for a second stint.  Marjorie, eighteen years old at the time went with him, although reluctantly as it meant leaving her boyfriend in England. She quickly got a job as a stenographer working for the Hong Kong Government. As a government employee, she was exempt from the compulsory evacuation of British women and children that took place in June/July 1940. She enrolled as a volunteer nurse in the Auxiliary Nursing Service (ANS). She lived in Gap Road and enjoyed the better life style of an expatriate in Hong Kong compared to life in the UK at that time. They had a Chinese servant and enjoyed the vibrant social life that Hong Kong provided and as a single lady she had ample invitations to dances and other social events. 

Romance returned and she married, the former Royal Navy sailor, Robert Grindley. I have not been able to establish the date of their wedding but it must have been between 1937 and 1940 in Hong Kong. Robert was thirteen years older than Marjorie. There is no record of there being any children from their marriage. After their wedding she and Robert moved into the European Married Quarters (EMQ) in the Stanley Prison compound. Her parents returned to UK before the outbreak of war in Hong Kong. Robert, along with most of his colleagues joined the Stanley Platoon of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corp (HKVDC). The HKVDC was a militia made up of civilians including British, Portuguese, Chinese, Russian and many other nationalities. The Stanley Platoon was made up of prison officers most of whom had military experience. 

During the Battle for Hong Kong, Robert was fighting around Stanley Village and the road leading to the prison. Marjorie described in the IWM interview how he and Captain Chatty were at the Prison Officers Club 'picking off the Japanese as they came down the road'. Chatty was the former adjutant of the 1st Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment. He had been serving a prison sentence at Stanley having been found guilty of sexual assault on a Chinese youth in King's Park Kowloon after a night of heavy drinking and opium taking. He had been released on the outbreak of war and had fought gallantly having been restored to the rank of temporary captain. Marjorie was still living in their flat at the EMQ and working as an ANS nurse at the temporary hospital known as Tweed Bay. Before the war, the hospital had been used to accommodate Indian single prison officers who had dormitory style accommodation. The former accommodation block converted to a hospital was originally designed for civilian  casualties but as the fighting drew closer to Stanley the casualties were mainly military. There were three hospitals at Stanley. The temporary military hospital at St Stephen's College, the temporary civilian hospital at Tweed Bay and the purpose built, albeit small, hospital in the Prison. As the flats were increasingly machine gunned and hit by artillery fire, Marjory moved into the hospital at Tweed Bay with another lady and her baby who had been billeted in her flat at the EMQ. At the hospital, Marjory recalled the number of amputations being carried out by Dr Hackett, the Prison Doctor. She also described the burials with the graves being hastily dug by Cannon Martin, the Headmaster of the adjacent St Stephen's College.

After the battle ended, during the evening on Christmas Day, Robert and Marjorie were allowed to move back into the prison along with most of the Stanley Platoon. It is not clear whether they were already wearing their wardens uniforms or whether they were in military uniform. If the latter they no doubt made a quick change into their prison officers uniforms. In late January they were moved from the prison to Stanley Internment Camp. The camp consisted of the grounds and buildings at St Stephen's College and the prison compound (except the actual prison itself which the Japanese continued to use). The prison officers accommodation blocks were used as part of the internment camp. The camp housed some 3,000 British, American and Dutch civilians. 

Robert and Marjorie were initially billeted in the Indian Quarters (IQ). These red-brick blocks (shown in the background of the photograph below) originally accommodated married Indian prison wardens and their families. Robert and Marjorie shared a small flat with nine internees, four in one room and five in the other room.  At the beginning they slept on the concrete floor. The only bedding was the blankets they had brought in from the prison. One of her room-mates a married prison officer stole tinned food that Marjory had kept in a suitcase. She never spoke to him again. After the Americans were repatriated in July 1942 as part of a civilian prisoner exchange, Robert and Marjory, were re-billeted at the Prison Officer's Club. Finally they had a room to themselves and eventually obtained a mattress.  Most internees suffered from malnutrition as a result of the poor diet and diseases like beri-beri and dysentery were common. 

The Prison Officer's Club, the IQ in the background and the Dutch Block to the left

A the end of the war, Marjorie was repatriated first. She recalled being taken on an aircraft carrier to Colombo and then by passenger ship to UK. Robert stayed on to help re-establish the prison and returned later to the UK. After repatriation leave they returned to Hong Kong and Robert resumed his career in the prison service, now called Correctional Services. 

They retired in the mid-1950s to Minster, near the sea, in the Isle of Sheppey. Robert died at the still young age of sixty-nine in 1974. Marjorie lived on for a further forty years, until 2014, when she died at the grand old age of 96. As far as I can tell she continued to live in Seaside Avenue with its bungalows and neat gardens. From her garden gate you can see the sea. How the medals ended up at Whitethorn Gardens is still a mystery. Perhaps given to someone by Marjorie. The important thing is that the medals have been found and identified. They tell the story of one man's service in the Royal Navy, his career as a prison officer in Hong Kong, his marriage to Marjorie, the close quarter fighting during the battle for Hong Kong and the hardship they both endured during internment; and then finally a peaceful retirement near the sea at Minster where they could reflect with equanimity on days gone by.


Peter West

Peter Weedon

Eastchurch Aviation Museum

Imperial War Museum (Sound Tape No. 4653). Available on the IWM web site

Sunday 12 March 2023

The Surrender at Singapore

The former Ford Motor Factory at Bukit Timah was the location for the ignominious surrender of British and Commonwealth troops on Sunday 15 February 1942. The British commander was Lt General Arthur Percival, General Officer Commanding (GOC) British troops in Malaya (which included Singapore). The Japanese 25th Army was led by Lt General Tomoyuki Yamashita who became known as the 'Tiger of Malaya'. The surrender was  ignominious because Percival surrendered an army consisting of some 85,000 British, Australian, Indian and Malay troops to a smaller Japanese army of  around 35,000 men. Yamashita's forces had out-manoeuvred and out-fought the British in Malaya. They had moved with great speed through the peninsula towards the all-important goal of Singapore. This was part of the grand plan of the Japanese high command to capture what they called the southern resources area which provided access to rubber, oil and other raw materials in the Dutch East Indies and Malaya. The Japanese army crossed the Johor Straits that separated Malaya from Singapore on 8 February and a week later they captured the bastion of British military strength in the Far East. Singapore had been seen as the 'Gibraltar of the East' impregnable fortress.

Winston Churchill described the defeat and subsequent capitulation as 'the worst disaster and the largest capitulation in British history'. One would have to go back to 1781, to the Battle of Yorktown in the American War of Independence or even to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 to find another such calamitous defeat. The loss of Singapore is sometimes described as a national disgrace and Percival is generally blamed by historians for lack of leadership, and for surrendering rather than fighting on. The British and Commonwealth soldiers that were subsequently incarcerated as POWs in South East Asia suffered terribly and many thousands died during their captivity in Japanese prison camps and labour camps. 

...............but has history been fair to Percival ? or could it be, at least in large part, that he was not given the tools to complete the task. The Japanese had both air and sea superiority. Percival had insufficient aircraft many of which were antiquated and obsolete like the Vickers Vildebeest and the Brewster Buffalo. Some Hawker Hurricanes arrived late in the battle but there were not enough. The Imperial War Museum describes how the Japanese had 600 aircraft and the British  had only 158. The Japanese had 200 tanks whereas the British had twenty-three. Percival had asked for more tanks but none were sent. They were needed elsewhere. He had the manpower but insufficient aircraft, warships and armour. The loss of the battleship, HMS Prince of Wales and the cruiser HMS Repulse was catastrophic. The two capital ships with their escorting destroyers had no air-cover because the aircraft carrier, HMS Indomitable, which should have been part of their task force (Force Z) had run aground in the Caribbean Sea. 

The Former Ford Motor Factory in March 2023

The Ford factory, built in art deco style, was completed and opened in October 1941 just weeks before the war started with Japan on 8 December.  The Japanese used the factory as Battle HQ during the fighting around Bukit Timah, a high point on the island.  Today the factory is a national monument and  home to an excellent museum. 

The factory as it looked at its opening in 1941

The surrender party arrives at the Ford Factory (above) artist rendition (below)

The four British officers were from left to right: Major Cyril Wild, interpreter, bearing the white flag, Deputy Adjutant General, Brigadier Thomas Newbigging, bearing the union flag, Brigadier Kenneth Torrance and Lt General Arthur Percival. The interpreter carrying the white flag (a task no-one wanted) is caught by a Japanese cine camera casting away the white flag with an air of disgust. Brigadier Newbigging appears to admonish him. The surrender formality took place at the factory.

Artist rendition of the surrender negotiation

Signing the surrender at the Ford Factory

Percival had expected an attack on the northeast shoreline rather than the more swampy northwest coast. He put the main component of his defence force in this sector. The Japanese carried out a decoy assault on the NE sector but their main force came ashore and quickly overwhelmed the defenders on the northwest shore. Percival was forced to withdraw his troops and form  a perimeter around the city. When the Japanese captured Bukit Timah, they secured possession of the reservoirs and the water supply. In fact, the Japanese did not turn off the water supply but water shortages were caused by numerous broken water mains resulting from the aerial bombing and artillery bombardment. The moral of some of the defenders was poor. They had been beaten and pushed back through Malaya to Singapore and now their backs were to the sea. The RAF had withdrawn to Sumatra and Java and the Royal Navy had lost its two main surface ships. The Japanese had achieved full control of the skies and the seas. The ammunition for the AA guns and the field guns was close to running out. Moreover the water supply was expected to extinguish within 24 hours. The victorious Japanese  army were at the gates to the city with its large civilian population. Churchill had ordered the Governor and Commander-in-Chief,  Sir Shenton Thomas, and by extension the army commander, Lt General Percival, to fight to the last man. However, Percival realised that there was no longer any useful military advantage to be gained by fighting on. In order to save lives, both civilian and combatants, the time had come to capitulate. He had sought permission from General Archibald Wavell to surrender when he felt the limits of military endurance had been reached. Wavell had encouraged Percival to fight on but on Sunday 15 February he sent a telegram which whilst still exhorting him to continue to resist it gave him the discretion to capitulate once the situation on the ground warranted it.

Ford Factory during the Japanese occupation

Lt General Arthur Percival 

H.E. The Governor Sir Shenton Thomas

Having received Wavell's assent giving Percival the discretion to cease fighting, Percival and his commanders and staff at the Battle Box made the painful decision to surrender the garrison. Percival explained that the choice was either to counter-attack Bukit Timah and recapture the water supplies and food depots - or to capitulate immediately. A successful counter-attack was not deemed feasible. It was clear that the battle had been lost - it boiled down as to whether to surrender now or surrender later.  Later that morning Brigadier Newbigging, a senior staff officer,  Major Cyril Wild as interpreter and Hugh Fraser,  the Colonial Secretary drove out along the Bukit Timah road to Japanese lines to negotiate terms. The Japanese gave the party a large Japanese flag with orders that the flag must be flown from the roof of the Cathay Building, the tallest building in Singapore. The flag should be displayed for at least ten minutes and would signify that Percival had agreed to meet Yamashita that evening at the Ford Factory. The British delegation then returned to Fort Canning with the Japanese demands. 

Percival and the surrender party, drove to the Japanese front line and were then conveyed to Yamashita's HQ at the Ford Factory. They were shown to a meeting room with a conference table. At around 6:45 pm Lt General Yamashita arrived with his staff officers. The Japanese general extended his hand to the British officers. Yamashita opened the negotiation by stating that the Imperial Japanese Army will consider nothing but unconditional surrender. Percival wanted more time to consider and suggested that they respond the following day. Yamashita in a raised voice insisted they accept unconditional surrender there and then and if not the firing would resume that evening. The Japanese General stated that they cannot accept any further British resistance. It must end now.  Percival asked Yamashita not to permit the Japanese Army to enter Singapore city until the following day. He would return to his HQ and give the orders to cease firing and disarm. Yamashita then told Percival that they would need to take into their custody the senior British officers and the Governor as a sign of good faith. Percival appeared shocked. Yamashita continued to berate Percival until at 7:40pm Percival assented to the Japanese demand for unconditional surrender.  He had little choice. He did not know that the Japanese army was smaller than his and that they were over-extended and at the end of their supply line. Had he fought on it would only have delayed the inevitable defeat which had effectively already occurred with the capture of most of Malaya and Singapore and Percival's army pushed back to a defensive ring around the city. It was agreed that the British forces would be notified of the capitulation and all firing would cease by 10 pm. The troops would disarm and a thousand would retain their arms to preserve law and order. Percival  asked only that the Japanese protect the British women, children and civilians caught up in the battle. Yamashita agreed and Percival signed the instrument of surrender.


Percival was imprisoned at Changi until August 1942 when with other senior officers he was moved to Japanese occupied Formosa an later to Manchuria. After release in 1945 he was invited to witness the Japanese surrender in the battleship USS Missouri. He was also invited to attend the surrender of Japanese forces in the Philippines led by Yamashita. Yamashita was tried and found guilty of war crimes. He was sentenced to death by hanging. Percival returned to UK and lived in Hertfordshire with his wife and two children.  He retired from the Army in 1946. He became Lord Lieutenant of the county in 1951. He was President of the Far East POW Association. He died aged seventy-eight in 1966.

Monday 13 February 2023

Archibald and Frances Cook - their story of a family separated by war

In December 1941, forty-three year old Scotsman, Archibald (Archie) Cook was employed as the captain of the Hong Kong-Canton steamer the SS Fatshan. He had been working on the China coast for some twenty years. He was married to Frances, an American from a missionary family who had been born in Shantung and spent much of her life in China. The family lived at Felix Villas near the intersection of Mount Davis Road and Victoria Road on Hong Kong Island. The outbreak of war in the Pacific would see the family split up. The three oldest children, Calvin (14), Luther (13) and Athene (10) were in Chefoo northern China where Frances's mother lived. The three youngest children, Clyde (6), Celene (5) and Van Dyke, still an infant born in 1941, were in Hong Kong. Frances and her three youngest children were interned at Stanley Camp. Archibald Cook had sailed his steamer up to Canton and was there when war began. His vessel was seized and he was placed under house arrest. The family survived the battle and were eventually reunited again in Lourenco Marques in August 1942. Their reunion was all too brief because Archibald Cook, a master mariner, was called back for sea-service in the South Pacific. This was at a time when merchant navy officers were in short supply. This is their story of war and separation on the China Coast against the backdrop of the Pacific War.

SS Fatshan plying the river route from Hong Kong to Canton (Source: Wikipedia)

Captain Archie Cook (Source:

Archie Cook's Story
The sabre rattling and tension between Japan and the West (USA and UK) increased in November/December 1941. In November Canadian reinforcements, consisting of two battalions and a Brigade HQ, arrived in Hong Kong. Brigadier Wallis, commanding the Mainland Infantry Brigade, had his three infantry battalions in their battle positions on the Gin Drinkers Line by mid-November. During Archie Cook's sailings up and down the Pearl River he  had seen the extent of Japanese military and maritime movements. He realised that war was imminent although many in Hong Kong still thought that the Japanese were blustering. After Cook arrived back in Hong Kong from Japanese occupied Canton on 3 December 1941 - he enquired from his employers, China Navigation Company, whether given the increased tension, he should sail as planned for Canton on Saturday 6 December. He was told that the Royal Navy  would decide on commercial sailings in and out of Hong Kong. The Royal Navy movements officer approved the sailing and Cook left his home at Felix Villas early on Saturday 6 December to take the SS Fatshan up river to Canton. As the steamer sailed out of the harbour, passing Mount Davis, he could see his family waving from the verandah at Felix Villas. The next day, Sunday 7 December, a state of emergency was declared in Hong Kong and on Monday morning while the Fatshan was still at Canton the Pacific War began. 

As the ferry approached Japanese controlled waters she passed a Japanese gunboat riding at anchor. The Fatshan, in keeping with maritime practice dipped her ensign and the gunboat returned the salute. The Japanese gunboat then weighed anchor and followed the British vessel up river. At 1100 hours they entered the narrows known as the Boca Tigris Channel (the Mouth of the Tiger). Here, as usual, they embarked a Japanese military harbour-pilot to take them up river to Canton. Further upstream they stopped and anchored for standard quarantine and health checks. On Monday 8 December, Archie Cook was up at the crack of dawn. He noticed a grey naval launch with Japanese marines aboard heading out towards his ship. He guessed that this meant that war had started. In a matter of minutes the launch drew alongside and an officer and a party of marines boarded the vessel.

"I went to meet the boarding party and stop any possible incidents. Our Indian anti-piracy guard of six Sikhs immediately threw a cordon around me. They were willing to give their lives, if necessary, to save me. I motioned them aside and told them not to interfere with the Japanese. The boarding party was led by a Naval Reserve officer, a former Nippon Yusan Kaisha (NYK) Captain of a merchant man." (1)

The Fatshan was taken into Japanese custody and marines were posted as sentries at various points around the vessel. The passengers, mainly Chinese, but with some foreigners, were disembarked.  They were transferred to a barge and taken to Shameen. The Chinese were released and the European passengers including Archie Cook were corralled in the gardens of the British Consulate, registered and assigned to various residences on Shameen Island. Archibald Cook was assigned  to a house with Lytton Bevis Wood, a partner in Deacon & Co, a long established trading company. Wood had been on the ferry from Hong Kong. They were held under house arrest at Lytton Wood's place of residence for a period of four months. In March 1942, all the foreigners (British and American), were ordered to leave their place of residence/business and assemble at the nearby Victoria Hotel which acted as a temporary internment centre. 

In April 1942, a group of fifty British and American civilians were taken on a Japanese coaster to Shanghai to await a repatriation vessel as part of a civilian internee exchange. In May 1942, Archie Cook was repatriated and first went to Shanghai. On 5 August he sailed out of Shanghai on the repatriation ship Tatsuta Maru accompanied by a second repatriation ship, the Kamakura Maru. The Tatsuta Maru had started her voyage at Yokohama on 30 July. In Japan, she took aboard some 60 British internees including Sir Robert Craigie, the former British Ambassador and his diplomatic staff. The passengers included  diplomats from a number of other countries including the Belgian Ambassador and the Australian and Dutch Charge d' Affairs. The two repatriation vessels made port stops at Saigon and Singapore taking on a few more civilian refugees at each port. The two vessels were carrying nearly a thousand repatriates each but they were the lucky ones as most British internees remained in concentration camps until the Japanese capitulation in August/September 1945. The Tatsuta Maru arrived in Lourenco Marques in Portuguese East Africa on 27 August. The British and other repatriates were disembarked and exchanged for Japanese mainly diplomatic repatriates from UK, Australia and India. The British and other non-Japanese repatriates boarded the SS El Nil and the SS Narkunda bound for Liverpool. The Tatsuta Maru left carrying the Japanese internees loaded with 48, 818 Red Cross Parcels for Allied prisoners of war and civilian internees. Some ten days after Archie Cook arrived in Lourenco Marques on the Tatsuta Maru, the SS City of Canterbury arrived from Melbourne carrying Japanese internees  including Kawai Tatsuo the Japanese Ambassador to Australia. The Ambassador carried four small white boxes in which were the remains of crew members of the Japanese midget submarines that were involved  in the attack on Sydney Harbour. 

Archie Cook's family had been separated for some nine months. The three oldest children at boarding school in Chefoo had boarded the Kamakura Maru in Shanghai. Frances and the three youngest children, Clyde, Celene and Van Dyke had been interned at Stanley Camp. They were repatriated with the American nationals from Hong Kong in July 1942 on the Asama Maru. Lytton Wood heard  from a British diplomat at Lourenco Marques that Frances and the three children had arrived several weeks earlier and were still in town. After leaving the ship and heading for the agent's office Archibald ran into Frances and the children on the street. At the shipping agent's office there was a cable from the shipping line in London waiting for Archie and ordering him to take passage to Sydney and report for sea service in the southwest Pacific. 

Frances Cook's Story
Frances recalled that on Saturday morning, 6 December, the family rushed to the verandah to wave to Archie as the SS Fatshan sailed by heading for the Pearl River. It was a beautiful sunny day as the steamer sounded its siren. It had been a hurried good-bye that morning when Archie left home. Frances caught a glimpse of him on the bridge and that was the last they saw of each other  until August 1942 when they were reunited in Portuguese East Africa. Their home at Felix Villas was below Mount Davis with its battery of three 9.2-inch coastal defence guns. The battery became one of the most bombarded locations in Hong Kong. When there was a break in the bombing the two older children would collect the bomb splinters and sometimes the propaganda leaflets dropped by Japanese aircraft. Their neighbour was a French lady by the name of Germaine. Her husband was a doctor who had just passed his medical examinations. The bombing and shelling around Mount Davis eventually forced them to leave and she stayed with her friends Doctor Harry and Mrs Winifred Clift at their home near the university. On 20 December 1941, Frances decided to make a trip to Felix Villas to bring back some of their possessions. Their home was a mess with all the window panes smashed and the floors covered with dirt and debris. When Frances heard of the Christmas Day surrender she could hardly believe it. 

We had been repeatedly told we would not surrender, but fight street by street. We were also told by radio every day that the situation  remained unchanged. The power station was latterly put out of action. There were no telephones or radios, but the news sheet was still printed and the news here was the same. The following day we saw the Japanese flag  flying from the Peak.

An old sea captain who returned to his home at Felix Villas told me in the internment camp... that at first  he had managed to live without much interference but later armed Chinese  looters came in hordes and he was forced to leave his home to them.

Our neighbour Germaine returned on December 26 and later her body was found on the road and taken to hospital for identification. Her husband, who had just passed  his final medical examinations in December, was killed at his post. Whether either knew the other was dead I do not know. They had been married about a year. (2)
On Monday 5 January 1942, all 'enemy nationals' were instructed to report for registration and internment at Murray Parade Ground. They were initially interned in various short stay hotels and boarding houses.  Mrs Clift, Frances and the children  were interned at Nam Ping Hotel. She recalled there were some 150 internees staying  in the hotel.They were joined by another lady, Molly Tyrell, in a room about 12 square feet on the third floor of the building. They were lucky because their room had a toilet and bath. On 21 January they were moved  by boat to Stanley internment camp. Although American, because she was married to a British citizen, she was interned with the British rather than the better accommodation enjoyed by the American internees. She and the three children moved into one of the staff bungalows at St Stephen's College. She was included in the US repatriation in July 1942.  She shared a third class cabin on the Asama Maru with thirteen other occupants. The exchange of prisoners took place at Lourenco Marques and the American repatriates boarded the SS Gripsholm a Swedish vessel. Frances and her three children were given permission to remain in Lourenco Marques to await the arrival of her husband and three older children on the Tatsuta Maru and Kamakura Maru respectively. 

The SS Fatshan
The vessel was built at Tai Koo Dockyard for the China Navigation Company a subsidiary of the Swire Group. She was named after the city of Foshan. The vessel with a displacement of 2,639 tons was completed in 1933. I believe she tied up at the Sheung Wan dockside which was not very far from the Coook's family home at Felix Villas. The Japanese, having commandeered the Fatshan and renamed her the Kota Maru and used her to make the round trip between Hong Kong and Canton under a Japanese flag. After the Chinese revolution in 1949 ships were barred from making port calls at Canton and the Fatshan sailed between Hong Kong and Macao. In 1971, she was sunk in a typhoon with eighty-eight lives lost and only four survivors. It is interesting to note from Archie's account that as late as 1941 she still carried an anti-piracy squad of armed guards.

Felix Villas
They were originally two low blocks of terraced houses on Mount Davis Road close to the junction of Mount Davis Road. They were built in the 1920s and named after the developer Felix Alexander Joseph. Felix Joseph was born in Hong Kong in 1890. He had UK nationality and died in 1949. A brother, Joseph Edgar Joseph was briefly in Stanley Camp but released to town (possibly guaranteed out).  The upper of the two blocks which comprised Felix Villas had ten terraced houses and the lower block which still survives had eight terraced homes. The upper block was demolished in 1995. The blocks were on either side of Mount Davis Road. There was a murder in December 1930 of a Chinese servant at the home of French national Rene Ohl the Manager of Messageries Maritimes. Rene Oil lived at  No 9 Felix Villas when the murder occurred  He later moved to No 2 Felix Villas. It is not clear who was the French neighbour (Germaine) living next door to the Cook family and how she died. Felix villas were used by the Royal Artillery at Mount Davis for accommodation after the Battery Plotting Room had been destroyed by Japanese artillery and again for accommodation after the surrender.

Residents of Felix Villas in 1941
Archibald & Frances Cook (House No. n/k)
Cyril & Mollie Blake No. 15.  (Interned at Stanley Camp with infant daughter)
George& Marguerite Boulton (House No. u/k)   (Interned at Stanley Camp)
Ernest William Charles Simmonds No. 6  (Interned at Stanley Camp)

(1) When You Were Absent (2002). by Frances Wight and Archibald Cook (P. 76)  Biola University Publications

(2) When You Were Absent (2002). by Frances Wight and Archibald Cook (P. 15)  Biola University Publications

Steven K. Bailey 
Biola University Web Site
Clinton Chong  (for "When you were absent" by Frances and Archibald Cook)


UKNA file on movement of Fatshan (Courtesy of Dr Steven K. Bailey)

UKNA file on movement of Fatshan (Courtesy of Dr Steven K. Bailey)

Wednesday 1 February 2023

Captain Cyril (Potato) Jones , 2/RS

Captain Cyril Ramsay Jones, 2/RS, was a colourful and controversial character. When the battle started he was the commanding officer of 'A' Coy 2nd Battalion Royal Scots. He was blamed by many for the loss of the strongpoint  known as the Shing Mun Redoubt on the Gin Drinkers Line (GDL). He is often portrayed as a flamboyant and party-going type of officer. He was known as 'Potato' Jones and more disparagingly as 'Pansy' Jones. Was he to blame for the loss of the redoubt? Why was he known as 'Potato'? and what happened to him after the war? This post is an effort to find out more about this controversial officer. After the war he disappeared from view and did not turn up at regimental reunions. What did he do after the war ended and what became of him? Was he negligent in the defence of the redoubt or was he a victim of inadequate manning.  

Cyril Jones was born 18 January 1910 in Edmonton, North London. His parents, Henry Brereton Jones and Louisa Carlisle Ramsay, were born in Montevideo, Uruguay of British parentage. His father, Henry Jones (1869-1924), graduated from Cambridge University and entered the clergy in 1892. He was attached to various churches in London. University records state that had been a 'partial cripple' since childhood and that he was 'more and more hampered by his infirmity but always showed great courage and refused to allow it to hinder his work'. He was the Vicar of St James's Church, Upper Edmonton from 1909 to 1924. He died aged 54 at St James's vicarage. It was here that Cyril Jones spent his formative years. The 1911 census shows nine residents at the vicarage. These included one year old Cyril Jones, his parents, an aunt and two house guests. The household also included three servants, a cook and two housemaids. Today the church has been deconsecrated and converted into flats and I think the same fate may have befallen the vicarage.

Cyril Jones was the eldest of three siblings, Keena Mary Jones (1911-1999) and Edward Brereton Jones (1913-1941). Cyril was sent to Marlborough College where he served as a lance corporal in the college cadet corps. After leaving school he graduated from Oxford University. Information is sketchy but he is said to have worked as a journalist. He married Agnes Mary Marr (1908-1966) at Marylebone in October 1937. Jones was twenty-seven when he married Agnes whose family lived in Edinburgh. Two years later a notice in the London Gazette dated June 1939 announces his commission as a 2/Lt in the 8th Battalion Royal Scots which I believe was a territorial battalion. His commission seems to have been helped by his service in the Marlborough College Cadet Contingent. The war started a few months later in September 1939 and sometime between 1939 and 1941 Cyril Jones was posted to the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots who were based in Hong Kong. 

In the pre-war (1941) photograph above - Captain Jones (probably then a lieutenant) is seen standing in the back row at centre. He is wearing battle dress and a tam o shanter (headdress) which replaced the red and white checked glengarry in 1941. He stands out because of his height. He was six foot four inches. Thirty-one year old Jones must have been glad to be assigned to Hong Kong. The war had not come to Hong Kong. The lights were on and the bars and restaurants were full. It was a city known for its sports activities and its vigorous social and night life. Although the threat of a Japanese invasion of the colony had lingered since 1938 when Japanese troops arrived in South China. Jones reputation for hard drinking and party-going did not enamour him to Brigadier Cedric Wallis, his brigade commander. Wallis said of Jones: 'I formed my opinion of Captain Jones as a weak Company Commander prior to the outbreak of hostilities particularly during the training and from personal observation'. (UKNA CAB 106/166).

Emily Hahn, the feisty American Author and writer for the New Yorker describes how she met Jones, then a lieutenant, at a party at J. J. Paterson's home in Fan Ling. She writes in China to me (1944)  that Doctor Tony Dawson-Grove arrived 'while I was being entertained by one Lt Jones of the Royal Scots, who at the age of thirty was getting a reputation as a character'. Dawson-Grove greets Jones,  'How are you Pansy'. Dawson-Grove and Jones had been at Oxford together.  

Jones assumed command of 'A' Coy in October 1941. On 11 November his company occupied their war stations on the western flank of the GDL. Jones established his Coy HQ in the Artillery Observation Post (AOP) at the rear of the redoubt. The AOP was large with plenty of space for his ten-man HQ. He shared the AOP with the Royal Artillery personnel consisting of  Lt Wilcox, RA, and four British and Indian other ranks who manned the AOP. From the AOP the Royal Artillery personnel could observe fall of shot and direct the fire onto the respective target area. The platoon defending the redoubt, known as the Shing Mun Platoon, was commanded by 2/Lt Jack Thomson. This was one of three platoons that made up 'A' Coy. The platoon consisted of twenty-six men. Not enough to cover this large complex of tunnels, and inter-connected pillboxes, trenches and firing bays. 

A Royal Scots officer in 1941 on the Gin Drinkers Line

The redoubt was attacked on the second night of the battle (Tuesday 9 December 1941). Jones,  Thomson and Wilcox were surrounded inside the AOP together with some seventeen other ranks. They were unable to get out through the grill gate at the bottom of a flight of steps leading from the kitchen area  (known as the Strand Palace Hotel) located close to the tunnel entrance. The gate had been locked by Private Wylie. Wylie took the key with him when he went down to meet Mike Kendall, from a special operations unit, who wanted to brief Jones on enemy movements he had observed during the day. However the redoubt was attacked before Wylie could escort Kendall to Jones's HQ in the AOP.  This left the trap door in the roof as the only point of egress. A few other ranks were able to get in by way of the trap door, but by the time Jones and Thomson tried to get out and take command of the Shing Mun Platoon the AOP had been surrounded and each time the trap door lid was lifted it brought down rifle and machine gun fire. The next day the Japanese used explosives to force an entry. Jones had no choice, the AOP had been breached, and he surrendered the position. 

Captain  Jones (bottom left) taken prisoner at the Shing Mun Redoubt 10 December 1941

In the-photograph above we see Jones, his hair neatly parted, moustachioed and marching ram-rod straight with other Royal Scots and Royal Artillery gunners captured at the redoubt. The soldier with a patch over his eye is 2/Lt Thomson partially blinded by grenade shrapnel when the AOP was breached. After interrogation at Japanese HQ  at Tai Po the prisoners were held in a villa at Fan Ling. The villa was used as a temporary internment facility. The villa had been the home of William Stanton and Elsa, his wealthy American wife. When Jones entered Sham Shui Po Camp three weeks later he was remembered for striking a dramatic poise as he strode in wearing a ladies expensive fur coat which he had purloined from Elsa Stanton's wardrobe.

The loss of the redoubt, resulted in the line being compromised in that Japanese troops occupying the redoubt could fire down on the rest of the line  extending from the redoubt to the sea.  The line had to be moved back to the ridge running from Golden Hill to Lai Chi Kok. This was steep and difficult terrain and most importantly it was unprepared. There were no slit trenches, no barbed wire and no minefields.  The Royal Scots gave ground and a decision to evacuate the Mainland was made on 11 December. Brigadier Wallis was furious that the redoubt had been captured and his Mainland Brigade had to be evacuated earlier than planned from the Mainland. A Court of Enquiry was convened in May 1942 at Argyle Street Officers Camp to look into the culpability of the loss of the redoubt. 

Brigadier Wallis, who considered Jones to be a weak officer, stated that he considered objecting to Jones being promoted to company commander with the responsibility for the redoubt.  However, in the end he decided not to override his battalion commander. He wanted the battalion commander, Lt Col Simon White, to be free to command and fight his battalion as he thought best. During a visit before the battle with Major General Maltby and Col Newnham (senior staff officer) he had stressed the importance of the men being in slit trenches above ground and only using the PBs for shelter during aerial or artillery bombardment. The PBs could be used for storage and for long shoots utilising their fixed mountings.  He had stressed the importance of patrolling forward. 'A' Coy had three platoons. One based at the Redoubt under Lt Thomson and one based at Pineapple Hill, a flat-topped hill on the west side of the reservoir near Pineapple Dam, with the third platoon occupying the area south west of Pineapple Dam. 

Jones was criticised for the lack of listening posts (static patrols). If he had placed a listening post  near the dam - they would have heard the deployment of two Japanese battalions. The Japanese commander, Colonel Doi, used two companies of his third battalion to attack the redoubt. To do this his men crossed the main dam to reach the redoubt. Another Japanese battalion was deployed in the Shing Mun River gorge ready to attack Smuggler's Ridge once the redoubt had been captured. The remaining battalion was held in reserve. Static patrols or forward fighting and recce patrols would have come across these Japanese deployments. It is true that Lt Thomson had just returned from a patrol but he had patrolled laterally along Smugglers Ridge to 'D' Coy Rajputs HQ rather patrolling forward. The main dam was the critical point and had been left unguarded. It was a mixture of incompetence and lack of manning. The twenty-six men that made up the Shing Mun Platoon was not enough to defend the redoubt which covered 250 yards north-south and 350 yards northeast-southwest.  At least a company would have been needed to properly man the redoubt and conduct sufficient  static and mobile patrols. Even if a company had been deployed and proper patrolling had been implemented it would only have delayed the inevitable capture of the strongpoint. The Japanese were able to concentrate their force.  Colonel Doi had three battalions at his disposal each consisting of one thousand men. Wallis recognised that a single platoon was not desirable but more troops were simply not available. Lt Douglas Baird, 'B' Coy positioned on Pineapple Ridge between 'C' Coy and 'A' Coy recalled that there was a half mile gap between the platoon on his left and that on his right. 

The Court of Enquiry never completed its task. It was adjourned and left in abeyance and finally dropped. The transcript of the proceedings was buried in Argyle Street Camp with the intention of recovering it after the war. It was, however, never found. After Lt-Col Simon White died in the 1950s it transpired that he had kept a copy of the proceedings perhaps in order to defend the good name of his battalion. He had kept the copy concealed throughout his incarceration. It was lodged in the National Archives and access was restricted for 50 years until 2008.

Robert Gandt, the author of Season of Storms (1982) wrote that 'in camp he (Captain Cyril Jones) achieved dubious fame as a willing lecturer on any and all subjects. At the war's end, instead of boarding the troopship home with other POWs, he, characteristically, hitched a ride aboard a submarine. After a brief post war career as a journalist, Potato Jones dropped from sight, still controversial.'