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.'