Sydney Harry BATTY-SMITH [1890-1945]

Submitted by Admin on Thu, 04/19/2012 - 17:27
Sydney Harry
Birthplace (town, state)
Birthplace (country)

Barbara Anslow:

He was A.D.C. to the Governor pre-war.

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He was Aide-de-Camp (ADC) to His Excellency the Governor Sir Mark Young and also to his predecessor, Sir Geoffrey Northcote. John Stericker (‘Captive Colony’) writes "as a prisoner of war in the First World War, his name will be found amongst those who took part in various exciting attempts to escape from certain prison camps in Germany about which several books have been written." In WW1 he served with the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. He had trained as a pilot obtaining the Royal Aero Club Aviators Certificate in November 1913. Between the wars he served as a School Master. There are records of travel with his mother but he does not appear to have ever married.

Captain Batty-Smith was one of only three people who knew what precautions were made to hide the valuable paintings which were on display in Government House and some major Government buildings.    Just two days before the Japanese invasion, Captain Batty-Smith, the Governor’s ADC, called in Thomas Harmon, PWD’s Inspector of Furniture, and a Hungarian picture-restorer by the name of von Kobza Nagy, apparently to discuss concealment at Government House of the more valuable pictures from the Chater Collection.  Kobza was provided with an office in Government House and with his Chinese assistant began producing a catalogue of the collection.  We understand that paintings were cut wholesale out of their frames and put into specially prepared metal tubes, sealed and buried hurriedly at the last moment.

During the occupation, Captain Batty-Smith and Thomas Harmon were interned and died while in Camp. Kobza, being Hungarian was not interned and lived in Hong Kong until he died in October 1944 - although no grave has been found nor the exact date.  The result was that all three who knew the secret cache died withou passing on the information.

The Japanese made alterations to Government House during the occupation and the rumours said the steel vaults was found.  Out of 400 paintings about 70 were recovered after the war - some in Hong kong returned by locals who kept them in safety when they found them,, some were bought by individuals and saved and others did turn up in Japan after the war.

There is much more information about this episode in the SCMP Sunday Post 29 December 1985.