A. H. Potts' wartime diary
The following diary is kindly provided by Elizabeth Ride. It is part of The Elizabeth Ride Collection, which contains several wartime diaries written by members of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps (HKVDC).
THE DIARY OF Capt. A.H. (Alec) POTTS
I was at Fanling Camp in charge of the HKVDC transport during the week preceding the outbreak of hostilities.
The Adjutant sent for me and said, “Alec, always have at least four lorries standing by in your vehicle park, as we may have to move some stores back to Hongkong in a hurry”. This struck me as pretty significant, so I went across to the bungalow that evening and told Uncle Pat that he had better pack up and move to my house or in any case get prepared for any emergency. He had only just returned to his beloved bungalow from my house, where Susie had nursed him back to life, after the doctors had given him up in October; the weather was beautiful and Fanling at its best, so I was not surprised that he decided to stay on.
On Thursday (4th Dec) we received orders to strike camp, the reason given was that new battle stations had been allotted to the Corps, so the remainder of the camping season was to be spent in getting acquainted with them. That day I moved all important equipment back to Hongkong and on Friday and Saturday we were kept busy taking the various units out to their new stations.
On Saturday, the air was electric with rumours but nothing was done in the way of mobilizing.
On Sunday morning I had to go over to Kowloon railway station to move all the heavy camp equipment, which had come in by rail from Fanling, out of the railway trucks onto lorries and take it to the store; the lorries were loaded and just about to move off when I received an urgent phone message from the Adjutant to the effect that I was to put the stores back in the railway trucks and return to Hongkong with my lorries immediately. This looked like the real thing, as they were not going to waste time and money on unloading and loading stores unless there was some real urgency.
I therefore immediately rang up Percy Cox, at his bungalow at Fanling and was lucky in finding him still home – it was 10 a.m. and he was usually on the links by that time. I asked him to please take a message to Uncle Pat, who had no phone, to come back to Hongkong immediately and stay with me; I explained my reason to Cox and advised him to return to Hongkong also. Cox went across to the bungalow and he and Uncle Pat discussed the situation. They decided that if there was any real urgency a warning would have been issued by the police and elected to stay on and enjoy their Sunday at Fanling, one on the links and the other in his garden, and to return to Hongkong on Monday morning.
According to Police reports there wasn’t any movement across the border the whole of Sunday and all that night but at dawn on Monday (Dec 8th) what everyone had hoped was only a phantom had become a grim reality.
For days our detectives had been bringing back news from across the border to the effect that a large concentration of troops was on the move from Canton by forced marches, including infantry, cavalry, tanks and artillery, but either our authorities were too indolent or did not wish to believe, for no preparations were put in hand.
An officer who frequently visited the Japanese post at Shumchun always reported that the small garrison stationed there was very friendly and in fact had suggested fixing up some baseball and football matches with our men when they camped at Lo Wu which is just across the river from Shumchun, on our side of the border.
In consequence, nothing was done to prepare for any emergency – shells for the big 9.2 guns at Stanley and Mount Davis were left lying in the magazines at Shouson Hill and Lyemun. Shouson Hill is some eight miles distant from these two batteries but at least was more favourably situated than Lyemun which in addition to being more than ten miles distant was built on either side of a roadway running at right angles to the Kowloon shore, less than half a mile across the harbour. Shouson Hill magazines had been hastily constructed during the past two years when the threat of Hongkong being attacked from the mainland became evident and was completed some six months before the outbreak of hostilities here. However, the bulk of the 9.2 shells were still stored at Lyemun. Considering the 9.2 guns at Stanley and Mount Davis are fixtures it is difficult to understand why magazines were not built adjoining the batteries, and this is also applicable in the case of many of the 6 inch batteries whose shells were also stored in Lyemun, Shouson Hill, and Belchers magazines whilst all the cartridges for these 6 inch shells were stored at Kennedy Magazine which is opposite the Ordnance Depot next to the Naval Yard and therefore subject to early attention from bombers. Nothing was done regarding distributing the shells and cartridges, prior to the outbreak of hostilities on December 8th. Why?
The food situation in Hongkong was excellent; at least nine months’ stocks were safely stored in godowns which had been hastily constructed all over the island during the past year.
Air raid precautions were nearly complete, many tunnels having been constructed and other shelters erected.
Many communal kitchens and other feeding arrangements were ready and all sorts of services such as road repairing, and water and gas main repairing had been organized, and in addition there were the Land Transport Service, Food & Rice Control and Special Police all organized and functioning, in fact it appeared at the outbreak of hostilities that we were well organized and except for the distribution of shells everything looked set for any emergency.
The police warned certain people at Fanling early on Monday morning, including Cox who immediately went off in his car and collected Uncle Pat, but instead of being able to bring away all their clothes and other belongings, as would have been the case if they had taken my warning on Sunday, they were only able to pack a suitcase hastily. The Japanese arrived at Fanling at 8 a.m. that morning.
An old house contractor whom I was employing to repair “The Hunter’s Arms” for the approaching season told me, when I saw him around 28th Dec, that he had been caught out at Fanling when the Japanese arrived but had in no way been molested. He said there had been a steady stream of infantry, cavalry, tanks and artillery passing through Fanling for over a week, but beyond helping themselves to all the food and drink which they found, no damage had been done.
The first blow was when the few planes we had, based at Kaitak, were destroyed by a well-planned raid early on Monday morning; the only plane which escaped damage being an old school machine which was so slow, she could not go up in daylight against the fast machines which the Japanese employed.
For the first few days there was the utmost confusion. All cars and lorries were roped in and sent to the Vehicle Collecting Centre at Caroline Hill which was in charge of the Land Transport Service who distributed them to the various services, Army, ARP, Food Control, Rice Control etc etc.
The Army Pool was at Happy Valley race course, which provided admirable accommodations for the 12th Coy RASC to which our ASC Co HKVDC was attached on the outbreak of war.
Early on Monday morning we moved down to H.V. from Murray Parade ground, where we had spent Sunday night having mobilized that afternoon.
The office was in the secretary’s room and overflowed into the sales room; the men slept in the parimutuel building and had the jockey room with its numerous baths and other appointments at their disposal and the officers were luxuriously housed in the private luncheon boxes, each of which has its own lavatory.
I selected the box of the chairman (Hon Mr. T.E. Pearce) who was most unfortunately killed at the Hongkong Electric installation at North Point which he was guarding with his company of volunteers – all men in their sixties and never intended to be left in the front line. However, that was the position in which they found themselves on the morning of 19th Dec, the troops who were supposed to be in front of them having mysteriously disappeared. “Tam” Pearce will be an irreplaceable loss to the Jockey Club of which he was chairman and clerk of the course for many years. There were other old men also killed at North Point including Sir Edward DesVoeux – a great pal of Uncle Pat’s for he also lived at Fanling, and an old banker broker named Rodgers – both these men were over seventy.
On arrival at Happy Valley I and Capt Blaker (HKVDC) went off to the VCC at Caroline Hill and put in a request for as many lorries and cars as could be spared. These we dispatched as quickly as possible to our pool at the Valley where guides from the various army units were waiting to snap them up.
Now instead of registering the lorry or car and then having it parked in the centre of the course and the driver then being instructed as to where and when he eat [change to ‘ate’?], where he slept and where he should report (transport office) if called for duty, issuing him with blanket etc etc, nothing was done except take a note of the number and turn the lorry into the centre before going on a job.
So after completing a job, many drivers returned to find there was no food and no blankets for them and consequently were much disgruntled and in many cases returned to their homes either taking their lorry with them or taking the ignition key, and returned or not the next morning according to how bloody minded they felt and there were many in that state of mind for the Chinese love their food and many had returned to Happy Valley late in the evening having already missed their morning meal and were told the evening chow was finished.
After the first few days an excellent chap named Gidley (?) was put in charge of the coolies and drivers, he housed and fed them in the racecourse stables and lived there with them – he arranged that if a man was to be away during chow time that some biscuits and a tin of meat was given to them before leaving; however he was too late as during the first few days many lorries were lost through deliberate sabotage, which was undoubtedly largely due to the treatment meted out to the drivers.
In any case it was a mistake to employ Chinese drivers as it has been estimated there were over forty thousand fifth columnists.
I have never seen such wanton wrecking of cars and lorries which would not have happened if British drivers (a thing which had been recommended by many including myself, to the powers that be) had been employed. Lorries were found with distributor heads, carburators, coils and other parts missing, flat tyres, empty gas tanks, stoved in radiators etc.
Towards then end of the war, there was hardly a sound lorry on the road and nearly all the damage was sabotage. The drivers were always difficult to find and frequently had mislaid their key so that when lorries were needed in a hurry there was often considerable delay; all this could have been avoided by having a board in the transport office on which all ignition keys should have been hung.
I remember on the night of the 9th six lorries were required to proceed to Wongneichong Gap to collect some Canadians and take them to the Yaumati Ferry – it took almost three quarters of an hour before six drivers could be located.
On 9th I was sent up town to try and get the keys for the APC and Texaco petrol pumps situated at Happy Valley, but on calling on the offices no one knew where they were and no duplicates could be found. We were filling up lorries from gallon tins and a small hand operated tank which was of course a very slow and tedious business. I noticed most shops had their doors and windows barricaded and there was a tense atmosphere in the streets. However, on looking in at the Hongkong Hotel I found the lounge doing a roaring business and what surprised me in particular was the large number of Army Officers present.
That afternoon, I went over to Kowloon with Capt. Strellet HKVDC to get some stores for Stanley Fort from the Hongkong & Kowloon Wharf godowns. These stores, cigarettes, tinned milk and chocolate, could have all been moved weeks before and thus our lorries could have been much more usefully employed. We were engaged on this work also on the 10th.
By this time it was necessary for civilians to have a pass to cross the harbour and many found themselves stranded on the wrong side according to where they lived.
I had a Studebaker “Champion” at my disposal and as I was free to move around provided I saw the stores safely delivered, I got the chance to pop home for a quick tiffin with Susie on the 10th, who was working (far too hard because of her bad legs) at the Queen Mary Hospital. They all say she did splendid work as almoner which meant she stood in the reception hall all day taking people’s valuables and recording them; casualties were flowing in by this time and she was hard at it all day, but it was too much of a strain and she had to go into the hospital as a patient herself after the surrender.
I found Uncle Pat at my house very sorry he had not taken my advice, for he has nothing but a suitcase, but he was in good spirits.
Susie, who still had the use of our small car was sleeping at home and going to the hospital every morning. However, on the 12th the Army Pool was moved from Happy Valley to Shouson Hill and I was unable to keep her supplied with gasoline; there were no public pumps operating, so not being able to use her car she found our house too far from the hospital and went to stay with her mother whose house is next door to the hospital, and Uncle Pat moved down to our neighbour’s house, just below us. He is an old Turk named Landau who ran a very profitable restaurant business.
Susie had the very good sense to pack up all our silverware, glassware, winter clothes etc which she took over to her mother’s place, also our new radio, otherwise we should have lost everything as I will tell you later.
Up till this time there had been very little sign of enemy activity, barring two or three air raids a day, which I must say were all directed at military objectives and the bombing was very accurate, largely due no doubt to the fact we had no planes to send up against the Japs and the very inaccurate aim of our anti air gunners.
Our troops were established on the Kowloon line and we heard everything was going well when suddenly news came that the Shingmun Redoubt which was the strong point in the line had been captured. Some say a phoney message which the recipient failed to check back was the cause of this.
The road blocks which had been so carefully prepared from Fanling to Kowloon along both the Taipo and Castle Peak roads and which were expected to hold up the Japs for many days were either not blown or proved quite ineffective for they advanced along both roads, meeting it would seem very little if any opposition, till they reached the main line of defence in the neighbourhood of Shatin on the Taipo Road and the Hongkong brewery on the Castle Peak road.
They advanced through the mountain paths, empounding the peasants to drag their light field guns up seemingly impossible hills so that all our carefully placed pillboxes were overlook or outflanked, and we knew the end of the mainland defence was fast approaching when we heard they had scaled down Lion Rock above Shatin which was considered impossible, and had reached Tsun Wan on the Castle Peak Road.
On 10th Kowloon was being evacuated of all European civilians and many who were already over in Hongkong were unable to get back to their homes and collect any clothes or other belongings. Consequently there were many when the time came to be interned who had practically nothing more than what they stood in.
On 11th the Japanese reached Kowloon; by this time 5th Columnists were very busy sniping, and looting had already started. The looters formed themselves into bands and actually put notices on houses they had entered so that others of their gang would know it had already been sacked.
I was over at Kowloon again on the 10th clearing the same stores for Stanley. Many sampan folk were making a fortune taking wealthy Chinese across the harbour who were unable to get a pass to travel on the ferry. The atmosphere in Kowloon was tense and there was the most appalling stench which came from the sewers for the Japanese had cut the water off from Shingmun reservoir.
Major Manners, manager of the HK and Kowloon Wharf Co, told me the Japs were already up to Tsun Wan and the advance units had reached Laicheekok; he expected they would be in Kowloon the next day (11th).
Whilst I was over at the godowns, Sir Mark Young, our recently appointed governor, arrived on a tour of inspection. We worked late to clear the stores as we didn’t expect to get across to Kowloon again and arrived back in Hongkong after nightfall which made us realize for the first time what a complete blackout was like. The streets were deserted as we drove to Happy Valley through the usually crowded Wanchai district, and I was particularly impressed that the war was really on when we passed our bowling alleys and saw they were quiet as the grave in comparison with the usual noise and bustle going on there at that time of day.
The next morning we took the stores out to Stanley, and on returning to Happy Valley I was informed that each HKVDC officer was appointed to some special duty such as assistant adjutant, Vehicle Park control etc etc, and my special job was OC of the ammunition column – this pleased me greatly as I knew I should be seeing a lot of what was going on as the work we were to do meant visiting the various batteries and magazines.
We got our first job that afternoon (11th) which was to go to Lyemun and draw 500 six inch shells, and put them on a lighter which was to take them across to Devils Peak where a battery had just been placed.
My column consisted of only eight lorries and I was told to only employ four and leave the others in reserve in case of an emergency job.
I selected Sergt. Gow HKVDC as my sergeant and he turned out an absolute ace. My drivers were at first Chinese but I discovered after the first night that they could not be relied on to drive in pitch darkness, and I was permitted to select drivers from the BOR. After a process of elimination I had Sgt. Gow and Ptes Longeraine (?) and Coxhill all members of HKVDC, and one Canadian RASC man. They were all excellent drivers and we used to bowl along after a few nights in pitch darkness without any trouble, but I had many mishaps and minor accidents trying various drivers of the RASC till I selected those four.
We were a happy little team, working on our own like moles and got to know each other extremely well, and I am happy to think we all survived.
To reach Lyemun it was necessary to drive along Kings Road which runs along the water front for some mile or more, then through Taikoo Dockyard and Shaukiwan village, up the Shaukiwan Hill till the military road leading up to Lyemun barracks was reached. This is a narrow concrete road cut in the side of the hill and has no parapet. At the top was a gate where passes had to be produced before admittance could be obtained, then on through the various barrack buildings and down a hill to sea level where the magazines are situated on either side of the roadway. There was another gate at which passes also had to be produced just before entering the magazine area. At the end of the road which ran right down to the sea and is at right angle to the Kowloon foreshore was a pier and a pillbox with the lighter lying alongside.
After clearing the five hundred six inch shells and loading them on the lighter we got back to Happy Valley. We were undisturbed, and the roads were untouched, but this was not to be our good fortune the next time we went to Lyemun.
On returning to Happy Valley we found a request from both Stanley and Mount Davis forts for 9.2 inch shells, with instructions that these were to be drawn from Shouson Hill magazine. Shouson Hill as I have already mentioned is on the south side of the island, so it would have appeared more practical if we had been instructed to draw the shells from Lyemun which if the Kowloon line gave, would be in full view of the Japanese.
I think this is the place to mention a few facts about the 9.2 ammunition, first there are two types, land and sea directional, the sea type being of no use against land targets as it requires a hard blow on the nose of the shell, such as the armour of a ship, to explode it; second each shell weighs 380 pounds, so takes considerable handling and the average lorry was only capable of carrying twelve shells.
I was told by the NCO in charge of Shouson Hill magazine that on the outbreak of war there were only fifteen land directional shells per gun at Stanley and Mount Davis each of which had three guns; they had a great many sea directional, he told me, something over two hundred, so there was evidently ample storage space and it would seem to be more reasonable if they had had half of each type.
Anyway it is a fact they were desperately in need of shells at both forts and the profuse thanks which I received from the officers at Stanley and Mount Davis on my arrival with the badly wanted shells was almost embarrassing.
We worked all night on this job, giving both forts four lorry loads or in other words forty eight shells, but it seemed a pity that my other four lorries had to lie idle at Happy Valley when they could have been so usefully employed.
Shouson Hill magazines are situated in more or less the heart of the island and roughly equidistant from Stanley and Mount Davis, a distance of some eight miles.
There were many road blocks made with concertina wire all of which were guarded. Later the sentries came to recognize me as I imagine I was doing more night driving than anyone else, and allowed me to pass without producing my pass, for which I frequently reprimanded them. All sentries were very alert for the first few days, but after that there was a very marked slackness.
I became proficient in negotiating the various road blocks, which were all laid out in different ways, without the sentries having to guide me through. Some had the gap on the right of the road, others on the left or in the middle and the more important ones were in the form of a zigzagging.
There was no moon till 21st and in addition to the pitch darkness we had rain on several nights; it was most trying and at time I drove by guesswork. I drove at the head of my small convoy, and had had the bumpers and wings of my car and the lorries painted white which gave a very faint indication of our position, but in spite of this we had many minor collisions.
We just got back to Happy Valley at dawn on the twelfth and turned in for a few hours; the VCC had been instructed to pack up from Happy Valley and move to Shouson Hill only leaving a skeleton of vehicles and personnel but the coolie labour which we were employing was to remain with Gidley in charge.
We packed up after tiffin and moved out to Shouson Hill, which is named after Sir Shouson Chow who together with a number of his friends developed the hill into a residential district of some twenty odd homes before the Army had built the magazines.
This area had been allotted to the RASC in the event of a move to the south side of the island being necessary.
Col. Andrews-Levinge the CRASC lived in a bungalow which was selected as our HQ and Officers Mess; just below it and easily accessible was a very large house in which the men were quartered, and there were various other houses and bungalows where the officers slept. I slept at Eric Grimble’s bungalow, a charming little place near the top of the hill overlooking Deepwater Bay and Aberdeen.
That evening we drew 9.2 inch shells for Stanley from Shouson Hill magazine which was an easy job as the magazines were within half a mile of our vehicle park. We only made one trip as Mount Davis had not asked for any more and Stanley was satisfied with the one load so we were back at Shouson Hill before midnight.
I had just turned in and was looking forward to a good night’s rest when I was told to go to the big house where all the men were living, and order them to stand by, and be prepared for any emergency as it was thought the Japs were contemplating a landing on some of the beaches.
We placed Lewis guns and rifles on a site which commanded the flats around Aberdeen and small groups in other strategic places but after standing to for about an hour we were told to pack up and the rest of the night passed away quietly.
The following morning (Dec 13th) I was ordered to take some lorries to Aberdeen and await the arrival of HMS Thracian, which was bringing the rearguard over from Kowloon. The main body had been brought over in the afternoon and night of the 12th.
When the “Thracian” arrived I had the opportunity of talking to Brig. Wallace who expressed the greatest admiration for the Japanese soldiers. He told me they were extremely well armed and thoroughly competent. He estimated they were in very large numbers and that had been the deciding factor in eliminating our small force, for although their casualties had been very heavy there was always a fresh man to fill the gap, whereas our force was too small to start with and was utterly exhausted by three to four days continual fighting. Also the complete lack of aircraft added greatly to our difficulties.
On the night of the 13th we again went to Stanley, this time we worked all night. The one big gun out of the three at Stanley which was able to fire landwards was firing three shells every half hour. These guns were supposed to be extremely accurate and the gunners were confident they were inflicting considerable damage, but of course they had no air reports to help them.
On 14th we got an urgent order to move 24,000 cartridges for 6 inch shells from Kennedy Magazine. I heard that there were some 28,000 six inch shells stored in various magazines and at batteries, but the bulk of the cartridges were in the old Kennedy Magazine, which was in great danger now the Japanese had reached Kowloon, as it was in full view.
We worked hard on this job all day – it was shelled on several occasions but nothing came alarmingly near us. We moved all the cartridges to Shouson Hill magazine, so they were again all in one place. The six inch batteries were scattered all over the island so I should have thought it practical to have taken a few loads to each.
That night we made another trip to Stanley, and had cleared Shouson Hill magazine of all 9.2 land directional shells. Stanley and Mount Davis were still requiring shells the next day, and as the remaining ones were stored at Lyemun it was decided the Ammunition Column should move to Happy Valley which was much more conveniently situated; so we set off for our new quarters that after noon (15th) and settled down before starting off on our all night job.
We found Capt. Wiseman in charge of the small pool at Happy Valley and attached ourselves to him for rations, but I arranged for my men to sleep in one of the private boxes so that they would be undisturbed. Major Grieve was also there in charge of coolie labour, his command of 12th Co. RASC having been transferred to Major Dewer. Lt. Gidley was still living in the stables with his coolies.
On arrival I received a message that I was not to take 9.2 shells to Stanley and Mount Davis, but was to assist in the clearing of some ten thousand six inch shells from Lyemun magazine which were to be taken to the various six inch batteries. Some of these batteries were up the Peak which can only be reached by a road on the north side of the island facing Kowloon, and the Japanese were already registering on this road at Wanchai and Magazine Gaps.
There were other six inch batteries at Mount Parker, Red Hill, Stanley and Mount Davis.
Apparently they all needed shells and we were told this job was to be worked on till completed. I felt rather upset as I had promised Stanley I would be back with more 9.2 shells for them, and I knew how eagerly they awaited my arrival. Stanley had nicknamed me their ‘Fairy Godmother’ and I felt sad to think I should not be able to visit them with my welcome loads.
Sergt. Barman RA arrived at the Valley at dusk and informed me I was assisting him in the clearance of the six inch shells.
We set off for Lyemun shortly after dusk on the night of 15th. I had been told that Kings Road had been badly shelled all day and that we were likely to encounter difficulties with the Tramway overhead cable, which had been shot down in several places, but that we should probably find it alright as gangs had been instructed to clear it away. I was also told the military road leading from Shaukiwan Hill up to Lyemun barracks had received two direct hits from bombs, and it could not be repaired till the next day, so I was to use all caution whilst ascending and descending.
So we set off fully prepared for an exciting evening. On reaching Kings Road we found it very cut up by small shell craters, and after proceeding about a mile I felt my car run over some cable. Fortunately it did not twist round my axle, and I proceeded at a snail’s pace. Soon I was passing lorries which were tied up in the cable and then I heard the honking of my leading lorry’s horn. I stopped and got out to find it tied up in the cable and the lorry which was following had run its bonnet under the tailboard and was firmly wedged.
Whilst we were working to extricate them, Sergt. Barman arrived and said we were to return to Happy Valley immediately, as an attempted landing was taking place at Lyemun and it was impossible to get near the magazines.
We turned our remaining two lorries round and my car, and proceeded back to the Valley, but on arrival there we decided that if we got a metal saw or some big wire cutters we should have time to go back to Kings Road and rescue our other two lorries.
We went to the workshop which was located in the Hongkong Hotel garage and procured a saw and a pair of cutters. When we got back to Kings Road we saw many more lorries tied up in the cable. The roadway was lit up by two huge fires on the Kowloon side, so we had plenty of light by which to work, and in a short time had got our two lorries cut out and also one belonging to the Royal Scots.
We cleared the roadway of some two hundred yards of wire and then returned with our two lorries and our prize to Happy Valley.
Nothing further eventuated that night; the attempted landing apparently failed, the pillboxes along Kings Road up to Lyemun were at this time manned by the Royal Scots who I heard put up a fine show throughout the trouble. They were moved to other positions the next day unfortunately.
The next morning I spoke to Major Dewer about the state of Kings Road and the Lyemun road and futility of trying to clear ten thousand shells with so few lorries, and asked his permission to visit GHQ and submit a scheme which if approved should enable me to clear a great many shells in one night.
My idea was that I should be given at least twenty lorries and allowed to make a dump of the shells on the south side of the island behind Mount Parker at the top of Shaukiwan Hill.
He though it a good idea and I set off for GHQ with his blessing and advice to lay it on thick. Major Dewer was an excellent fellow and I found it easy to work with him.
I reached Flagstaff House but found great difficulty in finding the entrance to the enormous dugout which had been constructed to house G.H.Q.
There were many MPs and sentries around but no one seemed very willing to disclose the entrance to the “Holy of Holies”.
Eventually I found it situated at the back of a building built close to the hillside which had been cut away so that the back and one side of the building faced steep slopes. In the corner formed by the slopes I found the entrance. I then had to descend innumerable steps with many right-angled turns till I reached a steel door where I was made to produce my pass before it was opened, admitting me to a small compartment with another steel door on the opposite side.
This door was opened once the outer door was closed admitting me to the real thing. There was a small power plant supplying light and air-conditioning and here the Staff lived, eat [change to ate?], and slept some hundred feet below the ground and quite oblivious to what went on in the outside world, except what was conveyed to them by telephone and other messages.
There was a passage off which many small rooms opened and to one of these I was conducted.
I had decided it was best to go to the fountain head so I had asked to see the C.R.A.
I knew Brig. McCloud slightly, having met him at various Volunteer dinners, at camp and numerous cocktail parties. He offered me a cup of tea which I accepted and then went straight into it for I had decided to tell him exactly what I thought and felt about the ammunition situation.
I told him the various facts I knew regarding the shortage of shells at all batteries and the state of Kings Road and Lyemun and explained my scheme to him; this he approved but told me I must liaise with the Adjutant of the HK & Singapore Brigade about it. He took me to see the C.R.E. about the condition of the roads and we were informed that a message had just come in to say that two hundred yards of tramway cable had been cleared from Kings Road the previous night; and they all thought it a very good joke when I said I knew that as I had done it, but I told them there was still plenty more which needed clearing and was assured this would be attended to and also the craters on the Lyemun Road.
I asked the CRA why a magazine had been built in such a vulnerable place as Lyemun and was told that when it was built, there was no thought of the Colony being attacked from the mainland, and that was why the magazines at Shouson Hill had been hastily constructed when the threat became imminent. My comment was that it might have been advisable to move the shells to Shouson Hill on its completion some six months ago, to which he readily agreed.
After my interview with the CRA, I returned to Shouson Hill via Pokfulam where I called in at my house to collect some clean clothes and also decided to take my dog “Mr Bones” to Shouson Hill as Mount Davis was receiving a tremendous hammering both from bombs and shells, and I found him in a very nervous state. I then called at the Queen Mary Hospital to see Susie and was startled by the news she gave me that Uncle Pat had been hurt by a bomb which had dropped a few yards in front of Landau’s house, and had shattered the window near which he was sleeping. I found him somewhat upset but apart from this right eye which had received a splinter of glass, his other injuries were only superficial and he was quite cheerful.
I had tiffin with Susie at her mother’s house and then returned to Shouson Hill, where I reported my visit to the CRA to Major Dewer. He advised me to visit the Adjutant of the HK Singapore Brigade and do my utmost to push my scheme through, so I set off to Wongneichong Gap where I found they had their headquarters. Fox their adjutant told me GHQ had already been on to him about it and it was hoped to carry out my idea the following night.
I then took “Mr Bones” for a walk through the Tytam reservoir area – it was a perfect afternoon.
The weather had been bad for the first few days of the attack on Hongkong, which had been in favour of the Japanese as there was considerable fog in the hills which helped to cover their advances. It had now turned fine but the nights were pitch black and very cold.
I returned to Shouson Hill and reported the result of my visit to Fox, and then set off for Happy Valley to join my column. I decided to take ‘Mr Bones’ with me which was a mistake as he took great exception to all sentries at road blocks when we were going down Kings Road that night on our way to Lyemun.
We encountered tramway cable again, but were fortunate in avoiding it, but in any case would have been alright as we had a metal saw and large wire cutters. The Lyemun Road had not been repaired, and it was a ticklish job negotiating the two large craters in pitch darkness.
The Ordnance men at Lyemun were pretty jittery and said they had been fairly heavily shelled all day, and expected the Japanese would be making another attempt to land before long.
Corpl. O’Connor who was in charge asked me to ring up GHQ and report that a great many sampans had crossed from Shaukiwan to Devils Peak and that they should be prevented from returning as it was more than likely they would have Japanese aboard disguised as fisherfolk.
I reported this, also that I thought it might be advisable to blow up the pier at the foot of the road, and was informed these matters were being attended to; however, the sampans returned, and I have no doubt contained many Japanese and ammunition, and the pier was not destroyed.
Sergt. Barman was working with me with several other sergeants from the batteries, and we cleared a good few hundred shells that night. There must have been a fifth columnist signalling from the hills above the magazines, for each time we reached the barracks, which by this time had been badly shelled, and started down the hill to the magazines we were shelled and again on the way out; however, we all got through safely but had some unpleasantly near crumps which added greatly to Mr Bones discomfort.
At this time there were numberous patrols around, the gates were shut and guarded and it was necessary to produce your pass to enter the magazine area, there was a searchlight beam across the narrow Lyemun Pass and the pillbox near the pier was manned, so things seemed in reasonable order.
The next day (17th) I was informed I was to have a rest and would change places with Capt. Davis who was in charge of the vehicle park. Capt. Davis seemed somewhat put out and as I knew the ropes and had been working with my little team throughout, I asked Major Dewer’s permission to carry on to which he agreed.
I was still sleeping at Grimble’s bungalow at Shouson Hill for although my column were sleeping by day at Happy Valley, I found it more convenient to return to the south side where I could discuss things with Major Dewer during the day and return to Happy Valley in the evening and pick up my column before proceeding to Lyemun.
I left for Happy Valley again that evening, this time leaving Mr Bones behind, picked up my crew at the Valley and set off for Lyemun again.
Nothing exciting happened; there was a huge fire burning at the foot of Shaukiwan Hill which clearly lit up the Lyemun road. Kings Road had been shelled again, and there were several fires in Shaukiwan village.
As I was leading the way up Shaukiwan Hill with a load of six inch shells for Mount Parker, I was run into by a lorry coming down the road. It knocked my transmission shaft back and completely locked the car. Fortunately I escaped with a bruised forehead and knees. The driver of the lorry on ascertaining I was alright, backed up, turned round and went off in the opposite direction. I finished the night on my leading lorry and turned in with the boys at dawn when we got back to Happy Valley.
I picked up another car around noon and returned to Shouson Hill, where I found Major Dewer in a huddle with Lt. Andrews R.A. on my scheme. Twenty lorries had been allotted and Major Dewer was coming along himself and would control the traffic from the rendezvous at Tytam.
I was to go as usual to Lyemun and Andrews was coming with me. I felt delighted that my visit to GHQ had materialised and looked forward to clearing the greater part of the six inch shells lying in Lyemun, that night.
Andrews and I set off for Lyemun shortly before dusk. We drove in a big Studebaker car he had, in preference to the small Morris which was the only car I had been able to get to replace my wrecked ‘Champion’. To reach Lyemun we went via Repulse Bay, Stanley and Tytam as we had been informed that Kings Road was impassable, having been very heavily shelled and the APC installation at North Point set on fire. This fire went on for many days and formed a perfect smoke screen to cover the Japanese landing.
We found the various roadblocks along our route all functioning normally, so I was surprised when we arrived at Lyemun to find the gates open and unguarded.
When we reached the magazines Corpl. O’Connor met me in a very nervous state; he told me they had been subjected to a terrific shelling all day, which had only just stopped and that all the guards had cleared off. He also said the pier had not been blown up and that the light across Lyemun was still out of order.
Whilst we were speaking, the shelling started again and became so heavy that we had to take shelter in a small disused magazine which the five Ordnance men, who were the only personnel at Lyemun Magazine barring an ancient police reserve sergeant, had fixed up with bunks and tables and chairs and were using it for their accommodation. I told O’Connor of my scheme for clearing the magazines but he expressed great misgivings as to whether we should get a single shell out that night as he felt convinced the terrific barrage, to which they had been subjected all day and which had now recommenced, was the prelude to a landing.
The barrage was indeed terrific; we counted the number of shells which fell during the space of a minute several times and found they averaged fifteen or one every four seconds, none of it was very big but quite enough to keep anyone away from Lyemun and anyone who was there under cover. All our batteries remained silent during this bombardment which began shortly after eight o’clock and continued till half past nine when it ceased abruptly.
I then went out with Andrews and Corpl O’Connor to see if there was any sign of the first lorries, for that was how we intended to work so that there would never be a great many lorries standing in the magazine compound at one time.
We heard the noise of a lorry descending the hill, from Lyemun barracks, in low gear; at the same time I noticed a red flare fired from the Pillbox near the pier. The lorry came up to us and I heard the voice of ‘Davy’ Gow enquiring in his broad Scotch if anybody was about. I made my presence known and he got down and told me that he and three other lorries had been caught at Lyemun barracks in the barrage. He said it had been absolute hell and that all the coolies, there were ten on each lorry, had jumped off and beaten it. He had therefore sent the other three lorries back to Major Dewer at Tytam to bring on fresh coolies and had come on himself to report to me.
He had just finished telling me this when we heard a burst of machine gun fire from the Pillbox and another red flare went up. We stood watching and I was just on the point of taking ‘Davy’ into the magazine to give him a drink, when I saw a lot of figures running towards us. I turned to ‘Davy’ and said “There are your coolies” and then I suddenly realized it was the Japanese. I exclaimed “My God, it’s not, it’s the Japs, get inside the magazine quick!”
I fairly pushed Gow, Andrews and O’Connor into the passage and hastily followed them. The magazines at Lyemun have a grill gate at the entrance to the passage which leads to the magazine chamber, at the entrance to which there is a steel door; the passage between the grill and the door is some thirty yards long and about two yards wide.
As I got through the grill I turned and closed it; the Japs, some fifty odd, were on my heels and I had been spotted. One of them ran to the grill and fired two shots from a revolver. I was making all possible haste to get inside the magazine and was already some yards down the passage so he had nothing much to assist his aim which was lucky for me or I should not be telling this tale today.
I felt a sharp stinging sensation on my right leg about a foot above the knee which I knew must be merely a graze so I pushed on with redoubled haste to get the steel door between myself and any more odd bullets which my friend outside might feel like firing. I reached the steel door and closed it as I passed through.
I ordered the candle to be blown out and everyone to keep quiet and do nothing unless the door was opened, in which case everyone was to fire, rush out and make it up the hill. Our armament consisted of six rifles and three revolvers. The Ordnance men only had a few rounds each for their rifles. Gow had fifty and I had only six spare rounds for my revolver, for Larry Andrews had discovered the bullets in his revolver were dud when he had tried it out shortly after our arrival at Lyemun so I had given him some of mine.
So it was a pleasant predicament we were in.
We stood still listening in the pitch darkness of the magazine.
We heard the grill gate at the far end of the passage being opened and then the explosion of a hand grenade in the passage. A few seconds later another grenade exploded and then we heard two or three men advancing down the passage very cautiously.
After advancing a short distance they fired a burst from some sort of automatic and then crept up again till they were right up to the door and we could hear them feel it.
We stood still expecting the door to open at any minute, but after some short discussion they went off. I suppose they were scared to open the door for which I don’t blame them but it was curious they didn’t bolt it, but that would not have bothered us as there was an emergency exit.
I thanked my stars I had left Mr. Bones at Shouson Hill for he would have been in a fine state of jitters after the heavy bombardment and would no doubt have added to my worries.
After the Japs had moved off I asked Larry to switch on his flashlight and then arranged everyone in a semicircle facing the door, seating them on the beds which lined the walls so that each got a clear view of the door and ordered everyone to sit tight and not move unless the door opened.
I then looked at my wound and found it was little more than a graze and scarcely bleeding which was just as well as nobody had a field dressing. Field dressings were supposed to have been issued on mobilization together with iron rations and various other things but this had not materialized.
I discussed the situation with Larry Andrews and Gow, the others were in such a state of jitters that their opinion was worthless. I pointed out that it was no use our leaving the magazine whilst the Japanese were still landing at the pier and coming up the road - which we knew was the case for we heard another party running past the entrance to our magazine some fifteen minutes after the first - for we couldnt put up any sort of a show with the arms we had.
Our shells, but unfortunately very very few, were now passing overhead and exploding over Lyemun Pass so evidently warning of the landing had been given so we could rest easy on that account.
It was reasonable to suppose this might be only a raid to test the strength of our defences and that the party that had landed would be withdrawing shortly. It was also reasonable to suppose we should be sending a force to Lyemun to repulse the landing.
It was useless to try and get away over the hills on foot as nobody knew the district sufficiently well and in any case I did not wish to leave the ancient police reservist behind and he was certainly unable to go on foot. It was impossible to get away in the car for it was a pitch black night. So this left the only alternative which was to wait till dawn, when I would attempt to get them all away in Larry’s big car provided we found it still outside and intact.
Larry and Gow agreed that this was the best idea after which we again shone the flashlight to see that everyone was properly placed, told them all to sit still and watch the door. The pillbox near the pier had been firing sporadically but at ten thirty, after another wave of Japs had gone up the road it remained silent and there was very little doubt in my mind that this was a real landing and not the raid I had hoped it might be.
As the night wore on I wondered if I had made the right decision, wondered if I should find Larry’s car still intact if I found it still at the entrance, whether I should find they had posted a guard at the entrance to our magazine or at the main gates. However I couldn’t think of any better plan so left it at that.
Suddenly we heard a noise in the emergency exit, which was a square hole on one side of the room some three feet square and about six feet from the ground. I said to Larry, “Switch on your torch”. As the beam lit up the square we saw a head looking at us and both immediately fired. A voice shouted “It’s me”. It was one of the Ordnance men, he was a queer sort of chap the other Ordnance men told me, and they were suspicious of him being a fifth columnist. He was Chinese and supposed to be very deaf. However, he had escaped but was badly scared when we pulled him out and sat him between two of the British Ordnance men where he remained for the rest of the night, giving no further trouble.
I have an idea he was trying to get out so as to tip off the Japs about us.
Towards midnight, after several waves of about fifty men, so far as one could judge, had gone up the road, we heard a big body of troops marching past our magazine wheeling some sort of handcarts; probably light mortars which they used so effectively throughout the show. There was much running backwards and forwards and shouting of commands but no one came down our passage nor did anyone take any notice of Larry’s car or Gow’s lorry as far as we could make out.
We had heard scarcely any firing as the leading waves went up the road to Lyemun barracks and as I knew there were none of our troops beyond, it was safe to assume the Japanese had a clear road down from the barracks to Shaukiwan Hill on the Island Road. If you turn down Shaukiwan hill it takes you through Shaukiwan village, Taikoo dockyards and then along Kings Road to town, uphill takes you to Tytam and then on to Stanley and Repulse Bay. Now, Tytam Gap was very strongly held with many pillboxes and gates across the road which we noticed had all been fully manned when we passed them on our way to Lyemun that evening, on the other hand the road to town was practically undefended apart from a great many pillboxes along the waterfront, but none of these were able to fire down the roadway which lay behind them.
I therefore thought this would be the route the Japanese would take and that by going uphill we should stand a very good chance of reaching Tytam. The night seemed endless and after the major landing at midnight there was no further landing at Lyemun. Our artillery had long ceased to display any interest, probably due to lack of ammunition.
Shortly after midnight one of the Ordnance men dosed off with his finger on the trigger of his rifle with the inevitable result, which was somewhat alarming but fortunately caused no damage.
At six-fifteen just before dawn I announced I was going out to have a look around. ‘Davy’ Gow immediately said he would come with me. We opened the steel door cautiously and went slinking down the passage like a couple of gunmen till we reached the grill at the outer end. We peered out, fully expecting to find a sentry or in any case Japanese around in the magazine compound. No sentry was there! No one up or down the roadway!!
We examined the car which by some miracle was still there and by a greater miracle undamaged.
Sending Davy back to call the others, I got into the car and touched the starter button. She sprang to life immediately and I was thankful we had taken Larry’s Studebaker and not my Morris. There is no question American cars are the ones for quick starting.
The others came out from the magazine and hastily piled in. Larry and Gow in front with me, each with a revolver and the Ordnance men and the ancient police reservist in the back with their rifles pointing out of the windows. It must have looked for all the world like a gangster’s getaway!
Off we went, but I couldn’t see the roadway and very nearly ruined everything by almost driving into a ditch, so I stopped the car and broke the windscreen with the butt end of a rifle. Then we were off like the wind, up the hill to Lyemun barracks which were strewn all over the roadway from the recent shelling. Threading our way through the debris we reached the main gates. Again no sentry! Luck was with us.
Down the military road I drove at a dangerous pace, the car going right down on her springs as we ploughed through the two big craters – till we reached Shaukiwan hill.
The light was still bad and I misjudged the turning and rammed my right front wing against the hillside. Fortunately no damage was done other than force the wing against the tyre and we soon had that pulled out and were streaming up Shaukiwan hill. I put my foot right down on the accelerator as the light improved and the big car well laden moved along like a train. If we came across Japs it would have been just too bad for them unless they had a barricade, we should have gone slap through anything. Our road block at the top of Shaukiwan hill which had been manned the previous night was deserted when we reached it and we saw neither our troops nor the Japs until we reached Tytam Gap which the Canadians were holding.
The gates across the road were closed and heavily guarded. The Canadians knew about the landing and were all on the alert. We passed through the gates and then drove on more slowly, past Stanley and Repulse Bay where the roadblocks were still in operation till we came to the RASC Supply Depot at Deepwater Bay which we found deserted. The Golf Club house was still piled high with tinned goods and there were also great piles of goods stacked all over the course.
We went into the clubhouse and helped ourselves to some bread and tinned goods wondering what had happened to the personell. Whilst we were eating and discussing the situation we heard machine gun fire coming from Wongneichong Gap which is right above the golf course.
We decided to turn round and go up there to see what was happening. Accordingly we proceeded up the Repulse Bay Road till we reached a corner just short of the gap where a lorry driver stopped us and advised us not to proceed any further as the Japs had already got possession of the Police Station and we should be under fire,
There is a ridge slightly further down the road which commands a clear view of the gap; on this ridge Eu Tong Sen, a multimillionaire from Singapore where he had made his money in tin mines, had built five houses. Housebuilding was a fetish with him and he is supposed to have been told by the priests that he would live so long as he built; however he is dead now and a good … [I will have to check this at HKU] between the priest and house contractors is also finished. These five houses stand some fifty feet above the road and are reached by an approach road. The first house is a smallish one, then come two large semidetached houses, next a large house and finally a smaller single house. There is a good deal of space between the houses in the shape of tennis courts and gardens.
The first house is built against the hillside from which the ridge on which the five houses are built juts out. Some hundred feet above the level of the houses, up the hillside is a water conduit running from Repulse Bay to Wongneichong gap.
On getting up to these houses we found they were occupied by the Ordnance Corps who had their HQ in the first house, the two semidetached and the large single house were full of stores and the last smaller house was occupied by the other ranks. There were also great piles of stores stacked all over the tennis courts.
On our arrival, I noticed there were a few men lying down with rifles behind the stone parapet of the approach road leading past the houses till it reached the end house, but no one was firing. Looking across to Wongneichong gap I could see the Police Station was in the hands of the Japanese and they were engaged in attacking Tinson’s house, a beautiful home belonging to a solicitor who was a great friend of mine. He was attached to the ARP but was killed whilst leaving his house for his post on the morning of 19th.
The Japanese were also attacking the pillbox at the foot of the bridle pass leading from the gap up Mount Nicholson. This pillbox had a lot of bare hillside with no cover at all surrounding it and I could see the Japanese scrambling about on it quite clearly.
The Police Station, Tinson’s house and the Pillbox were all approximately the same range (about 1000 yards), so I was surprised that no effort was being made to assist them.
I found the semidetached houses contained a great many guns of all
sorts in addition to all sorts of stores including field glasses and telescopes. I got hold of a telescope just to make sure they were in fact Japs scrambling around the Police Station and pillbox and being quite satisfied they were, I got out a couple of Lewis guns with ‘Davy’ Gow, cleaned them up, got some chaps to fill up the drums and when we were ready started firing. A sergeant of the Ordnance said to me “Thank God you’ve come Sir, we haven’t done a thing to help those chaps till you came”.
Davy and I were making good shooting amongst the Japs around the Police station and the ones on the bare hillside around the pillbox were scampering back to shelter like jack rabbits. We were thoroughly enjoying ourselves when an officer came along and told us to stop firing. I pointed out our target informing him, when he told me those were our Indian troops, that I had ascertained they were Japanese before opening fire by employing one of his good telescopes and invited him to look through it himself. He took a look and said he wasn’t certain and therefore we were not to fire and in any case I had no business to open fire without permission from his OC. In other words, he clearly indicated that our presence at “The Ridge” was not welcome and they were quite capable of looking after themselves – presumably by lying low.
As it wasn’t our show there was nothing to be done but pack up and move on. It was sickening as some timely assistance to the chaps up at Wongneichong gap might have helped a lot. We got into the big car, this time only Larry, Davy Gow and myself for we left the Ordnance men with their own outfit also the old police sergeant; he poor fellow was overjoyed to be out of Lyemun safely and kept on saying “Bless you, my darling”. He worked like a trump up at “The Ridge”, as I know when we returned there later that day and stayed till 21st, but I lost touch with him and am afraid he was killed.
We turned down Repulse Bay road and went back to Deepwater Bay which was still deserted so decided to drive on towards Aberdeen.
Here we got news that the whole of the RASC both Supply and Transport had retired to Sassoon Road at Pokfulam.
We found them around noon and got a great welcome as we had already been posted as missing as it was presumed we had all been killed or captured at Lyemun.
I discovered that in the rush of leaving Shouson Hill most of my kit and Mr Bones had been left behind. I went off to see Susie at the Queen Mary Hospital which is at the top of Sassoon Road, only a quarter of a mile from where we were. I found her very tired but cheerful and Uncle Pat much improved. As we were likely to be at Sassoon Road for some time, I decided to dash back to Shouson Hill and collect Mr Bones and my kit.
When I arrived at Grimble’s bungalow I found the servants still there but very apprehensive. I told them not to be alarmed as no harm would come to them even if the Japanese arrived. Mr. Bones was delighted to see me poor fellow, I’m sure he realized he had been deserted. Thank goodness they hadn’t shot him. I also collected a small suitcase I had containing razors, soap, brushes etc etc and a bottle of whisky, box of chocolates, pipe tobacco, cigarettes and oranges and apples, in fact a veritable treasure chest. I left hanging in Grimble’s wardrobe a good Jaeger dressing down, a suit of overalls and my spare jacket and shorts.
On my return to Sassoon Road I was informed that we were to move our personnel to some position up in the hills just beyond Aberdeen, but that the vehicles would remain at Sassoon Road. I placed Mr Bones and my kit in charge of Corpl. Sleap who was to remain behind with the vehicles.
We drove off, Larry and I still together in his car at the rear of the convoy of some six trucks till we reached a point on the road about a mile beyond Aberdeen where we got out and walked about five hundred feet up the hillside where we were to take up position for the night, but we had no sooner got up than we were ordered to come down again as we were to go up the Repulse Bay Road and join the Ordnance people at “The Ridge” and assist them to give covering fire to an attack which was going to take place that night on Wongneichong Gap. It was said that we still held the Pillbox and Tinson’s house and that the position was well in hand so everyone felt somewhat braced.
After our first encounter with the Tramway wire down Kings Road I had equipped my Ammunition Column lorries with heavy wire cutters but unfortunately none of them were in our convoy for just at the junction of Island and Repulse Bay roads the leading lorry got entangled in the concertina wire at the road block there. This was simply damned carelessness as the car leading the convoy had already passed through the gap in the wire safely. We found there were no wire cutters of any description amongst the convoy and the lorry had to be cut out with a file which was a long and tedious business to say the least.
However it was clear at last and we proceeded up the Repulse Bay Road without farther delay, till we reached the approach road leading up to “The Ridge” where we got out and the lorries returned to Sassoon Road.
When we got up to the houses we found all quiet and nothing doing; there was no sign of an attack being made on Wongneichong Gap and no preparations being made by the Ordnance to give covering fire. Our presence did not seem to be very welcome, however we distributed ourselves amongst the five houses and settled down for the night.
I selected the last house where the sergeants were and they fixed me up with a good hot meal which was the first I had eaten since tiffin time the day before and also produced some whisky which had been left in the house by the owner. I then settled down for a much wanted sleep on a couch.
The night passed without incident and on getting up the next morning (20th) I found it was drizzling. There was no sound of firing from Wongneichong Gap and it appeared that the Japanese now held the Police Station, Tinson’s house and the Pillbox as we could see them wandering around quite casually. We manned the parapet of the driveway in front of the houses with rifles and a few Lewis guns and were firing with some success at the various targets in the gap when we began to get a few casualties ourselves from some snipers up on the catchwater. This forced us to retire into the houses as we were completely enfiladed and it was impossible to get at the snipers by sending a party after them as the catchwater was one hundred feet up a sheer hillside.
I was in the big semidetached house and after barricading the top windows with bales of uniform I placed Bren and Lewis guns at them and again engaged the targets in Wongneichong Gap. I also similarly barricaded the windows on the opposite side of the house which commanded a view of the catchwater as it approached from Repulse Bay and from these windows one could also look down on the Repulse Bay Road and Deepwater Bay.
I had only been firing for a short while when I was called to the telephone and informed from the HQ that I was to cease firing and wait for further orders. So we sat and waited, growing more and more restless as the day wore on. During the afternoon we observed Japanese calmly walking along the catchwater from the Repulse Bay direction. I again opened fire from the back window and again was telephoned and told to hold my fire.
That night I slept in this house. I was very tired, very dirty, very hungry and very thirsty.
The Japanese had cut off the water on capturing Wongneichong Gap and we were reduced to drinking water from firebuckets and what rain water we had been able to collect. The stench in the house was awful, it permeated everywhere, from the lavatories which could not be flushed and which our foolish troops had continued to use instead of going outside.
We had been without proper rations since the evening of 18th, catching the odd meal when possible and were now down to a few tins of “bully” and Army biscuits which also had to be carefully conserved. If we were to remain in this place doing nothing but hide with not enough to eat or drink it was not my idea of a joke.
The next morning (21st) was a better day. The Japanese by this time were using the catchwater like a highway; they had erected a tent just below the Pillbox, and they had their flags spread out on the slopes of Mount Nicholson to indicate their position to their airmen who were flying around all day as they wished.
Planes came over “The Ridge” several times and took a look but dropped no cards. They were dropping pamphlets by this time, mostly for the benefit of our Indian troops and others, to the civilian population pointing out the futility of holding out any longer.
There is no doubt that once they held Wongneichong Gap they had the whole island at their mercy as this was more or less the centre and by holding it they had already split us in two. They also had a light field gun firing from the gap at the river gunboats anchored in Deepwater Bay; this gun was very inaccurate and the ships steamed out without being damaged.
All this we watched patiently. I rang up HQ house as I thought it possible they could not observe what was taking place but found I was mistaken. They had seen everything but we were still to hold fire!!
Later on that day we were told to barricade the bottom windows as it was thought the Japanese might attack us at dusk. This was done very effectively with the many bales and boxes of stores and a hole broken in the wall between the two semidetached houses so that we could move from one to the other without going outside.
Late that afternoon we saw a party of Canadian Rifles straggling up the Repulse Bay Road; when they reached the approach road to “The Ridge” they turned up and came up to the houses. A sort of cheer went up as they arrived – one would have thought we were being relieved after a tremendous siege instead of which scarcely a shot had been fired since the morning of 20th. We were then told that we were to go off in parties of around a dozen and make towards Aberdeen but after getting organized this scheme was dropped.
As night came on Larry Andrews, Cedric Blake and I went outside to get some fresh air and Larry produced a loaf of bread, a tin of butter and some bully beef which he had put in his car the morning we first called at Deepwater Bay. This was a grand meal which we all thoroughly enjoyed. We eat [ate?] it on an open verandah overlooking Deepwater Bay and discussed the situation at some length.
We were of the opinion that the action taken by the HQ house was strange to say the least and we were also of the opinion that GHQ might just as well chuck up the sponge for it was obvious to any one with half an eye that the island was already overrun. Perhaps that was the trouble, for the GHQ staff was safely below ground and owing to the almost complete disruption of the telephone service, were quite ignorant of the true position.
Around midnight (21st-22nd) I was summoned to the No.1 house which was our HQ. Here I found Col. McPherson, Ordnance, Lt.Col. Fredericks RASC and many other officers. I was informed that we were leaving “The Ridge” One party was to make its way (nobody quite knew how) up to the catchwater leading from Repulse Bay to Wongneichong Gap, another party in which I was included were to proceed down the Repulse Bay Road and occupy “Overbays” a large house at the junction of Island and Repulse Bay Roads.
Our party was to consist of thirty Canadians with Lt. Anderson in command, forty Chinese sappers and thirty men drawn from the Ordnance and RASC. Amongst the officers in the party were Lt.Col Fredericks, Major Mould, Capt Blaker (Blake?) all RASC and several Ordnance officers whose names I do not know except one named Piggott and Anderson of the Canadians and myself. Each man was to have a rifle and a hundred and fifty rounds and in addition we had a couple of Bren Guns and some hand grenades. There was very little food left at “The Ridge” and all that could be spared was four Army biscuits per man and only half a mug full of water. We had no field dressing nor anything in the shape of a stretcher.
We set off shortly after midnight down the Repulse Bay Road; it was a very still night and we must have been heard for miles around.
We had almost reached “Overbays” and had just entered a cutting, when there was a sharp burst of machine gun fire, this caused almost a panic. Fortunately there was a driveway being constructed for a new house, and into this we bundled and then spread along the parapet.
I remember Piggott taking charge at this juncture, he was a real old sweat and it was a pity we didnt have more of his type. He went around steadying the boys and then gave them the order to fire at the opposite bank, from which the fire had come.
The result was ludicrous – many of the Chinese had no idea of how to use their rifles and simply fired without aiming, with the result that many of the bullets, which were tracers, were going straight up in the air. The tremendous fuselade which we fired went on for several minutes and it was a job to stop it.
No doubt the Japanese were lying down quite secure behind the bank and when we stopped, popped up and gave us another good burst; this and the first, inflicted several casualties and the moans of the wounded and their almost immediate request for water were distressing.
There was some sort of a conference held amongst the officers, and it was decided we should push on to “Overbays”. This did not meet with my approval, which I expressed. I was in favour of scattering in small parties on the hillside, or in returning to “The Ridge” which being well clear of the hillside was easy to protect, and from where we should have been able to put up a good fight, with the large quantity of arms and ammunition at our disposal. “Overbays” on the other hand was a death-trap in my opinion.
It is a large house, with many windows, standing on a level cut in the hillside some hundred feet above the roadway, from which it is approached by a driveway. The front door is only the width of this driveway from the hillside, from which you can look right into the upper story windows. As you come up the driveway and approach the house there is dense undergrowth right up to the windows. At the front of the house is a small open verandah overlooking the junction of Island and Repulse Bay roads and at the side of the house a lawn somewhat smaller than a tennis court, to which access from the house is obtained through French windows, one side of this lawn is bounded by the cut hillside, the other by a cliff overlooking Repulse Bay Road some hundred feet below from which a flight of steps leads, and the far end ends in hillside covered by dense undergrowth.
Anyway we went up the driveway and reached the house without further trouble and got inside. We then posted some sentries and settled down as best we might for what I fully expected was to be my last night.
However, the Japanese elected to leave us in peace. I was up at dawn and searching the house for food and drink. I found a bottle of marmite, some apples and some grapes, but nothing else had been left by the owner, Sun Fo, son of Dr. Sun Yat Sen. I kept the marmite and a couple of apples and gave the rest of the apples and grapes to the wounded who were suffering pretty badly. We had bound them up as well as possible with torn up linen which we found but there was no antiseptic or proper bandage to be found.
The interior of “Overbays” comprised a very big lounge to which the front door gave immediate access. The opposite wall had French windows which opened onto the verandah overlooking the junction of Island and Repulse Bay roads. One end of the lounge also had French windows opening onto the lawn, the other was a wall with a door leading to the dining room and servants and domestic quarters.
There was a staircase in the lounge leading to the upper story, a small flight of stairs just inside the front door led to a level which ran across the length of the lounge and then another small flight landed you on the upper floor. The level part had a row of windows facing the hillside so that practically the whole lounge was exposed. Thus with the French windows and the windows on the staircase the lounge was pretty well open all round.
The dining room commanded no view at all, thick shrubbery coming right up to the windows.
The upper floor consisting of bedrooms was vulnerable being on a level with the hillside. There was nothing we could barricade the windows with, so we were faced with a nice problem.
Whilst I was scrounging around, firing started and when I went upstairs I found one man had already been hit while lying in bed.
Nobody seemed to be paying much attention to organizing any defence, so I spoke to Anderson and suggested it would be as well for him to get something done. He called his sergeant and with him and another man went out across the lawn to the far end of it where a path led up the hillside; here he concealed the sergeant and man with a Bren gun and then returned to the house. I had in the meantime got Larry Andrews and another of the Canadians to mount a gun on the verandah overlooking the junction.
When Anderson returned we could clearly see the Japanese, moving about on the hillside, through the windows on the level part of the staircase. He and I got rifles and started potting at them and we then tried to get men to fire from the windows. No one seemed very willing to expose themselves and the Chinese sappers were by this time sitting in a huddle under the staircase and were removing their bandoliers which they threw with their rifles into the middle of the room. The remainder stood around in groups upstairs and down, taking good care to keep clear of the windows.
The firing got more intense and by this time bullets were coming through the staircase windows but were hitting a beam well above our heads. Still it was unpleasant!! I went upstairs with Anderson to see if we could get up on the roof or get any fire to bear from the upper floor. We found both impossible, for there was nothing with which to barricade the windows, through which the bullets were now coming fast, nor could we reach the roof for the ladder which led up to it opened onto a part which had no protecting parapet, so that once anyone emerged from the trapdoor they were in full view.
The wounded were bleeding still, for we had no proper means to bind them and one man was obviously bleeding to death.
On coming downstairs I found Larry had been forced to bring his gun in from the verandah as the Japanese were throwing bombs at it. A bold rush across the lawn and up the hillside was the obvious thing and this I suggested to Anderson to which he agreed saying that if we remained in the house we would all be caught like rats.
He turned to his men and said “Boys, I’m going out, who will come with me.” There was a dead silence. Anderson said “Will you come sergeant” “Yes” was the reply, “and you Dupont”. “Yes, Sir” answered a very pale faced youngster. Another who I suspect was Dupont’s pal immediately said he would go too. Nobody else volunteered so these four dashed from the French windows, crossed the lawn and disappeared up the path.
I waited a minute and then said to Larry, “I don’t like to see those chaps go out alone; if we can reach the hills we can put up some sort of a show if the Japs try and rush the house, and if they don’t we can get away at dusk and report the situation to GHQ who I feel sure know nothing about it, will you come with me?”
He agreed immediately.
I called for volunteers to go with me. No response!
So out we went following the same route as Anderson, fully expecting to stop one any moment, however we reached the path safely, which I saw led up into more open country but further to the right was a ravine covered with dense undergrowth into which we dashed.
On taking stock we heard several machine guns up the hill firing at the house, and also one which was firing right over our heads, but there was no answering fire. I thought if we lie here we can ambush the Japs if they attempt to rush the house and if they don’t we can get away at dusk and report the situation to GHQ.
To this plan Larry agreed and so we lay waiting and watching. We saw no sign of Anderson and his men who must have gone further up the hillside.
The firing grew more intense as the afternoon wore on, but still no reply came from the house. However, no attempt was made to rush it, no doubt the Japs knew our strength almost to a man and must have thought we were holding our fire till they came out in the open, little knowing the deplorable condition which actually existed.
As we lay waiting, a dog came along and took a look at us but otherwise no one disturbed our long wait.
Larry was actually in the small party which had set off from “The Ridge” just ahead of our party. We had caught up with them at the point where we were ambushed and they had then joined up with us as it was obviously impossible to reach the catchwater from anywhere around the Repulse Bay end, as the Japanese were already in possession of all that area.
At last it was getting dark and we took off our boots and prepared to start on our journey to GHQ. Keeping to the ravine we crept down towards the road, seemingly making a fearful row, for the firing had died down to almost nothing at dusk, and the only sound seemed to come from the stones which we dislodged in our descent. We came to the end of the ravine where the hillside overhung the road; here we found a stormwater cement culvert, to carry the heavy rains safely past the road, and down this we slid, landing safely on the road.
So far so good! The new moon was just up and for such a small crescent seemed to be giving an amazing amount of light. Much too much for our liking!
The point on the road where we now stood was about two hundred yards from the road junction below “Overbays” and directly above a palatial residence which belonged to the same Chinese millionaire who had built the houses known as “The Ridge” which we had only left the night before. This residence was some forty feet below the road level, and even if we had been able to get down the retaining wall which supported the road, we should only have found ourselves in his grounds and might have had to contend with the fierce dogs which he turned loose at night but more probably would have found the place in the possession of the Japanese.
We walked slowly up the road towards the junction with the intention of slipping across and making for Deepwater Bay and Aberdeen. Suddenly there was a shout and we heard several men running down the road from the junction.
There was only one thing to do, so over the wall we went. Fortunately we had already reached a point where the retaining wall was only some fifteen feet above the hillslope and outside of the millionaire’s grounds. We landed safely and lay still till we heard the running men well past, and then slid down the hillside to the beach some forty odd feet below.
Here, we discussed our next move. Larry, who is an excellent swimmer, was set on swimming from where we were across to Deepwater Bay but I felt I was not equal to it. The water was very cold and I was certain I should get cramp and was all for sticking to the land.
We decided to part, each taking the route he preferred. We wished each other luck, arranged to make for Aberdeen where we knew the Navy had their headquarters, and whoever reached there first was to go on to GHQ and report.
Below the road level between the junction of Island and Repulse Bay Roads there are a number of houses, the gardens of which all run into each other and are linked up by paths. Keeping in the shadows I went along these paths, going very quietly, as I had to get past the road junction which was just above the first house. This house was deserted, but from it I could see the Japanese were at the road junction for they had made a barricade with lorries and what struck me as very odd, had a red light burning. We used to have red lights on road blocks during the first few days, before there was any likelihood of a landing, but this was discontinued once the Japanese were in Kowloon.
I went slowly on, finding no difficulty in getting through barbed wire fencing here and there, till I reached the last house which is just round the corner from Deepwater Bay; then a dog started barking.
I stood still, hoping it would stop but it went on and on and I thought I must do something quick before someone came to see what was the matter. I slipped up the road, intending to go along to Deepwater Bay but found this was impossible as the Japanese had another block just at the foot of the hill, as the road leaves Deepwater Bay.
I therefore turned back and made my way as quickly as possible down to the beach, with the wretched dog still barking his head off.
On reaching the shore I found a barbed wire fence; this looked innocent enough and I had no compunction in crawling through it. As I was climbing through my coat caught and there was a deafening explosion.
I found myself lying on my back, very frightened. At the time I immediately thought the dog had attracted the attention of the Japanese and that a bomb had been thrown at me; however, I believe I must have been mistaken and that it was one of our sentry mines which we had all along the coast where there were rocks on which it was possible for small parties to land, for nothing further happened.
However, I decided it was now time for me to follow Larry into the sea and hastily removed my clothing. I hated like hell leaving a very well cut raincoat which the tailor had only just delivered to me, but I knew if I was to keep afloat I must sacrifice everything.
Clad in my underclothes I slipped into the very cold water which was black with oil from the sunken oil lighter which had been bombed at Aberdeen. I swam quietly towards Deepwater Bay where I landed, very cold but quite intact.
I then made a very serious mistake. I spent about an hour and a half in trying to get through the very formidable barbed wire entanglements on the beach. I tried at the point at which I landed, again in the centre of the beach and yet again where a stream flowed under it. Each time I succeeded in getting a certain distance through the wire by rolling and squirming, only to find myself up against an absolutely impregnable fence. In this I was fortunate as it happens for I heard later the beach was mined and if I had got onto it, I should certainly have been blown up.
By this time my feet were in a terrible state having got badly cut on the rocks to start with and then on the barbed wire and the small anchor posts which secured it. I was miserably cold and didn’t know what to do next.
I decided I must swim again and try to scale the cliff some forty feet up to the road which ran from Deepwater Bay to Aberdeen. This time I entered the water it was an absolute nightmare and my teeth started to chatter.
I swam out to a point where there was no barbed wire, climbed onto the rocks which were covered with barnacles and began to climb the cliff.
The light given by the new moon was quite sufficient to show me where I could get a good foot and hand hold, and I reached the top without much difficulty, but here I was confronted by a sheer granite wall which formed the retaining wall and parapet for the road. It seemed to tower above me and there was only a very narrow ledge at the top of the cliff on which I should have to stand and reach up for the top, so as to pull myself up. It was a pleasant thought that one little slip would land me on the rocks forty feet below!!
I got up very cautiously, squirming my body up against the wall, and reached up with my arms. I was just able to grasp the top of the wall! A pull-up and I was on the road. I almost expected to find another road block at this end of Deepwater Bay but luck was with me and I found the road clear. I thanked God for pulling me through, I do believe I was looked after that night for it was a miraculous climb in that light.
Seeing the road clear I decided to walk along it, thinking if there were any Japanese in that area they would probably let me pass, as clad in my underwear and covered with oil they might easily mistake me for a coolie.
I passed many deserted lorries, all ours, but neatly parked on the side of the road where the Japanese seemed to be fixing them up, for several had small lights burning and people working in the cabs, but no one disturbed me.
Just before entering Aberdeen, about two miles along the road from the place I reached it, I ran into a barbed wire entanglement. I immediately thought that the Japanese must be at Aberdeen and that I should be captured and probably die of pneumonia if not shot, which I thought was very discouraging after all my efforts.
I stood perfectly still.Suddenly a good old British voice challenged.
I fairly shouted with joy, “Thank God you’re British”.
He replied, “Is that Capt. Potts?” “Yes” said I, “but how did you know?” “Oh, Lt. Andrews arrived a short while ago, and told me to be on the lookout for you”.
That was great news.
I went to the Naval Headquarters at the Industrial School just past the sentry, where I found Comdr. Harrison who gave me a much needed drink and warm coat. He told me Larry had just gone off in a car to GHQ, this meant that there was no need for me to go so I asked if he could spare a car to send me home.
My feet needed immediate attention if I was to avoid blood poisoning, and I thought the best attention I could receive would be from Susie. It was just after midnight when the car in which Harrison sent me arrived at “Alberose”. You can imagine the fuss that was made over me.
The next day (23rd) I rang up both HKVDC and RASC Adjutants reporting my whereabouts and condition. They had already heard about it from Larry’s report and were quite complimentary. Capt. Crewe the RASC Adjutant told me to remain at “Alberose” till my feet were quite healed and said he would send some uniform for me to the University, where I could pick it up when ready to report for duty. I was unable to put on a shoe till 28th, so had no chance of reporting again for duty before the show was over.