18 Dec 1941, A. H. Potts' wartime diary | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

18 Dec 1941, A. H. Potts' wartime diary

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Thu, 18 Dec 1941

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.