Benjamin Charles Albert PROULX (aka Benny) [1901-1985] | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Benjamin Charles Albert PROULX (aka Benny) [1901-1985]

Names
Given: 
Benjamin Charles Albert
Family: 
Proulx
Alias / nickname: 
Benny
Sex: 
Male
Status: 
Deceased
Birth
Date: 
1901-08-24
Birthplace (town, state): 
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Birthplace (country): 
Death
Date: 
1985-08-30
Cause of death: 
Heart Failure

Buried in Notre Dame cemetery Ottawa.

Author of "Underground From Hong Kong"

Comments

REPORT OF W. O. PROULX, HKRNVR, ON HIS ESCAPE FROM NORTH POINT MILITARY PRISON.

            I beg to report my arrival at Kukong on 4th March.  I escaped from North Point Prison on 28th January at 12.30 a.m., taking with me Royal Netherlands Naval Lieutenants Idema and Hordyk (Submarines) who had arrived at North Point three days previously by Japanese transport from Saigon where they had been kept in prison following their rescue by destroyer which picked them up ten hours after their submarine had been sunk at Kota Baru, on the first or second day of the war.

None of the officers I knew were willing to come with me and as the Dutch officers were anxious to return to service and since I felt they were badly needed for subs I agreed, the third officer remaining in prison to take charge of the odd 30 seamen from the sunken submarine.

We escaped through the sewer which emerges in the seawall and came out four hours later half way up the hill opposite the camp, in the middle of the local guard headquarters, crawled up the remainder of the hill through brush and barbed wire while we could hear three Japanese marching off to guard duty.  Crossed the hills of Mount Parker, then to Tytam Tuk, failed to obtain a sampan from the friendly Chinese in the village near Tytam just below the Shekko Road.  Carried dollars 60, two tins sardines, one jam and a few ounces coffee obtained from friends in camp.  While hiding out in the ravine waiting for a chance of a boat, this Chinese whose uncle worked in the Pumping Station at Tytam told me that Mr. Flegg and one other Englishman were murdered by the Japanese when they arrived.  He was positive about this as the uncle had worked 15 years there and saw them.

After five days and nights hiding on the Island we reached Shekko and entered from the hills at Big Wave Bay, learned that the Japanese were in Mr. Marton’s bungalow only and not in the village so we hid in Mr. Blaker’s house till dark and then proceeded to the village across the golf course and obtained an abandoned sampan on the beach by paying the Chinese two hundred dollars, but having to row it ourselves.  (Blaker’s, Turner’s, Whitman’s, Dawson,’ and Groves’ houses were all looted and filthy beyond description and covered in human excreta, a terribly depressing sight).

Negotiated the Tahong Channel safely despite heavy Phosphorus in water and the Jap Patrol boat did not spot us. 

Boat overturned on opposite shore and we walked to Potosu village, obtained a sampan man to take us to Mirs Bay, but half way ……. [illegible] and his assistant demanded more money knowing we had none and that the villagers had paid for the boat from their own pockets.  Wished to avoid trouble and detection so we allowed them to force us ashore on a deserted island and eventually reached, by another small sampan, Kai Sau Island where we were fed and had our first real sleep in nine days.  They took us to Saikung village where the guerillas took us to Tolo Harbour, thence by junk to Saiechung in Mirs Bay then walked to Tamshui and Waichow, spent a week there at St. Joseph’s Mission and came to Kukong by river boat and bust [?] with the party led by Major Munro.

In a newpaper article in the Evening Telegram (St. John's, Newfoundland) after he returned to Ottawa on 20 July 1942, Proulx mentioned that the journey from Hong Kong in safety included two trips in small chinese boats, on both of which the crews attempted to rob them, the purchase of a sampan from a Chinese fisherman with a cheque for $300 which he signed 'Adolf Hitler', and a 200-mile walk over the mountains on the Chinese mainland, guided and helped by members of the Chinese forces.

Before the war, Proulx was a member of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. He left behind his wife and two sons in Hong Kong.

 

 

By mid-1944, Mrs Proulx was in Macao.   BAAG received this message from Major Hugh Williamson, GHQ India on 15th July:  "Mrs Proulx and two chinldren arrived Macao and anxious to reach India.  Please assist if and when possible."  BAAG HQ replied on 24th July: Instructions passed to Yanping who will get them out when situation permits.  At present impossible."

Hello Elizabeth and Moddsey,

Thank you both very much for your recent posts!  This was all information we never had and it was very interesting.  Benny wrote a second book about the period after his escape and his trek through China to Kunming. Chennault took him in for about 6 months give or take so that he could recover from his ordeal. It was during this period that he flew on one of Chennault's aircraft over Hong Kong, pointing out Japanese and civilian locations and then beetling back to Kunming as quickly as possible.  He had the script with him when he went back out to Hong Kong at war's end but, on his return to Canada, the DC-3 he was on was shot down on take-off from Saigon.  Everyone survived but the manuscript went up in flames with the plane and he never wrote again.

A question I have is where were you able to obtain this information on Benny?  If it is available to the public I would love to be able to sift through it and see what else I may be able to find about him and other family in Hong Kong/Macau during the war. 

I am also trying to get information on Benny's mother-in-law, my great grandmother, Dolores Simmons as I have nothing about her or her parents and family.  Am not even sure if she was born there or in the UK!  I have tried a variety of things but any advice or guidance you could offer would be greatly appreciated!

Again, thank you for posting all that information.

Cheers!

Allan (Proulx)

The HK Public Library online service has quite a number of references. Please see here

Allan - The little I have posted about Proulx (the only mention I have found) is from the BAAG papers, "originals" in the Australian War Memorial and the National Archives in Kew, England.  I have not been through every single document, so you may find more if you have the time to look.  One thing which will surely interest you is that the full text of the message from GHQ New Delhi to BAAG reads: "Mrs Simmons Mrs Proulx and two children ,,,"  

I have collected some personal accounts of the Hongkong Volunteers "at war" and in these I see that Proulx is mentioned in an account called The Action at Repulse Bay (author unknown) the subsatnce of which is described by Proulx in his book: 

" ...Had the Japanese acted with the same dash as they had shown in their attacks on Quarry Gap and Jardine’s Look-Out, they would probably have taken the hotel without much difficulty, for their arrival was utterly unexpected.  They acted on this occasion, however, with considerable caution.  An officer of the HKRNVR, Lieut. Proulx, on duty at the northern end of the hotel grounds, overlooking the road, saw, to his amazement, a party of Japanese standing on the road outside the hotel garage, within fifteen yards of him.  They had prisoners with them, a man of the Middlesex and four naval ratings, and the Japanese officer in charge was carrying out the customary procedure of ‘beating up’ the Middlesex private, while a Japanese soldier stood behind the prisoner, with his bayonet ready, in case the prisoner showed signs of resisting.  There was just light enough to see them and Proulx quietly called up the nearest two men on watch, and the three opened fire on the Japanese.  The officer and two men fell;  the remainder ran into the garage, taking the prisoners with them. ,,,"

Later in the same report:  "... Sub-Lieut. ‘Benny’ Proulx was detailed to lead the party since he had the best knowledge of the countryside.  He departed down the tunnel, crawling as quickly as possible, but was frankly appalled to hear the noise made by the men behind him.  All the men were in their stocking-feet, their boots tied to their waists, but steel helmets, bayonet scabbards and rifles made a terrific din as they knocked against the sides of the tunnel.  Proulx reached the far end of the tunnel on the beach, but found only two Canadians behind him.  Not knowing what had happened to the others, he told the two men to wait and crawled back up the tunnel to the hotel.  He found nobody, but, hearing voices near, he went in that direction, and found a party of Japanese officers in earnest conversation.  He decided it would be wiser to withdraw gracefully, and departed down the tunnel again with considerable speed. ..."

Good luck with your searches!   Regards, Elizabeth.

Hi Allan,

We've also got a page for Dolores Simmons at http://gwulo.com/node/10767

If you have specific questions about her I recommend you jot them down there and hopefully readers will be able to help you.

Also some suggestions for places to look for information about your family members are listed at: http://gwulo.com/node/10767

Regards, David

Allan --

The RAF DC-3 was not shot down--it crashed on February 12, 1946, in a rice field outside Saigon, and according to Benny Proulx, blew up and burned six seconds later, taking his bags and papers with it.  He survived, he says, due to the "proverbial Proulx luck."  I learned all this from reading his letters to the American writer Emily Hahn.  I don't have permission to post the letters here in a public forum like Gwulo, but I would imagine that the archives where I obtained them would not mind if I provided copies to you directly.  If you would like the copies, please feel free to email me at my work email below and I'd be happy to provide them in PDF format.  The letters are truly a fascinating read, and they contributed a great deal to my own research on wartime Hong Kong. 

Regards,

Steve Bailey

 baile1sk@cmich.edu

Many thanks, Steve, for posting that information!  I have since sent you an email regarding the .pdf versions.

Cheers!

 

Allan (Proulx)

 

I am Dutch historian who has read the diary of the Dutch naval officer Idema who escaped with Roel Hordijk and Benjamin Proulx. I have taken up the plan to write a book on their escape from Hong Kong and incredible journey through China to Ceylon. Their story should be told. I have also located some documents, but they are in Chinese. If I would post them here, would anyone be able to help out and translate them?   Frank (van Lunteren)

 

Hi Frank,

They sound very interesting. Unfortunately I can't read Chinese, but hopefully you'll get a positive reply.

You're welcome to post them in any case, here's how to upload a photo / scan:

http://gwulo.com/node/2076

Regards, David

Dear Frank --

I just created separate forums for Idema and Hordijk here on Gwulo.  I supplied what little I know about them--perhaps you could fill in the blanks?  My own book project contains a few chapters focusing on Proulx, but I do mention Idema and Hordijk, so I would be interested in any additional details (or corrections) you would be willing to provide--birthdate, military rank and role aboard the 0-20, wartime service after rejoining the Dutch navy, and so on.  The project with Idema's diary sounds fascinating!

Regards,

Steve Bailey

Elizabeth Ride has posted a couple of photos from the 1930s, taken at the Jockey Club, and writes:

Benny Proulx was a keen racing man, as were Harry Penn and Aci Bowker, in those pre-war days.  I wonder if anyone can identify them among the men in this photograph?  ER.

You can see the photos at: http://gwulo.com/atom/20902

Regards, David

I have a copy of a letter dated 14th March 1944 from Benny Proulx to Lt Ron Ashby late of MTB 07 detailing his search for Ashby and the MTB's in Aberdeen in the hope he could get away with them escaping with Admiral Chan Chak on the day of the surrender. Benny also describes his escape and return to Ottawa where he found employment with the National Film Board. 

More at www.hongkongescape.org 

Proulx's letter to Ashby sounds fascinating, and I would like to learn more.  This is the first I've heard about a link between Proulx and the MTBs.  Unfortunately, I can't get the link to work!

 

The link is now fixed laugh

FYI Warrant Officer Benny Proulx HKRNVR served at the Chung Am Kok Mine Control and was NOT a Sub-Lt as stated in various articles. Source = Navy List December 1941.

The wedding of Benjamin Albert Proulx and Florence Alice Simmons on 27th April 1925 at the Church of St. Joseph

Benjmain Albert Proulx Wedding The Hogn Kong Telegraph page 1 27th April 1925.png
Benjmain Albert Proulx Wedding The Hogn Kong Telegraph page 1 27th April 1925.png, by eurasian_david

Source: The Hong Kong Telegraph, page 1, 27th April 1925