William Henry LATIMER [1889-1954] | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

William Henry LATIMER [1889-1954]

William Henry
Birthplace (town, state): 
St Paul, Minnesota
Birthplace (country): 
Cause of death: 

William Henry Latimer was born in St Paul, Minnesota, USA on 2 April 1889.   His family moved to Canada and he attended school there.  He studied law at Osgoode Hall in Toronto and was called to the bar in 1914.  While in school he was active in a militia unit originally called the 9th Mississauga Horse, changing to the 15th LH, before becoming the 124BN in WW1.  William joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and saw service as an officer in France. 

After the war William returned to Canada, and resumed his legal practice.  He married, and settled down.  He had various business interests in addition to his legal work, and also sat on the Board of the Ontario Hyro-Electric Commission of Investigations.  His wife died in 1925, and it seems that William moved to the UK soon afterwards.  I have not mangaged to confidently identify what he did in England between the wars.

At the beginning of WW2 William signed up to his old unit, now known as Kings Dragoon Guards.  He was seconded to the British Army's General Staff.   From what I've previously read it seems that The Establishment wanted experienced officers (who had been to the right schools, and belonged to the right clubs) and a lot of effort was put into finding these men, and weeding out undesirables - you had to apply, and were then investigated by the War Office. As a result, birth dates were altered, so that those that were now a bit too old could still join up.  Without being able to see his actual war service record, I have found that he served in 3 areas - the War Office, Establishments, and with the Royal Armoured Division.  In a newspaper article  he said he served in many different theatres of war and served under some very influencial men.

In London, in mid 1945, William married a  widow, Nona Keele Bates. He then went to the Far East, and arrived in Hong Kong on 16 November 1945.  He was seconded to the "War Office, as Magistrate, Legal Branch Civil Affairs Unti, Military Administration in Hong Kong".  After one year in Hong Kong, at the change-over to Civil Administration, he was offered the position of First Magistrate of Kowloon, which accepted and left the army.  He organised for his wife to come to Hong Kong, and they settled there.

From what I have read in many ex-pat civil servant memoirs many people at that time saved up their leave entitlements, as it took a long time to travel anywhere.  The couple took some long trips, including one trip where they were stuck waiting for a steamer, so William had to fly back to Hong Kong, and Nona come by the steamer when it showed up.  They also took a long voyage to the US in 1950, where they visited his family and her brother, both in Pennsylvannia.  

In 1951 William transferred across to the Supreme Court building, when he was appointed President of the Residencey Tribunals.  There was a large backlog at the time, and he was considered the right person to clear it.  I have read in memoirs and in newspaper reports of the amount of cases that were heard weekly in all the courts, and it was a staggering amount.

In 1953 when William was putting his retirement plans in place he returned to England alone.  When he returned to Hong Kong he became unwell, and died in Queen Mary Hospital on 14 August 1954. William is buried in Hong Kong cemetery.  The date of birth on his headstone (2 April 1902)  is incorrect but Nona may not have known he was older, or the stone may be worn away.  Later in his life William used 2 April 1893 -shaving a few years off for WW2.

Some amusing crimes occurred in the courthouses under his watchful eye.  Two workmen, with a ladder, came into a sitting court, and removed a large valuable clock.  It was never seen again.  On another occassion a crystal inkwell and pen stand was stolen from William's office.

There is an out-of-copyright photo of William from 1914, from Osgoode Hall on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/lsuc_archives/3831296052

I have one other photo of him from a 1950s newspaper cutting, but despite the intervening years he still looks recognisable.