Portsmouth men and the fall of Hong Kong

The fall of Singapore in February 1942 has been a significant event in British military history, as one of the largest and most shameful capitulations in the long history of the British Empire. Yet several months before in December 1941, the stratgically important port of Hong Kong was attacked by the Japanese, simultaneously with the strike on Pearl Harbour. A large number of men from Portsmouth were caught up in the fighting.

A large number of men caught up in the fighting were from the support services. Staff Sergeant Lawrence Benford, 29 and from Buckland, was serving with 12 (Hong Kong) Company of the Royal Army Service Corps when he was killed on 8 December 1941. Staff Sergeant Walter French, 35 and from North End, was serving with the same unit and was also killed on the 8th. Both Benford and French have no known grave, and are remembered on the Sai Wan Memorial.

Lieutenant-Colonel John Yale, 44 and from Southsea, was commanding the Hong Kong Royal Artillery when he was killed on 19 December 1941. He is buried in Sai Wan War Cemetery.

Corporal Kerry Ryan, 25, was killed on 19 December 1941. He was serving with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, and is buried in Sai Wan War Cemetery. At some point Corporal Ryan was mentioned in despatches.

The Japanese perpetrated a number of War Crimes during the Battle for Hong Kong, one of which involved the murder of a Portsmouth Officer. Captain Robert Bonney of the Royal Army Service Corps, was 47 and from Southsea. He had surrendered when he was murdered at Repulse Bay on 20 December 1941. He had served in the ranks during the First World War.

37 year old Lieutenant Frederick Southwell, of the Royal Signals, was killed on 23 December. He is buried in Stanley War Cemetery in a collective grave.

The death and suffering did not end after the Hong Kong Garrison surrendered on Christmas Day 1941. As elsewhere in the Far East, the Japanese treared their Prisoners brutally, with no accord to any international conventions.

Corporal Leonard Hunt (23, Copnor) of the Royal Air Force died on 4 August 1942, and is buried in Sai Wan War Cemetery.

Five Portsmouth men died on 1 October 1942 in captivity in Hong Kong, suggesting some kind of massacre or epidemic. Corporal Walter Hodge (43) of the Royal Signals, Lance Corporal Henry Moxham (28, Southsea) of 40 Fortress Company Royal Engineers, Lance Sergeant Thomas Newman (25, Cosham) of 22 Fortress Company Royal Engineers, Staff Sergeant Edward Kehoe of 40 Fortress Company Royal Engineers, and Gunner Arthur Johnson (26, Copnor) of 12 Coast Regiment Royal Artillery are all remembered on the Sai Wan Memorial.

Also captured at Hong Kong were several men of the Hong Kong Dockyard Defence Corps. These were civilian Dokyard workers who served in a Home Guard-like defence unit. As the biggest and most important Dockyard in Britain, its not surprising that many Portsmouth men found themselves working in the Hong Kong Dockyard. Corporal Gilbert Budden (23, Cosham) died on 11 October 1942. Private Alfred Lee (43, North End) died on 12 December 1942. And Private Henry Budden (from Cosham, and the brother of Gilbert Budden) died on 9 October 1943. All three are buried in Stanley War Cemetery.

The final British casualty in Hong Kong during the war was Gunner Norman Travis of Cosham. He was serving with 80 Anti-Tank Regiment Royal Artillery, and died on 8 April 1945. He is buried in Sai Wan War Cemetery. Interestingly, he had been captured in Singapore.

Many other men who were captured in Hong Kong ended up dying in Japan, having been shipped there for slave labour.

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6 Comments

Filed under portsmouth heroes, Uncategorized, World War Two

6 responses to “Portsmouth men and the fall of Hong Kong

  1. Richard

    One of the most notorious consequences of the fall of Hong Kong was the sinking of the Lisbon Maru.
    On 27th September 1942 the Lisbon Maru left Hong Kong for Shanghai with 1816 prisoners on board. She was Torpedoed on 1st October by USS Grouper, 6 miles from Tung Fusham Island, off the China coast, 29°57′N, 122°56′N.
    The roll below shows those that were not seen alive after the 2nd October and includes 820 names of prisoners, although the death toll did not cease, prisoners dying later as a direct result of the Lisbon Maru being sunk.
    One of the victims was my Great Uncle Horace Pike known as ‘George’ who at the time of the fall of HK was serving as Ch Stoker in the Insect Class River Gunboat HMS Cicala. There is an Excellent memorial Site to the Lisbon Maru at http://www.roll-of-honour.org.uk/Hell_Ships/Lisbon_Maru/.

  2. James Daly

    Hi Richard thank you for your comment. I must admit I had never heard of the Lisbon Maru. Having looked at the roll of honour, the five men who died on 1 October 1942 went down on the ship.

  3. Richard

    If you want more info there is a very good book The Sinking Of The Lisbon Maru by Tony Banham ISBN 9789622097711 , it is an horrific story, many of the PoW’s did not die as a result of the sinking itself but directly at the hands of their captors. It is also the only recorded occasion when UK PoW’s who escaped, swimming ashore, were aided by Chinese Civilians

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