Tag Archives: Prisoners of War

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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WW1 Prisoners of War

Regular readers will be well aware that I have long had an interest in the history of Prisoners of War – my own Granddad was one of them, after all. But when we think of POW’s, we tend to think of the Second World War, the Great Escape, Colditz, the Wooden Horse… along those lines.

But prisoners are taken in any war – what happened to British Soldiers captured in the First World War – and specifically, those from Portsmouth?

Its quite easy to find prisoners from 1914 to 1918 who died in German captivity. Unlike in the Second World War, when fighting took place in Germany, and the Bomber Offensive meant that airmen died and were buried i Germany, if a British servicemen died in Gerany between 1914 and is buried there, he would have been a Prisoner of War.

Private A.M. Cooper, 28 and from Stanley Road, Stamshaw, died on 22 January 1915. He is buried in Berlin South West War Cemetery. He was captured while serving with the 1st Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment – a Regular Army unit – and was probably captured in the battles of 1914.

Corporal F.T.C. Ennis died on 15 December 1916. He is buried in Niederzwehren War Cemetery. He was captured while serving with the 14th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, the first of the Portsmouth ‘Kitchener’ Battalions.

Lance Corporal G. Avis was also a member of the 14th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment. He died on 5 May 1917, and is also buried in Niederzwehren.

Private William Lonnon, 19, died on 24 June 1918. He is buried in Berlin South West War Cemetery, and was a member of the 6th Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment. He came from Worlds End, a small village near Hambledon, outside Portsmouth.

Private E.G. Barham, 20, came from Balfour Road in North End. He died on 13 September 1918, and is buried in Niederzwehren. He was serving with the 50th (Northumbrian) Signal Company of the Royal Engineers, providing signals support to the 50th Division. At this point in the war the Signals were still part of the Royal Engineers.

Private George Atkins, 28, died on 6 October 1918. He was serving with the 1/8th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry, and is buried in Niederzwehren. He came from Tennyson Road in Copnor.

Notice how all but one of them were infantrymen. Almost always – but not exclusively – supporting troops were behind the lines, and might only have been captured in the event of a big attack or breakthrough, both rare things in the static warfare of the Eastern Front. This contrasts firmly with the Second World War, when all manner of troops were captured at Dunkirk, Singapore and Tobruk.

Niederzwehren was a major Prisoner of War camp in the First World War, near Kassel. After the war it was chosen as one of four sites where prisoners who had died in captivity were to be buried. As a result men who had been buried in Baden, Bavaria, Hanover, Hesse and Saxony were brought to Niederzwheren. There are 1,796 men buried or commemorated there.

We know a lot less about WW1 POW’s than their 1939-45 counterparts. But the Red Cross do have records of Prisoners, and perhaps there are some sources in the National Archives that might shed more light?

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Pompey POW’s: Prisoners of the Germans

Prisoners at Stalag XIB, April 1945

Prisoners at Stalag XIB, April 1945

Recenty I looked at the large amount of Portsmouth men who were captured by the Japanese, and subsequently died in captivity.

Many servicemen were also captured by the Germans. As well as Army personnel captured at Dunkirk, many men were also captured when their aircraft were shot down over Germany. Many men were also captured on Crete, in Greece, in North Africa – particularly at Tobruk. Later in the war over 6,000 men were captured during the battle of Arnhem, including my Granddad.

Although there were isolated cases of brutality and atrocities, the Germans generally treated their British prisoners in accordance with the Geneva Convention. Although conditions deteriorated as the war drew on, fatalities did not reach the rate of those held by the Japanese.

Signalman Alfred Richards, of I Corps Royal Signals, died on 4 June 1940. Interestingly, he is buried in Cadzand War Cemetery in Holland. Why Holland? Well, Holland had been invaded by the Germans in May and quickly over-run. But British forces hadn’t set foot in Holland at all in 1940. Whats more, the Dunkirk evacuation ended on 4 June. It looks very much like Signalman Richards had been captured during the fall of France, and died on his way to a Prisoner of War Camp in Germany. Richards was 31 and from Stamshaw.

Guardsman David Lyons, 32 and from North End, was serving with the 3rd Battalion of the Grenadier Guards. He died on 13 October 1940, and is buried in Enghien, Belgium. Given that the battle of France had ended in June, it would seem that Guardsman Lyons was a POW. Perhaps he had been too badly wounded to be moved to a camp in Germany?

One Portsmouth man died after reaching a Prisoner of War Camp. Gunner Kenneth Lanyon, 26 and from Southsea, was captured serving with 194 Battery, 60 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment Royal Artillery during the Battle of France. He died on 30 December 1940, and is buried in Cracow Rakowiki Cemetery in Poland. Several Prisoner of War Camps were close to Cracow.

Remarkably, it seems that none of the Portsmouth men who died whilst serving in the RAF were taken prisoner. Evidence tells us that of the several hundred Portsmouh airmen who’s planes were shot down over Europe, all of them were killed. This demonstates just how dangerous the air war really was.

One Portsmouth man was a victim of German war crimes. In November 1942 Sapper Ernest Bailey of the 9 (Airborne) Field Company, Royal Engineers was captured during a glider-borne raid on a heavy water plant in Norway. He was captured by the Germans and murdered on 19 November. Bailey – 31 and from Paulsgrove – is buried in Stavanger War Cemetery.

Some Prisoners died even shortly after the war in Europe was over and they were released. Private William Starling of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps died on 14 May 1945, and is buried in Prague War Cemetery, Czech Republic. He probably died in a Prisoner of War Camp in the region.

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Portsmouth men building the Burma Railway

In 1942, after invading Burma through Thailand, Japananese forces needed to bring supplies to the front in Burma through the straits of Malacca, which was vulnerable to Allied submarines. The only feasible alternative was a railway.

Construction started in June 1942, at both ends. Part of the work included the famous Bridge over the River Kwai, made infamous by the film starring Alec Guinness. The work was completed by Allied Prisoners of War and local Slave Labourers. The Japanese Government had not signed up to the Geneva Convention on the treatment of Prisoners, and Japanese military culture looked down on surrender as a shameful act. As a result Prisoners were treated brutally. It is estimated that 160,000 Prisoners and locals died building the railway, due to overwork, malnutrition, and diseases such as cholera, malaria and dysentery. An estimated 6,318 of these were British, and the total death rate was a staggering 25%. Many war crimes were perpetrated by the Japanese military against prisoners during the building of the Railway.

On 17 October 1943 both ends of the line met, and most the surviving prisoners were transferred elsewhere. Some, however, remained in the area in order to maintain the line. They continued to live in appalling conditions. Using Prisoners for work was not illegal – my own Grandfather worked in a sugar beet factory in captivity in Germany – but mistreating them to such an extent consituted a serious war crime.

Many men from Portsmouth died working on the Burma Railway. We can only guess at the horrors, ill-treatment, illness and brutality that they must have endured.

In Burma, Aramament Staff Sergeant Edward Rex, 25 and from Southsea, was serving with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers when he was captured in Singapore. He died on 5 September 1943. Private Sidney Rich, 31 and from Southsea, was also captured at Singapore with the 5th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment. He died on 27 Octmber 1943. Both are buried in Thanbuyayzat War Cemetery, Burma.

Many more worked on the Thailand end of the line, all of them having been captured in the fall of Singapore in February 1942. Most of them are buried at Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. Gunner Arthur Denmead, 22 and from Fratton, serving with 135 Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery, some time in June 1943. Sergeant Frank Hudson, 28 and from Landport, was captured while serving with 125 Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery. He died on 5 August 1943. Signalman John Morey, 36 and from Southsea, was a member of 9 Indian Division Royal Signals. He died on 17 September 1943. Gunner Walter Cottrell, from Southsea and at the young age of 19, was serving with 3 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery. He died on 22 October 1943. Lance Corporal Derek Foster, from Southsea and serving with 18 Divisional Provost Company, was 29 when he died on 27 November 1943. Private John Moore was a qualified electrical engineer, who was evidently working in Malaya, and having joined the local volunteer defence force was captured in the fall of Singapore. He was 38 when he died on 19 December 1943. Gunner James Hammond, age 38 and from Fratton, had been captured with 11 Battery, 3 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery. He died on 11 January 1944.

Several Portsmouth men are also buried at Chungkai War Cemetery in Thailand. Lance Sergeant Phillip Lansley, age 31 and from Paulsgrove, was serving with 1 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery. He died on 9 January 1944. But perhaps the saddest story, amongst a tragic situation, is that of Captain Cecil Lambert. He was aged 60 and from Cosham, and was serving with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. He died on 24 June 1943. Clearly even the old were not excused from the brutality.

That they died, in such a terrible manner and so far away from home, should never be forgotten.

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Portsmouth’s Prisoners of the Japanese

A prisoner of the Japanese in WW2

A prisoner of the Japanese in WW2

Prisoners of War faced a particularly grim experience during the war. While servicemen captured and held by Nazi Germany faced an arduous experience, many of them for almost 5 years, those unfortunate enough to be captured and imprisoned by the Japanese had to endure untold horrors before they were released.

The Japanese Government had not signed or recognised any of the international treaties on the treatment of Prisoners of War, such as the Geneva Convention. As such, the Japanese authorities felt under no obligation to treat prisoners humanely. In addition, Japanese military culture saw surrender as a shameful act, and it was widely felt that people who had allowed themselves to be captured were not deserving of respectful treatment. The Prisoners were allowed no access to Red Cross representation, and camps were not inspected by neutral countries. Prisoners faced brutal treatment, torture, summary punishment, forced labour, medical experiments, starvation rations and little or no medical treatment.

Unsurprisingly, the Tokyo Tribunal found that the death rate amongst Allied POW’s held by the Japanese was 27.1%. This was SEVEN times that of prisoners held by the Germans and Italians. Many Japanese personnel were tried and executed for war crimes after the war, and the pictures that emerged of the emaciated men liberated in the Far East shocked the world.

So far I have found two Portsmouth men who died and were buried in Japan during the Second World War, so were almost certainly prisoners of war when they died.

Lance-Sergeant Harold Kennard, 34 and from Stamshaw, was a member of the Royal Signals. He died on 28 December 1942. He was presumably captured in the 1941 and 1942 land battles in South East Asia, when the Allies faced a number of defeats, and taken to Japan to work as a forced labourer.

Private George Ogle, 46 and from North End, was a member of the Hong Kong Dockyard Defence Corps. He died on 5 February 1945. Hong Kong was the main base port of the Royal Navy’s China Station. Hong Kong was attacked by the Japanese on 8 December 1941, 8 hours after the raid on Pearl Harbour. By 25 December Hong Kong had fallen. He was also presumably taken to Japan as a slave labourer. He had served over three years as a Prisoner of the Japanese by the time of his death.

Sadly it is difficult to find out much more about them and their experiences, as the Red Cross were unable to keep records of them, as were the British Government.

Both Lance-Sergeant Kennard and Private George Ogle are buried in Yokohama War Cemetery, Japan.

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