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.