Leslie Barker MTB 11 of the 2nd MTB Flotilla, Escape fro Hong Kong
Leading Seaman Leslie Raymond Barker [LR3 C/SSX21699] MTB 11 from Hucknall, Notts
1920 - 2002
"We stayed at the American Mission and it was outside this building that a photograph was taken of the party. I shall always keep this photograph as a souvenir. There are 65 of us pictured – a motley company wearing all kinds of clothing and uniforms. Quite a lot had steel helmets. But throughout the march I wore a sweater (originally white), blue trousers and a couple of shirts. I had no hat.” 
Photo from Buddy Hide's collection ©
The Nottingham Evening Post 9th January 1942
Les was mistakenly reported missing in the British press on the 26th January 1942 after the fall of Hong Kong. He had been named earlier as escaped in the "Daily Express" 9th January 1942.
Image from The Nottingham Evening Post ©
The flotilla took a beating during the battle for Hong Kong.
When the Japanese invaded Hong Kong Island, the 2nd MTB Flotilla was ordered to attack and shoot up everything in sight, and to expend all ammunition in the process. Unbeknown to the flotilla, the Japanese had already established a beach head on the Island west of the Sugar Refinery at North Point.
Guns to the left, guns to the right, guns to the front and cannon from above, on they sped into the fiery jaws of the oriental dragon itself. This was the maritime equivalent of the charge of the light brigade in the Crimea.
Lt Ronnie Ashby whose family motto was "Be Just and Fear Naught" led the flotilla with Jix Prest & Buddy Hide at the controls of MTB 07. Pressing home the attack under withering fire from land, sea, and air, they suffered heavy losses in the process. Only three MTB's survived to limp back and come alongside HMS Robin in Aberdeen. Lt Kennedy on MTB "09" towed the stricken "07", peppered with 97 holes and two dead bodies in the engine room, back to base. The flotilla had lost 40% of its attacking force. The attack was arguably the most daring daylight MTB attack of all time, and was referred to as “The Balaclava of the Sea.” by Coastal Forces world wide. They were hailed "The bravest of the brave."
Les was keeping Sub-Lt Legge armed with pan after pan of ammo for the stripped Lewis-Gun he was firing away with non stop from behind the bridge.
Sub-Lt Legge HKRNVR: "No sooner had we passed the Kowloon point than they let us have it, from both sides: field guns at point blank range, machine guns, rifles, and planes dive-bombing and machine gunning and cannoning us. Merry hell was let loose and only our speed and the fact that we were zigzagging wildly all the time saved us. We shot right down the harbour, could see nothing to attack and had to come back the same way.
I was squatting outside the conning tower, behind one of the depth charges with a stripped-Lewis gun in my hands and a rating (Barker) handing me fresh pans. There was nothing concrete to fire at but the flashes of their guns and the direction in which the splashes of the machine gun fire came from, but I fired off fourteen pans of ammunition before my gun finally got red hot and jammed for the last time." 
Lt Kennedy RNVR: "MTB 11 returned alone from the harbour with her coxswain wounded. There was a long silent pause as we strained our ears to catch the sound of distant engines, but none came. It was a dark day for the flotilla, and for the whole island." 
After 3000 miles traveling overland through China and Burma he arrived in a deserted Rangoon. After five weeks he left onboard the HRT "Heinrich" Jessen bound for Calcutta along with the Commodore Rear Adm Graham, Lt-Cmdr Gandy, Lt Collingwood, Lt Ashby & ratings. From Calcutta it was a thirty six hour train journey across the Indian sub-continent to Bombay where they boarded HMT "Narkunda" bound for Durban where they took onboard 657 Italian POW's before shaping course for Cape Town.
Lt Kennedy: "The 'Laconia' was followed into harbour by another troopship, the 'Narkunda', and to our surprise Gandy and the other half of the M.T.B. party were on board. We were ordered to transfer and so all joined forces again after an interval of two months. The 'Laconia' party received a warm welcome, perhaps not so much as old ship-mates but as extra hands to share duties of guarding the six hundred Italian prisoners-of war being taken to England in the ship. On board the 'Narkunda' the MTB party was almost complete." 
The Narkunda set sail again on the 19th April, but had to return due to engine trouble. This time we anchored in Table Bay with no ships boats for a run ashore. We finally got under way on the 28th with a ten-day passage to Freetown.
After two days in Freetown re-victualing the Narkunda shaped course for the UK. A concert called "The Killjoys" had been arranged and organized by Lt-Cdr Gandy, Lt Ashby, PO Stonell, & L/S (Pony) Moore and performed by the combined ships companies onboard of HMTB's, HMT "Narkunda", HMS "Ranchi", "Cilicia," "Cockchafer" & "Birmingham" on Thursday 15th May 1942. The performers from the MTB's were (Pony) Moore, Al Rutter, & Eddie Charleson. As they headed north frequent life boat drill exercises were carried out and the order to sleep fully dressed was given as they negotiated the U-boat packs in the north Atlantic continuously zigzagging en route for the UK. Gandy, Ashby, & Kennedy along with 22 ratings finally arrived in the King George V dock, Sheildhall, Glasgow late afternoon on Friday 22nd May 1942 onboard the "Narkunda." 
Photo from the Nottingham Evening Post © 
Lt Collingwood stayed onboard the Danish ship "Heinrich Jessen" and proceeded to Akyab, eventually flying out from Chittagong to Calcutta on the 18th April. From there he went on to Ceylon before returning to the UK.
The remaining nine ratings in Akyab eventually left Bombay on 14th April and arrived back in the UK 1st June1942.
Lieutenant Commander Gandy R. N. (Rtrd) had prevailed against all the odds, and triumphed over adversity to deliver all his people back to safety without loss of life or serious injury after evading capture and escaping from Hong Kong on Christmas Day 1941.
PO Prest: "We travelled by cycles, lorries, junks, and donkeys, but mostly we walked. It was a case of march or die"
Buddy Hide: "On the whole, the moral, spirits, and courage of the party was magnificent. I think it was the shear thoughts of beating the Jap's, and the prospects of getting home after three years, some of us four years from home, that made us carry on."It is unprecedented in the annuls of Royal Navy history, that an entire Flotilla company evaded capture to escape across an entire continent to fight another day.
Les kept a detailed diary during the escape which his family kindly gave me a copy as well as photos to compliment this site.
The Hucknall Dispatch ran an article on Les on 25th June 1942.
The Nottingham Evening Post also printed an article of Les's account 30th June 1942
“Joining the Royal Navy at the age of 16½, he saw service on HMS “Pembroke”, “Kent”, “Cumberland” and “Cicala,” and four-and-a-half years ago went to the China Station. Just before Japan declared war he was posted to a motor torpedo flotilla, with which he was serving on that fateful day, December 7 1941, when the Jap's struck simultaneously at the Allies."
Les Barker's grandson Russell Joyce retraced the journey right up to the Burma border in the spring of 2008.
Photo from Ross family collection ©
L/S Les Barker transferred from HMS Cicala to MTB 11 in October 1941 just prior to the battle for Hong Kong.
Les was appointed to HMS vernon in Portsmouth as postman to the MTB's being worked up before 01-06 were shipped Malta and 07-12 to Hong Kong.
The MTB Incident.
MTB 11 being worked up at HMS Vernon after completion in July 1938 & laying depth charges on exercise in 1940.
MTB 11 loading the torpedo's. Each BPB MTB carried two on overhead rails in the engine room. The torpedo's faced forward and were launched through ports in the stern into the flip over gantry rails. The direction of the boat was the direction of the torpedo, so once launched the boat had to veer off to allow the torpedo free way.
Photo from the Hide collection ©
MTB 11 on patrol with the 2nd MTB Flotilla
Photo from Al Downey's collection ©
MTB 11 coming alongside.
Photo from Lt C J Collingwood's collection ©
Les Barker's Medals
Photo from Les Barker's collection ©
L/S Les Barker with the escapees and MTB 11 with 09 at speed.
L/S Les Barker's cap tally & dress medals.
General Wu with the escape party at Guiyang 24th January 1942Ships Log: 24th Jan 1942 "Visit to Governor in the morning. Conducted tour of centre in the afternoon, followed by a tea, & movies after dinner." 
Huaxi Park near Guiyang
Lt-Cdr Yorath with officers & ratings visiting Huaxi park, Guiyang.
Dr Lim organized a seven-a-side football match against his training school team.
Photo from the Hide collection ©
Ships Log: 25th Jan 1942 "Visit to park in the morning. Soccer match in the afternoon, lost 6-1. Dinner in the evening given by the Governor." 
Les Barker 1995
Photo from Les Barker's family collection ©
Audio by Lion Rock Films
Music; Wild China by Barnaby Taylor and performed by Cheng Yu and the UK Chinese Ensemble
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Research and web publication by Buddy Hide Jnr ©
The contents of this web site led to a considerable number of escapee families contacting me and now each other, and remains the principle source of contact and private information for the spin off projects that have followed. The personal accounts enabled me to record the complete and true account of this remarkable episode of Sino-British war time co-operation. The information compiled here has directly resulted in a museum exhibition in Hong Kong, a re-enactment of the escape in Hong Kong and China, with a movie drama and documentary in the making.
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