Herbert (Tommy) Brewer - Escape from Hong Kong



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Sub-Lt Herbert Ernest [Tommy] Brewer MiD HKRNVR MTB 09 of the 2nd MTB Flotilla, Coastal Forces Hong Kong


1917 - 1942

Remembered with Honour

Naval Reservation. Grave 1447.Gillingham (Woodlands) Cemetery (Kent)

Sub-Lt Tommy Brewer HKRNVR [MTB 09] from Scarborough enlisted with the HKRNVR 2nd October 1940. The Imperial Royal Navy loaned HMS Cornflower to the HKNVF, the forerunner of the HKRNVR, for use as their headquarters and was moored south-west of Kellett Island where the RHKYC transferred to from North Point in October 1940. Yachting and boating clubs were the traditional recruiting grounds for navy volunteers with basic seamanship skills. The HKRNVR also had a shore-based office in the York Building on the north side of Chater Rd by Pedder St. As the clouds of war began to darken, the HKNVF was mobilized into the Hong Kong Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, HKRNVR in August 1939 with just one hundred and ten officers. His Excellency Sir Geoffry Alexander Stafford Northcote, K.C.M.G. was the Honorary Captain. [106]

Photo from Buddy Hide's collection ©

Tommy joined 09 on the outbreak of the war in Hong Kong.

The Brewer's were an established Hong Kong family. Tommy's Grandfather, Walter William Brewer, ran a bookstore in the Colony, and his wife died of rabies in 1892.

Tommy's parents Herbert Edney Brewer and Constance (Connie) Isabel Brewer lived in Hong Kong but his family moved back to Los Angeles in the USA before the outbreak of war. Tommy had three siblings, twins Peter & Peggy, along with Mary.

Tommy was involved in a fatal motor accident on the A1 while on leave after escaping from Hong Kong. He suffered a ruptured spleen and succombed to his injuries in the Slough Emergency Hospital 28 July 1942 while assigned to HMS President..

Oliver Lindsay Author : "Almost five months to the day after evading the Japanese in Hong Kong, the remnants of the 2nd MTB Flotilla numbering thirty one reached Glasgow, thereby completing a remarkable journey through the corrididors of war. Tragically one young officer, Sub-Lieutenant Brewer, reached Englnd via a different route, he was killed in a motor accident on the A1 road at the start of his leave." [80]

MTB 07, with PO's John Prest and Buddy Hide at the controls, under fire.  
	Photo from Hong Kong 1941-45 published by Osprey Publishing. 
	Illustration by Giuseppe Rava. 
	Click here for more information

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 expend all ammunition shooting up everything in sight. 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."

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." [9]

On the 21st December nine planes of the Japanese airforce flew lazily over HMS Cicala.

Lieutenant Commander Gandy R. N. (Rtrd) "The Senior Naval Officer Aberdeen, Commander Montague RN, signaled to evacuate the Cicala ships company and sink her by depth charge; the latter job i delegated to MTB 09 while I took off the crew in MTB 10. This was when my First Lieutenant (Sub-Lt Ralph Goodwin NZRNVR) got wounded by a stray piece of shell." [15]

Lt Kennedy: "Near Aberdeen (East Lamma Channel) the “Cicala” was doing yeoman service with her two six-inch guns bombarding enemy positions, and in consequence came under repeated attack from the air. The value of her work was confirmed the next morning by the determination of the Japanese to silence her. The “Cicala” was steaming slowly near the coast continuing the bombardment when the air attack began. Nine planes circled high above her and one by one peeled off leisurely into a dive. Eight times the water rose up like a curtain round the ship, and eight times it fell to reveal the “Cicala” still sitting there firing at the land. It was agonising to watch, but after the bombs had gone from the last aircraft and the fountains of spray subsided, her guns were silent and smoke was coming from the ship.
MTB 10 rushed out to take off survivors, and although the last stick of bombs had fallen squarely along the centre of the ship almost the whole crew was saved. But the old lady was settling very slowly, and MTB 09 was detailed to sink her with depth-charges in case she should drift ashore into enemy hands. I dropped three charges alongside her, then three more, but each time she reared amidships and settled back on an even keel. The “Cicala” was a fighter, but she was gradually going and after half-an-hour had disappeared.
It was a sad end for a gallant ship which had seen service in North Russia after the last war, and had survived over fifty bombing attacks in this.‘And now there were five!’ Five naval vessels left, all of them MTBs."


HMS Cicala

Tommy volunteered to stay on in Burma on demolition duty as the Jessen set sail on the 7th March 1942. He was serving on ML1104 gaing an MiD in June " For Bravery and Resolution while serving in Burma" along with five fellow Burmese RNVR officers in 1942. On arriving in the UK he transferred to the the Imperial RNVR. Tragically he was killed in a motor-cycle accident on the A1 road in England on 28th July 1942 while serving with HMS Drake.

He was buried in the GILLINGHAM (WOODLANDS) CEMETERY, KENT (Naval Reservation. Grave 1447)

Click here. for more information on Tommy Brewer.

Remembered with Honour









Ships Log MTB 07 9th Dec 1941
07.00 Proceeded back to base with 09
07.30 Secured in Aberdeen base
08.45 Air Raid: Slipped
08.55 Secured on lighter 261, entrance to Aberdeen Channel. [5]

Some of the crew of MTB 09 taking a smoko during the battle for Hong Kong in Aberdeen Channel 9th December 1941

From the left Stoker A/B Charlie Foster, Coxswain Bill Schillemore, and A/B Bob Hempenstall

Photo from the Ashby collection ©


Senior Sino-British Naval officers with nursing staff at Waichow

Back Row: Lt Kennedy RNVR, Lt-Cmd Hsu Heng (Henry) ROC, Lt-Cmd Gandy RN (Rtrd), Lt-Cmd Yorath RN (Rtrd), Cdr Montague RN (Rtrd), Lt Parsons HKRNVR, Lt Ashby HKRNVR, Lt Collingwood RN,

Front Row: Sub-Lt Gee HKRNVR, Sub-Lt Brewer HKRNVR, Sub-Lt Legge HKRNVR, and nurses at Waichow.








S.P.O. Moore, Cox P.O. Prest, Tel Chris Meadows and Sub-Lt Brewer arriving in Shaoguan (Kukong) 6th january 1942.

Photo from the Ross family collection ©









The ships crest removed from MTB 09 by Sub-Lt Tommy Brewer on 26th December 1941 and kept as a souvineer by Lt Alex Kennedy's family.

Photo from the Hide collection ©

Click here to return to the Waichow Photo

To read more on Tommy Brewer click here







MTB 09 timing the measured mile in East Lamma Channel 1940.

Photo from the C J Collingwood collection ©






The Crew of MTB 09 at Waichow on 30th December 1941

MTB 09 Crew at Waichow,

Back Row: A/B Penny, A/B; Leslie [Lofty] Gurd, Tel; Harold.P. Hill, A/B Robert Hempenstall

Middle Row: Stoker A/B Charles Foster, L/S; Coxswain William Schillemore, L/St; P.O. Ronald J.C. (Jez) Priestley,

Front Row: Sub-Lt; Tommy Brewer, Lt; Alexander Kennedy, O/C

Photo from the Hide collection ©








Guiyang Red Cross centre

Dr Bobby Lim, Lt Pittendrigh RNR Lt-Cmd Yorath RN (Rtrd), & Sub-Lt Brewer HKRNVR relaxing during the escape

Photo from the Hide collection ©








Guiyang Medical centre 25th January 1942

Left: ??, ??, Lt-Cmd Yorath RN (Rtrd), Lt Ashby, Warant-Officer Morley-Wright, Sub-Lt Brewer, Lt Collingwood, with ratings. A/B Jack Holt is 3rd from left with A/B Ed Brazel front row right.

Photo from the Hide collection ©









Enjoying a day out inGuiyang with their female hosts including Dr Lim's 15 year old daughter Effie in the tartan kilt. Sub-Lt's Gee & Legge were both brought up in Shanghai and spoke Mandarin.

The officers left to right are Sub-Lt Gee [MTB 07], Sub-Lt Brewer [MTB 09], Sub-Lt Legge [MTB 11], Lt Parsons [MTB 27], & Lt Alexander Kennedy of MTB 09, the author of the privately published book "Hong Kong Full Circle 1939-1945".

Photo from Lt Kennedy's collection ©





Lt-Cmd Yorath with officers & ratings visiting Huachi park.

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." [5]

Sub-Lieut Brewer, HKRNVR Lieut Pintendrigh RNR and Lt-Cmd Gandy RN giving a speech in Guiyang.

Remembered with Honour


Research and web publication by Buddy Hide Jnr ©


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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