Escape from Hong Kong - The Final Hours


MTB 07 & 09. Photos from the Hide, & Ross collections ©

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Aberdeen Island

25th December 1941 (Thurs) Continued

Bill Robinson leapt overboard as Admiral Chan Chak calmly stepped into the water. Picture from Goring's article 
     ©Adm Chan Chak "The Danish steer man was the first one shot, then the engineer. MacDougall and others were wounded. Most of the stray bullets had hit the boat and even some had hit my helmet. The boat was sinking and I ordered everyone to abandon ship.
Hsu was very wary about me the “One Foot Admiral of 50” swimming such a far distance. But I assured him that I ’ll be all right. Hsu helped me take off my wooden leg along with the HK$40,000 (GBP£2,500) stuffed inside it.
I insisted to carry my own gun and passport."

The Admiral, Henry Hsu, Coxswain Yeung Chuen, Maj Goring, David MacDougall and Ted Ross appear to have been the last to abandon the boat.

Maj Goring GOC3 BHQ "I observed the doughty Admiral Chan Chak remove his coat and trousers and unfasten his wooden leg; then he calmly took to the waves!" [17]

Adm Chan Chak "When I was about to jump off the sinking torpedo boat Yeung Chuen stopped me. “Admiral, I can’t swim what should I do?” Yeung could not swim and he suggested that we should go back to Hong Kong. “Going back means surrender. I would rather die!” I said. "The British people did not understand what we were arguing about.
I took off my life preserver and gave it to Yeung. As I raised my hand, a stray bullet went right through my left hand. It was bleeding badly, I pressed the wound with my right hand and Yeung dressed it up with a handkerchief. Yeung didn’t say anything anymore, he just jumped into the sea, followed by MacDougall with his wounded back."

Maj Goring GOC3 BHQ "What chance had the Admiral I thought, trying to swim three-quarters of a mile with only one leg, a bullet through his wrist, and being machine-gunned the whole way ?" [17]

Type 96 light machine gun used by the IJA

The bullet removed from Admiral Chan Chak's wrist was 6.5mm as used by the Japanese "Type 96 Light machine-gun" with a range of six hundred yards.

Maj Goring GOC3 BHQ "Bill the Policeman sank like a stone; but while under water quickly managed to divest himself of his shoes, fifty rounds of pistol ammunition, his revolver, tin hat, overcoat, and haversack. Then, in due course, he returned to the surface and swam bravely on." [17]

Adm Chan Chak "With half our bodies in the water, we held on to the boat and hid from the Japanese. Hsu was concerned about my wound. But I remained calm and he comforted me. I jokingly compared myself as “Limp- Lee” of the Chinese legend, “Eight Fairies Across the Sea.” [6]

The injured Admiral shouted for the others to wait for him, but it was all in vain. The others were swimming for their lives towards the island with bullets hitting the water all around them. Waiting by the stricken boat Chan and Hsu could see the bullets dancing all-round the swimmers. Leaning over the gunwale with his leg in the water Chan began talking to SK, while Hsu  prayed for a miracle to happen.
Ted Ross had competed successfully at the Shanghai rowing club and had kept himself fit with sports activities in Hong Kong.

The escape launch formally with HMS CornflowerDavid MacDougall MoI "So over the side we went. Owing to the wound in my back I couldn’t take any clothes or shoes off and I simply flopped in as I was. I swam first on my face and then, as I tired, on my back. I had no serious hope of gaining the island.
A little behind me a man
(Harley) drowned noisily. He took a long time to go down and I could do nothing about it. I had lost some blood and was hard put to keep afloat." [26]

Left:The launch from HMS Cornflower used for the escape from Aberdeen.

Ted Ross MoI "For a moment the fire into the boat lessened somewhat as the Japs turned all their guns on the men swimming. I took a quick look over to see how far away the island was and the water was simply a maze of splashes where the bullets were pouring all around the swimmers. The water was just dancing with bullets. As the machine gun came round you could see all the bullets hitting the water, I could see these guys getting hit in the water. One man (Harley) was either wounded or he couldn't swim and was drowning noisily.
I dived and swam as far as I could under water, and finally got to the partial shelter of a rock on the shore. Taking my clothes off made a whale of a difference! I was one of the last off the boat, but the first to reach the island."

Adm Chan Chak "Hsu helped me in the water; we were both trying very hard to reach the shores of Ap-Lei-Chou. Yee Siu-Kee and 2 other British soldiers had to remain on the boat. Yee could not swim and the 2 soldiers were badly wounded.
It was winter time and the sea was cold. We were all sitting ducks in the water and non-stop bullets were flying everywhere. It was tremendously difficult to escape through the water. I ordered a stop movement command to the others. Because of the noise from the gunfire, no one had heard me. I was left alone by the boat with Hsu, and waited for 20 minutes.
Hsu was a Christian and he knew only God could save him in a situation like this one. So he prayed. I told Hsu that if I survive, I would become a Christian and have God as my personal saviour.

The shooting eventually eased off, and Hsu started to swim towards the island with Chan on his back. Eventually Chan told Hsu to swim ahead.

Adm Chan Chak "We abandoned the boat and swam towards an Island one Li distant. The one Li distance seemed like the “Hell’s Gate” to us and the harsh conditions didn’t help either.
I could use only one hand and a foot to swim. Luckily, I enjoyed and loved swimming. I always swam in the Canton River and the Pearl River. Before WWII broke out, I would practice to float in Repulse Bay and the beaches of Hong Kong. I made myself float for 30 - 40 minutes at a time during these practices. That practice was now paying off."

Aberdeen Island,  officially named Ap Lei Pai in 1957. 
      Click here to enlarge The boat was riddled, with Damgaard shot through his legs while Sub-Lt Forster who had served on HMS Cornflower took a bullet in the stomach. Both were lying in the biles in agony.
Harley the former 2nd Engineering officer on the 8,000 ton coastal freighter SS Yatshing was also shot and drowned after going overboard.
Those that could, swam towards the uninhabited Aberdeen Island, so named by the Royal Navy as it lay at the entrance to Aberdeen, the larger island was already named Ap Lei Chau.
Aberdeen Island was officially named Ap-Lei-Pai in 1957.

David MacDougall MoI "All the time I could see the familiar sites, the Peak houses, the Aberdeen Rd, the famous fish restaurant on the corner where I had eaten so many lunches; and all the time the Japanese machine gunners on the hillsides 600 yards away went for us hammer and tongs. Bullets fell all round and I don’t know why I was not hit again." [26]

Capt Freddie Guest BHQ "There we were in the water swimming away for dear life with two machine-guns firing at us for all they were worth." [29]

Lt-Cdr Hsu Heng (Henry) CN "I swam to safety, carrying the injured Admiral to the nearest island. We just swam towards the tip of Ap Lie Chau." [7]

The Admiral told Hsu to swim ahead as he felt he could swim unaided okay.

It was a still evening, no wind and the water flat calm which made it easier for the swimmers to keep the abandoned boat between them and the gunners. Most fetched up on Aberdeen Island with a few, Maj Goring, Capt Macmillan & Supt Robinson fetching up on Ap Lei Chau.

Sq-Ldr Max Oxford RAF "I landed alone and lay exhausted behind a rock, with an occasional shot coming my way, later I tried to get over the crest but found the journey too far and exposed so sheltered again." [30]

Maj Goring GOC3 BHQ "As for myself, it took me the best part of three-quarters of an hour to reach the Island. "[17]

Lt-Cdr Hsu Heng (Henry) CN "When we got there, they said the torpedo boats were on the other side and we needed to walk there in between two slopes. The slopes were by the sides of the island and we just walked there." [7]

Capt Freddie Guest BHQ "However, a party of us at last reached the island and I was thankful to be able to pull myself out of the water onto the rocks where I flopped down completely exhausted. There was no beach at this point and it was indeed an effort to climb out of the water." [29]

Aberdeen Island where most of the survivors fetched up with a few on Ap Lei Chau.  
	Click here to see more.

Left Aberdeen Island

Ted Ross MoI "The Jap's sprayed the rocks with machine gun fire as the survivors arrived and began to climb up. I was hit a couple of times with fragments of stone. The walls of rock were quite steep and I decided to cling on until it became dark in about another hour, and then climb over to the other side of the hill. Other fellows swam in to where I was, and after a long time Mac came floating in on his back fully clothed and with a pistol strapped around his waist and a bullet in his back." [28]

David MacDougall MoI "I was surprised afterwards to learn that the swim occupied less than 25 minutes. I reached the rocks very exhausted and I tore the nails off my right hand trying to get a grip in the swell; my left was of course useless. I saw Ross sheltering on a ledge. I made my way in his direction. He helped me partially out of the water but I hadn’t the strength to climb to proper shelter and then snipers kept plugging away at the exposed part of my anatomy. It was bitterly cold and I was without hope and desolate." [26]

Ted Ross MoI "The bullets continued to crash all around and Mac was still partly exposed. The back of his coat was covered in blood and he was cold and exhausted, and it was apparent he had reached the stage where he just didn't give a damn any longer. I tried to pull him up a bit but there was practically no room. Two or three times I made a half-hearted attempt to start climbing to the top, but was so cold and miserable I couldn't make up my mind whether it was worse to climb and probably get shot, or continue to shiver on the wet rocks." [28]

Maj Goring GOC3 BHQ "For some time I floated aimlessly round like a jelly-fish, until a friendly wave picked me up and threw me on the shingle. Bullets spattered all around, flinging up the stones and splintering the rocks; but luckily nothing hit me. At length I crawled forward to a large rock and tried to take cover behind it.
Max the airman was already sheltering there, and I couldn't find room for more than my head; the rest of me stuck out --a tempting target. I staggered a bit further inland. This move appeared to rouse the machine-gunners to a frenzy, but though they had the range to a nicety not a bullet touched me. Finding some cover, I lay down thankfully. While I was there 'Henry' Hsu came past, clad in the most diaphanous pair of silk shorts I have ever seen and went on up the hill."

Ted Ross MoI "Just about this time we heard a chug-chug, and peeping over I could see the dull grey lines of a motor launch. We thought it was a Jap launch sent out to finish us off. We waited and waited, and I looked out again and again, and the launch seemed to be moving very slowly. Finally it turned out to be a derelict drifting in with the tide and the chug-chugging apparently came from some boat on the other side of the island." [28]

David MacDougall MoI "The approaching launch was a floating derelict; the sound of the engine came from the other side of the island and presently it died away. Except that I couldn’t fight back, I was in the same position as Hemingway’s man at the end of 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' and I marveled at the truth which he had caught the state of mind of in that grim situation, where one does not concentrate on anything in particular." [26]

MacDougall and the American author Ernest Hemingway met when Hemmingway stayed in Hong Kong with his war correspondant bride and they became lifelong friends. The Hemingway's stayed at the Hong Kong Hotel where Max Oxford, the son of a baker, who had been keen to climb the Colonial social ladder referred to Hemingway as his "drinking buddy". [30]
After the war Ernest Hemmingway became God-parent to MacDougall's youngest daughter Sheena. [26]

Lt- Cdr Gandy RN (Ret) (MTB 10) "At 16.55 I sent the following signal to Commodore "Ask Commissioner of Police for Chan and Yee to rendezvouz Queen Mary Hospital entrance from 19.00." [15]

Sunset was at 17.46 Hong Kong time. [67]

Adm Chan Chak ROC "With only one leg and a wounded wrist, I succeeded in reaching the shore under the fire of the enemy." [6]

Ted Ross MoI "It was getting pretty dark by this stage, I could hear this flop, flop like someone putting an oar in, rowing a boat, it was the Admiral coming in with one leg and one arm, he was a tough old character" [28]

Ross was preparing to go out to help the Admiral when Henry suddenly appeared and assisted the Admiral up onto the rocks. Now the Japanese opened up with incendiary mortars setting the Isle on fire. [26]

Adm Chan Chak ROC "I finally swam ashore on the small isle right next to Ap Lie Chau. After I swam ashore, I saw that Hsu Heng had already been there for a while. At that point, the enemy continued shooting at the Isle, the noise was just like dropping pearls. From time to time dropping a fire bomb, causing fire to the woods and grass on the isle, making the situation more desperate for us, fortunately we survived hiding in a cave near the shore.
I crawled near the cave and called for Hsu, ordered him to go to Ap Lei Chau at the NW coast of the island to look for the boats to help with the rescue. I thought that I might not be able to survive, so before Hsu left, I took off my wedding ring and handed it to him and said, “I might not be able to survive or if I have to confront the enemy again, I’ll fight for my life or have to finish myself with one bullet, please pass this on to my wife as a token of memory.”
I then asked Hsu to report to the Central Government in case of any accidents, and to give my ring to my wife if I die.
Hsu was at a loss when he heard this, I said, “I’m a man of my word, please take this as an order.” Hsu then left with mixed feelings, finding the boats on the other side of the island."

Capt Freddie Guest "There were now only eight of us left. Altogether five of us had landed at this particular spot the Admiral, Hsu Heng (Henry), Bill Robinson, Macmillan, and myself. Goring, MacDougall, and Oxford had landed a little distance away to our left. We lay about trying to recover but just when things seemed to quieten down a little and the everlasting rattle of machine-guns petered out, the Japanese suddenly decided to shell our island with a field gun as they had no doubt observed us through their glasses. Darkness had quickly fallen, the guns stopped firing and in a few minutes we had all fallen asleep from sheer exhaustion." [29]

The Nelson Touch

Henry and the Coxswain Yeung Chuen tried to carry the wounded Admiral up the slope, but found it impossible. They found a cleft in the hillside and put him there with Chan insisting on having a gun in the event the Japanese find him, in which case he would take his own life.

Maj Goring GOC3 BHQ "I felt desperately tired and actually fell asleep. When I awoke, half an hour later, things were quieter, and I walked forward, trying to locate the rest of my party. I came across Max again, shivering behind his rock, clad only in his shorts, and observed several of the others crossing the thin tongue of land that joins Ap Lei Chau to Aberdeen Island." [17]

Major Goring wrote his account eight years after the event and clearly gets confused about which island is which with Ap Lei Chau and Aberdeen Island, I have reversed his islands for this account.

David MacDougall MoI "Meanwhile Ross, a model of self-possession throughout, had scrambled over the rugged hill to explore the shelter of the far side of the island. There he saw a motor torpedo boat close in-shore, whether friend or enemy he had no means of knowing. So he sent one of the survivors forward to investigate and at considerable personal risk came back to get me – a cruel journey over jagged rocks in his bare feet and clad only in his underwear." [28]

Ted Ross MoI "The Jap firing had eased up a lot, and I set off up the hill, telling Mac to hang on somehow until I got back. I had nothing on but my underwear and it was covered with oil from the water. My feet soon became cut and bruised climbing through the rocks and undergrowth, but it wasn't very far to the top, and once over the crest I ran into several others of our group who had swum to another more sheltered cove." [28]

Maj Goring GOC3 BHQ "The grass on Aberdeen Island was on fire from the incendiary and tracer bullets, and some of them had their bare feet badly scorched." [17]

Ted Ross MoI "I dashed back to help Mac along. It proved to be longer and slower than I had imagined, and by the time we got back up to the top the other fellows had disappeared. Just then a Jap sniper concealed somewhere on our small island began popping away at us. We jumped from rock to rock and tried to take cover as best we could, while those darned bullets kept kicking dirt up all around us. My feet were very bruised and sore by now.." [28]

Sq-Ldr Max Oxford RAF "Presently Arthur Goring came up and we made a dash for a low neck of land where we could see some other people, and some of us gathered there in the gratefully warm sunshine on the sheltered side from the enemy." [30]

Maj Goring GOC3 BHQ "Eventually all the survivors collected in a roofless hut to consider the situation. We had no boat, no food. I had a pistol and fifty rounds of ammunition. The situation was certainly not good." [17]

Bill Robinson Police “Where do we go from here boys? What about the Persian Grill for a steak." That joke went down like a lead balloon. There was a chorus of "Shut up.and "Not funny." [29]

Capt Freddie Guest BHQ "We spread ourselves out and explored the island. Two were to go to the left of the island, three to go over the hill in the centre and the other two to take the right side of the island. Bill Robinson, Macmillan and I went in the centre. It was a dark but starry night, so we were able to see pretty well." [29]

Maj Goring GOC3 BHQ "Just then Holger Christensen, the Cadet, announced that he could hear motor-boats. He dashed down to the water's edge, while, as a mere landsman, I went up the hill, followed by the rest of the shoeless brigade, hobbling painfully along on their blistered toes over the sharp rocks." [17]

Lt Kilbee HKRNVR (MTB 10) "At dusk MTB 10 moved to pier to await VIP's, who were to try to escape under night cover up the coast to Mirs Bay area." [16]

John S Whitehead (Author) "We left the Peak and headed in a westerly direction towards my Waterfall Bay HQ, where a white sheet hung forlornly from a tall pole. I heard a dull roar of motors and my enquiring look at Reg Lewis evinced the laconic reply; ‘MTBs taking off top brass.’ We ran down the steps shrouded in thick undergrowth, only to be confronted by the burly figure of ex-Sergeant-Major, now Lieutenant, Buck Taylor. The ensuing heated exchange of words as he tried to prevent our escape delayed us sufficiently for the MTB’s to depart at speed, leaving us gaping at their white trails." [45]

Sq-Ldr Max Oxford RAF "A new arrival (Christensen) brought the surprising news that he had seen three MTB's round the corner. A naval rating (Wright), Capt. Guest and myself set out to investigate. It was tough going over the rocks, shoeless, and when we saw a Carley Float in a small bay Guest and I went down to investigate. It had four paddles but proved too heavy for two to operate and we resumed our walk." [30]

Ted Ross MoI "One of our chaps away ahead of the rest spotted the boat first, and without any thought that it might not be British, dashed down the hill, dived into the water and swam out to it." [28]

Bill Robinson Police Supt “Freddie, Can you see what I see?" [29]

Capt Freddie Guest BHQ "By God, Bill, your right! There’s a boat down there and it isn’t a junk!
We pulled off our shirts and waved to them, at the same time letting out a series of shouts and yells to try and attract their attention."

Capt Peter Macmillan BHQ “Can you fellows see a boat down there, or am I dreaming? It must be an MTB " [29]

Capt Freddie Guest BHQ "You’re not dreaming, Peter! We’ve both spotted it. It’s an MTB all right" [29]

Gandy ignored his orders, just like Commander Horatio Nelson had in 1797 during the battle of St Vincent, and carried on maintaining a watch on the Aberdeen harbour exits.

Sub-Lt Legge HKRNVR (MTB 11) "Suddenly over the top of the hill appeared about five heads. “The Jap's,” we all thought. I happened to be on aircraft watch at the time with a loaded stripped-Lewis gun in my hands and without any more ado I let them have the whole of tracer. They bobbed down pretty quickly and I fairly sprayed the rocks behind which they were hiding." [18]

David MacDougall MoI "The crew on the boat mistakenly heard this as There are ten Jap's following with machine guns and they at once brought their formidable armament to bear on the end of the island in readiness. When the first member of this section of our party hove in sight he was met immediately with a burst of fire which fortunately passed over our heads. By means of signals, he finally established the identity of himself and his comrades." [26]

Ted Ross MoI "He was so excited and exhausted when they pulled him aboard he shouted, "There are ten chaps following, being machine-gunned". The crew misunderstood him to say, "There are ten Jap's following me with machine guns", and when our advance party came into view they blazed away at them with their Lewis guns, luckily hitting none." [29]

Cdr Montague RN (Ret) SNO Aberdeen "About 18.00 Lieut-Commander Yorath arrived from the X.D.O's office. He had been ordered to make certain that Lieutenant Commander Gandy had received and obeyed the order to go at once. I told him that the order had been passed by W/T and that if the MTB's had not gone, they would be on the South West side of Aplichau. He asked if he could cross to Aplichau, and Mr. Halladay volunteered to help row a skiff across. The harbour was being heavily shelled, but they got across safely and found Lieutenant Commander Gandy." [1]

Lt- Cdr Gandy RN (Ret) (MTB 10) "At 18.30 I received a signal from the Commodore "Your 16.55 not approved, proceed immediately with "K" ." [15]

As this signal was being decoded a small boat was seen approaching from the west, as somebody was spotted swimming out from Aberdeen Island.

Lt-Cmd Gandy RN (Ret) (MTB 10) "About 18.30 Lieutenant Commander Yorath of X.D.O's staff with a Mr Halladay, Merchant Service Engineer, appeared in a rowing boat from Aberdeen Harbour, with verbal instructions to me from XDO to go but at this time MTB 27 signalled to me that a man was swimming out to us from Aberdeen Island and he proved to be the advance party of Admiral Chan Chak's party whose motor-boat had been machine-gunned while mistakenly passing Bennet's Hill (military officers were on board who must have known enemy was in occupation) on their way to join MTB's by Aberdeen Channel instead of the safer route by Aberdeen Harbour where only shell - fire could have been encountered. Lieutenant Commander Yorath had come by that way and encountered only desultory shellfire. The latter having delivered his message to me, elected with Mr Halladay to join the escape party." [15]

Christensen was hauled aboard 27, “There are ten chaps following being machine-gunned” Fearing damage by rocks Parsons then reversed 27 smartly out as silhouette's were spotted coming over the hill in the eerie moonlight. The Officer of the watch on MTB 11 promptly opened fire as 10 came alongside with orders to go to Telegraph Bay.

Adm Chan Chak ROC "The British soldiers on the boats stood guard and thought that Hsu and the British officers from my boat were enemies, they started shooting at the approaching party with machine guns, fortunately no one was hurt." [6]

Capt Freddie Guest BHQ "We had chosen a good spot on the skyline to make sure they would see us.
There wasn’t long to wait for an answer. In the eerie darkness they apparently mistook us for Japanese and with a mighty burst opened fire at us with a machine-gun!
A burst of tracer bullets, and again that horrible rattle of a machine-gun, came straight at us from the boat. We were thunderstruck and horrified. There was no doubt about it being one of our own Motor Torpedo Boats but, in the darkness, they had jumped to the conclusion that we were a party of Jap’s who had discovered their hide-out." [29]

Maj Goring GOC3 BHQ "Glancing upwards they spotted me running down the hillside, and promptly opened on me with three belts of Bren-gun ammunition!" [17]

David MacDougall MoI "As we neared the cove where the torpedo boat had been seen we had a faint revival of hope but this was quickly dashed when the echoes of a burst of machine gun fire reached our ears from the vicinity of the cove. It seemed likely then that the boat must be Japanese and that it had fired on the member of our party sent forward to investigate. So we crouched again in cold despair and then stole forward looking for his body." [26]

Sq-Ldr Max Oxford RAF "Then a burst of m.g. fire ripped over the rocks and we dropped to cover like rabbits; we were getting good at that; it was extremely discouraging to find the enemy in possession of our small island." [30]

PO Buddy Hide (MTB 07) "Eventually they appeared over the top of the hill, and we gave them a warm reception by opening up on them with Lewis guns." [21]

Ted Ross MoI "No further shots had come from it, and I was afraid our first group of fellows had been shot down." [29]

Maj Goring GOC3 BHQ "I waved a handkerchief wildly as I lay hugging the ground on that abominably steep, bare hill." [17]

Cdr Montague RN (Ret) SNO Aberdeen "After landing the party proceeded along the South West Coast of Aberdeen Island and sighted three boats of the 2nd MTB Flotilla." [1]

Lt-Cdr Gandy RN (Ret) (MTB 10) "I was informed that Admiral Chan Chak and party were hiding.
I then sent MTB 11 to contact the other MTB's 07 and 09 as W/T communication was not satisfactory, with instructions to them to await my orders. MTB 11's starters would not work and MTB 10 had to lash alongside and 'tow her engines in' both boats passing in range of field gun on way to Telegraph Bay. On return MTB 10 received one or two shots close and so I concluded that no surrender or immobilisation of craft could have taken place or fire would have ceased; thus no scruples about escaping after possible surrender were felt."

PO Stonell (MTB 11) "Lt Kilbee HKRNVR refused to escape with us because his wife was a nurse in Hong Kong so MTB's 10 & 11 weighed anchor, 11 to take Lt Kilbee to Telegraph Bay and 10 to pick up the Admiral." [112]

Lt Kilbee HKRNVR (MTB 10) "I discussed staying in MTB 10 for the escape with my C. O. Lt-Cdr Gandy, who insisted I remain back with some of my crew. Finally scrambled ashore in Telegraph Bay and climbed up the Peak to the Mount Kellett Army Hospital as my wife and infant daughter were there; my wife was a military nurse. This action led me to eventually spend nearly four years in various Japanese Prisoner of War Camps." [16]

SOE agent Colin McEwan embedded on board MTB 11 refered to shells hitting the sea as being like a door slamming shut.

Colin McEwan SOE (MTB 11) "Soon after MTB 10 came alongside with the news that HK had surrendered and that we were off. During this parley, figures appeared on the skyline and Legge at once grabbed his Lewis and started in. Luckily, as it turned out afterwards, my Bren had no magazine and by the time it was fitted orders not to fire were given.
Evidently they were friends, but as to their identity we were to remain in ignorance as we were ordered to Telegraph Bay to contact the other three boats. As fate would have it, this was the very time our engines would not start and only after towing did they roar into life.
As soon as we started across the entrance to Aberdeen doors started slamming and up went a spout of water about 50 yards off our port bow. Taking the first available cover where I could be out of the way of the crew I found myself behind a depth charge with my Bren peeping coyly over. Following that doors kept slamming shut each successive spout of water dropped further astern and thanks to the speed of our craft we were soon over and round the point where we rendezvoused the other two with their crews gorged on a Xmas dinner of chicken, cream etc. (The Dairy Farm was just above)."

PO Buddy Hide (MTB 07) "No 11 came around at 5.30 to tell us we had to meet, at the back of Aberdeen Island, the rest of the running boats of the flotilla, numbering five boats. Our job was to get away with certain officials, the most important being Admiral Chan Chak." [21]

Lt Ron Ashby on MTB 07 fishing  swimmers out of the sea ©.  
	Click here to see more on Lt Ron Ashby.Finding a tombolo adjoining Ap Lei Chau, Oxford could see Christensen swimming out to a lone MTB as two more boats were proceedings away from the cove. Max quickly followed suit and was soon hauled on board by the crew.

Cdr Montague RN (Ret) SNO Aberdeen "After landing the party proceeded along the South West Coast of Aberdeen Island and sighted three boats of the 2nd MTB Flotilla." [1]

Sq-Ldr Max Oxford RAF "I lost touch with Guest and descended to the sea with the faint idea of putting out in the float – when I got to the water I saw, not far away and near the shore one M.T.B. with a man swimming towards it and two others a short way out.
I scrambled and slid over the rocks, in and out of the water towards it and then swam the last few yards."

The Aberdeen Island party had to brave the water once again and swim out to the lone MTB which had now come to within one hundred and fifty yards of the shore. Lt Parsons and his crew hauled them on board one by one. The swimmers were in a various state of undress, Freddie Guest had only his shirt tails covering his modesty.

Lt Parsons HKRNVR (MTB 27) "I personally fished Morley-Wright out of the water." [60]

Maj Goring GOC3 BHQ "I slipped into the water and struck out. Getting alongside I managed to crook my fingers into the exhaust pipe. Just then some of the crew looked over the side. "Come on Sir!" they cried, encouragingly." [17]

Sub-Lt Bush HKRNVR: "A signal was received naming me as liaison officer for the surrender of the base to the Japanese". [91]

Tony Banham Author "On Hong Kong Island's south coast, Aberdeen was surrendered late on 25th December by Lietenant Bush (Late 1st Officer MTB 08) and Commander Pears, late Commander of HMS Thracien) to Lieutenant Suzuki of the Imperial Japanese Army." [87]

Lt Lewis Bush HKRNVR (late MTB 08) "After surrender of Hong Kong I was acting as Liaison Officer to S.N.O., Aberdeen Naval Base, and having a fair knowledge of Japan and the Japanese language was able to deal quite satisfactorily with the Japanese forces which occupied our area.
Some soldiers were burying the dead and as I looked in Joan's (Lewis's dog) trusting and enquiring brown eyes I knew we had to say goodbye. A Chief Petty Officer took her to the back of the building and put a .45 bullet into her head. It was the only way. The Chinese would have eaten her. I dug her grave, my face streaming with tears, wrapped her in a small naval ensign, put her in a beer crate and heaped a mound of stones over her, and at that moment I hated the Japanese more I think than at any time during the war.
They seemed doubtful about the wisdom of approaching too close and so I went to meet them and spoke in Japanese. The corporal smiled as if greatly relieved and pointing to his bandaged neck said that he'd been wounded by one of our bullets.

About half an hour later a lieutenant arrived who said his name was Suzuki. I conducted him to my senior offer who was then waiting in the base office. Suzuki saluted him and then gave a smart salute before the picture of our King. His chief concern was our arms and ammunition. These had all been collected in one place and put under guard. We suggested that he provide his own men to replace our guards who were not permitted arms; but he replied that he could not spare his men until the next day and would hold me personally responsible until that time.

It was far, too risky to leave all those weapons in the open yard and so we removed them to a store and Suzuki sealed the doors and windows. At about midnight he left with the corporal and private and said he would return early next morning. Few slept that night among the several hundreds of men quartered with us. There were stores there enough to feed an army, cigarettes in abundance, and all spent the hours in filling their haversacks and kitbags with whatever seemed to be most useful to prisoners of war. I realized then than the disposal of the liquor had been a very wise move." [91]

Ted Ross MoI "Mac and I crouched down behind a rock freezing with the cold, feet all cut up, a sniper behind and apparently a Jap boat just below." [28]

David MacDougall MoI "We came on the boat suddenly, and from our hideout in the rock examined it anxiously, as well as we were able without glasses, trying to wrest from it the secret of its nationality." [26]

David MacDougall MoI "I stood up, hailed the boat in English and began walking towards it. The third hail brought an answer in what sounded like our language and shortly after they began putting out a dingy which, when it approached the shore, revealed itself to be propelled by a short thick-set figure with Made in England stamped on every line of his (oh, so beautiful) face." [27]

Ted Ross "I don't believe I've ever heard anything so beautiful and gratifying as that voice." [28]

They scrambled down in the pale moonlight and were picked up in a skiff crewed by A/B Downey, an old China hand, and longest serving rating with the flotilla. Downey had previously served on the Insect Class River Gun Boat HMS Scarab in the Yangtze Flotilla at Ichang. [15]

David MacDougall MoI "I was lifted on to the motor boat and there my wound was dressed by the bosun, chiefly by means of a bottle of Dettol which was poured straight into the hole. A rough bandage was affixed and that dressing sufficed without change or care for the next ten days.
Then we counted the survivors, eleven in all. Six had failed to get through, an amazingly low percentage, considering the intensity and concentration of enemy fire over so long a period. Nothing that could happen now could compare with what had happened."

Thirty eight year old CPO Gilbert Thums, a veteran with twenty one years' service in the Royal Navy was Bosun as well as acting 1st Officer of MTB 10 applied his first aid knowledge to the wounded MacDougall.

Ted Ross MoI "By the time Mac and I were pulled aboard the torpedo boat it was quite dark and a small rowboat was immediately put back ashore to find the Adm. He was not behind the rock where we left him and they searched and searched and finally found him right on top of the hill." [28]

Mike Kendal and Colonel SK Yee had been approached by certain members of the Battle-Box HQ with regards to fleeing the doomed Colony with the escaping MTB party. Kendal informed Gandy that there would be a few extra unofficial bodies with the Chan party.
Lieut-Commander Gandy was mortified when he learned of the fiasco in Aberdeen Channel, culminating in the Admiral being abandoned under fire. He was also concerned by the increased numbers that had arrived on board. Gandy's instructions from the Commodore were "to be guided by in preparation and the execution of the operation itself" by Mike Kendal. Much to Gandy's disapointment Mike had taken it upon himself to invite various extra people. There could have been even more had all the BHQ staffies invited to join the show been taken up. Gandy noted them in his journal as part of the odds & sods party. He would go on to write scathing remarks about them in his official Admiralty report. These were the military intelligence officers who had ignored their own intelligence, leading the Admiral and his party directly into the enemy's line of fire, then abandoning them. [15]

Lt-Cdr Gandy RN (Ret) (MTB 10) "Here at last was talk of Kendal’s key figures, so essential to our escape, but where was the Admiral and what should I do with these unarmed swimmers expecting a ride? Of course I must take them, but what were their credentials? For instance the Ministry of Information was a rather low priority Government Department. I had no idea they were from Military Intelligence." [80]

Lt Kennedy HKRNVR (MTB 09) "At last dusk fell and the order came from Gandy to rendezvous with '10' and '27' at once south of Aberdeen Island." [9]

Once again MTB 11 had to be towed in before her engines fired up.

After picking up MacDougall and Ross, Gandy ordered A/B Downey to take Cdr Hsu Heng (Henry) and Yeung Chuen by skiff back to pick up the wounded Admiral.

Lt-Cdr Hsu Heng (Henry) CN "They all got to know me and just called me by my English name, Henry." [7]

Not finding him where they had left him they returned to Gandy's boat.

Adml Chan Chak ROC "After Hsu Heng and all were gone, the enemy’s fire was still fierce. I had been waiting for Hsu’s return for quite a while, they were probably delayed for certain reasons. So I decided to move ahead, crawling up the hill, there were lots of bushes on the hillside, and it was difficult to move about after they were burnt." [6]

The brush was still smouldering from the enemy incendiary shell bombardment, with thick acrid smoke shrouding the hill-side. The Admiral had somehow climbed up the slope in the eerie moonlight after hearing the sniper taking pot shots at MacDougall and Ross earlier.

Lt-Cmd Yorath and Supt Robinson volunteered to go to the tombolo and search the Isle with Downey. After searching along the rocky coast and whistling they got a response.

Lt-Cdr Gandy RN (Ret) (MTB 10) “Admiral Chan Chak was said to be hiding in a cave wounded, and without his artificial leg. Commander Hsu Heng with  Able Seaman Downey went in a skiff into the enemies field of fire to pick him up, but could not find him and returned; Lieutenant Commander John Yorath, R. N. (Retired), and Mr Robinson finally taking the skiff in the dark and succeeding in finding the Admiral who had climbed from his original hiding place to another.” [15]

Lt-Cmd Yorath XDO: "The Admiral was practically at the top of the hill, although it was a difficult climb. I think he must have gone up there to die - Chinese like having their graves on hillsides. We lugged him down and got him in the boat. He must have suffered agonies. As we rowed back, he sat facing me in the stern and crossed himself which rather surprised me." [80] & [42]

Supt Bill Robinson Supt "Thank God there was the grand little man, huddled up behind some rocks clutching his revolver in his good hand." [70]

Adm Chan Chak ROC "A captain and two soldiers of one of the boats came to find me, however it was difficult to tell who’s who in the dark, the captain dared not raised his voice to call for me.
I heard the boat docked, followed by footsteps. At the beginning, I thought it was the enemy came searching for us, so I held tight my gun and waited, then I heard someone whistling a tune that only the western people could do. So I copied the tune to respond, then we exchanged several tunes confirming that we were alliance.
The boat captain called with a low voice, “Admiral ?” I said “yes”, and we finally met up again. By that time, I was not able to move, two solders carried me on both sides."

Bill Robinson Police Supt "Thank God there was the grand little man, huddled up behind some rocks clutching his revolver in his good hand." [70]

Adm Chan Chak ROC "I could finally get back to the boat and get changed. Doing the headcount, Yee was missing, one captain and several soldiers died, the rest were OK. It was 9pm on the 25th of December, the 30th year of the Republic of China." [6]

Adm Chan Chak 
	Picture from the SCMP ©The Admiral was brought on board MTB 10 just as the remaining MTB's from Telegraph Bay arrived at 21.15.
True to his word Admiral Chan converted to Christianity adopting the name Andrew for himself, and Donald and Duncan for his twin sons when baptized at the Union Church in Chungking on the anniversary of the escape. [53]

Sq-Ldr Max Oxford RAF "Of our motor boat party the coxswain and engineer were wounded and did not leave the boat, and one sailor was drowned (possibly unable to swim); one of the Chinese is believed to have remained on board, but the other, Admiral Chan Chak got ashore wounded in the wrist and less his artificial leg. One other member was wounded in the shoulder but is with us and doing well." [30]

Lt- Cdr Gandy RN (Ret) (MTB 10) "I had by this time sent the following signal to all MTB's - "Rendezvous West of Aberdeen Island quietly 1950/25" - and they arrived about 21.15 just as Admiral Chan Chak was brought on board with a bullet wound in his wrist." [15]

Colin McEwan SOE (MTB 11) "Out we came in one of the most beautiful evenings I have ever seen in HK. To the East over Lamma there was still a purplish afterglow — the sky was steely clear with odd stars coming out and on the starboard Lantau loomed up a dark purple mass with pinpricks of light at odd intervals. Behind us a building at Pokfulam was madly alight with masses of deep smoke showing up against the sky and beyond farther flames could be seen." [11]

The Cornflower launch drifted all through the night with Colonel Yee Shiu Kee (S.K) and his two wounded companions, Alexis (Alec) Damsgaard, a Jutlander, and JJ Forster an Irishman. Damsgaard told Yee about his wife living in Shanghai and his two surviving sons living in the USA. [77]

Col S.K. Yee "I put the two others on a junk, asking the fishermen to take them to a hospital on the mainland in Kwangtung Province.
I was kept some days at Pak Sha Wan and subsequently had to return to the church at Apliechau, which was then under the Reverend Cheng. I took shelter at the church for some days before makingmy final escape to Free China." 62]

After staying in the Harbour Mission Church in San Shi St S.K C.410 the 150 ton diesel berthing tug Polly (C410) ©made his way to Chungking independently via Kukong where he was awarded “Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire” (CBE) for his part in subverting fifth columnist in the colony.

Of the sixteen who set out on "HMS Cornflower's" launch, two were killed, two made their own escape independently, while the remaining twelve made it to the MTB's. They were all provided with dry clothes and enjoyed hot coco and spirits. There was much lively debate on where to make course for.

Back in Aberdeen the 150 ton berthing tug Polly AKA C.410 was refloated and Cdr Montague had not one, but two RNR Master Mariners, Lieutants Pethick and Pittendrigh volunteer to join his motley crew.

Sub-Lt Bush HKRNVR: "I watched the bulky figure of Cmdr Montague striding down the road towards the shore where lay an old ferry steamer, a rifle slung over his shoulder, two pistols in his belt and with a bag of hand grenades". [91]

Cdr Montague RN (Ret) SNO Aberdeen "Meanwhile, at Aberdeen, Lieutenant Pittendrigh had succeeded in refloating C.410 and brought her to the dockyard. When the situation was explained to Lieutenant Pittendrigh RNR, Lieutenant Pethick RNR, and messers E. Cox Walker; A. Marchant; C. Skinner and E. H. Brazel volunteered to man C.410 in order to take Admiral Chan and his party to Mirs Bay.
Lieutenant Pittendrigh RNR
(who was formerly in the Chinese Maritime Customs Service) suggested that we should go to NAM HO where the chart showed a Custom House. He thought that if we could find a Chinese Customs Officer we could rely on him for advice and help. We then placed on board rifles, provisions and water."

Eddie Brazel HKRNVR (C.410) "On our return we were advised that Hong Kong had capitulated, and a senior N. O. (Montague) said that he for one did not intend staying in Hong Kong, as long as there was a seaworthy launch available to make a dash for it. Quite a few of us said we were in complete agreement with his sentiments, and that the launch was at his disposal as long as we could tag along.
So a party of seven in all began to prepare the launch for our escape, endeavouring to keep under cover as much as possible, so as not to give ourselves away to Nip. We decided it would be best to wait for cover of darkness before attempting to leave harbour.
The chief engineer decided that he preferred to stay behind (God alone knows why), so I was left as the only engineer aboard, and none too happy about it in case we met with any major mishaps on our voyage. C.410 was equipped with a National diesel engine, and as Jardines are the agents for same I knew a little but not a great deal about it.
" [46]

Eric Cox Waker HKRNVR (C.410): "I was fortunate and lucky enough at the time of the surrender to be actually on the launch that was requisitioned to join Admiral Chan Chak’s party and so I was one of the lucky ones who got away into China." [56]

Cdr Montague RN (Ret) SNO Aberdeen "At nightfall C.410 proceeded to the rendezvous near Magazine Island. Not finding the motor boat there, we had good hope that the Admiral's party were safely aboard the torpedo boats which we had seen passing near there before sunset. We then shaped course for Mirs Bay skirting close by Lamma Island and the Lema? Islands." [1]

Eddie Brazel HKRNVR (C.410) "We set out at 7 p.m. just four hours after the official capitulation, on a trip that proved quite hair-raising on at least two occasions. The S.N.O. (Cdr Montague RN) knew where the Chinese Admiral’s party were rendezvousing in Free China, he decided it would be better to take a roundabout route instead of proceeding directly up the coast, so we headed south towards Lamma and the N.E. head and then struck inland for the coast." [46]

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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