John J Forster Escape from Hong Kong

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Sub-Lt John Jacob Forster HKRNVR.  
	Photo from the Forster family collection ©

 

A/Sub-Lt John Jacob Forster HKRNVR

22/10/1902 - 25/12/1941

Remembered with Honour

For more information on JJ click here

 

John (Jack) Jacob Forster enlisted with the Hong Kong Naval Volunteer Force on 2nd December 1938 as a Probationary Cadet, promoted to Acting Sub-Lt 1st Oct 1940. HMS Cornflower (ex SS Tai Hing) was on loan for use as the HKNVF headquarters and was moored south-west of Kellett Island where the RHKYC later transferred to, and most of the recruits came from. There was also a shore-based office in the York Building. 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 including their Honoury Captain His Excellency Sir Geoffry Alexander Stafford Northcote, K.C.M.G. [106]

Sub-Lt John (Jack) Jacob Forster, the eldest of six boys was born in Derryhowlaght, Lisneskea, Co Fermanagh in 1902. Both his Irish and Dutch parents had a history of seafaring. He was the son of Capt John Forster and Ida Susanna Villerius, daughter of Jacob Villerius from Rozenburg near Rotterdam. Jack's younger brother Robert also went to sea. After obtaining his basic engineering ticket he made his way to the Orient to ply the Far East trade routes in the merchant service. [100]
Jack worked his way up through the engineering branch and eventually took a shore based position as Superintendent of Engineering at the Taikoo Dockyard, Hong Kong.

Sub-Lt Forster HKRNVR was stationed on HMS Cornflower the HKRNVR Depot ship.He was serving on the HKRNVR HQ, HMS Cornflower, an Arabis class mine sweeping sloop with the rank of Sub-Lieutenant when it was scuttled in Deep Water Bay on 19th December 1941. [91]

All available HKRNVR were then mobilized into Royal Navy Divisions (RND) to fight on land round the Aberdeen and Stanley areas as infantry.
On 21st December JJ along with Lt T J Price accompanied  Hong Kong’s chief intelligence officer Charles Boxer across open ground after they found their road blocked below Shouson Hill when Boxer took a bullet in his chest. Lt Price and Sub Lt Forster carried the wounded Boxer to the tempory navy HQ in the Industrial School in Aberderdeen where Boxer was pronounced dead on arrival. Boxer was not dead and eventually recovered enough to be noticed and was then transported to the Queen Mary Hospital.
Sq-Ldr Max Oxford took over Boxer's duties for the final few days of the battle.
Left: HMS Cornflower, ex SS Tai Hing

Warrant-Officer Morley-Wright and Sub-Lt JJ Forster were working on the scuttled HMS Cornflower's 25' motor launch alongside the pier by Hope Dock, just west of Staunton creek.
The Battle-Box officers found them and assisted in getting the launch sea worthy to facilitate escaping with Adm Chan Chak's party. [6]
Alex Damsgaard, a tall Jutlander, and late Master of the Danish Cable-laying ship Store Nordisk of the Store Nordiske Telegraf-Selskab (Great Northern Telegraph Company) and his friend, Midshipman Holgar Christiansen HKDDC who had survived the bombing of the Naval Armament Tug 'Gatling when it was bombed and sanka in Aberdeen Harbour joined them along with a fifth volunteer, 2nd Engineer D Harley who had served SS Yatshing.

Sub-Lt Forster fell mortally wounded as Admiral Chan Chak calmly took to the waves.  
	Photo from Maj Goring's  article on the escape © 
	Click here for more information.

Adm Chan Chak: "The Norwegian engineer was the first one shot dead, then the steer man. MacDougall and others were wounded. Most of the stray bullets had hit the boat and even some had hit my helmet.
Hsu was very wary about me the “One Foot Adm of 50” swimming such a far distance.
I insisted to carry my own gun and passport. 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.
I took off my life preserver (which was the last one on board) and gave it to Yeung. As I raised my hand, a stray bullet went right through my left hand.
Yeung didn’t say anything anymore, he just jumped into the sea, followed by MacDougall with his wounded back.
YeeSiu-Kee and 2 other British soldiers had to remain on the boat. Yee could not swim and the 2 soldiers were badly wounded.
We were all sitting ducks in the water and non-stop bullets were flying everywhere.
I finally swam ashore on the small island right next to Apliechau."
[6]

Left: \Photo from Maj Goring's published article on the escape. [17]

David MacDougall MoI: "It was then 4:45 and in a few seconds it seemed every rifle and machine gun in the Japanese army had opened fire on us. The bullets came through the flimsy wooden hull as if it were paper; and presently they opened up with artillery as well.
The man next to me
(Damsgaard) had his knee smashed, another got one in the stomach, the Chinese leader had his wrist shot away, and one or two (I couldn't see how many) collapsed and lay still. We were crouching in the bottom of the boat holding onto our tin hats." [26]

Capt Freddie Guest BHQ: "We stared at one another with startled looks and I yelled; “My God! Sighting shots,” as indeed they were, and in the next second came the frightening rattle of a machine-gun. Their first burst was just short of the target which caused the water to splash only a few yards away, thereby giving them their range. The second burst hit the Norwegian engineer (Damsgaard), poor fellow, who fell on me riddled with bullets. It also succeeded in hitting the petrol tank which made the engine give out immediately.
The next burst hit two more of the crew
(Forster & Harley) and they, too, were in a bad way, if not dead. I received a splinter in my face. I bled profusely." [29]

Click here to read the full transcript of the escape in the Cornflower launch.

Along with S.K. were two severely wounded volunteer crew left in the boat, the tall Jutlander Alex Damsgaard & Irishman J. J. Forster. After drifting all night the launch fetched up on the shore and S.K. bribed a junk man to take the two wounded to a hospital.

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 I had to return to the church at Apliechau, which was under the Reverend Cheng. I took shelter at the church for some days before making my final escape to Free China."
[62]

Both JJ Forster and Alex Damsgaard were reported alive in "The Western Morning Star" 6th February 1942.

Of the sixteen who set out on "HMS Cornflower's" launch, two were killed, one taken prisoner, another made good his own escape while the remaining twelve made it to the MTB's.

JJ's young widow Raymonde and two young girls, Maureen aged three and Patrisha (Paddy) aged one were interned at St. Paul’s Hospital for the remainder of the Japanese occupation without knowing JJ's fate.

Wearing Hsu Heng (Henry)'s shoes and clutching his bible bible S.K. sought refuge with the Reverend Cheng in the Harbour Mission Church on Ap Lei Pai opposite Aberdeen. He eventually made his way to Kukong in free China where Chan Chak was still recovering. SK arrived on 5th February 1942 still wearing Hsu Heng (Henry)'s shoes, only to leave two days later as mysteriously as he had arrived after falling out with Chan over the allegedly missing $40.000 (£2,500 GBP) They remained bitter opponents for the rest of Chan's life.

Adm Chan Chak and Colonel S.K. Yee led the internal war on the 5th Columnists from the front, killing hundreds personally.
Hong Kong had been ordered by the Imperial government in Londondon to extract the Chinese Military Council led by Adm Chan Chak back to Free China at all costs.

Click here for more information Sub-Lt J. J. Forster HKRNVR

Remembered with Honour

 

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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