The Argyll and Sutherland
Hong Kong 1949 - 1950
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The highlight of the voyage to Hong Kong was the call at Singapore, where the 1st Battalion The Seaforth Highlanders gave the Battalion a very great reception. In the ranks of the 1 A. & S.H. were Major Slessor and 19 other ranks who had fought with the 2nd Battalion in its epic struggle against the Japanese seven years before, and to them the visit must have brought back a host of memories. Transport was ready to take this party round the areas in which they had fought and the places where they had worked as prisoners of war. They also visited the cemeteries where their fallen comrades rest, and St. Andrew's Church to see the memorial tablet installed there in memory of the officers and men of the 2nd Battalion who served and died during the Malayan campaign.
The advance party arrived in Hong Kong on 14th July, where it was met by the Commanding Officer, who had been sent ahead by air. Four days later the Empire Trooper, carrying the Battalion, arrived, and as it steamed through Lyemun Pass old members of the 2nd Battalion saw, for the first time since 1933, the beautiful harbour of Victoria and the well-known landmarks on the Peak and on the waterfronts. Apart from a great expansion in building, there appeared to be little change.
The Battalion took over Stanley Barracks from the 1st Battalion The Buffs. These were modern barracks, built in 1938 on Stanley Peninsula on the south coast of the island, with the open sea to the south of them and flanked by Taitam and Stanley Bays. The buildings were large, spacious and cool, and were three storeys high with verandahs. They stood about three hundred feet above the sea. They were not, however, big enough for a battalion at full strength, so the Support Company was sent to Lo Wu Camp in the New Territories.
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The situation in Hong Kong had become unstable as a result of the Chinese Communist victories over the Nationalist forces under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, and by the approach of the former to the borders of the New Territories. There was also a danger of internal unrest in Hong Kong and Kowloon, initiated by Communist agents who had infiltrated over the border with the stream of refugees. The Battalion was now part of the 27th Brigade with 1st Battalion The Middlesex Regiment at Lyemun and 1st Battalion The Royal Leicestershire Regiment, along with Brigade Headquarters, in Kowloon. The Brigade Commander was Brigadier B. A. Coad, D.S.O. The Battalion was given an internal security role in support of the Hong Kong Police, and this entailed intensive reconnaissance work in the city in conjunction with the police, and anti-riot drill at Stanley. There was, however, no occasion when the police were not able to deal adequately with any disturbance that arose. There was time for a great amount of ordinary training, designed with the object of regaining fitness after the long voyage, and for practising all ranks in handling of personal weapons, and of course there was plenty of recreational training, for in Hong Kong every form of sport except polo was available. While at Stanley the Battalion was visited by the G.O.C. Land Forces Hong Kong, Major-General G. C. Evans, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., and the G.O.C.-in-C. Hong Kong, Lt.-General F. W. Festing, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O. It also provided a Guard of Honour for the arrival in the Colony of Lt.-General Sir John Harding, K.C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., M.C., General Officer Commanding Far East Land Forces. The Guard was commanded by Major T. B. G. Slessor with Captain G. M. M. M. Howat, M.C., and 2/Lt. A. C. S. Boswell, who carried the Regimental Colour. General Harding later visited the Battalion at Stanley. Stanley was a temporary station and housed the Battalion only while its camp, Tam-mi, in the New Territories, was being built. The frontier area was the eventual location for all army units except the Services, but many of the camps were in the early stages of construction.
The Battalion moved to Tam-mi in the last week of August; this was its second attempt, for on the first occasion the advance party encountered torrential rain, which flooded part of the Camp and forced its return to Stanley. Even now the camp was far from finished, the road leading to it was incomplete and the water supply was inadequate. Like all New Territory camps, sleeping-accommodation was under canvas. Huts were only provided for dining halls, cook-houses, messes and offices. It was the rainy season, and for the first few weeks the camp was a sea of mud, with only a few isolated dry islands. The New Territory camps were at least 20 miles from the main centres of Kowloon and Hong Kong, and entertainment had to be mainly home made. With the help of a bulldozer and the enthusiastic encouragement and example of R.S.M. Morrison, a full-size football ground was constructed, the only one in all the New Territory camps at that time. Before the Battalion had time to settle down it was visited by one of these freaks of nature which are prevalent in the China Seas at this time of the year—a typhoon. This is a cyclonic disturbance of tremendous severity and almost baffles description. The worst recorded typhoon in Hong Kong occurred on 3rd September 1937, when the wind velocity was 161 miles per hour.
It was on 7th September that the typhoon struck, but luckily the centre of the disturbance passed north of Hong Kong. A near miss is, however, almost as bad as the real thing, as it brings in its trail more torrential and prolonged rain. By 9 p.m. conditions were bad enough for Brigade to issue an order to strike tents and take cover. The former task was accomplished with great difficulty, owing to the torrential rain, and only those who have been in Hong Kong can realise what typhoon rain is, but there was little cover available in a camp still so incomplete. Not all the few existing huts had windows and doors; although those that had not gave a little shelter against the rain, they, in their incomplete state, were at the mercy of he wind, and so it proved when three walls of a Headquarter Company hut blew in, injuring two men. The pipes and drums and military band lost much of their valuable property. Although it was an experience that had been anticipated with some excitement, it turned out to be one which all fervently hoped would never be repeated.
As soon as the damage caused by the typhoon had been repaired, the Battalion began to study and train for its operational role. It was to be the counter-attack battalion for 27th Brigade, the right and left forward battalions of which were 1 Leicesters and 1 Middlesex. The first steps were to get fit and to learn the country. The former was easily accomplished, and it was not long before the summits of highest hills were within reach of all, and learning the country was both interesting and instructive, for it led to many operational reconnaissance patrols well off the beaten track. The Battalion was also responsible for manning a number of observation posts with the object of keeping a watch on Communist movements the other side of the frontier.
The primary task of the British Forces in the New Territories was, of course defensive, but with its role of counter-attack the Battalion had to study and practise offensive operations also, and in many of its exercises it had the opportunity of practising with tanks. Competitions, as an incentive to training, were well organised within the Brigade, in all of which the Battalion was successful, 'A' Company winning the Brigade weapon-training circus while 'D' Company and the M.T. won the patrolling and M.T. competitions respectively.
The arrival of the Chinese Communist Forces on the frontier of the New Territories on 24th October made little visible difference to life in Hong Kong. There were no alarms, for the Chinese showed no inclination to cross, but there were continual raids by Communist and Nationalist aircraft along the frontier and at Sham Chun station. Meanwhile the New Territories camps were being rapidly constructed, and occupied as soon as they were ready; a landing-strip for Spitfires was made and work on new roads was being hastened on. There were enough troops now to form the 40th Division, the command of which was assumed by Major-General G. C.Evans, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O. The last three months of the year was a busy but profitable period. There were many exercises at Battalion level and upwards, and all designed to familiarise all ranks in their operational role, to test communications, and to practise infantry and tank co-operation, and from them all many useful lessons were learnt, which were to be of value the following year in Korea. There were many distinguished visitors during this last quarter of 1949. General Sir John Harding, K.C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., M.C., General Officer Commanding Far East Land Forces, came on 4th October, and was followed on the 29th by Major-General B. C. H. Kimmins, C.B., C.B.E., who had come from the War Office to inspect military camps and installations in the Colony. On 2nd November all Commanding Officers of the 27th Brigade assembled at Norwegian Farm Camp to meet the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field-Marshal Sir William Slim, G.B.E., K.C.B., D.S.O., M.C., while on 8th November the General Officer Commanding Hong Kong, Lt.-General Sir Robert Mansergh, K.B.E., C.B., M.C., visited the Battalion.
The first quarter of 1950 followed the lines of the previous three months, but in a new site. On 15th January the Battalion left Tam-mi and occupied Norwegian Farm Camp, sharing it with the 1st Battalion The Royal Leicestershire Regiment. This camp faced north and looked right into Communist China; accommodation was again in tents, but it was planned to provide huts before the advent of the typhoon season. It was a very bad site, the tents being on terraces bull-dozed out of the steep hillside. These collapsed repeatedly in the heavy rain. Moreover, parts of the camp constructed for the Battalion were extremely cramped. Some months were to elapse before the Engineers could spare the time and material to make a football ground, and self help in this direction, as at Tam-mi, was not possible as the work involved major levelling.
On the occasion of the Church Parade held on 12th February to commemorate the Raising of the Regiment, the following message was received from the General Officer Commanding Far East Land Forces: 'On the occasion of the anniversary of the Raising of your Regiment I send you, and all ranks under your command, my best wishes.' On 27th February the Royal Navy invited the pipes and drums to accompany them on an exercise cruise to the Philippines. Exercises were to be carried out in conjunction with the American Navy, based at Subic Bay in the Bataan Peninsula of Luzon. The pipe band, in charge of Major I. H. Scheurmier, travelled in the aircraft carrier H.M.S. Triumph, and its first duty was to play on the flight deck, alternately with the Royal Marine Band, as the ship sailed down the harbour the following morning. For the next two or three days exercises were carried out against the American task force. These ended on 3rd March and the fleet sailed into Subic Bay with the pipe band again playing on the flight deck of the Triumph. The shore leave that followed was an unforgettable experience for members of the band. The American Fleet was lavish with its entertainments. The band played before a capacity crowd at the Troops Club and then gave an exhibition of Highland dancing both there and at the Petty Officers' Club. It also played Retreat ashore in full dress. Wherever the band played it had an enthusiastic welcome, as the great majority had never before seen a pipe band except on the films. On Wednesday, 8th March, the band played on board the U.S.S. Boxer, and the final performance took place the following night on board the Triumph, during a reception given by the Royal Navy. The band played in full dress under flood lighting. After the performance the Commander-in-Chief Far Eastern Fleet sent for and congratulated Pipe-Major McGlinn and Drum-Major Legge. An officer in H.M.S. Triumph reported on the visit in the following terms:
'From our point of view the visit was an unqualified success. From past experience the Jocks are always popular in a man-of-war, and even more so when they enter so willingly into the spirit of life on board. The sailor is not a very responsive individual, but the audiences which came to listen to their programmes on the flight deck were more than adequate testimony to their popularity. 'It goes without saying that our American friends were equally impressed, as shown by the evident enthusiasm whenever they performed, whether ashore at Subic, on the flight deck of U.S.S. Boxer or at the farewell party given by the fleet on board H.M.S. Triumph.
On 17th March His Excellency The Governor, Sir Alexander Grantham, K.C.M.G., inspected the 40th Division at Sek Kong. His Excellency was received with the Royal Salute, after which he inspected the parade from a jeep accompanied by Lt.-General Sir Robert Mansergh, K.B.E., C.B., M.C., now G.O.C.-in-C. Hong Kong, and Major-General G. C. Evans, Commander 40th Division. After completing the inspection, His Excellency addressed the parade and congratulated all on their achievements since they had arrived in the Colony. The Division then marched past. For the parade the Battalion was drawn up in two half battalions, each of 180 rank and file with the Colours, carried by 2/Lts. P. W. Cumming and A. C. S. Boswell, in the centre.
On 21st March the Countess Mountbatten, who had arrived in Hong Kong, brought a message to the Battalion from Her Royal Highness The Princess Elizabeth: 'Please convey to all ranks A. & S.H. my best wishes while in Hong Kong.' The Commanding Officer cabled the thanks of all ranks to Her Royal Highness. On 31st March the Battalion held Highland Games at Norwegian Farm. Competitors from the Cameronians and King's Own Scottish Borderers took part in the dancing and piping competitions. There were many changes among the officers and warrant officers during the first quarter of 1950. Nine officers and four warrant officers were posted to the U.K., and among them was R.S.M. S. J. Morrison, M.M., who had completed twenty-five years' service with the Regiment. He was to be awarded the M.B.E. In his place came R.S.M. R. T. Boyde, D.C.M. For some time there was nothing to interrupt the usual routine until, in the middle of June, the Battalion moved to a new camp, about three miles east, in the area of Dodwells Ridge, near the Fanling golf course. The move did not change the tactical role, which was still that of counter-attack battalion to 27th Brigade.
One popular innovation during this period was the institution of 'battalion days' for all units of 40th Division; a day with some Regimental historical background was selected, on which the unit was granted a holiday for sports competitions, etc. There were many exercises in the summer months, some of which lasted three or four days, and generally the pressure of work was heavy. There was little activity across the border. Nationalist air-raids on the oil dumps just inside Communist territory had ceased. A continual watch was kept by the observation post of 27th Brigade on the activities of the Communist troops, but there was nothing of note to report other than the relief of their guerrilla troops by regulars, whose principal task appeared to be the prevention of illegal traffic in rice, which is the main occupation of the border villagers.
Before June was out, war did come to the Far East, but not from over the border of the New Territories. On 25th June the North Koreans crossed the 38th parallel to invade South Korea, and the Korean War was on. Three N.C.Os. from the Battalion saw the first blow struck on behalf of the United Nations forces. These N.C.Os. along with n other army personnel, had sailed for a six weeks' cruise in Japanese waters in H.M.S. Jamaica.
The news of the outbreak of war was heard on the wireless, and almost immediately afterwards the cruiser was ordered to increase speed and make for Kure. For the next fourteen days H.M.S. Jamaica, with the Army personnel still on board, patrolled off the east coast of Korea along with U.S.S. Juneau and a destroyer escort. The Army personnel all volunteered to help at action stations, and were allotted tasks in the supply of ammunition to the short-range and anti-aircraft weapons. Many and varied roles fell to the lot of this force, the most important of which was the bombardment of the east-coast road and the destruction of its bridges. Misfortune befell the Jamaica on 8th July when a shell from a shore battery, which should have been an 'over', struck a cable attached to a support for the mainmast. This caused an airburst, inflicting 14 casualties, of which 6 died. The Army personnel suffered severely, losing 5 dead and 2 seriously wounded. The dead were buried at sea the following morning. A Guard of Honour and buglers were provided by the Royal Marines and the pall-bearer party were half Navy and half Army personnel. Cpl. Williams was the only casualty from the Battalion, and he was only slightly wounded. The army party returned to Hong Kong on 30th July.
Meanwhile in Hong Kong there was no change in the situation. There were no border incidents, but there were persistent rumours throughout July that troops from the Colony were to go to Korea; these were finally killed when it became known that the 29th Brigade was being formed at home for service in Korea. Disappointed at not being selected for active service, the army in Hong Kong turned its attention once again to exercises designed to repel invasion from Communist China.
From 15th to l7th August the whole of the 40th Division took part in a packing-up exercise, during which all kit and stores had to be packed ready for a move to an operational area. It was not set with any particular operation in view, but, as will be seen in the next chapter, the exercise was to serve its purpose in a way that could not have been foreseen by its designer. 19th August 1950 was observed as a holiday in honour of the birth of Princess Anne, and while the Battalion was relaxing and preparing for various sports events which were to take place that day, the Commanding Officer, Lt.-Colonel Neilson, was summoned to an important conference at Brigade Head-quarters, the nature of which could not be divulged on the telephone. Rumours of a move to Korea, which had been stilled by the formation of the 29th Brigade at home, were revived again, and this time they proved to be true. The critical situation of the Americans in the Pusan bridgehead had made it imperative that help should be sent immediately, even though that help was only to be a brigade of two weak battalions, without most of its transport, and without any of its supporting arms and services. At the conference, Brigadier B. A. Coad, D.S.O., announced that two battalions of 27th Brigade, together with Brigade Headquarters and a very small number of Service representatives, were to get ready for a move to Korea in the very near future. The Battalions selected were 1 Middlesex Regiment and 1 A. & S.H. The news of the move was not to be divulged to anyone below the position of Company Commander.
The Battalion had, thanks to the 40th Division packing exercise, only just unpacked after the complete boxing of all stores, equipment, mess and personal belongings, and the cases used were still stacked outside the various offices and stores. Actual action was, however, restricted by the necessity for keeping the impending move secret. The veil of secrecy was partially lifted on the 20th, when all officers, who required to know for planning purposes, were informed, and finally lifted on the 21st, when the C.O. addressed all ranks in each of the three camps occupied by the Battalion. The move was to take place on a new special establishment which allowed for three rifle companies only; 'S' Company was to be abolished, while included in Headquarter Company were a machine-gun platoon, a 3-in. mortar platoon and assault pioneers. Although the number of sub-units decreased, the total strength of the Battalion increased, and the reinforcements required to bring it up to strength were supplied by the other units of the Hong Kong garrison. The Brigade was to move fully equipped, but with a very limited number of vehicles; the remainder were to be provided from American sources on arrival in the theatre of operations. The Brigade was to be supplied with American rations, except that tea was to be taken to replace the coffee of that ration, and it was to be entirely administered by the Americans. These hurriedly improvised arrangements gave a fairly clear idea of how urgent it had become to send reinforcements and of the critical situation that was developing in Korea.
History of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders 1st Battalion 1939 -1954
The Argylls in Korea
Thin Red Line Magazines
Korea 1950 - 1951
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Updated: 11 October 2014