Hong Kong Volunteers Company

Amongst the Chindits was an unexpected group of 126 men that formed the Hong Kong Volunteers Company. This section explains how this came about.

Battle of Hong Kong 1941

Hong Kong 1941
Central District of Hong Kong Island in 1941
© IWM HU 128874

On 8th December, the day after the attacks on Pearl Harbour, Japanese forces invaded the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong, advancing into the territory from the north. After seventeen days of intense fighting, the defending forces capitulated and surrendered on Christmas Day.

Japanese commanders in Hong Kong 1941
Japanese Commanders Entering Hong Kong After Their Conquest
© IWM HU 2766
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Fighting alongside the British, Canadian, and Indian defenders were many local Hong Kong citizens. They were Chinese, part-Chinese, and Cantonese speakers of Portuguese origins. Most were regular soldiers with the Royal Artillery (RA), Royal Engineers (RE), and Hong Kong Chinese Regiment (HKCR) or volunteers with the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps (HKVDC) and the Hong Kong Royal Naval Volunteer Reserves (HKRNVR). When the order to surrender was received, British officers gave permission to these men to discard their uniforms and to return home where possible to escape capture by the Japanese. [1][2]

Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps 1941 (IWM KF 114)
Newly trained officers and NCOs of the Chinese Battalion, Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps 1941 (Imperial War Museum description)
© IWM KF 114

At the time of the surrender, Private William Young of 9 Platoon, 3 Company, HKVDC, who was injured in the fighting at the Wong Nai Chung pillboxes, was in Bowen Road Military Hospital having his injuries treated, he escaped from the hospital before the Japanese arrived, he later joined the Chindits. In September 1942 all the Chinese that were captured were released from PoW camps after they signed papers agreeing not to take up arms again against the Japanese and not to leave Hong Kong. Maximo Cheng of 4th Battery HKVDC was one of them, he also went on to join the Chindits. [1][3]

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Lt Col Ride and the British Army Aid Group (BAAG)

Lt Col Lindsay Ride commanded the Field Ambulance of HKVDC. He escaped from PoW camp in early January 1942 and made his way to the British Embassy at Chungking in Free China (the territory not occupied by the Japanese). There, he gained approval to form an organisation to assist escapees and refugees from Hong Kong and also to gather intelligence on the Japanese and PoW camps in Hong Kong. They also rescued shot-down American pilots. The organisation was given the name of the British Army Aid Group (BAAG) and came under the control of MI9 (Military Intelligence) in India. Their headquarters was at Kweilin, some 320 miles northwest of Hong Kong, but they had advanced posts in forward areas to support and assist those escaping from Hong Kong. [1][2]

The China Unit

As the Kempeitai (Japanese military police) in Hong Kong began to get organised, those who had avoided capture were in fear of being betrayed by collaborators. Lt Col Ride sent word to them in Hong Kong that they should make their way to Free China to continue their service to the Allied cause, and they would be looked after on their arrival. Hundreds responded bringing with them their families. [1][2]

Ride organised the men into a military unit and BAAG officers provided infantry training. They were given the name China Unit. GHQ New Delhi then agreed that the unit be sent to India for further training and active service. Some 128 men from the China Unit volunteered to go. [1][2]

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To India

Hong Kong Volunteers Journey To India 1943
From Hong Kong To Chindit 77 Brigade HQ, India
1. Kweillin : BAAG HQ 4. Calcutta : Fort William Garrison
2. Kunming : US Airbase 5. Deolali : Army Transit Camp
3. Chabua : US Airbase 6. Malthone : 77 Brigade HQ

The men travelled to India in four groups, leaving Kweilin in May, July, September 1943 and January 1944. They were convoyed to the airbase at Kunming and flown over ‘The Hump’ (the Himalayas) by the U.S. Air Force to the U.S. airbase at Chabua. [1]

From there they travelled to Fort William, a military garrison in Calcutta, to enlist with the British army. Men from the early groups joined the 9th Bn. Border Regiment and the remainder joined the 1st Bn. Gloucestershire Regiment. From there they were transferred to the British Army transit camp at Deolali for training. [1]

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Brigadier Michael Calvert

In 1936, Michael Calvert, a Lieutenant then, was posted to the Royal Engineers in Hong Kong. One of his responsibilities was the recruitment and training of local Chinese for the Royal Engineers. He also took the opportunity to learn Cantonese. [4][5]

Hong Kong Chinese Recruits 1937
British Hong Kong Chinese Recruits in 1937
(Source: Hong Kong WW2 Veterans Association)

In 1943 Calvert learnt about the arrival in India of the volunteers from Hong Kong. In a Special Force planning meeting on 20th September 1943, Calvert suggested their inclusion into the force.

Special Force Meeting Minutes Sept 1943 Calvert
Extract from Minutes of Special Force Meeting on 20th September 1943
(Source: Air HQ India [6])
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In early 1944 Calvert visited the volunteers at Deolali intending to recruit them for the Chindits.

This is Calvert’s account from his book Fighting Mad,[4]

" . . . . . . an officer gets a tremendous feeling of satisfaction and pride in knowing that he has the confidence and loyalty of the men serving under him.

I like to think that was the case with my Hong Kong Royal Engineers. Before I left them in 1937 to go to Shanghai they had beaten a number of British units at soccer and water polo and had been given the place of honour in a big march-past in Hong Kong. I was sorry to leave them but I knew I was handing over a going concern to my successor and I was pleased that my first real job in the Army had turned out so well.

A few years later these men fought valiantly in the defence of Hong Kong and when it eventually fell to the Japs many of them escaped and trekked thousands of miles across occupied China into India, so that they could carry on fighting. But nobody knew what to do with them and they were left kicking their heels in a transit camp at Deolali, near Bombay.

I happened to visit the camp while preparing for the 1944 Wingate campaign into Burma and suddenly saw some familiar looking Chinese faces. We had a joyful reunion and they told me how they came to be there. They were being well looked after but it was clear they felt they were not wanted, despite the hardships they had suffered for the chance to fight again.

There were about 100 of them all told. I knew quite a few because I had recruited them, and the others had either joined after I left Hong Kong or came from other volunteer units in the colony. They all had battle experience against the Japs and were very fit after their hard trek followed by a rest in the camp. They were the sort of men I wanted in Burma and I asked them if they would join me again to fight in the jungle.

I didn’t have to ask twice and soon after that they were with the rest of my brigade in training. So my coolies became Chindits and when I saw them fight I knew that my pride in them in 1937 had not been misplaced."

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With the Chindits

The unit was renamed the Hong Kong Volunteers Company (HKVC) and became part of the Chindits. They then proceeded to the Special Force base at Malthone, central India, for jungle training.[7]

The Company joined Brig Calvert’s 77th Brigade, one of the five Chindit brigades that went into Burma in 1944. The men were distributed to roles within units under the command of Brig Calvert as follows -

Defence Platoon, 77th Brigade HQ Column45
Royal Engineers, 'Broadway' Stronghold19
Intelligence Section, 4/9 Gurkha Rifles6
Intelligence Section, Lt Col Herring’s 'Dah Force'11
Base Party Reinforcements40
(Remained in hospital in India)4
(Died before start of operations)1
Total126

Their entry into Burma commenced on 5th March 1944. They were evacuated from Burma on 19th July, over 19 weeks later.[7]

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(The Company's War Diary includes a list of names and summary of the Company's actions.)

In the 1980's, Calvert was interviewed by military historian Shamus Wade and had this to say about the company, [8]

"The first lot, I formed as my own Brigade Defence Platoon. This Brigade Defence Platoon were the people who were the toughest and most soldierlike. They did a damn good job without any fireworks, right from the fly-in. They fought in all the battles that my brigade fought in, from the 6th of March until July, behind the lines.

During that time, we did the fly-in. We formed the airfield, Broadway, from which fighter aircraft came and was attacked. Then we marched and put the block across the main railway line, which we held for about six or seven weeks and which we dug in very hard. And then they took part in the counter attack which I did. We went behind the Japanese and attacked them in the rear and finally defeated them (about 6 battalions or more).

Then we marched up the railway and we had a number of battles on the way. I was ordered to take Mogaung, which was Stillwell’s objective. By this time, I had a number of my battalions removed from me and I only had 2,000 men. I eventually took Mogaung which was the first time it had been taken. The Japanese had reinforced it with new units from outside Burma. There was a very, very bloody battle in the Monsoon, up to our waist in water etc. We lost 1,000 casualties there. There was a big row between us and the Americans. They accused us of cowardice and everything else. We had a medical team in. They found we only had 300 fit men left in my brigade.

So it was a pretty bloody battle. When I went to Hong Kong recently (1982). I asked them (ex-members of the HKVC) what they liked. And they said they enjoyed the whole thing.

There were some older ones who were cleaver but much less fit. So they were the Rear Defence Platoon at Rear Defence Headquarters (Brigade Defence Headquarters) under Colonel Claude Rome, (now Major General Claude Rome). He looked after Broadway, which was our airfield, where everybody was evacuated from and which the Japanese attacked heavily. Most of the Chinese there did well.

Then I had another force under Lieutenant Colonel Herring of the Burma Rifles and they were to operate with the Kachins in North Burma, right in the far North of Burma, near where the Chinese from Yunnan were supposed to attacking Burma. It was known as Dah Force. I gave him a number of the more intelligent Chinese and active Chinese, who operated with him and were in close liaison with the Chinese (and there were a lot of Chinese inhabitants in that area) and later with the Chinese under General Stilwell.

These were Sergeant Hicks, Corporal Maxwell, Lance Corporal Maxwell, Lance Corporal Holland, Private Yipe, Lo Ping Luen, Baleros, Lee Sheung Chi, Leung Wing Yin and Chan Kai Shek.

Then I left the more clerical type of man with my Administrative Headquarters in Assam. They did every sort of job there. Amongst other things, they were put onto supply dropping (chucking stuff out of the aircraft). I think they did a very good job there. They were very, very useful."

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The Chindits were disbanded in February 1945 and command of the HKVC was transferred to ALFSEA (Allied Land Forces South East Asia). They did not see any further action and the men returned to Hong Kong in 1946 after the war.

Brig Michael Calvert and L/Cpl William Young
Left

Brigadier Michael Calvert
Commander of 77th Indian Infantry Brigade
(c) IWM 123456

Right

L/Cpl William Young
Hong Kong Volunteers Company, 77 Bde

L/Cpl Young was batman and bodyguard to Brig Calvert.

Photographs taken on 5th March 1944, later that evening they flew into Burma together in the first wave of 8 gliders.

Below

Chindit veterans Calvert and Young featured in a 1995 BBC documentary on the War in Burma.

Chindit Veterans Brigadier Michael Young and Sgt William Young in 1995
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Casualties

A Japanese force of battalion strength attacked the Broadway stronghold on 27th March 1944. After four days of fighting the enemy was defeated and they withdrew [9][10]. Pte. Lo Ping Luen was killed during the battle. [7]

Private Lo Ping Luen - Chindit Casualty
Private Lo’s Entry in Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Records
(Source: www.cwgc.org)
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Military Awards

Sgt. W.R. Young and Sgt. W.G. Hicks were Mentioned in Dispatches. Their awards were announced in the London Gazette of 26th April 1945.

Chindits Mentioned in Despatches London Gazette 1945
Extract from The London Gazette 26th April 1945
(Source: www.thegazette.co.uk)
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Officers in Charge of the Volunteers

Pre Chindits (at Calcutta) Lieut Freddie Winyard
(at Deolali) Lieut de Wynton[3]
With Chindits Lieut R.G.Turrall[11]
Post Chindits Capt Eric Francis Bellamy-Brown, Royal Tank Regt.
Lieut Owen Hugh Smith, 45th Reconnaissance Regt.
Lieut Roy Wilson, Duke of Wellington Regt.[8]

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References and Sources

1. The National Archives(TNA), WO 343/1 South East Asia Command British Army Aid Group

2. Ride, Edwin, BAAG Hong Kong Resistance 1942 - 1945

3. Imperial War Museum, IWM 21133 Cheng, Maximo (Oral History)

4. Calvert, Michael, Fighting Mad

5. Rooney, David, Mad Mike - A Life of Michael Calvert

6. TNA: AIR 23/5078 J.P.S.Paper 88: Long Range Penetration Groups; Organisation

7. TNA: WO 172/5057 War Diary - Hong Kong Volunteers 1944

8. Hong Kong Public Record Office, PRO-REF-044, Wade, Shamus, The Hong Kong Volunteer Company

9. Calvert, Michael, Prisoners of Hope

10. TNA: CAB 106/203 Report on Operations of 77th. Indian Infantry Brigade 1944 by Brig J.M. Calvert.

11. TNA: CO 820/60/4 Hong Kong Volunteer Company in India


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