University of Oxford
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Assistant Provost Marshal in Kowloon,

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posted on 2024-06-05, 18:59 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

My maternal grandfather, Victor Montgomery Keeling James served Britain in both World Wars. In WW1 he served with the 14th Worcesters, 3rd Kings Own Hussars and later with the 46th Infantry, No.40960 in France. Of the 24 boys attending Cinderford Grammar with my grandfather, he was the only survivor.

In WW2, Victor initially joined the Army as a commissioned officer and was then sent to the Welch Regiment at Cardiff. From here he was sent to Brigend to instruct troops on the use of Vickers Guns. He later became weapon training officer at Chepstow with a battalion of young soldiers of the Welch Regiment. From here he was posted to Grantham in Lincolnshire as an officer-instructor to assist in the formation and training of a new RAF Regiment.

His next posting was to train RAF personnel of 5358 Wing of Airfield Construction. On 7 July 1945, 5358 Wing Airfield Construction embarked at Liverpool on 'Empress of Australia'. The ship initially landed in Honolulu, where they were welcomed by American officers. Next stop was Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands. Victor said "it was about half-way between Honolulu and Eniwetok that the news came over the Tannoy system that the atom bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. The news was received in silence, as though the listeners were overawed by the sheer immensity and tragedy of the disaster." He continues "It was while in Manus that we learned of our next port of call, Hong Kong, and conferences were held, as we were now leaving the command of Admiral Nimmitz to come under the command of Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser of the Pacific Command....we were informed that we were to be a part of the occupation troops in Kowloon. I was told that I would be expected to take over the duties of Assistant Provost Marshal in Kowloon, to organise and help in taking the surrender of the Japanese forces and restore law and order."

"On board ship for the rest of the voyage, further training of the troops in the duties that they would have to perform was carried out. They were instructed in the correct way of searching surrendered Japanese and how they should be treated as prisoners of war. They were told they would have to take over sentry duties in Kowloon and that Kowloon was under martial law. They were also lectured on the fact that their relations with the Chinese people would have to show sympathy and understanding, as was their due after the kind of treatment they had suffered at the hands of the Japanese. Special emphasis was laid on the seriousness of looting in any form."

"The final leg of our journey was delayed for some time by a typhoon" with huge waves washing over the deck. The ship also altered course to avoid the risk of Japanese submarines being in the area. ("It had been somewhere in this area that, on the night of 29th July 1945, the US battleship 'Indianapolis' had been torpedoed by the Japanese with heavy losses." ) They landed in Kowloon on 4th Sept 1945. Due to the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the original plans to land at Okinawa and prepare airfields for Lancasters and Lincoln bomber planes were abandoned, and they were diverted to Kowloon. From Kowloon, the ship continued on to Hong Kong.

Work began with headquarters at the Peninsula Hotel, which had been the headquarters of the Japanese Defence Force. Victor worked under the Military Governor, Captain (later Admiral) Eccles and set about helping the Navy deal with riots, replacing Japanese sentries with British sentries, arresting Japanese war criminals, including Colonel Isao Tokunaga, commandant of all prisoner of war camps in Hong Kong and Captain Shjunkichi Saito, medical officer of these camps. Looting was widespread with large gangs of Chinese looters, sometimes as many as 200. Even British crew from the ships in the harbour were found looting. "The flying squads of Regiment N,C.O's in captured Japanese trucks and cars, ready at a moment's notice to go to trouble spots ...worked day and night to restore order and did it very successfully."

The hardest experience was controlling Chinese seeking revenge on the Japanese and breaking wire around Shamshuipo Camp. Indian troops, also broke into the old Japanese military hospital "to pay off old scores on those who had ill-treated them."

Victor remained in Kowloon until May 1946 when he boarded the 'S.S. Strathmore' to proceed to Britain for demobilisation. He was demobilised on 8th July 1946.


Item list and details

1. Victor James' discharge book 2. 37 photos from Hong Kong, all with written or typed descriptions 3. 2745 Squadron - Nov 1943 4. Biggleswade Welch Regiment 1940 5. Biggleswade Welch Regiment 1940 back of photo 6. Grandpa (Victor James) with officers WW2, Grandpa on left 7. Grandpa (Victor James) with various officers at Biggleswade, Victor James on right 8. Squadron Leader James, 28th October 1942 9. Squadron instructors February 1944

Person the story/items relate to

Victor Montgomery Keeling James

Person who shared the story/items

Fiona Cannon

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor

He was my grandfather

Type of submission

Shared online via the Their Finest Hour project website.

Record ID