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PTE RONALD ROBERT BEACROFT

I may never have known that Robert existed. I may never have known that even though we shared the same father, we spelt his last name differently. There were so many whispered stories, vague comments half remembered between parent and child. But this is all so very confusing, so let me take you back and tell you the story from the beginning.

My father, Roland Beecroft was born October 15, 1896 in Grimsby, England, or so I believed when I dashed off a letter dated August 10/93 to the General Registrar requesting a copy of his birth certificate to add to my genealogical files that I was compiling on the family. On September 20/93 came the reply, “Sorry, no such person!

On August 26/93 I sent a request to place an ad in the local Grimsby newspaper seeking any living relatives or friends that may have known the family before my father left for Canada. This much I did know. He served in WWI in France as I had his medals as proof, he definitely came to Canada before he met and married my mother in 1935 and his name on the marriage certificate read “Roland Beecroft”. I also sent a letter off to the National Archives requesting his WWII records, which showed that he had indeed enlisted and signed “Roland Beecroft”. So, what gives? Why no birth certificate?

On September 21/93 I received a letter from England. It was in response to my request for the placement of an ad and it was from a Judith Deer. It reads in part as follows:

“Dear Mr. Beecroft: I was most interested to read your advert in the Grimsby Evening Telegraph seeking lost relatives. My mother was Beatrice Beacroft but Beacroft spelt with an “a” and her mother and father were Emily Soulby – Soulby spelt differently too and James Beacroft. She often mentioned her brothers Ernest and Roy who had immigrated to Canada and wondered what had happened to them.”

Imagine my utter surprise and delight at having made contact with Dad’s family nearly 72 years later! Suddenly with this one letter came a wealth of information. Bea and not Bee, Roy and not Roland! If Judith had never seen this ad I do not think I would have as much information as I do now. I may never have gone to England to meet his only surviving brother and sister out of the family of 11 and all their subsequent offspring.

Wait! It gets better. Just to clinch the fact that we were who we said we were, I sent Judith the only surviving photograph that I knew came from England. Her reply reads as follows:

“Dear Gary: I couldn’t believe it when I looked at the photograph of the two men and girl. The one on the left is my father and the other is James William or “Billy” as everyone called him. The girl is Billy’s wife’s sister who was a bridesmaid.”

Armed with the correct spelling of our father’s name, I immediately requested a copy of his birth certificate from England. On November 24/93 I received in the mail a certified copy of same.

Needless to say, there was a flurry of phone calls, letters and photos that began to fly between us. When I received a wonderful photo from my aunt in Australia, I was able to name all of the people in it (including my father) with the exception of one lone female. I phoned her and asked who she was, and her reply? “Why you daft boy, that’s your mother!” To which I promptly replied, “No she isn’t!” This led me to believe that the whispered stories that dad had been married previously may have been well founded. Which prompted another letter off to England in the search of a marriage certificate!

On March 4/94 I received a certified copy of a certificate of marriage between one, Roy Beacroft and one, Annie Elizabeth Hesp on September 6th, 1918.

But how did they end up in Canada? A letter to the Department of Immigration produced the desired results. On October 9/97 I received a reply stating that Roy Beacroft and his wife, Annie landed at the port of Quebec on July 30th, 1920 aboard the SS Mindosa. There was no mention of a child being with them.

There was still is another rumour to investigate - our names. My older brother is named Leonard Ronald. It was said he had been named after two other boys in dad’s family. Leonard (his brother who died at 12) was one of them, and Ronald was the other. My name, Gary Roy, was going to be Kenneth, but was changed to Gary by my older sister, who liked it better, and Roy, after my dad.

When I began this search for my family roots, I left no stones unturned. I wrote to every institution that I could think of requesting specified information that may bring the desired results. If it was rumoured that my father had been married previously and had three children – where were they? I sent out letters to the Red Cross, Children’s Aid etc. The results were very surprising.

Thus, when a reply came from the Children’s’ Aid on October 4/94, stating that I could write to their office in Brantford for non-identifying background on the persons listed, I was ecstatic. This was proof indeed that I had three half-brothers.

On October 24/94 I received the following detail: it confirmed the correct spelling of the names for both parents and confirmed the fact that they came to Canada in 1920 from England. It stated that in 1929 the parents separated and that the three children came into the Aids’ care. Regarding the children, it stated that Kenneth was born in England on April 20th, 1920. He was tall, stout and healthy and remained in foster care from the age of ten to sixteen. His foster mother treated him as if he were her own. Ronald was born October 10th, 1923 in Ontario and lived with three different foster families from 1929 to 1935. The last, treating him as one of their family members. Leonard was born October 20th, 1923 in Ontario and placed in a foster home when he was two. His foster parents officially adopted him in 1930.

Getting closer! Armed with this information, I again wrote to the National Archives in Ottawa seeking any WWII documents for them.

On March 7, 1996 I received a copy of Ronald Robert Beacroft’s Attestation Papers from Ottawa. From these it was simply a matter of extracting the desired information that warranted further investigation. Questions like who were the Royal Rifles, what was the battle for Hong Kong all about, was there a photo of him, where was he buried, was there a monument? So many unanswered questions.

During a visit to my favourite bookstore, I happened to pick up a copy of Brereton Greenhouse’ book “C” Force to Hong Kong. It turned into a very emotional experience for me. I could feel Robert become not just another dry statistical fact, nor some dusty, forgotten file, but a human being. My brother.

I had noted that many of the photos in his book had come from the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. I wrote to them with my request that perhaps, by chance, they may have a photo of this “faceless” brother of mine. I was directed by Dr. Pulsifer to inquire at the Hong Kong Veterans Association.

On October 29th, 1998 I received a reply from J.N. Roger Cyr, the associations national president. He provided me with a wealth of information and ended by him saying he was forwarding a copy of this letter on to Derrill Henderson who, through contacts with next of kin, might have suggestions to offer.

On November 4th, 1998, I received a reply from Mr. Henderson with the following remarks.

“Your brother joined the Royal Rifles as they went en route to Vancouver. The regiment picked up reinforcements along the route because they were under the desired compliment. Since all the official photos were taken either in Valcartier camp (Quebec) or, in Newfoundland while they were on coastal guard duty, there are none, to my knowledge, that would include him. Also, more unfortunately, since he died in the fighting, there are no POW photos available either.

If he had enlisted with another unit first, then transferred to the Royal Rifles as many did, I suggest you follow the advice of Dr. Pulsifer of the War Museum and write for his records. There just might be an enlistment photo. Some units had this practice.

I, in the course of my activities, have the occasion to speak with many of the veterans. I will endeavour to find out more about your brother. In the Toronto area, there are several Hong Kong veterans. You may try contacting them. Mr. John Stroud is the President of the Ontario Branch and he may have more information. They are: Lloyd Carter, George MacDonell, JC MacMillan, Charles Rame, and John Stroud.

I am enclosing a copy of our Association’s newsletter. It is our mandate to ensure that these veterans and the sacrifices mad I Hong Kong will not be allowed to fade from the public’s eye.”

Upon receipt of this letter, I wrote the following plea to those veterans whose names Mr. Henderson had provided.

“Your name was given to me by Mr. Derrill Henderson, President of the HKVCA with the hope that you may recall events that are of interest to me.

I am seeking information regarding my late brother, Pte. Robert Ronald Beacroft, Regimental Number B87858, of the Royal Rifles of Canada. He enlisted October 9th, 1941 in Toronto and died December 19th, 1941 in Hong Kong. He had just turned 20 on October 10th!

A copy of Mr. Henderson’s letter to me is enclosed, with the hope that it may trigger some recollection.

Of the two ships that may have carried him and his companions to Hong Kong, there is a picture of the HMSC Prince Robert, which shows a group of C-Company Royal Rifles on deck. Is that the ship the Royal Rifles were assigned to?

The realization that I had three brothers as a result of a heretofore, unknown marriage of my late father, has had quite an impact on me to say the least. Robert would have been 77 if he had lived, while I just celebrated my 51st birthday. This all came about as a result of researching my father’s family in England. It was one surprise right after another.

My only wish right now is to find someone who may have remembered him in some small way. Someone who may be able to point him out in a photograph. Some tangible thing that I can link to his existence - that his death was not in vain and that after nearly 56 years later, I found him and love him and so very sorry I did not know him.

Please accept my sincere apologies if this letter stirs up painful memories. Awaiting your reply.”

My first reply came from James MacMillan, who wrote, in part: “ This will acknowledge receipt of your letter of November 6th. I regret that I am unable to be of much help in this regard.

It is obvious t me that your brother was one of a number of reinforcement personnel who were brought together at Toronto and who joined the Royal Rifles as the regiment was enroute to Vancouver from whence we embarked for overseas. The Rifles entrained at Valcartier, Quebec on October 23rd and we arrived at dockside Vancouver on October 27th, 1941. That day we were joined by the Winnipeg Grenadiers and a Headquarters contingent which together became known as FORCE C.

The sea portion of our trip involved two vessels – the New Zealand Liner Awatea and the converted cruiser HMCS Prince Robert. “C” Company of the Rifles was assigned to the Prince Robert, everyone else boarded the Awatea. We sailed from Vancouver that evening and arrived in Hong Kong on November 16th, having made brief stops enroute at Honolulu and Manila. If your brother had been assigned to “C” Company on joining the Rifles, he would have traveled to Hong Kong on board the Prince Robert. I was a member of “A” Company of the Rifles.

At Hong Kong we were stationed at Camp Sham-shui-po which is in Kowloon on the main land, but we were only there two weeks. On December 1st, the regiment moved to the island to take up defensive positions fearing an attack from the sea (shades of Singapore). The Japanese came overland. So the companies became separated and I never encountered “C” Company even during the fighting.

Your brother lies buried in one of two military cemeteries on the island of Hong Kong. Perhaps some day you might visit that part of the world at which time you can seek out his marker and pay your respects.

It is a shame you never got to meet or know your brother, but that is life. He was with the regiment for such a short time I doubt that any of “C” Company veterans still living would have much of a recollection of him. Take solace in the thought that he, like so many young Canadian men around his age, had the courage to put his life on the line for his country.”

My next letter came from George MacDonell. His letter reads: “I received your letter of 6th November, 1998. I am sorry that I cannot recall Robert. I was the Platoon Sgt. of No 18 Platoon, “D” Coy, Royal Rifles.

From your letter, I am assuming Robert was in “C” Coy, Royal Rifles. “C” Coy was transported on the cruiser Prince Robert. If he was in “C” Coy, he would have been on the Prince Robert.

My records show he was killed on 19th December, 1941. If this record is correct, he must have been killed at “Lye Mun Gap” where the Japanese first landed on 18th December. “C” Coy Royal Rifles was defending this area and undoubtedly Robert was killed with those defending that area the next day.

If he was in “C” Coy, the man to contact is Sgt. Bob Clayton. To reach Clayton, phone John Stroud – John will have his address. Clayton might be the person who can help you in your search.

The “C” Coy defenders of the Lye Mun Gap fought bravely against overwhelming odds. They resisted until they ran out of ammunition and then they were overrun by waves of Japanese infantry.

My own “D” Coy Company lost 82% of its strength but not a single man flinched or failed to do his duty.

The Cabinet decision to send the Canadian Force t Hong Kong was a farce, a mistake and led to, for the first time in Canadian history, the loss of the entire force.

But the story of Hong Kong is about how, despite the hopeless odd, the Canadians fought for every inch of ground and never surrendered until, with their backs to the sea, the Governor surrendered.

The loss of your brother and his comrades is tragic, but their defiance and courage was not in vain. They caused heavy Japanese casualties and slowed down their conquest of Australia. They contributed their bit to win the war.

The Minister of National Defense said in Parliament - “It is always an honour to be in the presence of the veterans of Hong Kong, for they are a special breed of men. Your brother was one of them.”

In December, I received this letter from “Flash”.

I am “Flash” Clayton who was a Sergeant in the Royal Rifles. On our train trip to the West Coast from Valcartier, Quebec, we picked up quite a few new men in Toronto. Some of these were recruits who never had any training.

On the way overseas on the troopship Awatea (it was a twenty one-day trip) I trained these men on the deck. After we were in Hong Kong, I was still training them at Sham-shui-po Barracks. The regiment had moved out to the island of Hong Kong. We were still there when the Japs bombed the barracks at just after dawn on December 7th. Fortunately, there were no casualties in our group.

I cannot remember your brother being in that recruit squad. You say he died December 19th. I was in “C” Company and Sergeant of 14th Platoon. When the Japs landed on the night of December 18th, we were the first Canadian troops to meet them at the foot of Lye Mun Fort. On our left was a battalion of Rahjputan Indian troops and after that night they ceased to exist as a regiment. We fought them until 4 am of the 19th. We had to withdraw as they had taken Lye Mun Fort from the British and it was all high ground. Come daylight, we would have been wiped out. That night we lost quite a few good men and seeing your brother was lost on the 19th, he could have been in “C” Company. I have the records of all the men missing and killed, and will look for the casualty list info and let you know what I find out.

I have written to a couple of the guys who came in as recruitment’s to see if they knew Robert and will be in touch with you again. I can understand your wanting to know. We had a reunion in Toronto two years ago and if you had known about it you could have attended and maybe found something out. The trouble now Gary is there are only 350 of us left. Some are from brigade headquarters and some from the Winnipeg Grenadiers, so not many Rifles left.

Our reinforcements suffered heavily during the fighting, being in the infantry is a trade and they did not have any chance to learn it. How in hell can you teach men on board ship – rifle and bren gun, how to strip and clean them, how to correct stoppages, bayonet fighting, but nothing about tactics and ground cover, etc. It was a damn shame. The brigade itself had little training – guard duty in Newfoundland and Jamaica, most of the time. A lot of good men lost for nothing.”

From a letter dated December 22nd, 1998 came this reply.

“On behalf of the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Honourable Gilbert Parent, I am pleased to enclose a photocopy of page 23 from the Book of Remembrance of the Second World War.

Inscribed on this page is the name of Rifleman Ronald Robert Beacroft, Royal Rifles of Canada. A grateful nation recognizes his sacrifice every year on January 23rd, when this page is displayed for public viewing in the Chapel of the Parliament of Canada.

In the same sense of gratitude, this page is sent to you with the sincere hope it will remain a source of pride for your family. Yours sincerely, M.G. Cloutier Major-General.”

Has he found his other brothers yet, you are probably asking. On February 21st, 1996 I received this reply from the Red Cross telling me that locating children from so long ago under those particular circumstances, falls outside the mandate of the organization. David Bailey advised me to use the CD ROM program at my local reference library that lists all the telephone numbers in Canada. I would be able to generate a print out of all the “Beacroft/Beecrofts listed. Bingo! No sooner said, than done.

From that list, I started in the Hamilton area as that is where Roy had originally settled, along with his brother Ernest. After a couple of “no, we’re not related” rebuffs, I hit pay-dirt with my next call and spoke with Jesslyn Beacroft. It turned out that she was married to William who was the son of Ernest, my fathers’, brother. We had a wonderful chat about the family history and ended with a definite promise to stay in touch.

From her conversation, I learned that there was a family of “Beacrofts” in Woodstock. Perhaps I should try that area. On March 15th, 1996 I spoke to my cousin Ken, the son of Kenneth Beacroft, my half-brother. Contact! After nearly an hour on the phone, my letter written to him that night, tells of how happy I was to have found my father’s sons after all these years and how very sorry I was at not trying to have done so sooner. Kenneth Beacroft had passed away December 13th, 1992.

It also turned out that when Ronald had been killed in Hong Kong, his passing was noted in one of the local newspapers here in Toronto. His mother, Annie Beacroft got in touch with the authorities and Kenneth, listed as benificiary, was also reunited with her. After the war, she came to live with him and his new war bride in Woodstock. Annie passed away a year later in 1993.

With their deaths, went my hope of reconstructing that side of my fathers' past. There was very little to be said, I was told. Annie was closed-mouth and silent about her former marriage with Roy. I could sense ill feelings.

My Christmas Card to them that year, wished them well and that I respected their decision to politely “close the door” but that I would still leave it open to those that wished to continue to communicate with me.

“Ye Gods! We’ve made contact!” Date: Friday 24th March, 2000 @ 21:49 pm. Dear Cousin. Just had a wonderful telephone conversation with Nancy Beacroft in Woodstock about the family. She has kindly given me your email address so that I may communicate my side of the family news.” Thank goodness I left the door ajar. It took four years!

My new cousin, it turned out is Syd Beacroft, the son of another of my fathers’ brothers. His story at how he made contact with Nancy in Woodstock is equally interesting.

Now that the door has been swung wide, I am in touch again. The stories and tales from the past, are interesting and sad. In the post, I receive two school photographs of my brothers Kenneth and Ronald as children. This is the first time that I have laid eyes upon either one of them. It is Roberts’ face that I am drawn to again and again. I peer at the faces of those grown boys on deck of the Prince Robert and wonder if he is among them. God Bless you Ronald, wherever you are!