William Bell's Story

The Battle and Capture

I am not sure of the date, but while accompanied by my Sergeant, Edward Dunsford and Pte. William Starrett, I was assigned to do a recognizance in an area up in the surrounding hills of Mount Blount. Little did we know the Japanese were already dug in, and soon we came upon one of their many machine gun nests. Sgt. Dunsford was shot in the throat and died instantly. I was also shot in the left hip at the same time, but luckily the bullet traveled completely through and exited out the front of my upper thigh. Pte. Starrett managed to help me in our escape back down the hill. I was bleeding pretty well, but Willie gave up his shirt to cover my wounds. Luck was on our side as we were able to rejoin with the rest of "A" Company.

Free Press - Dec 15 - WARNING: large imageOn December 19th, I was situated at Brigade Headquarters, Wong Nei Chong Gap when we received orders to move at 0200 hours. Both A and D Companies were stemming off waves of Japanese troops who were attacking strategic high ground on Mount Butler. The Company was split after a fierce struggle and my group was driven downhill to an area called "Jardines Lookout". C.S.M. (Company Sergeant-Major) John Robert Osborn took charge of about 65 of us Grenadiers of A Company. C.S.M. Osborn was a veteran of World War I where he had been shot in the arm and suffered injuries from enemy mustard gas.

Our group was locked in close combat with the enemy. We were in a depression and the Japanese were all around us. The enemy fire was terrific and our ammunition was running low. We were receiving a barrage of rounds from enemy mortars, grenades, small arms and machine gun fire from all angles. We were armed with only a couple of Bren guns and about seven Tommy guns. The Japanese made numerous attempts to attack us waving swords in the air. At one point, I remember shooting one Japanese officer in the pit of the stomach. I then lifted another one into the air with a burst from my Tommy gun just as he was about to bayonet one of my comrades, Roy Stodgell.

Hand grenades were being thrown by the Japanese all around us, and Sergeant-Major John Osborn was flinging them back as fast as he could. There were nine or ten of us together at this time. One of the grenades landed where John Osborn could not grasp it. Sgt. Pugsley yelled out for everyone to duck. In the ultimate sacrifice, C.S.M. Osborn threw himself onto the grenade. He was killed instantly, but managed to save many of the men he was with including me, John Pugsley, John Pollock, Harry Atkinson, Cliff Matthews, and several others. It was the bravest thing we had ever seen.

During the explosion that killed C.S.M. John Osborn I was struck by several pieces of shrapnel. I was struck on the top of my head, the left knee, the left hand and the right shoulder. Totally surrounded by the Japanese, with most of us badly wounded, we had no choice but to surrender. It was at Jardines Lookout that the war ended for me. I was about to embark on a new living hell.

Now captured by the Japanese, I was moved to a small Quonset, a building near Mount Blount. There were at least 30 other men in there, including John Pugsley, Gowan Teasdale, the Mitchell brothers, and Norman Hiscox. Most of us that were put in this building were badly wounded or dying. We were held there for what seemed to be an awfully long time when all of a sudden a mortar ripped through the roof of the Quonset. There was a huge explosion and many more of our men were killed and further wounded all around me. This included my close friend from my old neighbourhood, Gowan Teasdale. Gowan died from a severe head wound caused by the explosion.

Even after the explosion, the enemy kept us locked in the damaged building for again what seemed to be an eternity. The Japanese finally removed those of us that could walk and confiscated most of our belongings. They stole my pants, belt, wallet, 17 jewel Gruen wristwatch, 14 kt. gold signet ring, and a pen and pencil set. I never saw them again. They tied our hands behind our backs and we began a gruelling seven mile walk to Hong Kong. I didn't know it at the time, but on December 20th, 1941, the day after my capture, I was promoted to a Lance/Corporal (not that it would have made much of a difference in my situation).

Later, I would learn of the battle deaths of many of my comrades that occurred on that same day. These included my good friends Bernard Whalen and Ewart Starrett (died at Wong Nei Chong Gap), William Specht (died at Jardines Lookout), and Stan Stodgell (died near Mount Blount). On December 20th my good friends Tage Agerbak, Gowan Teasdale (died at Mount Blount), and Willie Starrett who had helped save my life when shot by the enemy (died at Black Hole) were all killed in battle. On December 25th my best friend Denis Matthews (died at Wong Nei Chong Gap), and James Maltese were killed as well. There were many others killed during the battle that I will fondly remember. Up to this point I hadn't had the chance to get to know many of the members of The Royal Rifles. During the next 42 months I would stand shoulder to shoulder with them in an overwhelming struggle to survive.

After being removed from the Quonset, I was marched with a large group of prisoners to North Point Camp where we spent the night. We were then transported across the water to Kowloon and marched further. On December 21st, we arrived at a Catholic mission where we stopped for the night. There were nuns at the mission that helped treat those of us who were wounded. On December 22nd, 1941, approximately 50 of us were then forced to march on to Argyle Camp, a Chinese refugee camp. This was a terrible place where many of our wounded men died from insufficient medical care.