b. 29/03/1914 Duncan, Canada. d. 16/02/1944 Arakan, Burma.
Charles Ferguson Hoey (1914-1944) was born in Duncan, British Columbia, Canada on 29th March 1914, the eldest of three children born to Ferguson Hoey and his wife Mary (nee Simpson), who emigrated to Canada three years earlier. With the wild Cowichan Valley as his backyard, he developed a lifelong passion for natural history and by the age of 16, was an accomplished horseman, all-round athlete and committed outdoorsman. He was also a junior member of the 62nd Field Battery, Canadian Militia, who, in between amassing a remarkable collection of butterflies and stuffed birds, found time to build his own garden fort.
From a child, he was described by his father as “always a leader”, and with a distinguished General for a grandfather, but the former Boy Scout and militia man had different ideas of his own, when he left Canada, aged 18, to fulfil his ambition of joining the British Army. Rather than seek a commission, he chose to enlist in the Royal West Kent Regiment, serving with them for two years before earning, by his own efforts, a cadetship to the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. Passing out in December 1936, he returned to Canada briefly before being gazetted Second Lieutenant in the Lincolnshire Regiment, of which his grandfather, Major General Charles Simpson CB, was Honorary Colonel. The following September, he sailed for India to join 1st Battalion, where he quickly made his mark.
He proved to be a small arms expert, winning the Battalion’s contest for officers in every weapon, the rifle, revolver and the Vickers Berthier Light Machine Gun. He was considered by his fellow officers as “the sort of chap who would get a VC.”
The outbreak of war found 1st Lincolnshires in Nasirabad, Rajputana, India, fresh from summer action against bandits, known as Dacoits. Hoey commanded one of the two platoons formed into a “hot potch” company for the kind of operation that seemed more akin to an old-fashioned colonial campaign than modern-day, mid-20th century warfare.
The next 3 and a half years represented the battalion’s own version of a South East Asian Phoney War; with internal security operations being followed by skirmishes with tribesmen on the North West Frontier before eventually, in Febuary 1943, the unit exchanged its pith helmets for steel helmets and headed south into Burma to face a very different testing challenge against the Japanese. In July 1943, the newly promoted Acting Major Charlie Hoey was selected to lead “Operation Otter”, an assault on the port of Maungdaw. The raid carried out in a monsoon from 10th-13th July 1943, helped his reputation. Beset by operational issues, the raid was a minor military triumph and a major psychological boost. At least 22 enemy were killed with another 30 wounded and the raiders, had only suffered 3 casualties, had brought away a machine gun, an assortment of stores and an intelligence haul of documents. Hoey’s reward was the MC, gazetted that September, which recognised his “inspiring leadership under fire.” The battalion’s first Burma tour ended in August 1943, and they went to Chittagong to a jungle base for rest and relaxation, and also intensive training.
In February 1944, orders were received to head back to the Arakan, where the situation was grave. The “Battle of the Box” was underway, and Hoey’s B Company was leading the way, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Cecil Sinker. On 16th February 1944 near the Ngakyedauk Pass, Arakan, Burma (now Myanmar), Major Hoey's company came under devastating machine-gun fire, but Major Hoey did not waver in his advance on the objective. Although wounded in the head and leg he went forward alone and tackled a troublesome enemy strong point, destroying it and killing all the occupants, but he was mortally wounded.
Hoey’s body was recovered and he was buried in the Taukkyan War Cemetery, Burma. He is further remembered in Duncan, where a school and a park were named in his honour, and a wilderness area has been renovated and called Arakan Park, complete with its own Burma Star Memorial. Hoey’s medals are held by the Museum of Lincolnshire Life, Lincoln.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: MUSEUM OF LINCOLNSHIRE LIFE, LINCOLN.
BURIAL PLACE: TAUKKYAN WAR CEMETERY, TAUKKYAN, BURMA.
Charles Hoey's medal on display at the Museum of Lincolnshire Life, Lincoln. (picture of website).
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
BLOCK 12, ROW H, GRAVE 2
Hoey VC Memorial Park, Duncan, BC, Canada.
Duncan War Memorial in British Columbia, Canada.