GC Diary 29th October
By victoriagreen068, Jan 1 2016 11:04PM
The GC diary for 29th October contains the stories of three extremely brave recipients of the George Cross, all from the Second World War. Tragically, two of the three awards were posthumous, though the third recipient was fortunate not to be posthumous. Two of the recipients suffered greatly at the hands of the Japanese as POW’s, and two of them hailed originally from Scotland.
Mahmood Khan Durrani GC has the distinction of being the only Japanese POW to be awarded a George Cross and survive his brutal ordeal. Born in Multan City, Western Punjab, on 1st July 1914, by the Second World War he was serving in the 1st Bahawalpur Infantry of the Indian State Forces.
After Malaya was overrun by the Japanese in 1942, Durrani and a small party were cut off from their colleagues. They remained in hiding for three months before they were betrayed by the enemy-sponsored Indian Nationalist Army (INA). He was sent to a POW camp where he refused to become a member of the INA, led by the Cambridge-educated Subha Chandra Bose and which eventually totalled over 25,000 men. Not only did Durrani refuse to join INA, he did all he could to gather intelligence on its activities.
At one point, he acted as a double agent, setting up a school, the Sandicraft School, to send men back to India to champion the Nationalist ideology of the Indian National Congress. It was a dangerous game: on the face of it he was training agents to engage in sabotage in India. In fact, these men were hand-picked to spy for Britain by Durrani. However, the Japanese became suspicious of him and they arrested him in May 1944. From June 1944, they began to torture him brutally to try and identify his accomplices. Burning cigarettes on his legs was used, but he refused to give any information. He was then handed over to the INA, who tortured him further and condemned him to death. However, Bose, the INA leader, wanted to extract a confession under torture before executing him. His life was only saved when the Japanese surrendered.
He returned to Multan City, which became part of Pakistan after partition. He was in poor health following his treatment but did recover. He was awarded the George Cross on 23rd May 1946 and received his award from the Viceroy of India, Field Marshal Lord Wavell. He published his autobiography “The Sixth Column” in 1955 which graphically described his treatment by the Japanese. He served in the Pakistani Army until his retirement in 1971. He married and had three sons and a daughter. He became one of the first members of the George Cross Committee of the VC/GC Association. He died in Pakistan aged 81 on 20th August 1995. He was probably cremated. His medals are held by the Imperial War Museum, London, though were not on display last year.
John Alexander Fraser GC, MC with Bar, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on 12th February 1896. One of two children, he is believed to have been the son of a mercantile clerk. Fraser attended Trinity Academy, Leith, where he was head boy, and Edinburgh University. Fraser joined the Royal Scots Fusiliers, serving as an officer during the First World War.
During the Great War, he was awarded the Military Cross (MC) and Bar in 1916 and 1918 respectively. After the War, he joined the Colonial Service and was posted to Hong Kong, which was to become his home for the rest of his life. He married, but sadly his wife died just two years into their marriage. He later remarried and his second wife bore him two sons. After studying to become a barrister, he was appointed Assistant Attorney General of Hong Kong. Prior to the Second World War, it was widely believed that he was working with British Intelligence.
When the Japanese invaded Hong Kong in December 1941, Fraser was imprisoned in the Civil Internment Camp in Stanley. Conditions were harsh but Fraser wasted no time in organising escape plans and a clandestine wireless service for his fellow prisoners. Despite being aware of the ill treatment that would come his way if caught, he not only received news from the outside but also relayed important information to others outside the camp.
Eventually, however, he was arrested and subjected to severe and prolonged torture by the Japanese. The enemy wanted information from him and to learn the identities of those working with him. He refused to utter a single word of useful information. Frustrated and angered by his resistance, the Japanese beheaded him on 29th October 1943. He was 47 years old.
It was only much later – after an assessment of the bravery of those men held in Hong Kong – that Fraser was awarded a posthumous GC. The award was made exactly three years after his death. The lengthy citation ended with “his fortitude under the most severe torture was such that it was commented upon by the Japanese prison guards. Unable to break his spirit the Japanese finally executed him.” After the War, his widow received a bundle of clothes belonging to her late husband, and a final private message written to her before his execution. He was buried in the Stanley Military Cemetery, Hong Kong with a Commonwealth War Graves headstone. His medals are privately held.
John “Jock” Rennie GC was born in the “Granite City” of Aberdeen, Scotland on 13th December 1920. One of five children, his parents moved to Kingston, Ontario, Canada, in 1924. Rennie, who was better known as Jock, and his brother George enlisted early in the Second World War. Rennie, a regular church goer with a good singing voice, served in British Columbia and Jamaica, before being posted overseas with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada.
On 29th October 1943, Acting Sergeant Jock Rennie was supervising grenade-throwing by his unit at a Canadian training camp in Slough, then in Buckinghamshire. One grenade had been thrown successfully but a second failed to clear the protective embankment and rolled back to the throwing area. Rennie had time to get clear of the danger but, concerned for the safety of his men, he ran forward and tried to pick up the rolling grenade and throw it clear. However, the grenade exploded as he did so and he was fatally injured. Three other soldiers within 5 yards of the grenade were only slightly hurt.
Rennie, who was just 22 when he died, was awarded a posthumous GC on 26th May 1944 in recognition of “most conspicuous gallantry in carrying out hazardous work in a very brave manner.” Rennie was buried with full military honours in Brookwood Military Cemetery, Woking, Surrey with a Commonwealth War Graves headstone. His medals are held by his family.