Hong Kong's second world war history

Beheaded Hong Kong prisoner of war hero’s George Cross bravery medal set to fetch HK$1.5 million at London auction

John Alexander Fraser was tortured and killed in a Stanley prisoner-of-war camp under the Japanese occupation, after serving as defence secretary and assistant attorney general in the colonial government. His medal is being placed under the hammer by his grandchildren

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 July, 2016, 9:50pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 July, 2016, 11:57pm

A top medal for bravery awarded posthumously to a hero of the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong who was beheaded for plotting an escape from a Stanley prisoner-of-war camp is to be sold at a London auction later this month and could fetch up to HK$1.5 million.

The George Cross, the highest honour awarded to soldiers in a non-combat situation, has been placed under the hammer by John Alexander Fraser’s grandchildren.

Among potential buyers are British billionaire Michael Ashcroft, a top donor and prominent supporter of the country’s Conservative Party and a philanthropist and backer of armed forces personnel and military veterans.

“Jock Fraser”, as he was better known to friends, served in Hong Kong’s colonial government as defence secretary and assistant attorney general. The Scotsman was among 33 people beheaded by the Japanese in 1943. He was accused of planning an escape and maintaining communications with allied forces. He was 47 years old.

Fraser’s award sits among 161 recipients of the George Cross since the honour was instituted in 1940, of which 86 have been posthumously awarded. Recipients of other similar awards which have since been phased out, including the Albert and Edward medals, have exchange these for a George Cross in recent decades, bringing the total number to 410.

Will Bennett, a spokesman for auctioneer Dix Noonan Webb, which is responsible for the sale of the medal, said the rare piece was expected to be “much sought after” by collectors.

Ashcroft owns the world’s largest collection of Victoria Crosses and George Crosses, which are on display at the Imperial War Museum in London.

The philanthropist told the Sunday Morning Post he was aware of the sale. He has a track record of preserving military honours for the public.

Last year he purchased a posthumous George Cross awarded to Violette Szabo, a British spy tortured and executed by the Nazis in the second world war, for a world record £312,000 (HK$3.1 million) at the same auction house.

Fraser was awarded the medal in 1946 for his “outstanding courage” and “magnificent conduct” in enduring severe and prolonged torture at the hands of the Japanese prison guards at the Stanley civilian internment camp. Despite vicious beatings, he withheld information that would have implicated his fellow detainees in clandestine operations undertaken receiving information inside the camp and smuggling messages outside.

Other Hong Kong recipients of the George Cross include British army officer Lance Newnham, Indian army captain Mateen Ansari, Douglas Ford of the Royal Scots, and flight lieutenant Hector Gray of the Royal Air Force. Like Fraser, these men plotted a mass escape from prisoner-of-war camps, but as the Japanese grew suspicious, they were tortured or immediately executed for their acts.

The Japanese occupation of Hong Kong began on Christmas Day 1941 and lasted for three and a half years in which many endured hardship and tens of thousands of Hongkongers either starved to death or were executed, raped, or tortured.

The auction on July 22 could see the medal fetch between £120,000 and £150,000. The lot will include an archive of letters, photographs and newspaper cuttings contained in Fraser’s leather suitcase.

Fraser moved to Hong Kong and joined the colonial government in 1919.

In his formative years, after the outbreak of hostilities in the first world war in July 1914, he was commissioned into the 9th battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers.

He would transfer to their Machine Gun Corps in 1916, and in June of the same year he went to France where he would win the military cross for his bravery in the Battle of the Somme – one of the bloodiest military battles in history in which one million men were wounded or killed.