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Hello,

I am researching my Grandfather's history. He was in China and Hong Kong in the 1920s. From Jan 1921 to Aug 1924 he was with the Chinese Customs Service. Then I am told he went off chasing pirates around the coast of China and HK. I have this photograph which I think may help identify who he worked for.

Any help would be much appreciated.

Thanks,

Sam

9.jpg

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Hello,

I can understand that you would like to find out any information possible included in this photo. But if you let people work for you, you should let these people know all you know about this photo already and share the insides provided by others already, especially if you engage different plattforms to do the work for you.

http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?/topic/247197-photo-id-british-navy-in-china/

Otherwise people feel a bit taken advantage of.

GreyC

Edited by GreyC

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Hello Greg,

Please believe that I am not trying to take advantage of anyone. I am getting conflicting information about the photo and I didn't want to confuse the issue. Some people say they are Royal Navy and Royal Marines and others say not. I don't know enough to agree or disagree.

I do apologise if anyone feels used.

Sam

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No great harm done, Sam!  If it were me granfer, I'd be looking everywhere too.  That said, letting people know what others have suggested can sometimes 'prime the pump' of memory.  Most of us have huge 'back files' of information we don't even know we know, until the right phrase kicks it up front and center.

I'm certainly in that category!  Ask me what I know about the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines and my first answer will be 'Nothing before 1770 or much after 1820.'   That siad, I'm fairly certain the two would have had different head gear, even if their uniforms were virtually indistingusihable in an old photo.

Looking more closely at the pic, I see Chinese in the front row in a) naval uniforms and b) something else - Customs police at a guess.  There is what looks like a trophy in the center and a number of both European civilians - topis and bare heads - and british [?] naval officers - peaked caps.  The Chinese in long robes in the back rows are, at a guess, clerks in the Customs Service.  Not sure what the occasion is, but clearly a ceremonial - this looks like a posed official or press photo.

I hope that is some small help.  Good luck in the hunt.

peter

Edited by peter monahan

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Hi,

according to a Chinese student of mine the four large Chinese characters do not form a word he knows (and he did some research, too). He can only translate them one by one as moral, virtuous, caring, mild, harmonious, idyllic. Alltogether they are supposed to stand for something like righteousness. The smaller type around it would give the context to why this sign was awarded. Following my Chinese student the government gave these signs as awards or as an honorary gesture. They were meant to reflect the virtues of the bestowed. They were then placed visibly for all on the wall or above the door. Maybe the photo was taken on the day of the award-ceremony.

GreyC

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That would certainly make sense.  And, following on that thought, is the trophy related to the banner?  Awarded for the same 'virtues' / actions or whatever.

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Hi Peter and GreyC,

Sorry for my silence. I have been away for a few days. Thank you also for the help.

To recap what I do know about the photo so far.

The time line is between 1921 and the end of 1928.

It is either China or Hong Kong.

Someone has found some records with my GFs name which suggests he may have been a Prison Warder from 5/12/1924 to 8/5/1928.

Someone has also suggested:

"The ratings, but not the officers',  uniforms are similar to  the Water Police ( they patrolled extensively around the Hong Kong and provided anti-piracy armed guards for passenger ships). The stokers' caps and cap badges and the sergeant's chevrons look like the Hong Kong Police insignia - though it is hard to see. They were organised on quasi-RN lines and their launches were - due to piracy- classed as warships. The Europeans and Chinese in summer western style white suits would also suggest Hong Kong rather than one of the other Treaty Ports as it was more westernised."

The Blue Book records for Civil Establishments of HK, also include staff for the Harbour Master's Dept, HK Volunteer Defence Corps and the Police Dept.

To my mind, I think that rules out the photo being taken in HK as it looks more "Maritime related than land-based."

I have just had an email from a Chinese professor who says:  "The big four characters merely paid tribute to him or whoever the event honoured. "

That seems to tie in with what your Chinese student says, GreyC and also answers Peter's question. I am trying to get hold of the original photo so I can get it scanned using a better scanner. Hopefully then the small characters will be able to be read.

I did sent the photo the Bristol Uni where they did the big Chinese Maritime Study many years ago. The guy who is scanning all the photos said he didn't recognise anything. That threw me a bit.

But now after learning about the possible Prison Service connection I am certain it must be a Customs' photo taken in China so I will try again and identify the uniforms of the sailor types in the front row.

Thank you for all your suggestions - I do appreciate your help.

All the best,

Sam

 

 

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The cap badge worn by those sporting peaked caps resembles that worn by the Chinese Maritime Customs Service. The service was widely populated by British expatriate senior officers. I can't see any indication that those depicted are Hong Kong Police officers. I hope this is helpful.

Dave. 

Edited by Dave Wilkinson

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Samantha

                   If you would like to let me have ( P.M if you wish) his name and if possible  his d.o.b I may well be able to help.

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Hi Dave,

Thank you. Everything is definitely pointing towards the Chinese Maritime Customs.

Sam

Hi 1314,

Thanks for the intriguing email.

My GFs name is Thomas Neil Davis. Date of Birth 18 May 1895.

Fingers crossed you can help!

Sam

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Sam

Sounds like you're closing in on something.  "Chinese Maritimes Customs" is already a pretty obscure branch of a now defunct imperial organization, and way beyond anything most people would have gotten to.

So, I'm not surprised even the 'experts' at Bristol didn't catch it.  The joys of history, made both easier and harder by the WWW - so much info. out there now that the trick is 'seiving', not 'digging'.  That's where the old fellow in the back room with 60 years of knowledge stowed away in his head sometimes has an advantage!  Anyway, best of luck!

Peter

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He received the Albert medal, here is the citation.

The KING has further been graciously pleased to approve of the award of the Albert Medal for gallantry in saving life at sea to Leading Seaman Thomas N. Davis, O.N. J.18334 (Dev.), and Able Seaman Robert Stones, O.N. J.29998 (Dev.).

 

On the 6th December, 1917, the French steamer "Mont Blanc," with a cargo of high explosives, and the Norwegian steamer "Imo," were in collision in Halifax Harbour. Fire broke out on the "Mont Blanc" immediately after the collision, and the flames very quickly rose to a height of over 100 feet. The crew abandoned their ship and pulled to the shore. A few minutes later a tremendous explosion took place, and the tug "Musquash" was seen to be on fire forward. The fire was increasing, and there appeared to be a great danger of her getting adrift, and being carried down on to another vessel. As the "Musquash" had a gun and ammunition on board there was danger of a further explosion and consequent loss of life. The Captain of H.M.S. "Highflyer" hailed a private tug and asked her to take the "Musquash" in tow, but as they were unwilling to board the "Musquash " to get her in tow, the tug was brought alongside H.M.S. "Highflyer.'' Leading Seaman Davis and Able Seaman Stones immediately volunteered, and having been transferred by the tug to the burning "Musquash," which had by this time broken adrift, they secured a line from her stern, by means of which she was towed into midstream. The line then parted, and Davis and Stones passed another line from the "Musquash" to the pumping lighter "Lee," which had now arrived. They then both went forward to the burning part, and succeeded in getting to the ammunition, which was by this time badly scorched, pulled it away from the flames and threw it overboard. They then broke open the door of the galley, which was on fire inside, to enable the "Lee" to play her hoses into it. They repeated the same thing with the cabin. By their work they made it possible to subdue the fire and save further damage and loss of life. At any moment whilst they were on board the "Musquash " the ammunition might have exploded. 

 Also Service Papers which shows he entered the Chinese customs service on leaving the Navy in 1927. He served during the second war in the Merchant Navy and would have received WWII as well as the Albert Medal and WWI medals he had already received. I hope this is of help.

Paul

43343_683_0-00333.jpg

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A note on his Record of Service sheet,above, shows,inter alia - " Will be discharged from service after signing on in the CHINESE CUSTOMS SERVICE (my capitals) as a TIDEWAITER."

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Samantha I have found out a lot about him. He later exchanged his Albert Medal for a George Cross in the 1960s. As he served in Submarines his Albert medal is with the Submarine Museum. In his biography it says that he could read, write and speak Mandarin and  in 1927 he was involved in tracking down pirates around the waters of Hong-Kong China and Sarawak, subsequently  he joined the Merchant Navy with whom he served until invalided out with the rank of Lt. Cmdr. in 1943. After the War he commanded 365 Unit Sea  Cadets in Cheshire from 20 years.

His full medal entitlement Albert Medal (bronze sea), later exchanged fro the George Cross, 1914-15 Star, British War and Victory Medals, Atlantic Star, Africa Star, 1939-45 War Medal, 1977 Jubilee and Cadets Forces medal, he died in Caernarvon in October 1978.

Paul

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The following as background -

" Working for the Chinese Customs Service, by Dr Catherine Ladds",

and more specifically -

From Chinese Customs Service Staff List -

Davis T.N  Enlisted Jan 1921  as Probationery Tidewaiter

                  Resigned  August 1924 as Tidewaiter 2nd Class

                  Station on resignation - Tientsin.

Indications point to a Tientsin venue.

 

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Hello Peter, Paul, GreyC and 1314,

You have all been great in trying to help me identify the photograph and I am very grateful. I know bits and pieces about my Grandfather's history - he certainly did a lot!

I found out about his dates for the Chinese Maritime Customs which I included when I posted the photo.

Since posting the photo I discovered the info about him being a Prison Warder in Hong Kong - which I have now verified by tracing an address on a Ship's Passenger List. The ship "Malwa" left Hong Kong and arrived in London in Jan 1929. The name was Tom Neil Davis. Warder. The address was for the Lloyd family. It turns out that Florence Lloyd was the daughter of the family who Boarded my GF and twin sister for 10 years when they were orphaned. I still haven't found out what happened to the parents.

After Bristol Uni couldn't verify the photo I was convinced it had been taken in HK and would help to explain what he was doing after leaving the Customs.

The biography says he had been off chasing Pirates in 1927 but I don't see how that could have been true if he was a Prison Warder.

Some of the information in his Biography I don't believe is 100% correct. For instance, I know he joined the Mercantile Marines in 1929 and I have found a copy of a CR2 ticket with a Discharge No.R70245. Stamped Liverpool 31 Aug 1934. The only ship listed was 141934 which I believe is the "Peshawur". He was a Quarter Master. I can find no other records for his time (1929 - 1934) in the Mercantile Marines or if he served on any other ships.

The other piece of mis-information is his rank when he was invalided out in 1943. I believe he was 3rd Officer on the SS Dover Hill.

I know he then joined the RNVR from 1944 to 1964 and spent the majority of his time training the Sea Cadets. It was during that period that he was promoted several times with a final rank of Lt. Cmdr. I found this info in the Navy Lists.

I would like if possible to correct the Biography if they ever do a reprint but that is only if I can discover the true facts.

Thanks again for all your help.

Sam

 

 

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Hi again,

I found this photo of Chinese boatmen. It is the closest I have come to identifying the uniforms in the front row. It is of Customs Boatmen Nanjing 1900, Hedgeland. They also have the same Chinese characters on the front of their shirts.

All the best,

Sam

 

589e5b3d21ef7_CustomsBoatmenNanjing1900Hedgeland..jpg.694aae3c73fd6884533773c82e39b79e.jpg

 

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I did nothing, Sam but well done indeed to Paul and 1314.  Now I have to go research the rank of 'Tidewaiter'. ;) 

Congrats to you for getting the info and for having chsen such a distinguished forebear!

" customs officer or tide waiter; one who waited on the tide to collect duty on goods  ...

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Hi Peter,

It must have been quite an experience for my GF in China - nowadays we can discover and experience almost anything with the click of a button. I wonder what he really knew about China when he applied for the position with the Chinese Maritime Customs.

I am told that he fell in love with a Chinese girl and wanted to marry her but she was beheaded by the Communists and her head was put on a spike on some railings. I am guessing that that is maybe why he left the Customs.

My Uncle who passed away last year said he had a Chinese book and tucked in the pages was a photo of this girl. I have been asking my Cousins for months about this book but I am getting nowhere.

It is also said that my GF was somehow involved with Chiang Kai Shek but I have no details about that. My Father was in Taiwan about 30 years ago and he said he saw a photo of GF with Chiang Kai Shek in a Taiwanese Museum - but he can't remember anything else. Aggrrrhhh!!!!

I have attached this photo which is 100% Chinese Maritime Customs - my GF is the one sitting on the railing on the balcony. Such a wonderful group!

You can understand why I initially thought the first photo was more of a "Naval-type" scene than this one.

All the best,

Sam

12.jpg

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Yes, one of the frustrations for historians [and family history buffs] are those who don't care.  I have researched a british officer who distinguished himeslf in Canada in 1812-15 and then went on to be... a minor civil servant.  His tunic, sword and so on existed as late as the 1950s or so but a descendant says he thinks his mom threw them down a well on the family farm after selling all the good stuff to a travelling peddlar! :(

I hope you find the photo.  The story has all the makings of a romance film!  

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Hi GreyC and Peter,

It certainly won't be for the want of trying!

I will have to start saving my pennies so I can go and spend time looking through the Archives in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan!

It's a crying shame that some folk have no interest in what life would have been like when their own Grandparents / Great Grandparents were alive. Anything surviving from their time is very precious.

Nowadays with photos, letters and documents printed from home printers with poor quality paper and cheap ink that starts to fade after so many years - there really will be a lot of valuable history gone. There is something pretty special in picking up a book from 100 years ago, ebooks just can't compare!

When I managed to get my GFs Enlistment Papers from the Fleet Air Arms Museum they also sent a copy of this telegram. Who ever sent it must have seen something special in my GF.

All the best,

Sam

 

Enlistment telegram.jpg

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On 2/10/2017 at 08:32, paul wood said:

He received the Albert medal, here is the citation.

The KING has further been graciously pleased to approve of the award of the Albert Medal for gallantry in saving life at sea to Leading Seaman Thomas N. Davis, O.N. J.18334 (Dev.), and Able Seaman Robert Stones, O.N. J.29998 (Dev.).

 

On the 6th December, 1917, the French steamer "Mont Blanc," with a cargo of high explosives, and the Norwegian steamer "Imo," were in collision in Halifax Harbour. Fire broke out on the "Mont Blanc" immediately after the collision, and the flames very quickly rose to a height of over 100 feet. The crew abandoned their ship and pulled to the shore. A few minutes later a tremendous explosion took place, and the tug "Musquash" was seen to be on fire forward. The fire was increasing, and there appeared to be a great danger of her getting adrift, and being carried down on to another vessel. As the "Musquash" had a gun and ammunition on board there was danger of a further explosion and consequent loss of life. The Captain of H.M.S. "Highflyer" hailed a private tug and asked her to take the "Musquash" in tow, but as they were unwilling to board the "Musquash " to get her in tow, the tug was brought alongside H.M.S. "Highflyer.'' Leading Seaman Davis and Able Seaman Stones immediately volunteered, and having been transferred by the tug to the burning "Musquash," which had by this time broken adrift, they secured a line from her stern, by means of which she was towed into midstream. The line then parted, and Davis and Stones passed another line from the "Musquash" to the pumping lighter "Lee," which had now arrived. They then both went forward to the burning part, and succeeded in getting to the ammunition, which was by this time badly scorched, pulled it away from the flames and threw it overboard. They then broke open the door of the galley, which was on fire inside, to enable the "Lee" to play her hoses into it. They repeated the same thing with the cabin. By their work they made it possible to subdue the fire and save further damage and loss of life. At any moment whilst they were on board the "Musquash " the ammunition might have exploded. 

 Also Service Papers which shows he entered the Chinese customs service on leaving the Navy in 1927. He served during the second war in the Merchant Navy and would have received WWII as well as the Albert Medal and WWI medals he had already received. I hope this is of help.

Paul

43343_683_0-00333.jpg

Lots of good books on the Halifax Explosion, which is a topic that fascinates me. See here: 

 for a post that illustrates how one family was affected.

Michael

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