Fred Hockley was born on 4th March 1923 to George and Hannah Hockley of Littleport in Cambridgeshire, and was a brother to Kathleen. As a young man, the family lived at 12 Hempfield Road.
Fred attended Soham Grammar School, and was an exceedingly good swimmer who was remembered for diving off Sandhill Bridge into the River Ouse at Littleport. Later, he worked as a railway clerk at Littleport Railway Station before joining the Navy and ‘the Y Scheme’ of 1944.
Joining the Royal Navy
The Y scheme was introduced during World War Two, and it allowed boys of the age of 16 or 17 to choose to join the Navy when they were eventually called up. Part of selection for the Y scheme was a test of how much boys already knew about the Navy.
Fred became an Officer in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve flying Seafires of 24 Wing with the Fleet Air Arm on HMS. Indefatigable. On the 15th August 1945 he took off from the aircraft carrier with six other members of 24 Wing to protect 10 Fairey Firefly and Grumman Avenger fighter bombers attacking airfields in the Tokyo Bay area of Japan.
With the bad weather conditions over the first airfield they were looking for another target when attacked by 12 Mitsubishi Zero fighters but were able to shoot seven of them down frightening the others off, it was then noticed that Hockley was missing. Sub-Lieutenant Hockley, whose wireless was not working, had been shot down but had managed to parachute out of his stricken aircraft safely.
Landing in Japan
Fred landed uninjured in the village of Higashi-mura where he was captured by Nakamura Kiyozo, an air raid warden who turned him over to the local civil defence unit. The commander there handed him over to the 426th Infantry Regiment.
The Japanese soldiers had been waiting for the Emperor’s speech of surrender, and after listening to the Emperor announcing that the war is over, Colonel Tamura Teiichi – commanding officer of 426 Regiment – called the headquarters of the 147th Division to find out what to do with Sub-Lieutenant Hockley as he was supposed to be sent to Division headquarters for interrogation. Major Hirano Noboru, the divisional chief of staff gave the order to “dispose of” (“shochi se”). Colonel Tamura thought about querying the order but decided not to.
He telephoned the local unit to inform Captain Fujino Masazo, that Hockley must be killed, “Do it in the dark so that no one can see it,” he added. Captain Fujino was taken aback “I was very much surprised,” Fujino said. “In the past, the division had never issued such an unkind order. I decided there was no other way but to send the prisoner to Colonel Tamura.”
Fujino told Sergeant Major Hitomi Tadao to move the prisoner to regimental headquarters, where another officer ordered him to take six soldiers equipped with shovels and pickaxes up into the mountains to dig a grave. Hockley, with his hands tied, was later led up to the mountain grave. It was about 9pm, nine hours after the Emperor had officially declared the war over.
“Fujino made the prisoner stand with his back to the hole,” Hitomi said. Sub-Lieutenant Hockley was blindfolded with his hands tied lightly in front. “I heard a pistol shot. The prisoner seemed to collapse and I heard two more shots. The prisoner fell on his back. There was another shot and he rolled over into the hole. He seemed to be in pain. Fujino borrowed a sword from Sgt. Kusume and thrust the sword into the prisoner’s back. The prisoner did not move any more. The soldiers filled up the hole.”
The details of Hockley’s fate would never have been known had not Col Tamura panicked and, fearing that wild animals might find the body, ordered it to be exhumed and cremated.
When American occupation forces heard of it, Tamura attempted to persuade Fujino to lie about what had happened. But he refused. Tamura, Hirano and Fujino were handed over to the British, accused of a war crime. It was only then that Hockley’s friends on HMS Indefatigable heard what had happened.
Mike Brown, another of the ship’s pilots, said: “We were appalled to learn that he had been executed. By rights poor Freddie should have returned home.”
The Trial in Hong Kong
The trial, was held in Hong Kong in May and June of 1947. The military prosecutor was a young British Army officer, Murray Ormsby. “We hanged Tamura and Hirano on the 16th September 1947, said Major Ormsby. “‘But Fujino, who was completely honest about what had happened, was given 15 years’ imprisonment.
It was known that Fred was killed in the war but nobody knew he was executed by the Japanese until after the war had ended.
There are few surviving relatives – a nephew Stephen Kerridge, who farms near Littleport told us “I knew my mother had a brother but it was something she never really talked about a lot,”.
“All she’d say was that he was shot down on the last day of the war and executed by the Japanese. I’ve spoken to one or two people in the village who knew him well and they were pleased that at last they knew how he died.”
Sub-Lt Hockley’s name is on Littleport’s war memorial, together with the names of 32 other servicemen, and one civilian from the village who died in the war.
More family history
Discover more family histories with The Littleport Society.