Although records from the 1930’s are difficult to come by I have managed to piece together a
possible outline of Quinnell's service during the filming of The Four Feathers and in early World
Wiliam A. P. Quinnell attested with 1st Battalion of the East Surreys as No. 6141003 on 12
January, 1935 and was stationed in Khartoum with his battalion around 1937-38 when he recorded
the The Four Feathers being shot. Many other photos from the same album (not shown here)
were taken in Shanghai, China around 1939-40 where the 2nd Battalion of the East Surreys was
stationed just before the outbreak of World War II in Asia. The portrait of Quinnell is his dress
tropical white uniform appears to have been taken in Shanghai based upon the style of the
photographic backdrop in the photo. The dark colored uniform cords he wears in the photo would
seem to indicate that he was a bandsman, drummer or possibly a bugler.
Quinnell was apparently among the 153 officers and other ranks of the 1/East Surreys left at Port
Sudan when their battalion returned to England and who were subsequently picked up by the 2nd
Battalion on the outward bound trip to China and Malaya.
According to regimental histories at least seven officers and an undetermined number of men of
the 2nd Battalion found wives while in Shanghai. The 1940 Index of Army Marriages list one
William Quinnell being married in Shanghai to a Miss Ivy E. Baviau.
Curiously the index lists Quinnell's father's surname as "Quinnell or Stonbridge" (the name is
also listed by the alternate spelling of Stonebridge.) After obtaining a certified copy of the
marriage registration it appears that Quinnell's mother remarried sometime after his birth to a
member of London Metropolitan Police named Ernest Stonbridge which helps explain the dual
surnames. William Quinnells's marriage took place on 29 June, 1940 at Christ the King Church in
Shanghai. Ivy Enid Baviau was some 15 years older that her husband with her nationality listed
as Eurasian. A telephone operator she was the daughter of one Joseph Baviau.
The 2/East Surreys arrived in Malaya late 1940 and took part in the defence of the colony in the
face if the Japanese invasion that began in December 1941. Initially deployed in North West
Malaya witht he 11th Indian Division the battalion suffered devastating casualties as it was forced
southward by a numerically inferior but better equipped and led Japanese army. In late December
the remnants of the 2/East Surreys were combined with the remaining and equally decimated
survivors of the 1/Leicestershire Regiment. This composite unit became known as the British
Battalion. Drummer William Quinnell soldiered on with the British Battalion until the fall of
Singapore in February, 1942
Japanese prisoner of war documents show Quinnell being taken prisoner on 15 February, 1942 at
Singapore and being held at a POW Camp No. 1 at Singapore. At some point prior to the
surrender Quinnell was appointed Lance Corporal although the Japanese mistakenly listed him as
a sergeant. Quinnell was shipped to Hakodate #1 Ashibetsu POW Camp on the Japanese island
Hokkaido on 15 May, 1943.
According to a diary kept by Dan Brown of RAF 605 Squadron conditions at this camp where far
from good but not as deliberately brutal as those elsewhere. Food, medicine and supplies in
general were short and the men labored in local mines and dockyards. Remarkably Brown related
that the prisoners were actually paid about 10 sens per day for their work which allowed them to
buy items like cigarettes and small food items from the local Japanese population. The cold
weather and short supplies caused a steady loss of men to disease. Brown notes the arrival of 300
men from Singapore on 10 June 1943 and it is quite possible that William Quinnell was amongst
this group. Brown makes no mention of Quinnell in his surviving dairies but documents - both
Japanese and British confirm him being there. How he was employed while a POW is not known
but a prisoner of war list shows No. 6141003 William Alfred Quinnell being liberated on 2
|Drummer William Quinnell of the 1 & 2 /East Surrey Regiment
|William Quinnell in civilian dress
Real Photo Post Card
Signed "Your's Sincerley, Bill."
Unknown (probably British) Photographer
|Note: All of the photographs shown below measure approximatly 4 5/8 inches by 2 7/8 inches (11.8 cm x 7.2 cm) and were printed by A. Kazandjian of the Gordon Studio, Khartoum.
|Above: Members of the 1/East Surrey Regiment arriving in Khartoum. c. 1937
|Above: Two photos showing members of the 1/East Surrey Regiment costumed as extras for the filming pose next to one of the production's breach loading cannon with the production encampment behind.
|Above and below: Additional snapshots of East Surreys uniformed as extras for The Four Feathers in the film's production camp.
|Below: East Surrey "extras" waiting between scenes. To the unsuspecting some of these photographs could easily be mistaken for those of Kitchener's actual troops from 1896.
|Below: Some of the Hadendoa extras between scenes - could these very swords and spears have been carried these men's fathers or grandfathers at Omdurman in 1898?
|Below: Motor transportation on location. Kitchener would have loved to have had a few of these lorries available to him in 1896.
|Below: Various production scenes.
|Below: A senior production staff member (center in fedora - Zoltan Korda?) confers with a white turbaned translator and Hadenoda extras between shots.
|Below: East Surrey extras at ease
|Above: Happy times. One cannot help to wonders what fate would befall these smiling soldiers just a few short years later on the beaches at Dunkirk or in the steaming jungles of Malaya.
|In his diary Dan Brown relates his homeward bound trip after the war via by ship from Japan to
Manila and San Francisco and then via train to Tacoma, Washington, and then across Canada then
on to New York City where he boarded the RMS Queen Mary and then home to England. While is
in not certain William Quinnell may have followed this same road home. The last mention I have
found of William Quinnell is in the Surrey Regimental Rolls 1914-1947 where is in listed as being
discharged to the Class Z Reserves on 12 January, 1947.
Dan Brown's surviving war time diaries can be found here: http://www.nigelbrown.me.uk/pow-fe.htm
I did come across a ship's passenger manifest from the SS Dominion Monarch that shows one Ivy
Quinnell arriving in Southampton, England on 15 November, 1945 via Sydney and Fremantle,
Australia. Her destination was listed as the residence of a Mrs. Stonebridge at 86 Orne Road,
Kingston Hill, Surrey. The manifest listed all the passengers as "Hong Kong & Malayan Internees
Embarked at Sydney for the United Kingdom".
Zoltan Korda’s 1939 production of A.E.W. Mason’s 1904 novel The Four Feathers was the fourth
of seven films versions of the book made between 1915 and 2002. Korda’s version differs from the
novel and other filmed versions by having its action take place during Kitchener’s Omdurman
campaign of 1896 instead of the Nile Campaign of 1884-5. Korda’s version is noted for its
historical accuracy – most of the extras who portrayed British soldiers in the film were actually
members of the 2/East Surreys who were stationed in Khartoum at the time of the filming. This
explains the remarkably soldierly appearance of the British troops as depicted in the film. It is also
said the that c. 1896 British uniforms used in the film were selected from old British military stores
left over from Kitchener’s campaign some 40 years before that the production crew found in Cairo.
The other extras in the film consisted of real Hadendoa tribesmen whose fathers and grandfathers
had actually fought against Kitchener at Omdurman.
The photographs shown below are only a portion of those taken from Quinnell's album. In some
cases the photographs could easily be mistaken for actual photos of Kitchener's campaign which
says much about Korda's research and on set technical advisors - in this case Captain Donald
Anderson and Lt. Col. Sterling, D.S.O., MC.
|Above and Below: Overviews of the Korda's production camp outside Khartoum.
|Below: Two views of the film's production camp taken by William Quinnell..
|Below: Members of the 1/East Surrey Regiment costumed as members of Captain Jack Durrance's (Ralph Richardson) company of the fictional Royal North Surrey Regiment.