Posts Tagged 'Zeng Sheng'

Remembrance Day in a Former Colony

On Sunday 11th November, it was of course Remembrance Day. Far away from the traditional wreath-laying, name-reading and silence-observing crowds of the UK, it was great to see how represented this day was, particularly with Hong Kong being a former colony. In a lot of sectors, China is keen to remind Hong Kongers that they are, for the time being, under the umbrella catchment of the People’s Republic of China and any reminder of the old colonial times is swiftly  ignored, put down or belittled, especially if seen to be a potential threat to China’s sovereignty. It was therefore even more poignant to see Remembrance traditions still taking place and strong enough to be continued for the foreseeable future.

Hong Kong has no army. Since the handover in 1997, the battleships in Victoria Harbour have disappeared, the Garrisons in Admiralty handed over the People’s Liberation Army and the RAF Base at the former airport Kai Tak, is now a wasteland waiting for redevelopment. The British Army, Navy and Air force before the handover were mainly responsible for border control, search & rescue operations and anti-smuggling campaigns (as well as conveniently being strategically places in the Far East in case anything kicks off). Border controls are now the responsibility of the Hong Kong Police Force, which is the only reminder of British-esque military style organisation, uniform and presence.

Japanese Occupation 1941-1945

It is one thing to remember the losses of the mother-country annually, but another for a colony to remember its own losses in conjunction with Britain’s. Hong Kong’s main losses occurred during the resistance to the invading Japanese forces in 1941. A day after bombing Pearl Harbour, the Japanese invaded HK on 8th December 1941, heavily outnumbering the British, Canadian and Indian soldiers, as well as the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Force. Like I said, HK has never had an army, but the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Force was the closest it has, since 1842 when the Crimea War required more British forces to be concentrated there. Here is a picture of the RHKR heraldry.

Invading from north through the New Territories into Kowloon, they pushed the British forces back to the island, and fighting continued until the only reservoir was damaged, left the British with no water supplies and the Governor Mark Young was forced to surrender on 25 December 1941, on what became known as ‘Black Christmas’ at the Peninsula Hotel. To illustrate the harsh and brutal regime of the Japanese, the St Stephen’s college incident (converted to a volunteer hospital) epitomises it best – the shooting of volunteer doctors and bayonettting of wounded soldiers in the beds shows the extent to which Hong Kong was brutally occupied. Here is a picture of the invading Japanese marching after the British surrender in 1941.

Interestingly there were 3 main types of resistance against the Japanese. East River Column – Zeng Sheng organised a group of guerilla soldiers in 1939 which reached a membership of 6,000 in 1941 in China. Their highpoint was rescuing 20 American pilots who’d parachuted into Kowloon when they were shot down by the Japanese. They used weapons abandoned by the British in their retreat and were the main offensive resistance movement.

The Hong Kong Kowloon Brigade was established from this in 1942 with local residents, had 30 machine guns and hundreds of rifles. Operating from Sai Kung (where I went surfing and relaxing on the beach last month) they mainly rescued POWs before being absorbed into the East River Column of guerillas. Finally the British Army Aid Group also rescued POWs and shot-down pilots and assisted in intelligence gathering. Most importantly there was no racial divides in the organisation – a major catalyst to the change from Victorian colonial hierarchies to the equality that was established in the post-war years.

From what I’ve seen from the various military graveyards, there’s probably nearly 3000 people buried in them – so HK definitely has its own losses to remember from both WW1 and WW2.

Remembrance Day 2012

On Sunday morning, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited the military graves of the 228 Canadian troops who died protecting Hong Kong from the Japanese in 1941 – buried at Sai Wan Bay Memorial. Here’s a picture from the South China Morning Post and an article from The Vancouver Sun –

Hong Kong’s Cenotaph is similar in shape and size as the one in London – here it is on the coast in 1930. It is now fairly inland due to constant land reclamation. The Hong Kong Police Band led the service at the Cenotaph doing the usual routine of playing the Last Post on the Bugle, wreath-laying by those in high office in the Government here and marching parades.

In this video, it’s interesting to see so many British flags in the crowds (from 3:10 onwards), especially the old colonial HK ensign, which has been spotted so many times this year in the different protests against Beijing’s attempts to further its influence.

To summarise, the connections to Britain are transparently clear on this one morning of the year. Uniforms, marches, songs and routine are so familiar, while Harper’s visit gives a sense of Commonwealth unity here, despite the SAR not being a member of the Commonwealth. Whatever comes of Beijing’s influence in the future, and even where it stands at now, it would take a lot of influence, control and changing of opinion before this pageantry would stop. After the 50 year period of ‘one country, two systems’ ceases in 2047, we can only hope this Remembrance of those who gave their lives to protect this special place is continued. Lest we forget.