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Month: June 2017

Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence

Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence.

Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence. The site is a former fort named Lei Yue Mun.

The Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence is fascinating. Despite what the British said when they arrived in Hong Kong many years ago, the island is not just a pile of uninhabited rocks. There’s a lot of history here. Hong Kong has been settled for 30,000 years and ruled by many dynasties and fought over many times.

One of the harbour views from the Museum of Coastal Defence.

One of the harbour views from the Museum of Coastal Defence.

A former fort (Lei Yue Mun), the Museum of Coastal Defence is perched high up a hill. From the top, there’s a great view of Victoria Harbour. (We took an elevator to the top, we didn’t walk.) Lei Yue Mun used to refer to a narrow harbour channel.

64-pounder RML (Rifle, Muzzle Loading) gun.

64-pounder RML (Rifle, Muzzle Loading) gun.

Walking off the elevator and onto a paved path, the first thing we came across was a 64-pounder RML (Rifle, Muzzle Loading) gun. It’s a piece of British artillery and fired a 64-pound projectile. It was first put into service in the British Colonies in 1864.

Rammer, worm and sponge.

Rammer, worm and sponge.

We stopped in the Central Battery: Underground Magazine on our way towards the museum building. Ammunition for a 64-pounder RML gun was stored in here. Now the display is the rammer, worm and sponge used to fire the gun. The rammer pushed a cloth cartridge and shell down the barrel. The worm removed debris after the gun was fired and the sponge extinguished any smouldering pieces of cloth so the gun was ready to be reloaded.

25–Pounder Mark II Field gun.

25–Pounder Mark II Field gun.

25–Pounder Mark II Field gun: one of the most famous pieces of Second World War artillery. The gun was used in mid-1940s. The gun and its ammunition trailer could be hooked to a vehicle and moved easily.

Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence storyboards.

Once in the museum, there are exhibit rooms of various periods. In each gallery, the history of the battles that went on during that time is told via artifacts, drawings, photos, video and storyboards.

inside of Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence.

inside of Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence.

As a coastal city, Hong Kong has had its share of fights: from the Ming Dynasty, through the First and Second Opium Wars, to the Battle of Hong Kong during the Second World War. Lei Yue Mun Fort was built by the British in 1887 and became an important battlefield in 1941.

Gold brocade Qing armour.

Gold brocade Qing armour

Gold brocade Qing armour. The armour was made with gold thread, layers of cotton padding  and gilded studs. Qing Dynasty was in place from 1644–1842.

Bow but I forgot to take the photo of the arrow.

Bow but I forgot to take the photo of the arrow.

Early rifle.

Early rifle.

Another view of Victoria Harbour from Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence.

Another view of Victoria Harbour from Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence.

Opium Wars

Britain wanted China’s tea, silk and porcelain in the eighteen and nineteenth centuries. China wasn’t interested in trading with Britain because it had nothing China wanted. But opium was a form of payment that the two decided would work. (China used it medicinally for stress then.) So opium was brought to Hong Kong from India (British-occupied Bengal) by the Brits for exchange. However, there became a surplus of opium and it became a problem. In 1821, the Qing government banned it and started the First Opium War between the Qing Dynasty and the British.

The Treaty of Nanjing ended the First Opium War. The treaty leaned heavily in favour of the British and China ceded Hong Kong. Britain later asked for China to renegotiate the treaty, legalizing the opium trade (among other things). That started some conflict.

The Chinese government seized a ship (The Arrow) flying the British flag and took it down. This happened near Canton on the mainland. That caused a lot of trouble and the U.S. got involved. Around the same time, France teamed up with Britain and together they attacked Canton (now Guangzhou) on the mainland. Russia joined the conflict as a British ally in the Second Opium War from 1856 to 1860.  Part of the Convention of Beijing ending the conflict included a perpetual lease over the Kowloon Peninsula for Britain.

Seized opium records.

Seized opium records.

Memorial records tallying how much opium was destroyed in 1839 by Commissioner Lin Zexu – about 1.2 million kilograms. Lin wrote Queen Victoria asking her to stop the opium trade. His message never reached her but it was published in the Times of London.

Opium trade wares:

Opium trade wares: 1. Pipe, 2. porcelain dispensers, 4. a ladle used in the preparation of opium.(Number 2 is a lamp.)

Kowloon Walled City.

Kowloon Walled City was demolished in the 1990s and now is a park. The Walled City started out as a salt outpost in the Song Dynasty (960–1279). Then it became part of fortifications against the British in 1847, followed by being handed over to the Brits in 1912 and then occupied by the Imperial Japanese forces in the Second World War. The Japanese army took parts of the wall down. After Japan left, the city became a haven for drugs and crime up until 1994.

 

Life of a British solider in the late 19th century. He shares a room with 30 men, hasn’t been home for years and it’s freaking hot and humid. He has to make his bed every day.

The Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence was once the site of Lei Yue Mun, a fort.

The Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence was once the site of Lei Yue Mun, a fort.

December 8-25, 1941 Battle for Hong Kong. Lei Yue Mun is the site of fierce fighting involving British Hong Kong troops as well as Canadian, British and Indian units against the Japanese Imperial Army. Japan was the aggressor and attacked Hong Kong without declaring war against the British Empire. Fighting took part all over Hong Kong, including Wong Nai Chung Gap

Captain Howard Bush, Winnipeg Grenadiers, quoted in Brereton Greenhous’ “C” Force to Hong Kong: A Canadian Catastrophe (1997), published by Dundurn Press – “The position was being fired upon from all sides. It might be compared with the lower part of a bowl, the enemy looking down and occupying the rim. The main road running through the position was cluttered for hundreds of feet each way with abandoned trucks and cars. The Japanese were using mortars and hand grenades quite heavily.”

Japan Imperial Army uniform.

Japan Imperial Army uniform.

The Imperial Japanese army struck on December 8, 1941 a few hours before the attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. Japan started in Hong Kong with the shelling Kai Tak Airfield, razing it.

Japan Imperial Army uniform.

Japan Imperial Army uniform.

After 18 days of intense fighting, the order came from Britain to surrender. On the afternoon of Christmas Day 1941, Hong Kong surrendered to Japan.

From the memoirs of Tsui. Soon after the battle finished, Tsui would join the British Army Aid Group, smuggling supplies, information and personnel between occupied Hong Kong and Free China – “On Christmas Eve, I went to the Cathedral for midnight Mass. It was well attended. After Mass, I returned to my sister’s house at Mosque Street. Soon thereafter, rumours came our way through the bamboo wireless to the effect that the then Governor, Sir Mark Young, was about to broadcast a Surrender. I did not believe it at first, and I was not sure whether it was true or false. We noticed that the artillery bombardment seemed to have thinned down if not actually stopped. We went to bed quite peacefully that night. When we woke up early next morning, we heard a lot of noise. It was the noise of people. Yes hundreds of people […] looted the houses of the rich and the famous up at the Peak area or in the Upper Levels of May Road, or Conduit Road and above.”

Click here for more stories of people who lived through the surrender of Hong Kong to the Imperial Japanese army.

Japanese military officers at the Kowloon Docks Headquarters in 1942.

Japanese military officers at the Kowloon Docks Headquarters in 1942.

Japanese military officers at the Kowloon Docks Headquarters in 1942. Around 1,975 Canadian troops were sent to Hong Kong to help defend it. Their efforts were valiant but they surrendered to the Japanese Imperial Army. Seizing Hong Kong was the first major World War Two victory for Japan.

Prisoners of War (POWs).

Prisoners of War (POWs)

Prisoners of War (POWs)

Two Canadian battalions, the Royal Rifles and Winnipeg Grenadiers, were among the soldiers taken prisoner by the Japanese Imperial Army. Japan never ratified the 1929 Geneva Convention. The Convention laid out guidelines for POW treatment. Hong Kong POWs “lived” in horrendous conditions and were treated terribly.

Sketch of the Stanley Internment Camp.

Sketch of the Stanley Internment Camp by J. E. Richardson. Japan apologized to Canadian Veterans in 2011. However, some didn’t accept it.

POW notebook.

POW notebook. Around 9,000 POW were interned in camps around Hong Kong.

A letter from Jaroslav Krofta to a loved one.

A letter from Jaroslav Krofta to a loved one, 1944. He tells her he doesn’t need any clothing and glad to hear she’s ok.

Take care, you are the only one I have.

Sources:

http://hk.coastaldefence.museum/ and http://blogs.bu.edu/guidedhistory/moderneurope/tao-he/

 

Where is Winnipeg?

Wong Nai Chung Reservoir Park.

Wong Nai Chung Reservoir Park

While visiting Hong Kong in May, my friend told me about a plaque near the start of a hiking trail that commemorated a Second World War soldier from Winnipeg. She suggested I go see it and so I took a taxi to the Wong Nai Chung Reservoir Park path. However, I couldn’t find the sign when I started out. What I did find were crumbling pieces left over from when Japanese forces overran Hong Kong’s defences. They were part of the Canadian soldier’s story.

“Take the trail with the wooden gate,” said my friend Digger. She had given me a map, too, showing the route I was supposed to take. When I got to the path via the taxi, I saw a wooden gate and a trail sign. So I went through it and started my trek.

The air was about 25 degrees and the humidity was high but I didn’t find it too bad. I was in the shade of the trees and there was a slight breeze. The path wound around water pipes tucked near a berm and there were men working on the reservoir every few metres. They stopped what they were doing to let me continue my jaunt.

There was a sign up ahead and I stopped at it.

“This must be the Winnipeg mention?” I thought to myself.

Indeed, the plaque said the Winnipeg Grenadiers were part of a larger force defending the valley. I had found the sign!

I walked on through air tinged with the scent of dead leaves and damp earth. It didn’t smell bad to me; it’s like an interesting spice. I followed the pipes as far as I could until I got to a fork in the road. There were three ways to go and no signs — and my map had none of the features I had encountered.

“Okay, I’ll continue straight.”

I did, until I came upon a Road Closed sign.

“Okay, I’ll turn back.”

I walked all the way back to the fork and decided I would go up the stairs. Up is always good.

On the ascent, the steep ascent, I came across two decaying structures. They weren’t sticking out of the earth or rock but out of concrete. What’s this?

Pillboxes that had been defended in the fight against Japanese forces. (Some Canadian troops were positioned in pillboxes in the area. I’m not sure if they were at these ones.) Japanese soldiers discovered these pillboxes and dropped grenades through the ventilation shaft, seriously wounding many. The Japanese eventually got control of the pillboxes but not before sustaining heavy casualties. (In fact, it was a company of Winnipeg Grenadiers that fought hard to keep its position and killed many of the enemy. So many, the Japanese forces didn’t believe they had been held off by only 50, mostly wounded, Canadians.

I was putting the pieces together. I was hiking in an area that had seen heavy fighting. These were battles I had never heard of in my time at school, and I was a history major. I kept going, following the faint trail.

Digger had said the terrain was challenging and it was. The path was overgrown and bushes were crowding in on me. I had a stick with me to clear the cobwebs away although some still managed to grab my face. The slope was straight up and I was scrambling to get to the top. The views were rewarding and I could see the harbour and the hills of Kowloon. I saw beautiful black and blue butterflies and heard enchanting bird songs. All while I was dripping in sweat.

I kept going…and popped out onto a well-manicured trail.

I had been on the wrong path the whole time. Where was I now? I asked a man hiking past that question and showed him my map. He said I should turn around and walk back. He was going that way so I tagged along.

Roland and I chatted along the route. He was retired and hikes around Hong Kong. He didn’t know where Calgary was but he knew lots of stuff about Canada.

“Do you know Osborn?” he asked. “From Winnipeg?”

“Oh, I’ve heard there’s a sign about him somewhere.”

“Here it is.”

The plaque was at the end of the trail (what would have been the head of the trail for me). The words have been worn down by the sun and heavy rains but what John Robert Osborn did will always stand out.

On Dec. 19, 1941, Company Sergeant-Major Osborn was with a company of the Winnipeg Grenadiers. They were stationed on the hillside being attacked that morning by Japanese forces. Under heavy fire and with no regard for his own life, Osborn guided Canadian soldiers to join the rest of the company.

In the afternoon, the fighting ramped up, leaving Osborn and other Canadians in the company isolated from their battalion. Japanese forces were now lobbing grenades at them and Osborn tossed them back. Then one landed out of reach. There was no way he could get to it and throw it back.

He used himself to protect the other men. He covered the grenade and was blown up with it. He died to save others.

I had heard this story of sacrifice before. It was a Heritage Minute in 2005. However, I didn’t remember the name of the man in the story. Now here I was, in Hong Kong, near the site of the heroic act, and I felt ashamed I had forgotten him.

Often, the Second World War is synonymous with Europe. To some people, the Asia war was far away. Yet, it isn’t — especially for those people who had loved ones fighting in the Pacific. I had a great-uncle who spent time as a Prisoner of War in Malaysia. One of my family friends saw photos of my Wong Nai Chung Reservoir Park hike on Instagram and asked if I had found her father’s leg. He had been a solider in Hong Kong during WWII as well.

I had been walking around Jardine’s Lookout, which has a fascinating history even before the Battle of Hong Kong. But that’s another story.

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