There’s nothing like a good quality tour to get to know a city and this morning I joined a small group to learn more about Hong Kong’s war history, viewing a handful of key sites in Central and TST.
I ashamedly admit to a very basic understanding of what happened here from 1941 onwards. Growing up in Britain means my war knowledge is almost totally European-based – from the numerous school projects, field trips and discussions with grandparents to re-runs of Dad’s Army and The Great Escape. My grasp of the Pacific war is pretty much limited to Thursday nights in the 1980s watching the BBC’s shaky women’s prisoner of war drama, Tenko, with my mum.
So today’s World War II tour, organised by the Australian Association to tie-in with ANZAC Day next week, was both fascinating and tragic. We started in Statue Square in front of the Cenotaph and our enthusiastic tour guide, Jess Mizzi, talked us through the bloody advance of the Japanese, across the infamous Gin Drinkers’ line in the New Territories and on into Kowloon, culminating with the grisly Battle of Hong Kong for HK Island.
We paused outside the HSBC building to take a closer look at Stephen and Stitt, the bronze lions who have been guarding the bank since 1935. They are riddled with bullet holes from where they were caught in the crossfire when the Japanese arrived on the Island. They were sent to Japan to be melted down for the war effort, but were saved and sent back to Hong Kong when an American serviceman stumbled across them and realised where they had come from. Stitt appears on Hong Kong’s paper bills and it’s considered good luck to give their paws and noses a little stroke.
It was then on to St John’s cathedral, which was used as a recreation hall by the Japanese, and finally across the harbour to the Peninsula Hotel. This stunning 1920s building was swiftly requisitioned by the Japanese as their HQ for the duration of the war, and it was here that the governor general, Sir Mark Aitchison Young, signed the surrender papers on Boxing Day, 1941.
It was a sobering couple of hours and we only scratched the surface of this truly horrific period of Hong Kong’s history. But I did feel I had at least begun to peel back another layer of this fascinating city.
The ANZAC Day morning service of remembrance will take place at The Cenotaph, Statue Square, Chater Road, Central at 6.15am, Monday 25 April. A service will also be held at the Australian International School Hong Kong, Norfolk Road, Kowloon Tong at 10.30am.
Our tour was lead by Hello Hong Kong (www.hellohongkong.com.au) and organised by the Australian Association of Hong Kong (www.ozhongkong.com). Hello Hong Kong runs a range of historical and foodie tours all over the Territory.