The History ofHong Kong's World War 2 Battlefields - Guided Walking Tours
Many people in Hong Kong, visitors and residents alike, are surprised to learn that the territory was the scene of a short but very bloody battle at the end of 1941. It often seems that the larger - and more famous - actions such as the attack on Pearl Harbour and the Singapore campaign overshadow the events of December 1941 in Hong Kong. But the fact remains that the then Colony saw a very hard struggle between the British and their allied defenders, and their Japanese aggressors, of 18 days duration before the British surrender on Christmas Day. There then followed 3 years and 8 months of Japanese occupation before they in turn surrendered.
It also comes as a surprise to some people to learn that many of Hong Kong's wartime relics and defence works survived the 1941 battle, the subsequent Japanese occupation and post-war reconstruction and development of Hong Kong. These traces can still be seen in many areas of the territory. We have designed a number of walks which cover in detail aspects of this fascinating period of Hong Kong's history. Please see the detailed descriptions which accompany each of these walks.
Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail Hong Kong Island
On 8 December 1941, the Imperial Japanese Army launched their long-anticipated invasion of Hong Kong. Crossing the Shum Chun River, the British Colony's land border with China, they quickly advanced through the New Territories and captured the main allied defensive position there, the Gin Drinker's Line. This was a line of pill boxes and artillery observation posts - sadly undermanned by the defending forces.
By the evening of 12 December, the attackers were in possession of the whole of the mainland, including the Kowloon peninsula.
The British defenders, together with their Indian; Canadian and Chinese allies, then withdrew to Hong Kong island where they reorganized their defences. On the night of 18 December, after a sustained bombing and shelling campaign of 6 days duration, the Japanese crossed the harbour to attack the island. The battle for the strategically important Wong Nai Chong Gap then began, and it proved to be an integral part of the entire 18 day campaign.
On this guided tour, your expert guide will describe in detail the course of the fighting during this all-important phase of the battle, concluding with the British surrender of the Colony on Christmas Day, 1941. During the walk you will see World War 2 pillboxes; underground bunkers and an anti-aircraft position - all of which record key chapters of the battle and which figured prominently in the fighting.
You will also view the location where Warrant Officer John Osborn of the Canadian Army's Winnipeg Grenadiers won the Victoria Cross - the British Commonwealth's highest gallantry award and the only one awarded during the battle for Hong Kong.
Join this walk for a tour filled with wartime heroics and memories. Cost: HK$500 per person, includes transport. Total tour time: 4 hours, walking time approx. 3 hours Facilities: Toilets en route
Pinewood Battery, Victoria Peak Hong Kong Island
Standing high on the 300 metre contour of a western spur of Hong Kong island's Victoria Peak, in what is now the Lung Fu Shan country park, lies the Pinewood Battery. Constructed by the British military at the very end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th to counter perceived threats to British colonial interests from other European powers, the Battery originally consisted of 2 naval guns to protect the western approaches to Victoria harbour.
The battery was, unbelievably, considered surplus to requirements shortly after its' completion in 1905 and by 1913 had been decommissioned. However, during the 1930's, with conflict in the Far East with the Japanese Empire looming, it was quickly brought back into service - this time in an anti-aircraft role.
Badly damaged during bitter fighting with the attacking Japanese forces on 15 December 1941, the battery was evacuated and the defending Indian soldiers fought on as infantry until the British surrender on Christmas Day 1941. Following the Japanese surrender in 1945 the battery was never re-used by the returning British military, and now stands virtually unchanged since those dark days of the World War 2 battle. As such the site is practically unique in Hong Kong.
During this walk your expert guide will recount the history of the Pinewood Battery from its' very beginnings. You will also visit the site, and learn the history, of the Tyndareus Stone, which commemorates an extraordinary act of gallantry by British soldiers in 1917 with close Hong Kong connections.
We reach the start of the walk by taking the spectacular Peak tram to the Peak terminus, then walk along the scenic Lugard Road with breathtaking views of Victoria harbour. The walk down to Mid-levels is through scenic woodland and we return to Central district via the stairway next to the Mid-levels escalator; at over 800 metres in length the largest outdoor covered escalator system in the world.
Cost: HK$500 per person, includes transport. Total tour time: 4 hours, walking time approx. 3 hours Facilities: Toilets en route
Shing Mun Redoubt Kowloon
The battle for Hong Kong, of 18 days duration from 8 to 25 December 1941, was not of course confined to Hong Kong island. In fact, the first static line of defence constructed by the British military authorities was the Gin Drinkers Line; a 13 mile Maginot-type line of pillboxes, look-out positions and artillery observation posts which snaked through very difficult countryside north of Kowloon.
The lynch-pin of this position was the Shing Mun Redoubt, which comprised a number of pillboxes linked by an intricate tunnel network, together with the Command Post and the principal artillery observation post for the whole position. Woefully undermanned by far too few defenders for which it was established, the Redoubt fell to the invading Japanese army on the night of 9/10 December 1941, following which the defending British and Indian forces evacuated the mainland of Kowloon and the New Territories and retreated to Hong Kong island. Although heavily overgrown, many of the military features of the Shing Mun Redoubt, overlooking the reservoir of the same name and located in what is now the scenic Shing Mun Country Park, can still be visited. Our expert military guide will take you on a tour of the area and describe in detail the events leading to the battle which occurred at that location, as well as the actual fighting which occurred on the night of 9 December 1941.
Cost: HK$500 per person, includes transport. Total tour time: 4 hours, walking time approx. 2 hours Facilities: Toilets en route
Stanley Heritage Trail Hong Kong Island
Many people in Hong Kong, both residents and visitors alike, are surprised to learn that following their capture of the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong on Christmas Day 1941, the victorious Japanese authorities had no plans in place with regard to British civilians and their allies in the colony. Following a hiatus of some 3 weeks duration, during which period these civilians were housed in squalid conditions in what were little more than low-class brothels on the Hong Kong island waterfront, they were moved to the more salubrious area of Stanley on the south side of the island.
Here some 3000 men, women and children of various nationalities were housed in what in more peaceful times had been the quarters for the European and Indian warders of the maximum security Stanley Prison, as well as the school buildings and accomodation quarters of Hong Kong's only boarding school, the prestigious St. Stephen's College and Preparatory school.
The Stanley peninsula, including the cemetery which dates back to the very early days of the British occupation of Hong Kong in the 1840's, was also the scene of a bitter last stand between the British and their allied defenders and the invading Japanese forces in December 1941.
Although the area has been greatly developed since that period, many of these buildings which are so much a part of Hong Kong's heritage still exist. In fact, a heritage trail has recently been created which incorporates much of this era. During your visit our expert guide will take you on this trail, pointing out the sites where so much of the fighting during the final hours of the 1941 battle occurred, as well as many parts of what became known shortly afterwards as the Stanley Civilian Internment Camp.
Cost: HK$500 per person, includes transport. Total tour time 4 hours, walking time approx. 1.5 hours Facilities: Toilets en route
Devils's Peak and Museum of Coastal Defence Kowloon and Hong Kong Island
At the end of the 19th century, and early into the 20th, the British authorities were very concerned about perceived threats to the safety of their colonial possessions in the Far East from other European powers. Hong Kong fell into this category. Accordingly the British Government constructed impressive military fortifications to protect their imperial possessions, and one of these was at Devil's Peak at the eastern extremity of the Kowloon peninsula. The large fortification constructed to defend the eastern approaches to Hong Kong harbour consisted of 2 fixed gun battery positions, together with a Redoubt at the summit of Devil's Peak which later became the Fire Command Headquarters for the eastern part of Hong Kong. Although the position was eventually considered redundant and was in fact decommissioned before the outbreak of the Pacific War, the location was the scene of bitter fighting between the courageous Indian soldiers of the Rajput Battalion and the attacking Japanese army during the battle for Hong Kong in December 1941, immediately prior to the British evacuation of the mainland to Hong Kong island. Many of the battery buildings of this fortification can still be seen to this day, and during your visit our expert military guide will recount the fascinating history of this interesting site. You will learn about the reasons for the construction of the artillery batteries here and visit the gun and Redoubt positions, as well as hearing the account of the 1941 battle on Devil's Peak.
Following our visit to the gun battery position on Devil's Peak, we walk down through the seafood restaurant area of Lei Yue Mun to catch the ferry to Sai Wan Ho on Hong Kong island. A short taxi ride then brings us to the Museum of Coastal Defence, housed inside the late Victorian-era Lei Yue Mun Fort. The fort occupied a strategic position guarding the eastern approaches to Victoria Harbour. The British military built barracks here as early as 1844, but these were abandoned shortly afterwards. In 1885, in the face of perceived aggrandizement from other European powers, artillery barracks were constructed with a redoubt at the core of the fortifications. In view of its' historical significance and unique architectural features, the Hong Kong Government decided in 1993 to conserve and develop the fort into the Museum of Coastal Defence. It was opened to the public in 2000, and the redoubt was converted to become exhibition galleries which tell the fascinating story of this aspect of Hong Kong's past.
Cost: HK$500 per person, includes transport, museum entranced included. Total tour time: 5 hours, walking time approx. 3 hours Bring packed lunch and water. Please note the start of the walk there is a 30min uphill climb to the summit of Devil's peak. Tours will not include the Museum on Thursday's as Museum is closed. Facilities: Toilets en route
World War 2 sites in Hong Kong
I wanted to thank you again for taking me on the walk on Sunday. I enjoyed it very much, and really felt a connection to my great-uncle Robert W. If you have a look at this link, it indicates he was a member of A company, which you talked about. You will also see a Cecil W - he is also a relative - he was married to Robert W sister Florence. I was surprised to see his name, but upon reflection vaguely remember my grandmother telling me that Cecil fought at HK as well - he survived and returned to Canada, and died in 1986.
The taxi driver took me to Sai Wan cemetery! It was very important for me to see the cemetery and pay my respects to those who did not make it - it was very emotional to see the number of graves. I took lots of photos. Thanks again, I will definitely keep in touch. I am also going to do as you suggested and try to contact surviving veterans and relatives of veterans back in Canada. Take care, John