The British Crown colony of Hong Kong was attacked on the same day that bombs fell on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and from this time the desperate struggle of the Hong Kong garrison against superior forces was overshadowed by the news of the struggle of her allies in various other parts of Asia. The battle for Hong Kong lasted only 17 days – the Japanese were massed on the land border of Hong Kong’s New Territories, but there was a spirited defence even though the British Prime Minister Churchill regarded it as indefensible, although original plans said the colony could hold for five months.
Even though the British High Command agreed with the the Churchill, reinforcements were sent from Canada before hostilities began, and these together with British, British Indian and the Hong Kong Chinese Garrison and local volunteers tried to delay the inevitable, but the Japanese victory came quickly and like all others in South East Asia was marked with atrocities for the next three years and eight months. Today there are various tours to take to re-live these times. Here we give a self guided tour of the centre of Hong Kong.
We start at the Cenotaph – it is easily reachable by the MRT ( at the Central Station, take exit Exit J3, You will exit on Chater Road, turn right and walk until you see the Cenotaph).
The Cenotaph is an exact replica of the one in Whitehall, which was designed by Sir Edward Lutyens. It was unveiled in 1923 and originally located by the harbour. It commemorates the First and Second World Wars, and even though after 1997 Hong Kong ceased to be a member of the British Commonwealth, Remembrance Day Services (11th November) and Anzac Day Services ( 25th April) are still observed.
Now return to Chater Road and cross it. where you will find “Statue Square” .
Some of those bronze statues which survived being melted down by the Japanese stand here. On the west side of the square is the former Legislative Building, previously the Supreme Court. During the Japanese occupation this was the headquarters of the Japanese military police, the Kempeitai.
From here cross Des Veoux Road (south of the square) and you will find yourself outside the main building of the HSBC
The Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank (1985 – architect Norman Foster)
In front are two famous bronze lions, Stephen (roaring) and Sitt , similar but slightly different versions being found in the banks main buildings around the world. These two were rescued from being melted down through the keen eyes of an American sailor, who saw the looted pieces in a scrap yard in Osaka. One bears shrapnel scars from the heavy fighting in 1941. The bank itself was closed by the Japanese, it’s functions taken over by the Yokohama Specie Bank which with other Japanese financial bodies introduced the Japanese Military Yen and oversaw the collapse of the local economy. British, American and Dutch bankers were imprisoned and harshly treated, some being executed for not assisting the Japanese .
Now we can go through the area under the HSBC building and cross Queens Road Central – now climb to the top of the stairs to “Battery Path”. From here you will see:
St John’s Cathedral
This is the oldest Anglican Cathedral in Asia. The original stonework remains, but the interior is post war – the Japanese used it as an officers club and carried out wanton destruction towards the end of hostilities. There is also a WW1 and WW2 Memorial Celtic Cross outside the building, erected in 1952 to replace the one destroyed by the Japanese ( which commemorated those who died in WW1). There is also the grave of Private R.D. Maxwell of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Force who died at Wan Chai on Dec. 23rd, two days before the cease fire in 1941.
Continue along Battery Path, around the Cathedral to the steps which take you down to Garden Road. Cross the road, using the escalator to your right and then follow the signs to Hong Kong Park. Walk straight ahead
Hong Kong Park
In the park you will see a post war statue to commemorate the gallant action of Company Sergeant Major John Osborne of the Winnipeg Grenadiers, who died fighting the Japanese in Hong Kong. He threw himself on a grenade t save his colleagues, and was awarded Canada’ first Victoria Cross of the war (the location of this act of valour can be seen on another of our walks “The Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail”).
The park was the site of the former Victoria Barracks The original barracks were used by the Japanese occupation troops – a Shinto style arch stood until the 1970’s, when many of the building were pulled down for redevelopment. To the left along the park walk is Flagstaff House, which formerly was the residence of the British Military Commander. It is now the museum of Tea Ware a short walk away is Flagstaff House, once the residence of the commander of the British forces in Hong Kong and now the Museum of Tea Ware.
It is next to Pacific Place Mall, a place to take a rest and have a snack.
Next, within the Hong Kong Park, follow the signs to the Aviary. Climb the stairs and turn left onto Kennedy Road . Continue until you reach the disused Hong Kong Electric substation. Now cross Kennedy Road here and climb the stairs on the other side. You will now be on Borrett Road turn right and walk until you reach Bowen Road, cross Bowen Road. There is an abandoned sentry post on the left, on the side of a disused driveway. Walk along the driveway, until you reach an old red brick building.
The British Military Hospital
Built in 1907, part of it was used as a prisoner of war camp by the Japanese. Please look at Donald C. Bowie’s book ” Captive Surgeon” for an account of these times.
Now go back to Bowen Road. Turn right and walk on until you come to Bowen Path on the left. Walk down this to Kennedy Road, turn right until you come to a staircase next to a mural of angels. Go down this stairway and you will come to
The Nam Koo Mansion
This abandoned building was a Japanese military brothel – a haunted comfort women station.
Walk further down the stairs and you will reach Ship Street and further on to the busy Queen’s Road East.
Near here are many places of refreshment, which you may now be in need of!