Plea for role of Cenotaph to be preserved

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 June, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 June, 1997, 12:00am

The fate of Hong Kong's most prominent war memorial remains unknown just three weeks before the handover.

British flags on the Cenotaph in Central will be lowered for the last time on June 30 but no decisions have yet been taken on whether Chinese flags will be raised from July onwards or even if the monument will stay in its prime position across from the Legislative Council Building.

Unlike the war cemeteries, the Cenotaph is not protected and pressure is about to mount for it to be safeguarded.

The chairman of the Hong Kong and China Branch of the Royal British Legion, Jack Edwards, said he would like to see the role of the Cenotaph remain unchanged, remembering the dead of two World Wars, albeit with a different military flags flying.

The monument has Chinese characters on it reading 'Great Spirits Live Forever' and 'Heroes' Spirits Will Never Die' to complement the English inscription 'The Glorious Dead'.

Crowns at the top of the flagpoles could be removed but laurel wreaths should remain as they pay tribute to those who died, he said.

'It's an easy solution,' said Mr Edwards, a former prisoner of war.

'You carry on as normal after July 1 with the Chinese national flag in the centre, the bauhinia flag on its left and the third place left empty and used as it has been for the Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians on their remembrance days and for the four [British] societies who fly flags on their saints' days.' He said he would propose this in a letter to Chief Executive-designate Tung Chee-hwa pointing out this would conform to the promise of former Chinese patriarch Deng Xiaoping that Hong Kong's way of life would remain unchanged for 50 years and could provide good publicity to the incoming garrison of the People's Liberation Army.

Mr Edwards already has permission to continue raising money for Hong Kong ex-servicemen through Poppy Day in November and hopes to see the Cenotaph remaining the focus of Remembrance Day and of Liberation Day which from this year onwards will be celebrated as Sino-Japanese War Victory Day.

The Stanley and Sai Wan cemeteries are protected by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and will be tended by the future British consulate-general.

Other sites such as the Gurkha Cemetery in the New Territories have been declared private and will also be maintained.

Last week the Commander British Forces, Major-General Bryan Dutton, said: 'The Cenotaph is not a war grave, it's a national memorial. It was put up in the 20s and we are not in a position to dictate the future of that. It's for the SAR government.' A government spokesman said the current administration had no powers over the flying of flags or the future of the monument.

'At this stage, no one has been giving thought to the thing,' she said.

A spokesman for Mr Tung said: 'He does have the authority to decide where flags may be flown.

'The national flag will be flown on all major government buildings but this particular question has not been considered.'