Historic flag to drape veteran's coffin

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 August, 2006, 12:00am

Hong Kong's historic Union flag will drape the coffin of veteran campaigner Jack Edwards.

It was the first Union flag raised after the liberation of Hong Kong in August 1945 and the last lowered at Government House on the night of the handover in 1997. That was the result of a secret arrangement between Edwards and Chris Patten, Hong Kong's last governor.

The flag belonged to former prisoner of war Arthur May, an engineer and volunteer soldier. He found it in building rubble on the slopes of The Peak. It was December 1941 and the Japanese were advancing. He rushed to his parents' home nearby and hid it in a cushion.

In 1945, when news arrived that Japan had surrendered, May and a friend sneaked out of the Ma Tau Chung internment camp before dawn, crossed the harbour in a sampan, retrieved the flag, and raised it on The Peak on August 18, 1945, 12 days before the British fleet arrived to restore rule to the Colony.

Since then the flag has become a symbol of patriotism and resistance. It was used to mourn the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 and to celebrate the marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. Edwards flew it from his City One balcony the day the Princess of Wales died in 1997.

The flag accompanied him on many of his protests, both here and in Britain.

The flag was used to drape May's ashes after he died in 2000, and will be given to a museum after Edwards' funeral.