On the path to history

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 May, 2010, 12:00am

The beautiful campus, the well-tended lawns, peace in the air and students at their desks - at first glance, St Stephen's College barely recalls its wartime past. But despite sitting on the scenic Stanley Peninsula, the school has a dark past: it was once an internment camp.

It's impossible to miss St Stephen's heritage buildings, some of the best preserved in the city. But the school's use as a prison camp for non-Chinese civilians during the Japanese occupation in the second world war is only one part of its rich history, which dates from 1903.

The public can go on a heritage trail, opened in December 2008, to learn more.

Geoffrey Charles Emerson, who wrote the book Hong Kong Internment, 1942-1945: Life in the Japanese Civilian Camp at Stanley, has been a frequent visitor, taking the trail to do research for his book.

Emerson said he was thrilled with the idea of a heritage trail. 'I first visited the school in 1970 because I was attracted by its rich history. The buildings are preserved very well. It is a very valuable history resource for Hong Kong. So little has changed in this place since the war.'

The trail joins up nine historic spots, including the Tang Shiu Kin Sports Field, which is known as 'The Big Field', and the Stanley Military Cemetery.

During the Japanese occupation, the field was turned into a vegetable garden to provide food for the internees.

The cemetery was set up in the early colonial period for British soldiers and their families. It is a beautiful place where wedding couples now go to take pictures.

The site was well preserved because it was at a school, Emerson said. 'There are interment camps in other parts of Asia, such as Singapore and the mainland, but most have been torn down to make way for houses and factories. The one here at St Stephen's College is well kept.'

History teacher Cortia Chung Kwan Kam-sheung was the driving force behind the trail. 'We invite schools, religious organisations and elderly people to visit. Since its opening, we have served more than 1,800 visitors.'

More than 70 students volunteer as guides. Form Three student Chan Man-yan , who has been a guide for the trail since it opened, said it had inspired her interest in history.

'I grew up living near the historic points. I knew they had a rich history, but my father was too busy to share their stories with me. Being a guide for the trail teaches me so much about its history.'

Man-yan said she learned something new on every tour.

'On many occasions school alumni join the tour. They knew a lot about the history of the school, so they were able to add new information to the stack of notes we use to run the tour. It's so fascinating listening to the stories they tell.'

To take the tour, download an application form from www.ssc.edu.hk/ssctrail/eng/docent.html and return it by mail to St Stephen's College, 22 Tung Tau Wan Road, Stanley, Hong Kong, or by fax to 28137311.