Lay to rest the ghosts of cruelty past

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 December, 2011, 12:00am


I have never seen a ghost, and neither do I expect to, given that they do not exist. However, should I ever see one it may well be somewhere like that second world war bunker that looms over Tai Tam Gap, just up the road from the war cemeteries at Chai Wan.

The bunker guards the roundabout where the road splits left towards Shek O and straight down to Stanley. Seen from the road outside, the black holes from which machine guns once peered do not expose much. There is no obvious reason, either, why these machine-gun ports should face south rather than north, from where the Japanese were expected to come. Perhaps the bunker's south-facing design was intended as some kind of ambush, to shoot the invaders from behind once they thought they had captured the gap. This deviousness adds to the place's creepiness.

Thanks to a photograph in yesterday's newspaper, those of us deterred from entering that bunker, overgrown with vines and covered in detritus, now know what is going inside - no ghosts, but bats; scores of them clinging to the roof above the heads of the photographer and the researcher who dared to venture within. The two men were part of a survey team that has found more than 100 such sites over the past 10 years, with a view to having them declared monuments.

The second world war still haunts us, but it is not through visits from spectral beings in the dark. This week, for example, Japan offered its belated, but heartfelt, apologies for its treatment of the 1,600 Canadians captured here in December 1941. Tortured and used as slaves, they were among the luckier ones. Similar apologies have been offered to others in years gone by.

If the wartime bunkers are declared monuments it would not be too soon. Some day there will be no one left to apologise to, and it will be left to places such as these - haunted only by bats, probably - to remind us of the cruelty of another age.