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Discover relics of war in Hong Kong

The discovery of an unexploded bomb in Happy Valley this month was a dramatic reminder of the second world war. We visit three sites that played strategic roles in the ill-fated defence of the city from Japanese invaders, writes Martin Williams

 

Devil's Peak (Pau Toi Shan)

History
When the British acquired the New Territories in 1898, they started work on batteries at Devil's Peak, overlooking the narrow Lei Yue Mun channel.

The Ming dynasty (1368-1643) classified Lei Yue Mun as one of 16 major sea passages. Early occupiers of the hill included Cheng Lin Cheong, a pirate so ferocious that it became known as Devil's Peak.

The British established two gun batteries on the southern slopes, along with a smaller post, and a redoubt on the hilltop. In the late 1930s, the major guns were moved to southern Hong Kong Island. Devil's Peak became the eastern extent of the Gin Drinkers Line.

Once Shing Mun Redoubt and nearby defences had fallen, Devil's Peak became important for covering the retreat to Hong Kong Island. Fighting was especially intense here on December 12, 1941, and that evening and the next morning the remaining forces withdrew. The Japanese then set up artillery on Devil's Peak, pounding Hong Kong Island.

What to see
At the upper Gough Battery, you can clearly see the two circular emplacements that housed a 9.2-inch gun and a six-inch gun. Part of the roof has collapsed, leaving a space where banyans grow by the entrances to the cave-like, solidly built magazine.

Though of considerable historic interest, there's no signage here, nor indication of any official maintenance. Small, Taoist type shrines might honour or placate spirits of the dead.

Near this battery are the remains of a small outpost, above which is the redoubt. There are tremendous, panoramic views.

The lower, Pottinger Battery is now largely hidden by vegetation.

Getting there
From Yau Tong MTR station take exit A1, go past Lei Yue Mun Plaza, walk towards Ko Chiu Road roundabout, and up the road towards Tseung Kwan O Chinese Permanent Cemetery. Turn left and go up the Wilson Trail. As this reaches the ridge, Gough Battery is nearby. There are unmarked trails leading up to the redoubt. You could leave by following the Wilson Trail down to Lei Yue Mun, a fishing village with shanty housing, touristy restaurants, and a ferry to Sai Wan.

 

Shing Mun Redoubt

History
In the late 1930s, with the threat from the Japanese army increasing, the British began building defences for Hong Kong. Chief among these was the Gin Drinkers Line, extending eastwards from above Gin Drinkers Bay (present day Kwai Chung) across the north slopes of the Kowloon hills.

Modelled on France's Maginot Line, this included concrete tunnels, trenches, bunkers and artillery positions. And just like the Maginot Line - which was unable to stop invading Germans during the second world war - the Gin Drinkers Line proved almost useless when the Japanese arrived on December 8, 1941. The defence was supposed to stymie the Japanese advance for three or more weeks, but the Japanese breached it in one night with an attack by a small squad. Two days later, most of the British forces retreated to Hong Kong Island.

What to see
While redoubt means something akin to a fort, the defences here were mainly slender tunnels and trenches. Some have collapsed, but you can still find sections along a trail up Smugglers' Ridge as well as a pillbox, and a command post.

Be careful if you enter the gloomy tunnels. Perhaps take the safer route and view it from outside, and try spotting London street names like Charing Cross and Shaftesbury Avenue.

There's more of the redoubt away from the trail, but you may prefer to hike and enjoy the scenery, perhaps towards Lion Rock, where there are more remnants of the Gin Drinkers Line. With more exploring, you could also find tunnels built by the Japanese.

Getting there
Take a taxi or minibus 82 from near Tsuen Wan station to Pineapple Dam. Walk south across the dam, and turn right soon afterwards, following the MacLehose Trail up to the redoubt.

 

Wong Nai Chung Gap

History
On the evening of December 18, 1941, seven battalions comprising 7,500 battle-hardened Japanese troops landed on the north shore of Hong Kong Island. The island's defences had been organised into East Brigade and West Brigade, with the latter headquartered at Wong Nai Chung Gap.

The Japanese first advanced across the northeast of the island, and the next day arrived at Wong Nai Chung Gap, encountering the fiercest fighting of their invasion of Hong Kong. They captured the gap, and could soon advance further west, leading to British colonial officials surrendering on December 25, 1941 - "Black Christmas".

What to see
Hong Kong's only battlefield trail leads to some of the key war relics here, including two pillboxes that saw fierce fighting but are now amid tranquil woodland. There are vantage points overlooking the nearby area and across the city, with information boards explaining how the invasion proceeded.

The trail ends near a petrol station across the road from the Hong Kong Cricket Club. Bunkers here served as West Brigade headquarters, and on December 19, 1941, it faced not a road and sports ground, but steep hillside, with Japanese soldiers making repeated charges with bayonets fixed.

While photos from 2005 show newly excavated bunkers, it seems they have been little cared for since, and trenches are now littered with plastic bags and soda cans. These scenes aren't surprising in Hong Kong, which has little time for history.

Getting there
The signposted trail starts near the entrance to Hong Kong Parkview.

48hours@scmp.com

 

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