Hong Kong British Army veterans: 'We have become the forgotten soldiers'

Hong Kong's British Army veterans find the city's role in the military history of its former colonial ruler is news to today's servicemen

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 November, 2013, 6:21am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 November, 2013, 10:36am

Hong Kong British Army veterans visiting London in their fight to win right of abode found their role in the former colonial ruler's history forgotten as they bought poppies for Remembrance Day, which falls today.

"We saw a captain selling poppies at Holborn tube station. We approached him and made our donations. When we told him that we were from Hong Kong and have also served in the UK army, he didn't believe us," said Roger Ching Yuen-ki, chairman of the British-Chinese Soldiers' Benevolent Association, who was leading the delegation of 13.

His colleague Alain Lau Sing-wah then showed his military pin yet the captain still looked unsure. "Nowadays, few in the young generation know about the existence of Hong Kong in the UK's history. We feel a bit sad because we are being abandoned," Ching said.

To help raise awareness of Hong Kong veterans' past contribution to the United Kingdom, the delegation gave interviews to historians at the National Army Museum and held a fund-raising dinner at the Houses of Parliament.

The group was also on a push to get British right of abode for all Chinese Hong Kong veterans who served in the British Army.

Under the British Nationality Selection Scheme launched in 1990, 50,000 Hong Kong families were given British right of abode.

Among the places allocated to members of the disciplined services, 500 were given to military personnel under a points system based on criteria including rank. An estimated 1,600 members of the former Hong Kong Military Service Corps and the Hong Kong Royal Naval Service missed out.

Last year, a group of former soldiers set up the Campaign for Abandoned British-Chinese Soldiers Left in Hong Kong to fight for full British citizenship for these veterans and their families. More than 400 veterans have expressed their interest in applying for British passports and the soldiers' benevolent association is supporting the battle.

While only a minority of Hong Kong veterans have settled in Britain, those denied the right believe they should be entitled to it regardless of whether they choose to move.

Since the start of the campaign last year, 26 out of 650 members of the House of Commons have signed a motion backing their claim to right of abode. The campaigners hope to get 100 signatures in all. Even then, chances of securing a debate in the Commons are slim.

In a second line of attack, three of the campaigners have volunteered to apply for British passports as test cases. However, association vice-chairman Ho Sui-tong said they were unlikely to take the cases to court as the chance of winning a lawsuit was also considered slim.

Despite a new wave of discussion of emigration among Hongkongers amid growing discontent over socio-political developments, the former colonial soldiers said their fight was unrelated to these complaints.

Harry Wong Hi-kwong, who served from 1986 to 1992 in the Royal Army Medical Corps and the Royal Military Police, applied unsuccessfully for the nationality selection scheme prior to the 1997 handover.

Wong said he had no plans to emigrate but thought the British government owed its former servicemen some answers. "What I am asking for now is just a proper explanation." He also said the right to British citizenship would be a safety net for his daughter, now four.

William Santos, a third-generation British Hongkonger who has worked in three units in the army, said he had British citizenship but wanted to fight for right of abode for his 17-year-old daughter.

"It is not that we see Hong Kong as chaotic now, but we believe we deserve the right."