100 years on, Hong Kong's own legacies of war

Timely review of military relics shows links to first world war, which began on July 28, 1914

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 July, 2014, 5:56am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 July, 2014, 8:41am

The bulk of the city's first official review of its crumbling colonial military relics on Hong Kong Island is just weeks from completion, with the lead researcher hoping it will result in better preservation of sites built in the run-up to the first world war - which broke out a century ago today.

Tim Ko Tim-keung, a member of the Antiquities Advisory Board who is handling the project commissioned by the government, said the written part of the review was all but finished, with photography and mapping expected to take a further two to three months.

Ko will then move on to review military relics in Kowloon and the New Territories. His review excludes any military facilities that are still in use and any that have been put to new use.

Historical value aside, the report will serve as a reminder for works departments to take note of these important relics, many of which are not given historic grades.

However, Ko hopes his review will foster a bigger ambition for the relics that lie scattered across the city. "If the government could come up with better planning and strategies, these relics could together form a Unesco cultural heritage site," he said.

"They nicely cover Hong Kong's historical landscape from the 19th century to the Japanese occupation. I couldn't think of another site in Southeast Asia that has a stronger presence in this regard."

For Ko, the city's finest military relics are the Mount Davis forts on Hong Kong Island, built between 1910 and 1912, and the redoubt on Devil's Peak at Yau Tong, in southeastern Kowloon, which was built between 1900 and 1914.

The Great War started on July 28, 1914, and lasted until late 1918. Although a colony of Britain, one of the Allies under the Triple Entente fighting Germany and Austria-Hungary, Hong Kong was not directly involved in warfare. Still, the colonial forces undertook a number of works in preparation for possible attacks.

The Mount Davis and Devil's Peak sites have both been given grade two heritage status - categorising them as buildings of special merit which should be "selectively preserved" - by the Antiquities Advisory Board.

However, the damage at the Devil's Peak site is pervasive. Moreover, a flag pole bearing the national flag has been erected; there are religious statues for walkers to pray at; and a walkway by a trench has been concreted.

There have been mounting calls for the government to take action to preserve the Mount Davis site. A concern group called Friends of Mount Davis also wants to see more historical information displayed for tourists.

When the Development Bureau was asked if the relics could be submitted to Unesco as a possible world heritage site, it said Ko's study would "form a basis for formulation of appropriate preservation measures".