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Hong Kong's second world war history

Secret wartime agents who defied Japanese during occupation of Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 August, 2015, 2:53am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 August, 2015, 2:53am

With people like Kay Chinn Mah, the British Army Aid Group (BAAG) served as an important intelligence unit active in southern China and Hong Kong during wartime. Their secret contributions became known only after the second world war.

The group was founded by Colonel Lindsay Ride (1898-1977), an Australian soldier, physiologist and musician in Hong Kong, after he escaped from the Sham Shui Po prisoner-of-war camp to the mainland with the help of local communist guerillas. He later became vice chancellor of the University of Hong Kong, four years after the war ended.

The BAAG was formally launched in Kukong (now known as Qujiang), Kwangtung (now known as Guangdong), in May 1942, five months into the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong. Ostensibly its aim was to assist escaped prisoners of war, but its most important agenda was gathering war intelligence and it was classified as a unit of MI9 in Britain.

Most of the leaders were British military officials who had served in the city; agents were mainly Chinese or Eurasians.

"The BAAG played an important role during the war by preventing the effective use of Hong Kong as a Japanese shipping and naval base in the South China Sea," said Dr Kwong Chi-man,a military historian at Baptist University.

Its members monitored Japanese shipping, made contact with prisoners of war and the internees at Stanley Prison, and collected general information about Japanese rule and conditions in the city.

"Such information helped the British to plan and later implement the immediate relief and reconstruction of HK when they returned," said Kwong.

"For example, the BAAG noted that Hong Kong lacked food as early as in mid-1942 - the information allowed the British to plan for food convoys to Hong Kong [Operation Armour] early."

Based on the materials Ride left behind, his son Edwin published a book in 1981 titled BAAG: Hong Kong resistance, 1942-1944 giving an account of the work of the secret unit. Edwin has since died and his sister Elizabeth, 87, is continuing with the research.

"My original aim was only to collect for myself all the information I could find about this unique unit, the BAAG. As I collected, I could see the information might be of interest to many other groups of people, those who wondered how their families fared during this momentous period, how Hong Kong was defended, often boulder by boulder, and the stories of bravery and participation of so many Hong Kong men and women," she told the Sunday Morning Post via e-mail from Norway.

"Not least, of course, the dedication and inspiration of the men and women of the BAAG."