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City Weekend

Hong Kong historian blasts construction of water pipe near pillbox as 'desecration' of war relic

But the Water Supplies Department says it is best site for laying pipe without disturbing the area with heavy machinery or large-scale digging

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 October, 2016, 4:01pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 October, 2016, 4:24pm

A second world war historian was shocked to find that the government had installed a fresh water pipe outside a pillbox used in battle during the second world war.

Philip Cracknell, a retired banker who is now a Hong Kong second world war historian, was walking along the Tai Tam Country Trail in Wong Nai Chung Gap and saw the water pipe as he passed the pillbox labelled “pillbox 2”.

“People died there [during] a very heroic stand by two crews. It really is like a war shrine,” he said. “Putting a water pipe a few metres in front of it is a desecration by the government. It’s like putting something like this in front of a grave or military cemetery.”

What the Japanese were doing in Hong Kong before second world war invasion

Cracknell estimated six or seven soldiers died out of a crew of nine or 10 who were defending the area from invading Japanese forces from the pillbox. The survivors were captured and taken to the mess hall where other captured soldiers were held.

According to a spokesman for the Water Supplies Department, the unfinished pipe is a permanent one which supplies fresh water from the Eastern Fresh Water Pumping Station to Tai Tam Reservoir Road Fresh Water Service Reservoir.

The water pipe was built above ground to minimise ground disturbance in the area and to avoid the use of heavy machinery, the spokesman added. He stressed that a two-metre clearance was maintained between the water main and the pillbox.

Cracknell questioned why the department did not lay the water pipe on the opposite side of the footpath, away from any heritage-sensitive structures.

The department spokesman said the sloping terrain on the other side of the footpath posed a safety risk during construction.

During the December 1941 battle of Hong Kong, 2,000 Japanese troops descended on Wong Nai Chung Gap from the northern part of Hong Kong island.

The pillboxes led to hundreds of Japanese casualties, but the city’s defences were eventually overwhelmed by the rival forces.