1943 - 1952

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 November, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 November, 2003, 12:00am

Britain retakes colony

On September 5, 1945, the Union Flag was hoisted over Stanley Internment Camp in a simple ceremony that marked the restoration of British control of Hong Kong.

For those who survived internment it was a moving moment. But they had no idea that outside the camp, life had perhaps been harder, more uncertain and more dangerous than inside. The 1941 population of 1.6 million, swollen by refugees from China, had shrunk to 600,000. The city was battered; services had been destroyed. The harbour was choked by sunken ships.

After an absence of three years, eight months and six days, during which the Hong Kong News, a Japanese-run daily, was put out on its presses, the Post was back on the streets. Its flimsy editions carried stories of what had happened to former residents scattered during the war.

As Royal Marines escorted the Japanese garrison into camps, Japanese civilians were also interned. The official surrender took place at the Peninsula hotel on September 16, where Japanese officers handed over their swords before being interned.

On October 19, the Post published an advertisement from the British Military Administration inviting anyone who had been tortured or who had witnessed atrocities during the war to make a statement at its offices. The time for vengeance was at hand.

As gaunt expatriate survivors emerged from internment camps in Hong Kong and other Asian cities formerly occupied by the Japanese, they were processed by civil authorities or the Red Cross for repatriation.

Berths were highly prized: there was little spare room on ships bound for Britain for all the civilians who wished to leave. For several months after the surrender, some liberated in-ternees were still living in camps across Hong Kong or were billeted with local families.

On October 7, 1945, British aircraft carrier HMS Colossus arrived in Hong Kong carrying 121 members of the Hong Kong Volunteers, who had been taken to Japan during the war. Some were survivors of the SS Lisbon Maru, which had been packed with 1,800 prisoners of war on their way to Japanese work camps when it was sunk off Shanghai. The prisoners were in closed holds when the ship went down; 973 soldiers, mostly British, died.

For years after the war, mines and other ordnance claimed lives on land and at sea. More than 400 people died when the 650-tonne steamship Hai Chu hit a mine near the Pearl River in November 1945. There were 2,000 Nationalist soldiers aboard heading to Hong Kong to catch a vessel to Shandong. Three years later, the Hong Kong-Cheung Chau ferry Man Kwong hit a mine off Peng Chau.

Astonishingly, the ferry was towing a junk loaded with matches. The explosion was heard for many kilometres and the ferry went down swiftly: when a police launch arrived, only 30 centimetres of her funnel was showing. More than 20 passengers were killed.

Mao's revolution China

There was 'jubilation everywhere' on October 1, 1949, said the Post, when 'people's leader' Mao Zedong, 56, proclaimed the foundation of the People's Republic of China in a broadcast to the nation from Beijing. The Kuomintang had collapsed and a new people's government had supplanted it.

The Post noted it took Mao (left) only five minutes to read his statement, in which he named Zhou En-lai premier of the new China. Both were among officials in the new government who watched the military parade that followed the announcement.

But the Post warned in an editorial on October 4 that the celebrations among unionists in Hong Kong were 'slightly ominous'. It continued: 'Hong Kong is not the place for anti-British and anti-imperialist tub-thumping.'

On October 8, 1949, a file of communist guerrillas marched into Shataukok under their new red banner. They stayed on the Chinese side of the border, making speeches in Hakka to residents. They also spoke to Sub-Inspector Robert Oliver, the British policeman in charge of the station on the Hong Kong side of the border.

Meanwhile, thousands of Kuomintang soliders were retreating from the area, tramping towards the coast where a fleet of junks and other commandeered vessels would evacuate them from Guangdong.

Hundreds of rioting hawkers stoned police and soldiers and attacked Europeans and Indians in Kowloon in brief but bloody riots in October 1946.

The violence was triggered by months of police raids aimed at keeping key streets clear of illegal vendors. Finally, the hawkers decided to resist and a bloody clash followed in Portland Street, Yau Ma Tei. A 30-year-old peanut hawker was killed; an Indian police constable was later charged with manslaughter but conflicting evidence meant the charges were eventually dropped.

The disturbances spread to Mongkok and shots were fired at police. After three days of unrest the trouble peaked on October 28, when the peanut hawker was buried. As about 1,000 people followed the funeral possession, fireworks packed with sand designed to blind victims were thrown at police and rioters shouted 'strike the Europeans'.

Steel-helmeted police baton-charged a mob in Nathan Road and gradually gained control; many rioters arrested for stone throwing were ordered to be caned by the courts. After a few days, peace returned to the refugee-packed streets of Kowloon.

Cathay Pacific in first hijacking

The world's first aircraft hijacking took place on July 16, 1948, and resulted in the deaths of 26 passengers and crew. A Cathay Pacific Catalina flying boat left Macau for Hong Kong at 6pm that day on a routine flight, but crashed into the Pearl River estuary. The sole survivor, Wong Yu-man, was found unconscious and taken ashore on a fishing boat.

Five of the 12 bodies found in the wreck were naked and all jewellery had been removed. Investigators also discovered spent revolver rounds. Among the passengers had been four millionaires, one of whom had been carrying $500,000 cash. Rumours, never proved, circulated that a large cargo of gold had been aboard the aircraft.

After two weeks of questioning, Macau Police Commissioner L. A. M. Paletti revealed that Wong, 24, had confessed to the hijacking, telling how he and three companions bought tickets in false names, dressed smartly and carried hidden guns when they boarded the plane. One had learned to fly in Manila.

They intended to take over the aircraft, land in a remote location and hold the customers to ransom. But the Catalina pilot and co-pilot, a Canadian and a Scot, tried to fight off the hijackers. They opened fire, the aviators fell onto their controls and the aircraft crashed. Wong, clutching a life vest, was thrown out of the plane. He was never charged. A mainlander, he had committed no crime there; nor could Portugal find an offence with which to arraign him. And with no air-piracy laws in Hong Kong, he could not stand trial here. He was eventually released.

TWO POWERFUL RIVAL bidders pursued the old City Hall site in Central in April 1947, driving the price up to a record $250 a square foot. On bidder was tycoon Sir Robert Ho Tung; the other was the Bank of China, which needed larger premises. The bank won with a bid of $3,745,000 for the 14,890-square-foot site.

THE BRUTAL MURDER OF TWO popular Catholic priests shocked Hong Kong in 1953. Father Peter Ngai, 53, and John Baptist Cheng, 35, were beaten to death in their quarters at Holy Souls' Church in Star Street, Wan Chai.

Their bodies were discovered when parishioners waiting for them to conduct morning mass raised the alarm. Both had extensive head injuries and their rooms had been ransacked.

Priests in white led a procession of more than 4,000 grieving men, women and children at the funeral.

PANIC SWEPT THE typhoon shelters of Hong Kong in summer 1951. Fisherfolk were terrified by bizarre rumours that a band of lepers from a camp in China were trying to cut out the hearts of healthy people to eat them, and so cure the disease.

Doctors failed to staunch the rumours, which first gripped the floating communities on June 17, when police were called to Shau Kei Wan. There they found fishermen shooting into the water and claiming lepers with daggers had tried to climb aboard their boats.

A few hours later the story had reached Causeway Bay typhoon shelter; there were gunshots and uproar and men armed with choppers stood watch on their junks. The Secretariat for Chinese Affairs held press conferences and met welfare societies to calm fears.

Leprosy was a social issue for decades and terror of being infected meant sufferers were driven from their homes to die sad, lonely and lingering deaths, even though, by the 1950s, it was widely known the disease could be cured.

ALL 23 PEOPLE ABOARD a Cathay Pacific Dakota died when the aircraft crashed above Braemar Reservoir, North Point, in February 1949. The plane, heading for Kai Tak from Manila, had made a normal approach, although patches of fog were reported.

THERE WAS NO WARNING for the 1,000 passengers on the 1.55pm express train from Guangzhou, when the locomotive jumped the tracks 15 kilometres north of Shenzhen on September 1, 1948. Heavy rains had washed away the rail supports; most of the 25 people killed died instantly.

WHEN THE GUANGZHOU EXPRESS arrived at Kowloon on June 21, 1947, railwaymen made a gruesome discovery. On top of one carriage they found the body of a young man with serious head injuries. Police enquiries showed Leung Kwai-pui of Shenzhen had been riding on the carriage roof to avoid paying the fare. They believed he had been sitting upright when the train rattled through Gill's Cutting near Tai Po Market and his head hit a low bridge.

Mountain of gold

A Philippines Airlines DC3 approached Kai Tak airport in thick rain and fog in January 1947. The pilot came in 50 metres too low and his aircraft crashed near the peak of the 578-metre Mount Parker. All four crew members on the freighter were killed.

The plane was carrying US$15 million worth of gold bars and coins destined for seven banks. Initial press reports said the aircraft had gone down in 'pirate-infested waters' south of Hong Kong. Then a Shau Kei Wan villager told police something was burning high on the mountain. Police parties were dispatched to prevent looting and almost all the 2.5 tonnes of gold was recovered.

AN 80-STRONG GANG OF BANDITS heavily armed with rifles, machine guns and revolvers terrorised the area from Yuen Long to Deep Bay in spring 1948 after attacking a police launch.

Determined to stamp them out, two RAF Sunderland Flying Boats took contingents of the Indian Emergency Police to Deep Bay; Marine Police launches steamed towards the area, and on land parties of police advanced towards Lau Fau Shan.

The hills echoed with gunfire as police and bandits battled through the day and after dark. The hunt by land, sea and air by 200 officers was 'unprecedented in the crime-fighting history of the colony', the Post said, and led to the gang's dispersal.


Many 1940s robbers shot first and asked questions later. Numerous criminals turned out to be deserters from armies in China or former soldiers; all were trained killers. In March 1949 a three-man gang entered Fat Cheong Bank in Des Voeux Road, Central. They shot two employees, stuffed $100,000 into bags and escaped, murdering a passing policeman by shooting him three times.

Ten convicts were stabbed in three days of unrest in Stanley Prison in 1947, when inmates staged food protests. Those who wanted to eat fought with those who called for a hunger strike.

In the desperate post-war years, the sale of children was common. Unemployed labourer Chan Yuk, 46, was jailed for six months in 1947 for selling his seven-year-old son. The boy had fetched $82.

In 1950 the Post trumpeted how the colony's first policewoman, Detective Sub-Inspector Kimmy Koh, formerly of the Shanghai police, did 'a man's job'. The story also noted she carried a gun. 'I haven't shot anyone - yet,' said Koh.

Chau Leung-fun was hanged in August, 1947, despite an appeal to the governor from the Chiu Chow Association. At his trial, evidence was given that the labourer had chopped a vegetable hawker to death because he suspected he was having an affair with his wife. His lawyer argued it was the custom and law among Chiu Chow people that cuckolds should kill adulterers.

Hong Kong needs to help itself

When Sir Alexander Grantham made his first speech as the new governor in July 1947, he had a simple message: Hong Kong had to help itself. The colony had to work in the 'friendliest and closest cooperation with our mighty friend and neighbour, China' he told a reception at the King's Theatre.

The 22nd governor had one other burning ambition: to make the University of Hong Kong a global beacon of enlightenment and culture. He also spoke of the importance of having an unofficial majority in the Legislative Council, until then dominated by colonial civil servants.

THE LANTAO HANDICAP, run over six furlongs at Happy Valley in 1947, was won by two lengths by Rose Emme. One punter pocketed $345,645 in a special cash sweep.

Letters to the editor

In September 1948, 'Nibs' wrote to suggest taxi drivers carry at least $5 in change. 'When one takes two or three rides a day, the rounded-up fare to $3 from a $2.20 or $2.40 trip is an abominable and most deplorable racket,' he pro-tested to the Post.

In November 1948, 'An-other Victim' wrote about the mahjong menace. 'For weeks I can hardly rest on account of these crazy women who bang on the table, with no respect for others, at any time of night. Gambling is illegal. When is mahjong not gambling?'

'Frightened' wrote imploring the authorities to take action against 'vicious begging' by some refugees from China. 'A beggar banged on my car door cursing until I was forced to give him money. Protection by the police is really necessary.' It was March 1951.

HONG KONG was in charitable mood in summer 1947. Although peace, not prosperity, had returned, the public still raised $1,696,219 for the War Memorial Fund. And when Guangdong was hit by extensive flooding, Hong Kong donated $1.4 million.

LABOUR UNREST HAUNTED HONG KONG in 1947: throughout the year there were threats of stoppages by workers in many industries. When the Chinese Engineers' Institute threatened to strike in August, there were fears of a repeat of the crippling general strikes of the 1920s.

When demands for a 150 per cent wage increase were refused, 7,800 engineers downed tools. The KCR stopped running, docks were quiet. The gas company closed and Dairy Farm produced no milk. The Post reported an immediate jump in food prices caused by 'stupid panic and hoarding'.

Workers demanded basic pay increases from $2 to $5 a day. But after innumerable stoppages, fears of a widespread general strike faded. Negotiations went on for more than a month, after which Commissioner for Labour B. C. K. Hawkins announced all disputes were settled and that basic wages would rise by 50 per cent.

GAMBLING IN MACAU WOULD be banned by 1949, the Portuguese consul in Guangzhou, Jose Calvet, claimed in 1947. There were 12 gambling houses in the enclave and three would be closed every three months until they were all shut, he said. Opium smoking, he pointed out, had already been eradicated.

Smallpox kills hundreds

In November 1946, about 25,000 people a week were being vaccinated against smallpox, which was spreading rapidly through the festering shacks that were home to tens of thousands of squatters.

'Many hundreds of cases have been reported, with two-thirds of them fatal,' a health official told the Post. Vans with loudspeakers toured the city to inform people injections were available. That month, there were 820 cases and 530 deaths. As with Sars 57 years later, the superstitious and ignorant hid in their homes and refused treatment. This 'stupid practice' added to the difficulty of fighting the disease, said an editorial.

Government health officers made house-to-house inspections looking for the sick, and those who failed to report smallpox were fined $40.

Dry run

People peered anxiously into the sky in summer 1948 as two small aircraft weaved in and out of the clouds over Hong Kong. The rainy season was late and levels in reservoirs low; pilots from the Aero Training School were trying to seed clouds with ice to produce a downpour. One aircraft carried the ice, the second a government observer. The ice was sprinkled on a likely cloud, to no effect. The next day they tried again. The sun shone brilliantly.

FORMER WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT boxing champion Joe Louis (the 'Brown Bomber'), fought exhibition bouts in Hong Kong in 1951. He had retired unbeaten in 1949, having held the title for almost 12 years.


The bathing-cap hat was a best seller in September 1952. Hugging the hairline, it was usually made of plain material decorated with a glittering clip of flowers and a ribbon on the side.

In 1951, women's fashion dropped manly suits and urchin cuts. Skirts were fuller and hats were made 'larger and more romantic'.

The Allegro, first sold by Maiden Form in 1949, was a new style of bra. Promising to give 'average bosoms beautifully rounded lines', it came in broadcloth or satin.

There were 13 cases of rabies in the first half of 1950. All were fatal.

Tuberculosis was a stubborn killer, but to help fight it the Ruttonjee family donated $800,000 in 1948 and 1949 to renovate the former Royal Naval Hospital as a TB sanatorium. Despite the Ruttonjees' endowments, in one week in June 1950, 187 cases of tuberculosis were reported, with 49 deaths. By February the next year the rate of new TB infections was a frightening 520 a week on average, with 72 deaths. The government opened X-ray stations and clinics and two large white vans with X-ray equipment took inspections to remote New Territories villages.


Hong kong and China


June 30

Military currency replaces Hong Kong money

Nov 25

Civil servants ordered to sit Japaneselanguage test

Dec 25

Second anniversary of occupation; population 900,000, down from 1.6 million



Reconstruction of Government House; Japanese add tower


First Japanese horseraces at Happy Valley

June 4

Trams halt service

Nov 11

Water restrictions announced


Aug 15

Japanese Emperor surrenders unconditionally

Aug 18

Villagers in Silvermine Bay, massacred by Japanese troops

Sept 16

Japanese surrender Hong Kong to the British

Nov 11

Military controls lifted; Hong Kong again a free port


July 30

Star Ferry staff strike

Sept 24

Cathay Pacific Airways founded



New China News Agency (Xinhua) sets up Hong Kong branch

Aug 9

Hong Kong resumes trade with Japan and Germany

Nov 27

Government orders Kowloon Walled City residents to move out


Mar 3

Two-minute earthquake rocks city


Dec 1

45 primary schools begin afternoon classes, lessons for 10,000 pupils


Feb 16

TB clinics open as disease spreads

Dec 10

Barrister Patrick Yu Shuk-siu appointed first Chinese prosecutor


Feb 9

Queen Elizabeth II crowned

Nov 9

Sisters of the Precious Blood establish seven-storey orphanage

Around the world


Jan 5

World's largest office building, The Pentagon, is dedicated

Jan 9

Soviet planes drop leaflets in Stalingrad telling the Germans to surrender

Sept 3

Italy signs secret armistice with the Allies


Apr 3

Black citizens in the US granted right to vote

June 6

D Day. Allied troops land in Normandy; US troops formally join European theatre of war

Aug 24

Allied troops liberate Paris


Feb 4

Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin hold conference in Yalta, Ukraine

May 8

Germany surrenders; war in Europe formally ends

Aug 6

First nuclear bomb dropped, on Hiroshima; 140,000 killed instantly

Aug 14

V-J Day. Japanese surrender, ending WWII


Jan 6

Ho Chi Minh becomes president of Democratic Republic of Vietnam

Dec 11

United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) founded


June 5

Marshall Plan proposed to help European countries recover from war

July 26

CIA founded

Aug 15

Indian independence from Britain; Pakistan founded


Jan 30

Gandhi assassinated in New Delhi

Apr 1

Truman begins Berlin airlift to counter Soviet blockade

May 14

Israel established as an independent state


Oct 26

Mother Teresa founds Mission of Charity in Calcutta


Jan 9

United Nations headquarters opens in New York


Apr 1

Big Bang theory proposed in Physical Review by Alpher, Bethe and Gamow

June 16

Anne Frank: Diary Of A Young Girl published in US

July 26

Argentina's first lady, Eva Peron, dies at 33