Major general who led Gurkhas to end deadly skirmish during 1967 riots in Hong Kong

Major general played crucial role in tackling border siege that saw five policemen killed

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 October, 2015, 3:25am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 October, 2015, 3:25am

Controversy over a "rewrite'' of the official police account of the 1967 Hong Kong riots has overshadowed the death last month of a British major general at the centre of a skirmish near the border in which five policemen were killed.

Ronald McAlister, who was 92, commanded the 1st Battalion 10th Princess Mary's Own Gurkha Rifles which relieved a 10-hour siege involving more than 300 armed Chinese militia and demonstrators at Sha Tau Kok.

Another 11 policemen were wounded in the incident, but the Hong Kong police force's official account of the events on its website - which makes no mention of McAlister's role - wrongly reports the number of injured as nine.

Born in Gloucestershire in 1923, McAlister followed his father into the military, travelling to India in 1942 for his first of many postings across Asia, including Borneo where his bravery won him the Military Cross.

In Hong Kong, McAlister commanded the 500-strong battalion which was brought in after rioters attacked a police post and a police reserve company came under machine gun fire. Historians believe the skirmish changed the colonial government's previously unassertive approach to the crisis.

"The incident left the Hong Kong government little choice but to respond," said Professor Ray Yep, a political scientist at City University who specialises in the period in which simmering anti-colonial feeling led to violent clashes between communist sympathisers and police.

"What followed was a more aggressive approach in tackling the protesters - searches of leftist premises, arrest of ringleaders and so on," he said, adding that the removal of then police commissioner Edward Tyrer, who had been unwilling to take tough action on the confrontation, signified London's new stance.

The skirmish, which killed four constables - two Pakistani and two Chinese - and a Chinese corporal, began in the early hours on July 8, but it was only at 1.10pm that McAlister was ordered to clear the territory. By 5pm, police were evacuated and Sha Tau Kok village reclaimed.

One month later, McAlister and a fellow officer were held captive for one night in Man Kam To after villagers protested against wire blocking their path.