Hong Kong WWII military site deserves sprucing up so people can visit, learn about history, experts say
- Complex of installations at Jubilee Battery mostly in good condition, but shrouded in vegetation
- Area’s history includes periods when Kuomintang soldiers, squatters and detainees were there
Researchers from the University of Hong Kong want a deserted World War II site in western Hong Kong Island to be turned into a conservation park instead of being left neglected and covered by overgrown vegetation.
They say Jubilee Battery, a complex of military installations built by the British as World War II loomed, deserves to be cleared of overgrown vegetation and repaired to provide better access to the public.
The place provided an understanding of what happened in Hong Kong during the Japanese invasion of December 1941, said Professor Lawrence Lai Wai-chung, an expert in urban planning from HKU’s real estate and construction department.
He believed it was also worth considering for heritage grading and conversion into a park.
The battery, built along the coastline below Mount Davis, includes three gun emplacements with prepared artillery positions for coastal defence, and three so-called defence electric lights, or fortified structures from which spotlights were shone to track down targets.
The site also has an engine room used to supply electricity to the defence electric lights. Several thick cement magazines in the area were used for storing ammunition.
One of the defence electric lights appears to be in its original state, while the others have been slightly modified. Most of the emplacements, magazines and the engine room remain well preserved too.
Calls to repair the battery surfaced after news in February that a wall of one emplacement was demolished accidentally during construction of the University of Chicago branch campus in Victoria Road.
The emplacement can be seen near the main entrance to the campus.
Lai and others interested in Hong Kong’s military sites drew attention to the little-known Jubilee Battery complex.
Although located at an easily accessible scenic coastal spot with public transport nearby, some parts of the site are unsafe because of severe soil erosion and overgrown vegetation engulfing the road, which has been fenced off by the authorities.
Lai said his team first visited the area in 2009, but the dense vegetation hindered their investigation. Then some large trees were blown down during major typhoons, and it became possible to identify the military features.
The battery was completed in 1939 by the British, and witnessed heavy fighting during the Battle of Hong Kong in December 1941. Japan occupied Hong Kong from then until 1945.
In the post-war period, the area was occupied by squatters and used by the colonial police until the 1990s.
“This place is a very important landmark that shows what happened to Hong Kong,” Lai said. “You can also witness colonial military heritage, post-war refugee settlements and post-war industrial development.”
The British used the battery area to house Kuomintang nationalist revolutionary army soldiers who retreated from mainland China after being defeated by the Communist Party in the civil war from 1945 to 1949.
Historian Ko Tim-keung said: “I don’t know exactly where the KMT people were sheltered, but it should have been all over the battery area.”
He said the area was later home to between 2,000 and 3,000 residents of Hoi Pong Village, whose homes extended along Victoria Road, on hill slopes and possibly around the battery.
He believes the government demolished the village for safety reasons after a major typhoon in 1983.
“The squatter huts were built along very steep and dangerous slopes, and made of simple, primitive building materials. Just think of a super typhoon striking the area, you have to admire the guts of those who lived there,” Ko said.
Lai said there were several factories in the area, producing spices and textiles.
The section of the emplacement that was demolished at the university site was initially mistaken for newer servant quarters added after the battery was built. It was later verified to be part of the original structure.
The university also revitalised the Victoria Road Detention Centre, which was built in the early 1950s as a recreational facility for the British Royal Engineers Regiment, and later used to house left-wing detainees amid the riots of 1967.
According to a spokesman for the University of Chicago, the affected gun emplacement and parts of an underground ammunition store fell within the site, while the rest were on government land. The underground ammunition store had been preserved in its original condition and closed to the public with a gate managed by the government to prevent vandalism, the university said.
The university, which also runs guided tours of the heritage sites near the campus, added it would continue to educate the public by improving the content of its exhibits.
According to the Development Bureau, the Victoria Road Detention Centre and the gun emplacement within the university were classified as a grade three heritage sites. The two other batteries outside campus grounds are located on unleased and unallocated government land. The Lands Department was also open to clearing away weeds on government land as necessary if they received a complaint.
Meanwhile, the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) plans to conduct a preliminary study on the ungraded parts of Jubilee Battery, and was open to opinions from the public and other stakeholders.
So far, six battery sites have been graded by the AMO. But Lai pointed out that other similar sites had not yet been graded, including Pak Sha Wan Battery and Aberdeen Battery.
Urging heritage officials to pay closer attention to the city’s military history, Ko said hardly any Antiquities Advisory Board members knew Hong Kong’s military history well.
“I think the AMO should look into finding someone who is familiar with military history and war, maybe from overseas, to cooperate and look into Hong Kong,” he said.