Between 1956-58 I spent a lot of time on the tiny island of Hong Kong. Its part of China today but back then it could have been considered the last outpost of a fading British Empire. But what an outpost. Of all the places I visited during my 24 years in the Navy, Hong Kong remains the most fascinating place on earth. A person could get just about anything made on this amazing island that was home to millions of Chinese. The Royal Navy was phasing out the heavy uniform wool great coats, new joiners were issued raincoats. A sailor could sell his great coat to a Chinese tailor for a $100 US (a lot of money in 1956) and the tailor could make about three, three piece suits from the material. At lunch time aboard ship we were often invaded by Chinese tradesmen selling there wares. Buying a new pair of shoes required having the outline of each foot drawn on a piece of paper. The following week the shoemaker returned with your made to measure shoes. Buying a shirt or a suit required measurements and a made to measure suit or shirt arrived shortly after. I bought my sister a dinner set once, I wasn’t really aware of what a dinner set included but paid ten pounds sterling ($100 H.K dollars) that included shipping. A couple of months later my sister received five large tea chests in the mail. The chest contained a two hundred piece dinner set. For a few years the fancy bone china set was the talk of our Belfast neighbourhood. Perhaps one childish event that we couldn’t resist was bum burning in a local public toilet. The toilet was set up with approximately ten holes in a row and each hole was separated by a half high partition.One stood to pee and crouched to do number two. Below the holes a small drain with a constant flow of water carried away the waste. Often we’d find two or three locals crouching and reading newspapers. Newspaper was also the toilet paper of choice. We would ball up a large piece of paper set it alight and drop it in the hole at the top end of the flow. The water then carried it the length of the toilet flaming up each hole as it passed. We rarely stayed to see the reaction from the unfortunate users. However we did hear some unusual Chinese swear words!!! Hong Kong was a place of tattoo shops, bars,dance halls,gambling hangouts, and working girls. Venereal disease was rampant in the city and many a sailor fell victim, a few were slow learners and became regulars at the ships sick bay!! The city transport were double deck trams, very similar to the old Belfast trams. Like much of Hong Kong they were segregated, Chinese only downstairs, whites upper deck, the passenger ferries to Kowloon had the same rules. There was no airport in my time although just before I left in 1958 building a runway out into the bay was under way. I imagine that so much change has since taken place I would not recognize the Island today. Nevertheless, I can forever retain those marvelous memories and from time to time relive them in my mind.
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Ah Hong Kong ! ! ! my memories are a few years later than yours my friend. But we do share a love for the last outpost of the British Empire. I too remember the ladies, trams. Ladies, Kowloon and the Star Ferries or did I say ladies? The Chiefs and Po’s Fleet Club made all members of the Brian Mulroney PMO welcome when we visited in the 80s. One of my most poignant visits was the ceremony at the War Cemetary on the Hill overlooking the Bay. We had a Ghurka piper and emotions were certainly running high.
The Sai Wan Bay Memorial was erected at the Sai Wan Bay War Cemetery on the island of Hong Kong to honour those who died in its defence. On this Memorial are inscribed the names of over 2,000 people, 228 of them Canadian, who died with no known grave. Below the memorial, the Sai Wan Bay War Cemetery slopes towards the sea, with a panoramic view of the coastline and distant hills. Here are buried 283 soldiers of the Canadian Army, including 107 who were unidentified. These are among the 1,975 Canadians who sailed from Vancouver in October 1941, to commit to battle during the Second World War in the defence of Hong Kong. The small brigade group consisting of the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles of Canada found itself in action against the Japanese. In total, more than 550 Canadians died in the campaign or in captivity.
Thanks for the Memories
No question Robby, Hong Kong was an amazing place, probably still is. I remember well the China Fleet Club and the smaller Union Jack Club too.