Meet the children who saved Lt. Kerr

People

Last weekend I met some of the men and women who, as boys and girls, had helped American pilot Lieutenant Kerr [1] escape from the Japanese. He was shot down over Kai Tak on 11th February 1944 and, despite multiple burns and a broken shoulder, managed to steer his parachute north-east towards the hills.

Here's his description of landing:

…Looks as though I’d land near that road down there. Not good. It was a modern looking cement roadway, dotted with hurrying men. There were a lot of faces looking up. Jeez, I’m going to land in a company of Japanese soldiers – very convenient for them. Some little white buildings…

…The silk canopy of the parachute draped on the roof and side of one of the buildings and there I was, standing on a narrow cement path, trembling with excitement and misgivings, wildly looking around for a way of escape – or something. Look! The men on the road, they’re all running away! Just Chinese laborers and frightened of me. Gosh, maybe I can

Squatter village below Mount Davis

Squatter village below Mount Davis

What: "Tin shacks" in English or "muk uk" (wood house) in Chinese, huts like these sprouted on many of Hong Kong's hillsides in the years after the second world war.

Shacks

They were dangerous places to live. Made of wood and bamboo, there was a constant risk of fire. Heavy rain put out fires, but meant landslips could send the huts crashing down the slope. Typhoon winds could flatten them.

Who: So not somewhere you'd live if you had the choice, but for many there was no choice.

My wife's family lived arrived in Hong Kong in the late 1940s, and started out in a hut like these. They were some of the hundreds of thousands who flocked to Hong Kong at that time, far too many for the existing accommodation to hold. They ended up renting a hut on the hillside above Shek Kip Mei. The hut was destroyed in the great fire of 1953, but the family escaped unharmed. After the fire they were some of the lucky ones who got a place in the new public housing.

Back to this photo, and the only people we can see are

1901. The King's birthday salute.

1901. The fleet fire a salute for the King's birthday

When: A note pencilled on the back of the photo explains:

Hongkong. King Edward's birthday 1901. Men of war firing a salute at noon.

His birthday was the 9th of November, so this photo is exactly 113 years old!

Here is the newspaper's description:

King's Birthday

The Warships in the Harbour, the English mail steamer at Kowloon Wharf and some of the German merchant ships were decorated, rainbow-style, to-day in honour of the birthday of King Edward. A salute was fired at noon by the various warships, and the afternoon was observed generally as a holiday. Monday has been fixed as the official holiday, when offices and stores will be closed. A levee will be held in honour of the occasion at Government House, this afternoon at 4 o'clock.

Page 4, China Mail, 9 Nov 1901

Who: A king? How peculiar.

When the British came ashore at Hong Kong in 1841, Queen Victoria was 21 years old and had reigned for just three years. She would reign for another sixty years, until her death on the 22nd of January, 1901 [1].

It must have seemed strange to have a King's birthday after sixty years of "God save the Queen".

What: Royal Navy ships, and lots of them. This was the time when Britain's navy followed the two-power standard, ie the British fleet should be as strong as the combined forces of any two other countries [2].

Here are closer views of the ships (they appear from left to right in the main photo):

Ancient Trail Walk on the 29th November - all welcome

I hope you'll join me for two of my favourite things: a walk in the countryside, and a chance to learn something new about Hong Kong's history.

This ancient trail is reckoned to be one of the oldest man-made structures still surviving in Hong Kong. There isn't a firm date for when it was built, but it is estimated to be several hundred years old. It was certainly already around when the British leased the New Territories, as it appears on their first survey maps of the area.

Boulder Trackway
Boulder Trackway, by Guy Shirra

Long before any railways or highways, these boulder trackways carried people and trade between the main towns and villages. The one we'll follow originally connected

The people & planes of the HKAAF, 1949-53

Thanks to Gordon Randall for sharing these photos with us. They were taken while he was serving with the Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force (HKAAF) between 1949 and 1953.




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