1927 - "Coolies wearing Chinese raincoats"

1927 - "Coolies wearing Chinese raincoats"

Who: "Coolies wearing Chinese raincoats" is written in pencil on the back of the photo.

Men on wharf

They're loading the boat / barge on the left of the photo. We can just make out another man working down in the hold:

73 years ago: Hong Kong's wartime diaries

December, 1941.

73 years ago tensions were high as war with Japan seemed inevitable. On December 8th, those fears were confirmed when Japanese planes attacked Kai Tak, and Japanese soldiers crossed the border into the New Territories. The fighting continued until the British surrendered on Christmas Day.

The end of the fighting marked the beginning of the Japanese occupation, a time of great hardship for Hong Kong's residents. They would have to endure for three years and eight months, until the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, and Hong Kong was liberated shortly afterwards.

What was it like?

Let the people who lived through these times tell you themselves.

We've collected several wartime diaries, and split them into their day-by-day accounts. Each day we send out an email message containing all the diary entries written on that day, 73 years ago.

How to sign up to receive the daily messages?

Please click here to subscribe.

You'll be taken to another screen marked Feedburner (they're the company we use to send out the daily email messages) and asked to enter your email address. Once you've completed that screen, you'll be sent an email message, asking you to confirm your subscription. Click the link in that message and your subscription is activated. Then each day you'll receive an email message with today's diary entries.

It's free of charge, your details stay private, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

What do the daily messages look like?

Here are sample extracts from the messages you'll receive:

  • 30 Nov 1941: "Topper says we are as near war now as we have ever been, that Japan with her militarist Govt. can't very well back down now."
  • 1 Dec 1941: "Government advising further evacuation.  Only hope seems to be that Japs now say they will keep on talks with USA in hope that USA will change viewpoint - that isn't thought likely."
  • 7 Dec 1941: "There must be something in the wind, G.H.Q. staff are preparing to move into Battle HQ, a huge underground structure just behind the Garrison Sgts. Mess."
Extract from Barbara Anslow's Diary
Extract from Barbara Anslow's Diary: "war had been declared"
  • 8 Dec 1941: "I started my birthday with a war. Kowloon bombed about 8AM."
  • 10 Dec 1941: "Sid has been wounded.  Bullet through shoulder.  He told Hospital to phone Mum at the Jockey Club and she went to see him."
  • 13 Dec 1941: "We hear rumours that the Mainland is being evacuated and that the

Meet the children who saved Lt. Kerr


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.


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):


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