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Kind regards,


PS 'Gwu lo' is roughly how '古老' sounds in Cantonese. It means 'ancient' or 'old-fashioned'.

75 years ago: Hong Kong's wartime diaries

December, 1941.

75 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, 75 years ago.

How to sign up to receive the daily messages?

Please click here to subscribe.

You'll see another screen that asks for 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

7, 10, or 13 years old? A brief history of Gwulo


I had it in my head that this year is the tenth anniversary of Gwulo, but it turns out to be both older and younger than that.


2002 - The beginning: do you remember Gwulo's ancestor, Batgung.com ?

Way back in 2002, two years before Facebook appeared, blogs were the hot topic on the internet.

I was talking with a friend about blogs, and we thought it would be fun to start one about expat life in Hong Kong, so Batgung was born. Here's how it looked on 11th September, 2002. You'll see that fancy visual design wasn't (and still isn't!) a strongpoint:

Batgung.com sceen capture 11 Sep 2002.jpg

(This screenshot comes from the Wayback Machine, a great way to see how websites have changed over the years.)

We posted occasional short articles to the site, and there was also a discussion board where visitors could post messages.


2004 - There's an interest in Hong Kong's history

Some of the early messages on that discussion board were the first signs of what Gwulo would become. Here are the oldest four with a history theme, from thirteen years ago:

1951 View from the Peak over Central to Kowloon

1951 View from the Peak over Central to Kowloon


When: The date for this photo comes from the Bank of China building [1] :

gwulo A430 Bank of China.jpg

The Bank building was finished in November 1951, and here it's nearly done, so this photo was taken sometime in 1951.


Who: The light-coloured patches in the foreground are the tennis courts at the Ladies Recreation Club (LRC) [2]. Their swimming pool looks full, and the umbrellas are out around the pool, so I'll narrow the photo's date down to summer 1951:

gwulo-A430 LRC+pool.jpg

Though we can't make out any individuals, many

Western photographers in 19th century Hong Kong

Terry Bennett has written a three-volume history of photography in China in the nineteenth century. He has previously shared a chapter about early Chinese photographers in Hong Kong, and today he is back with two chapters about the Western photographers.

The first chapter documents the very first commercial photographers in Hong Kong, starting with Mr George West. Sadly, none of his photos are known to have survived, but his watercolours remain as evidence of his abilities:


HOPIC 1 Fig 7.jpg

Fig. 7. George R. West. ‘Chinese Blacksmiths. Macao,’ 1840s.
Watercolour. Caleb Cushing Papers, Manuscript Division,
Library of Congress.


West sailed to China in 1843 as part of Caleb Cushing’s diplomatic mission from America. He was given the title "Artist to the Expedition".

After China and America signed the Treaty of Wanghia, the diplomat's work was done. West could have sailed home with him, but instead stayed on. That decision led to him becoming the first commercial photographer in China, starting out in Canton in 1844, but moving to Hong Kong soon after:

Mr West begs leave to inform the inhabitants of Victoria that he has opened a Photographic or Daguerreotype Room in Peel Street, near Queen’s Road. His room will be open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Single miniatures $3. $2 charged for each additional head in a group.
China Mail, 6th March 1845.

Sketching was his first love, so he went back in to China to continue his work. He tried his best to travel unnoticed:

... he was obliged to disguise himself and adopt the Chinese costume and habits. Having a clear olive complexion, dark eyes and hair, his transformation was complete. Securing the services of a faithful native servant, and generally affecting to be deaf and dumb, Mr West wandered for seven long years through various parts of the Chinese Empire, visiting places never before seen or known to Europeans.

But sometimes even his best precautions weren't enough:

City Hall, Coolies, and the Peak Tram

City Hall

A few weeks back we saw a view of Pedder Street, one of a set of four photos. Today we'll look at the other three, starting with this view of the old City Hall [1] and Dent's fountain [2].

City Hall straddled the sites of today's Old Bank of China and HSBC buildings. The HSBC end of the building housed a theatre, the Theatre Royal [3]. You can see a couple of "TONIGHT' signs for the theatre's shows on the columns at the left:


There's an interesting note on the back of the photo:


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