Join us on a walk around Hospital Hill in Wanchai, looking for signs of the air-raid tunnel network that was dug under this hill. The hill is currently the site of the Ruttonjee Hospital, but at the time of the second world war you’d have found the Royal Naval Hospital located here.
Some sections of the tunnels were repaired shortly after the war in the 1950’s, but it appears that other repairs were made even before the war had ended. The 1980’s survey noted that some of the concrete reinforcements have Japanese characters written on them, suggesting that the repairs were made during the occupation. It is the only network I’m aware of that was repaired by the Japanese, so why was this tunnel singled out? Was it near a particularly important site for the Japanese? Or did they make use of all the tunnels, and this was the only network whose condition was bad enough to need repairs?
The 1950’s work also included backfilling and sealing large sections of the tunnels. Other sections were removed more recently when the Ruttonjee hospital was built. So, what’s still visible today? I used to work in Wanchai, but hadn’t ever noticed any signs of the tunnel, so I didn’t have high hopes. I was pleasantly surprised though, and found many of the portals are still clear to see – if you know where to look.
For the first one, you don’t need to look at all – just follow your nose. Behind Wanchai Market on Queen’s Rd East you’ll see /smell this rubbish collection point.
On the back wall you can just see the concrete pillars that are on either side of the portal 61. They’re easier to see if you walk up the concrete staircase behind the market, and look down.
Then if you look down on the other side of the staircase, you’ll see portal 62.
Close up, it’s in relatively good condition. Although I didn’t notice it at the time, looking at the photo now you can clearly see the number ‘62’ painted on the right pillar. It’s the first time I’ve seen a portal with its number shown – but I should go back and have a look at the photos of other portals, as I wasn’t looking for the numbers before.
These pillars with their vertical grooves are often the first sign of a portal. This portal gives us a good idea of their use. Take a closer look at the top of the left pillar:
You can see the groove has a metal rail, and at the top is a pulley wheel. Moving round to the other side of the pillar we see:
There’s another groove, with a concrete block counterweight still in place. So it looks as though the portals had flat doors that would lift up vertically, with concrete counterweights connected via cables to help make it easier. Several of the portals on this walk have one or both counterweights still present.
There’s not much of a chance to look inside, as the iron door doesn’t have any vent or grill. You can just make out a small rust hole in the bottom of the door though. Luckily it was large enough to poke my little camera lens through. The view inside is much the same as the others we’ve seen.
Portals 63 and 64 are no longer in sight, as the hillside was excavated when this access road was built.
The road runs past the North end of the market building, from Wanchai Road up to the Ruttonjee Hospital. Although the portal 63 is gone, as you turn into the access road you can still see the curve of its tunnel roof showing through the sprayed concrete on the hillside.
Portal 64 would have been a little further along this road, but there’s no sign of the portal or its tunnel now.
Look on the left of the road though, and you’ll see these strange stone shapes, as spotted previously by Bush.
Can anyone identify them? To me they look like decorations for the top of some main gateposts?
A little way beyond the stone shapes, you can see a green roof covering the staircase down to Wanchai Road.
Although the roof is modern, the steps and arched doorway look to be much older. I hoped that since they were old, they marked the wartime line of the wall, meaning we’d have a good chance to see the other portals in this area.
Looking to the right though, you can see a white concrete retaining wall had been built fairly recently.
It covers the older stone wall, and so hides any sign of Portal 65.
Portal 66 emerged some way back from this wall line, and is buried under the access road we just walked along.
How about Portal 67, which should be to the left of the arched doorway? Here’s the view to the left…
Lots more fresh concrete, so it doesn’t look very hopeful. But look carefully just to the right of the grey aircon duct, and you can see a couple of familiar looking grooved pillars.
Walk along the alley, and there’s no doubt of the shape.
This portal is high off the ground, but the concrete staircase to reach it is still there. Unfortunately it seems to have been taken over by the local hardware shop as their storage area, so this is as close as I could get.
So we retrace our steps to the arched doorway, then walk out to Wanchai Road and turn right. Follow Wanchai Road around then when you reach Bullock Lane, turn right and walk towards Wanchai Park.
Just before the park is a small sitting out area on the right, and a narrow lane behind the buildings shown on the right edge of this photo.
Peer down the lane and you’ll see another pair of grooved pillars.
This set belongs to portal 68. It’s also set high in the wall, but this time there’s no sign of any staircase or ladder to reach the level of the tunnel.
Walk back towards the park, and as you reach the entrance you’ll be standing in front of this wall.
Portal 69 should have been in the centre of the picture – probably raised like the last two, No sign of it now though.
Finally, if you walk into the park and look up to your right, you’ll see this concrete block sticking out of the hillside.
This is the tunnel that led to portal 70, the last of the portals for this network.
As always, if you have any stories, information, or history to share about these tunnels and this part of Hong Kong, we’d love to hear from you.
PS You can read more about the history of Hospital Hill in the earlier Mount Parish History article.