Where: Cheung Chau Island.
When: No date is given, but it should be 1940 or 1941.
Who: This photo is courtesy of Laura Darnell (née Ziegler), who writes:
I'll call them the luckiest children on Cheung Chau, if not the whole of Hong Kong, because of what they're leaning on...
What: A Royal Navy mine, filled with enough explosives to sink a ship!
The Navy had laid defensive minefields around the entrances to Hong Kong harbour. Unfortunately, stormy weather could break the mines loose from their anchors, and send them onto the beaches at Cheung Chau.
Newspaper reports from the time show it wasn't an isolated incident, and give an idea of the destructive power of the mines:
4th March 1940: A terrific explosion of a mine at the south-east corner of Cheung Island [sic.] occurred about 1.45 o'clock yesterday morning, rudely awakening from their slumber the population of 10,000 and many more people as far away as Kowloon and Hongkong.
The explosion occurred on the rocks below no. 11, Cheung Chau, and was of such force that pieces of shrapnel were found by people throughout yesterday a good distance inland and huge pieces of rock were hurled over 100 feet into the air, some to land on the hillside.
Hongkong Daily Press, page 1.
There were another two explosions that night, thought to be mines hitting nearby islands. Within weeks there were even more:
26th March, 1940: The revelation that no less than seven mines exploded on Good Friday [the 22nd March] alone has been made as a result of enquiries by "Telegraph" reporters.
All of these explosions occurred in the vicinity of Cheung Chau Island, fortunately without causing any danger or loss of life.
At least two other explosions occurred on Saturday and one on Sunday.
The breaking away of these mines is attributed to heavy seas which have been experienced outside the sheltered harbour limits lately.
It is emphasised in this connection that the prevailing currents carry the mines in the general direction of Cheung Chau island.
Hongkong Telegraph, page 1.
The most lethal explosion happened the following year:
10th July, 1941: Some 30 junks and sampans were destroyed on Monday morning when two of the craft were struck by drifting mines off Cheung Chau Island, according to a belated report received by the headquarters of the Hong Kong Chinese Fishermen's Union last night.
Over 100 were killed and injured. Many corpses floating off the Island have since been picked up.
China Mail, page 1.
Note that the mine in the photo above isn't on the sand, which means it's been rolled up the beach to get it into a better place for a photo. Does it mean that the mine had already been made safe by bomb disposal experts, and the children are just posing by the empty casing?
Not according to Laura:
The boys took it apart and there is a nice story that goes with that. It was full of nitroglycerin!
Amazingly, they all lived to tell the tale.