Hong Kong's 'shelter areas'

Submitted by David on Thu, 01/22/2009 - 09:00

Along stage 2 of the Wilson Trail, you'll pass a strange collection of eight low, brick platforms [1]. Each has a concrete top with 8 circular holes – 4 large and 4 medium size. Further on you'll pass a similar single platform, with just two holes cut in the top.

The information board by the single platform suggests they were built in 1938/39 as cooking stoves (the round holes are just the right size right for a wok), as part of a plan to feed the people of Shau Kei Wan in time of war. Photos on the internet refer to them as the 'japanese stoves', suggesting they were built during the Japanese occupation. From what I can find, neither explanation is quite right.

The first explanation is closer. I believe the stoves were built as part of a 'shelter area'. These were one of Hong Kong's preparations to protect its civilians in time of war. (Other preparations included building pen shelters, tunnels, and trench shelters.)

The earliest mention I've found of “shelter areas” is from an article on 8th September 1940 [2], introducing these preparations to the public. It describes splitting Hong Kong Island into shelter areas, and continues:

The “shelter areas” it is proposed, will be located on hillsides, and in the event of a possible air attack on the Colony, people residing in the neighborhood of these “areas”, will be advised to leave their homes, where no protection has been provided, and proceed to the “shelter areas” where they will remain until the danger has passed.

Government will provide materials in the “shelter areas” for the erection of temporary dwellings. Pipes will be laid to supply water.

As they were still only 'proposed' at that time, we can say that the stoves were most likely built sometime between September 1940 and December 1941.

So far I haven't found a firm description of how many areas were created. There were definitely more than one though [3]:

Just below our house [Maryknoll, in Stanley] to the north, the British Government had constructed, as it had in many other places on the island, a refugee camp. Here three large godowns had been erected and just been filled with stores of rice, peanut and coconut oil for cooking purposes. A large open air kitchen also had been constructed, containing about sixty large fireplaces [cf. 64 fireplaces at the Wilson Trail site] with the usual Chinese wok t'au or rice cauldrons, and close by, a huge pile of firewood had been built up. Simple, fabricated refugee shelters had also been planned, but they had not yet been erected. The plan seemed to be that in case of intense bombing or bombardment of the city, the inhabitants could come out to Stanley during the day and stay at these camps, returning at night to their homes, but as a matter of fact, the camps were never put to much use.

I still wonder how these areas were expected to be used. The idea of commuting from the city to one of these shelter areas on a daily basis doesn't seem practical.

Maybe the government was expecting people to just move out from the city and stay in these shelter areas while an extended battle was fought? That would explain the large godowns, 'filled with stores'. Elsewhere we read that “Hongkong had been stocked with supplies for 6 months” [4]. So on Dec 7th 1941, when the Governor broadcast that “Kowloon would be held for a month, and Hong Kong for three months” [5], maybe he really believed it?

I haven't found much information about these shelter areas - just what you see above. I'm hoping you'll be able to add some more. I'm also interested to know whether any more of the old stoves have survived at other locations around Hong Kong?




I lived in Quarry Bay in the 60's and 70's and used to play on these platforms when exploting Mount Parker.  I can remember being told by my father and sister that they were the rice kitchens built in WW2 to feed the colony if it were to be attacked. Not exactly providence in the historic sense but hope this helps to confirm what they are.

Thanks to T & Craig for more information about these.

T introduced a book with more info:

A bi-lingual book called 'Above Quarry Bay - The Eastern District Country Parks' published by Friends of the Country Parks (ISBN 988-201-618-9) mentioned these, started with the Woodside.

Craig has the book, and gave us the relevant section:

“In October 1938, Guangzhou fell under Japanese occupation. Preparing for an imminent attack on Hong Kong by the Japanese, the Hong Kong government put in place various measures. These included preparing food rationing, heightening air raid precautions and first-aid training, and building air raid shelters in densely populated areas. 

Today, on the northwest slopes of Mt Parker, within the boundaries of the Quarry Bat Country Park Extension, are four groups of outdoor stoves from this period still in existence . These are the only know ruins of communal stoves in HK. Not far from these stoves, caves (now sealed) can be found on the hillside. It is uncertain if these caves were connected with the communal stoves, or if they were built by the Japanese in anticipation of Allies recapture of HK in 1945. 

In the 1930’s Shau Kei Wan was the most densely populated area in the Eastern District, and so several hillside air raid shelters were constructed prior to  the outbreak of war. Now, after decades of landscaping and urban development, the shelter that once lied on the roadside are perched on steep slops. 

HK fell into enemy hands in only eighteen days, The communal stoves never served their purpose. After the war, as part of the Eastern District was not seriously affected by urban development, the stoves remained. Today, they have become unusual memorials of the past.” 

He also notes:

There are also a couple of photos showing the remains of the food stores which look like the “Toilet” someone found on Mt Parker, with trees growing through it.

I think it's very unlikely that the 'caves' were to be for storing food. The Maryknoll description, and another description in 'Prisoner of the Turnip Heads'  both talk about Godowns (warehouses) stocked with food. I can't imagine they'd have used damp, narrow tunnels as storage areas.

I spoke with my sister again about these and they are the kitchens mentioned above.  However, there were also loads of tunnels dug into the mountside as well.  It's highly likely that they were dug by the Japanese as ammunition dumps.  Most were found and filled in/ boarded up etc by the old PWD.  There was one that lead from Korn Hill East (which used to be above Saiwan Terrace, just off Kings Road, before Taikoo Shing was built) that was on dockyard property.  They only filled in one entrance, so as kids, we had a great place to hide out.  Unfortunately it was shared by a bloody huge porcupine which frequently scared the the c**p out of us.

The large wok stoves built for the shelter areas seem strange when we're used to cooking in a kitchen. Then last week on a hike from Tung Chung to Tai O we passed these stoves near San Tau village. Only space for two woks, but otherwise very similar to the stoves you can see in the shelter areas along the Wilson trail.

Wok stoves near San Tau on the trail from Tung Chung to Tai O