Life in Hong Kong's ARP tunnels | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Life in Hong Kong's ARP tunnels

If you lived in Hong Kong in the 1940s or 1950s, or you know someone that did, we’re keen to hear of any stories about Hong Kong’s Air Raid Precaution (ARP) tunnels. The government reports tell us the location, size, geology, etc, but there is very little written about what conditions were like for the people that had to use the tunnels in wartime.

Here are the few references to the tunnels that I’ve found:


The ARP tunnels were built in a hurry in 1940 and 1941. Indeed the records show that several tunnels were incomplete at the time of the invasion. The hasty decision-making also opened the door to corruption, as detailed in Nigel Cameron’s book ‘An Illustrated History of Hong Kong’:
The decision after all to provide air-raid shelters for everyone meant that now the work had to be one at break-neck speed, and a virtually new organization created almost instantly. Huge sums were involved and the urgency led to graft, especially in the architectural branch of the ARP department. A commission of enquiry under a Puisne Judge was set up in August 1941 as the result of the discovery that the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation had managed to complete the blacking out of its headquarters in Queen’s Road for the total sum of $87 and not the $500 which had been allocated. The Bank, suspecting some irregularity, claimed its $500, duly received it, and reported to the government. The ARP Department architect was asked to give evidence. When he failed to attend, it was discovered that he had shot himself. Another British official in charge of the many air-raid tunnels being dug into the hillsides was admitted to hospital suffering from severe poisoning.

The commission met in the period between 14 August and 7 November 1941, attracting a blaze of media attention. But its findings were never published. The Judge presiding, P.E.F. Cressal, carried the draft report into internment in Stanley camp a month later, where he died in 1944. The draft vanished: after the war the enquiry was quietly dropped.
Q: How did the ARP department decide where the tunnels would be built?


Paragraph 44 of General Maltby’s dispatch reads:
44. Civil Population – The civil police found their hands more than full in maintaining order in the city but had the situation generally under control except in the A.R.P. tunnels, where in certain cases armed gangs of robbers were operating.
Q: Were the tunnels in Kowloon (eg those under Kowloon Park) ever opened to the public? It seems that most of the shelling and bombing was aimed at Hong Kong island.
Q: Were the tunnels open permanently from the beginning of war with Japan to the surrender on Christmas day, or were they only opened at certain times?
Q: Did the civilians prefer to shelter in the tunnels, or stay in their houses?
Q: What were conditions like in terms of space, ventilation, lighting, etc?
Q: How long would people stay in the tunnels for?

An article about the tunnels by Guy Searls in the 6th April 1992 edition of 'The Standard' newspaper gives a few answers:
In the evenings, whole families crowded into the tunnels to spend the night together in safety, even if not in great comfort. There are those who recall the stench in the tunnels. There were no "facilities" there, no running water or toilets. But it could have been worse. Each tunnel did at least have air circulation.

And one recollection of old timers who used the tunnels strengthen my faith that Hong Kong hawkers are among the bravest and most enterprising business people in the world. While the ordinary residents were running into the tunnels, the hawkers lined up outside to sell them food and provisions to last through the raid - or through the night - whichever was longer.

At least one of the tunnel networks shows evidence that the Japanese strengthened the tunnels during their occupation of Hong Kong. There were repeated Allied air-raids on Hong Kong during this time, so it is not surprising the Japanese forces would find the ARP tunnels useful.

Q: Were they also open for civilian use during those raids?


Many of the tunnels had timber supports, and it was noted in the late 1940s that much of that wood had been looted immediately after the war.

Q: Did the wood really last that long, or was it removed during the occupation? Firewood was very difficult to find at that time, so wooden beams from the tunnels would have been very valuable.

Q: I also wonder if the tunnels were used as living quarters at all during the occupation or post-war? Given the shortage of accomodation at that time, the tunnels would have been an attractive place to shelter.

If you have any other information about these tunnels, we’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below, or send an email to mrb @ batgung . com (without the spaces).


1984 Temporary Wanchai Market
1984 Temporary Wanchai Market, by eternal1966e