Betty Steel's Diary - impressions of an upbringing in 1920s Hong Kong: View pages | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Betty Steel's Diary - impressions of an upbringing in 1920s Hong Kong: View pages


Audrey  and  I  were  born  on  the  island  of  Liu  Kung  Tao  (Duke  Liu's
Island) off  the  coast  of  Shantung  in  North  China. Shantung  means
"East  of  the  Mountains". The  Island  was  part  of  the  territory  of
Wei  Hai  Wei  which  had  been  leased  to  Great  Britain  in  1898  to  be  a
summer  base  for  the  Royal  Navy's  China  Fleet. The  leased  territory  on
the  Chinese  mainland  consisted  of  the  14th  century  walled  city  of
Wei  Hai  Wei,  founded  by  Hung  Wu,  the  first  Emperor  of  the  Ming 
dynasty; and  a  strip  of  land  about  fifteen  miles  long,  lying  between  a 
chain  of hills  and  the  sea. There  were  many  villages  and  temples, and 
all  the countryside  was  cultivated.

Wei Hai Wei City Wall

Our  little  Island,  consisting  of  hills,  and  measuring  only  about
three  miles  by  one  and  a  half,  lay  about  three  miles  off  shore, 
and because  it  partially  blocked  the  entrance  to  the  Yellow  Sea, there 
was  a good  sheltered  harbour  between  it  and  the  Mainland. Perhaps  Duke  Liu  was the  Governor  of  this  north-eastern  corner  of  the Shantung
peninsula,  when the  Emperor  Hung  Wu  fortified  it  and  named  it 
Wei  Hai  Wei  (Majestic  Sea Defence). At  one  end  of  the  harbour  was 
tiny Sun  Island, containing  the remains  of  a  Ming  fort,  and  there  were 
old  ruined  forts  on  Liu  Kung  Tao and  the  Mainland  as  well.

Our  father  and  mother,  Joseph  William  and  Mabel  Steel,  arrived  in
Wei  Hai  Wei  from  London  in  1909  after  a  voyage  of  about  six  weeks 
by  a P.  &  0.  steamship  (the  Peninsula  and  Oriental  Line)  to Hong  Kong;  and  from there  by  a  coastal  steamer,  another  five  days.
The  ships  used  to  anchor  in Wei  Hai  Wei  harbour,  and  the passengers  would  go  ashore  in  a  steam  launch.

Liu  Kung  Tao,  the  Island,  as  it  was  always  called,  was  the  Royal
Navy's  headquarters  in  Wei  Hai  Wei,  and  my  father  had  been 
appointed  by the  Admiralty  to  the  Victualling  Store  Depot  of  the
Dockyard, the department responsible  for supplying  the  ships  of  the 
Royal  Navy. The  few British  people  on  the  Island  were  all  connected with  the  Navy,  and  lived there  all  the  year  round,  although  the 
China  Fleet  only  spent  the  summer there.  On  the  highest  hill 
was  a  flagstaff,  symbol  of  a  Naval establishment.

Our  parents  lived  in  Creek  Cottage,  half  way  up  the  hill. It  was  a
single-storeyed  house  of  brick  and  stone,  with  a  roof  of  green  tiles,
Chinese  in  style. The  garden  was  surrounded  by  a  stone  wall, 
ornamented with  bricks  and  green  tiles  on  top. There  were  acacia 
trees  with sweet scented  white  flowers  growing  on  the  Island  and  in the  gardens  of  the houses  were  sunflowers  and  hollyhocks  and
cornflowers. I  was  born  in this  house  on  the  20th  October  1910 at  6.30  a.m. It  was  a  Thursday. "Thursday's  child  has  far  to  go" 
is  a  saying  that  was  true  for  me. The  only  doctor  in  Wei  Hai  Wei, 
Dr.  Muatt,  lived  on  the  Mainland,  so whether  he  arrived  in  time 
for  my  birth  I  do  not  know,  but  Aunt  Daisy Jennings  acted  as
midwife. In  later  years  she  gave  me  the  gold  chain bracelet, with  my  name  and  date  of  birth  engraved  on  the  heart,  which
Dadda  and  Mamma  had  given  her  to  celebrate  my  birth.
I  was  christened in  the  little  Church  by  the  Rev.  Mr.  Burnett, 
a  missionary,  and  named Betty  Caroline  Pringle,  the  last  being  my 
mother's  maiden  name. My godmother  was  Mrs.  Marsh. There  is  a 
photograph  of  her  daughters  Maud and  Edith,  my  Amah  and  me  on my  first  birthday,  with  my  huge  teddy bear. The  Marshes  must  have 
left  Wei  Hai  Wei  when  I  was  very  young, for  I  have  no  memory  of 
them. My  Amah's  name  has  been  forgotten,  but she  looks  kind  and  is  neatly  dressed,  as  all  Amahs  were,  in  a  white jacket  and  black trousers,  with  her  smooth  black  hair  drawn  back  from her  face  and  worn  in  a  bun  at  the  back,  the  style  so  becoming  to Chinese  women.   
And  she  wears  bracelets  and  earrings,  probably  of  jade or  gold,  as  was  customary.  Our  cook  boy  was  Hing  Yu,  a  tall  handsome
Shantung  man,  who  in  later  years  joined  the  Hong  Kong  Police  with 
the Wei  Hai  Wei  contingent,  becoming  a  senior  Police  officer,  and 
returning to  Wei  Hai  Wei  from  time  to  time  to  recruit  new  young  men. There  was  a black  and  white  spaniel,  and  a  canary  bird  in  a  cage,  popular  in  those days. In  the  bathroom  was  a  "Soochow  tub",  a  deep  round  earthenware bath,  adorned  with  dragons. Everyone  in  Wei  Hai 
Wei  used  these  bath tubs.

Audrey  was  born  in  Creek  Cottage  on  the  20th  April  1912. She  was
christened  Audrey  Mabel  Pringle. Her  godmother  was  Aunt  Daisy, 
whose own  child  George  Philip  Charles  Jennings  was  born  on  the 
Island  on  the 23rd  August  1913. His  father  Uncle  George  was  a 
Royal  Marine  who  came to  Wei  Hai  Wei  to  be  the  Clerk  of  Works 
for  a  new  barracks  that  was being  built  on  the  Island.

Mabel  Forcey  was  also  born  on  the  Island  in  1913. Her  father
Frank  Forcey  was  in  the  Wei  Hai  Wei  Police,  and  was  in  charge 
of  the Prison  on  the  Island. One  wonders  who  the  prisoners 
could  have  been! We  are  told  that  they  helped  to  build  houses
and  make  roads  on  the Island.

Our  Amah  used  to  take  us  for  walks  along  the  road  that  encircled
the  Island. The  hills  were  covered  with  pine  trees,  and  when  the 
wind blew  through  the  pines,  they  made  a  sighing  sound,  never 
to  be  forgotten. The  scent  and  the  sound  of  pines  will  forever 
recall  those  days  of  my early  childhood.

The  Masonic  Lodge  was  close  to  our  house. Dadda  was  a  keen 
Freemason, and  there  are  photographs  of  him  wearing  Masonic 
regalia. The  Chinese called  him  "Four  Eyes"  because  he  wore
glasses. The  Jennings  lived  at  the foot  of  the  hill,  next  door  to 
an  Eastern  Extension  Telegraph  Company family.

The  Dockyard,  Naval  Stores  and  Canteen  were  on  the  sea  front; 
and  a Naval  jetty  where  in  the  summer  Naval  pinnaces  brought  men  ashore  from  the ships. There  are  memories  of  sampans  and  fish 
baskets  and  fishermen  mending their  nets. There  was  another  jetty 
for  the  steam  launches  "Foam"  and "Alexandra"  that  carried
passengers   between  the  Island  and  the  Mainland.  It was  a 
twenty  minute  crossing  and  very  rough  as  the  launch  passed  the
open  sea at  the  harbour  entrance. There  is  a  memory  of  the  relief  felt  by  our  nervous mothers  when  we  arrived  at  the  rather  grandly named  Port  Edward  on  the Mainland.

In  the  summer  there  were  tennis  parties  and  teas,  with  cakes  on
doyley-covered  plates  and  pretty  Japanese  teasets;  days  on  the 
beach, walking  with  bare  feet  in  the  soft  warm  sand,  building 
sand  castles,  and paddling  in  the  sea,  our  mothers  with  their long 
skirts  tucked  up  to  their knees. They  wore  graceful  long  dresses
and  the  huge  hats  that  perched  on top  of  their  piled-up  hair  had
to  be  kept  in  place  with  long  hat  pins. Summer  in  Wei  Hai  Wei 
was  delightful,  sunny  and  dry  and  clear.  On  our birthdays  there 
were  tea  parties  and  birthday  cakes,  and  ring  games organised  by 
our  mothers,  "The  Farmer's  in  the  dell",  and  "Here  we  go
Looby-Loo",  "Oranges  and  lemons",  "Here  we  go  round  the 
mulberry  bush", "Gathering  nuts  in  May";  Musical  chairs  and  Huntthe  Thimble.

In  the  winter  we  watched  our  parents  skating  on  frozen  ponds. 
Audrey and  I  were  dressed  in  lambswool  coats  and  hoods,  and  Mamma  wore  a  squirrel fur  cape,  and  a  muff  to  match  to  keep  her  hands  warm. We  wore  boots  with buttons  like  little  balls  all  the  way  up  the  sides,  that  had  to  be  fastened with  a  button  hook.
Winter  in  Wei  Hai  Wei  is  intensely  cold,  with  frost and  snow, 
and  freezing  winds  blowing  from  Siberia.

At  Christmas  there  was  a  children's  party  at  the  Masonic  Hall,
decorated  with  streamers  and  garlands,  and  a  huge  candlelit 
Christmas tree  with  presents  for  the  children. But  I  was  afraid  of 
bearded  Father Christmas  and  ugly  clowns.

On  the  Island  there  were  shops  of  many  kinds: Ah  Fong, the
photographer;  Jelly  Belly,  the  tailor;  Shun  Lee,  another  tailor; 
Kataoka, the  Japanese  shoemaker;  Yin  Deh  Tai,  another 
shoemaker;  Ah  Ying,  the grocer. The  Queen's  Hotel,  owned  by 
the  Clarks  and  run  by  Mrs.  Forcey, opened  in  the  summer  time  and  was  used  by  Naval  wives  from  Hong  Kong and  by  visitors  from 
Shanghai. There  were  tennis  courts  and  a  golf course,  a  football  ground  for  the  sailors,  a  rifle  range,  a  reservoir, (but  we  drank  distilled  water  provided  by  the  Dockyard)  and  a  farm  with
milking  cows. And  there  were  ancient  wells  dating  no  doubt 
from  Ming dynasty  times.

In  September  1915  we  left  Wei  Hai  Wei  for  Hong  Kong,  our  father
having  been  appointed  to  the  Victualling  Store  Office  in  Kowloon.
I  was  almost  five  years  old  and  Audrey  was  three.

We  went  to  live  at  Eden  Court,  a  boarding  house  in  Kowloon  run  by
Mrs.  Railton.    It  was  a  large  house  with  a  garden  and  tennis  court, 
and a  bamboo  grove.    We  were  told  not  to  go  into  it,  because 
of  the  bamboo snakes,  but  we  could  not  resist  eating  the  soft 
tightly  rolled  new leaves  of  the  bamboos.

Mamma  and  Dadda  played  tennis  and  Audrey  and  I  made  friends 
with Peggy  and  Sidney  Searle,  whose  father  was  Dadda's  superior 
in  the Victualling  Store  Office.    We  used  to  visit  Dadda  in  his 
office.  He  had a  telescope,  and  I  was  allowed  to  look  through  it 
at  the ships  in  the harbour.

The  next  year,  1916,  Mamma,  Audrey  and  I  were  back  in  Wei 
Hai  Wei, staying  with  our  friends  the  Jennings.    Perhaps  Mamma  was  afraid  of the  hot  Hong  Kong  summer! We  stayed  in  Wei Hai  Wei  until  the  Autumn. And  now  there  is  a  vivid  memory  of  an
evening  in  the  Jennings'  sitting room,  and  Mamma  calling  out  to 
Auntie  Daisy,   "Oh  Daisy,  I've  just  seen the  new  moon  through  the  window!"  (an  evil  omen  to  superstitious people). The  next  morning  a  telegram  came  from  Hong  Kong  saying  that Dadda  was  dangerously  ill.

By  the  time  the  next  steamer  arrived  from  Hong  Kong,  Wei  Hai  Wei
was  in  the  grip  of  an  unusually  early  winter. The  Jennings  came  to 
see us  off,  and  I  have  heard  that  when  they  arrived  back  home,  they  found their  goldfish  frozen  solid  in  their  bowl!

It  is  not  difficult  to  imagine  our  poor  Mamma's  feelings. This may 
have  been  the  occasion  that  Audrey  and  I  remember  when  Mamma 
was seasick  in  the  cabin  even  before  the  ship  left  the  harbour. The 
five or  six  days'  journey  down  to  Hong  Kong  must  have  been  a 
nightmare  to her.

Dadda  died  in  February  1917  and  was  buried  in  Happy  Valley
cemetery. He  was  aged  40,  Mamma  was  31,  and  Audrey  and  I, 
4  and  6.

The Treaty Port Returned

On  the  1st  October  1930  Wei  Hai  Wei  was  returned  to  China 
in  a  grand ceremony. The  harbour  was  full  of  warships  of  the 
Royal  Naval  China  Fleet, under  the  command  of 
Admiral  Sir  A.K.  Waistell, R.N.,  as  well  as  ships  of the  Chinese 
Navy. The  Commissioner,  Sir  Reginald  Johnston,  handed  over  the
administration  to  Mr.  Wang  Chia-cheng,  Vice-Minister  for  Foreign 
Affairs, speaking  in  Chinese  and  English.    And  to  the  sound 
of  Royal  Naval  guns roaring  in  salute,  and  Chinese  crackers 
exploding, the  Chinese  Nationalist flag  was  raised  over  Government 
House  to  fly  with  the  Union  Jack.

The  next  day  the  Chinese  flag  flew  alone  over  Government 
House,  and Wei  Hai  Wei  had  gone  back  to  China.    We  were  not  present  at  the handing  over,  but  the  "South  China  Morning  Post" 
reported  the ceremonies  fully.

Within  a  few  weeks  the  Jennings  and  our  other  friends  had  left
Wei  Hai  Wei,  and  for  us  our  birthplace  became  only  a  memory.
But  at least  four  of  us  have  the  gift  of  dual  Chinese-British 


I  think  it  was  in  the  Autumn  of  1917  that  Mamma  joined  the 
staff  of Shewan,  Tomes  and  Co.,  the  mercantile  firm  in  Chater Road,  as  an  accountant. We left  Kowloon,  and  Mamma  went  to
live  at  the  Helena  May  Institute,  ladies'  club  in  Garden  Road, 
while  Audrey and  I  became  boarders  at  the Italian  Convent  in
Caine  Road *.

My  only  memories  of  this  school  are  unhappy  ones.    The  nuns 
wore  ugly black  and  brown  habits,  with  little  black  caps. One  of 
them  died,  and  we all  had  to  go  into  the  Chapel  and  file  past 
her  coffin, where  she  lay  in state  surrounded  by  flowers. I  was 
frightened  by  this,  but  not  more  so than  by  one  of  the  older  girls 
who  used  to  torment  me  by  staring  at  me with  piercing  eyes.

Finally  Audrey  and  I  both  caught  measles. Mamma  came  and  took  us
away  in  an  ambulance  to  the  Victoria  Hospital  in  Barker  Road.   
She  was furious  with  the  nuns,  and  blamed  them  for  our  illness. Needless  to  say we  never  saw  the  Italian  Convent  again.

My  measles  turned  into  a  mastoid  abscess  of  the  ear. I  remember 
the pain  and  the  horrible  chloroform  I  was  given  before  an 
operation  by  Dr. Kenelm  Digby. I  was  in  the  Victoria  Hospital  for 
weeks, wearing  a  bandage around  my  head.

There  are  two  vivid  memories  of  my  time  in  the  Victoria  Hospital.
The  first  was  of  being  given  "Alice  in  Wonderland"  by  Mamma, 
and  of  my delight  in  reading  for  the  first  time  this  glorious  story 
of  Alice's adventures  with  all  the  creatures. I  still  have  this  book
and  in  it  are written  the  words  "bandage"  and  "morning". I  was 
making  sure  of  the spelling  before  writing  to  Mamma  that  my  bandage  had  been  taken  off  that morning!

The  other  memory  is  of  Sundays,  when  the  ward  was  transformed 
into  a Church. After  breakfast  white  cloths  were  put  on  the  bedside
tables  with hymn  and  prayer  books,  and  a  large  table  with  a  white  cloth  was  brought  in to  the  middle  of  the  ward  for  an  altar,  and  a 
harmonium  for  the  hymn  music. There  was  a  long  time  to  wait  before 
the  Service  began,  and  I  spent  it reading  the  hymns  from  beginning 
to  end. I  loved  them  and  learnt  a  lot from  them.

In  later  years,  because  of  my  ears,  I  was  a  patient  again  in  the
Victoria  Hospital,  and  also  in  the  Matilda  Hospital. The  Victoria  looked
down  on  the  city  of  Victoria  and  the  beautiful  harbour  to 
Kowloon  and  the hills  of  the  New  Territories. The  Matilda,  on  the  other  side  of  the Island,  looked  over  countless  islands in  a  sparkling  blue  sea.

Hong Kong Bay and Hils

Our  first  home  in  Hong  Kong  was  an  Army  flat  in  Kennedy  Road,  with
the  dull  address  of  "No.  6  B.  Block". We  had  an  Australian  friend 
there called  Lulu  Wilson,  with  a  horrible  little  brother  Jackie,  who  used 
to shock  us  by  swearing! We  moved  away  from  there  to  a  flat  in 
Kennedy  Road, not  far  from  the  Union  Church  and  the  Peak  tram 
station. Kennedy  Road, like  the  roads  above  it,  skirted  the  Peak,  and 
was  tree  shaded  and  very pretty. On  the  hill  side  were  wild  flowers  and  ferns,  and  little  streams running  down;  and  on  the  other  side 
was  the  ever  fascinating  view  of  the city  of  Victoria  and  the  harbour,
seen  through  trees.

We  used  to  walk  to  the  Peak  tram  station  in  Garden  Road  to  buy
sweets  at  the  little  shop  there.    The  sweets  were  kept  in  large 
glass  jars and  were  sold  by  the  piece,  large  toffees  for  one  cent 
each,  and  two smaller  coconut  sweets  for  one  cent. "One  cent  one" 
and  "One  cent  two"  as the  Chinese  sweet-seller  used  to  say. This 
was  our  first  shopping  ever on  our  own.

Not  far  from  us  on  Kennedy  Road  lived  some  Japanese  business 
men. One  of  them  Mr.  Fukuchi  was  fond  of  children,  and  we 
made  friends  with him.    We  were  photographed  with  him  outside  his  house  and  at  Christmas time  he  gave  us  a  book  of  Japanese  fairy  tales.

On  Sundays  Mamma,  Audrey  and  I  walked  to  St.  John's  Cathedral
to attend  Matins.    I  loved  the  ceremonial  of  the  clergy  and 
choir processing  down  the  Aisle  singing,  the  grand  organ  music 
and  the beautiful  psalms  and  hymns,  but  was  bored  by  the  long 
dull  sermons  of the  Reverend  Mr.  Copley  Moyle.

In  the  summer  time  waving  punkahs  kept  us  cool  inside  the 
Cathedral. These  punkahs  were  made  of  a  thick  cotton  material  with
a  wide  frill  and looked  rather  like  curtains. They  hung  from  the  rafters 
and  attached  to them  were  ropes  going  through  the  windows. Outside  each  window  sat  a Chinese  boy  with  the  rope  tied  to  his  toe,
pulling  gently.

Sometimes  Audrey  and  I  would  go  to  the  Union  Church  instead.   
It  was a  great  contrast  to  the  Cathedral,  here  everything  was 
plain  and  simple, a  bare  altar,  no  trimmings  or  decorations  of  any 
sort,  but  good  hymns. The  Reverend  Mr.  Maconachie  was  the  Pastor.
His  wife  wrote  the  poems "Rosemary  leaves  from  a  Hong  Kong  garden".

The Italian Convent

Audrey  and  I  began  our  school  life  at  the  French  Convent 
(also  known unromantically  as  St.  Paul's  Institution)  at  Causeway  Bay.    Our  nuns  were of  the  Order  of  St.  Paul  de  Chartres. We  loved  them, 
and  were  very  happy at  the  Convent.  To  get  to  school  we  walked to  the  bottom  of  Garden  Road, and  from  there  travelled  by  tram  to  Causeway  Bay.

Audrey  and  I  shared  a  double  bed  for  years. When  we  were  very 
young, we  used  to  play  "wheelbarrows"  on  it! In  the  summer  we slept  under  a mosquito  net  which  was  tucked  in all  round  the  bed.   If  you  moved  in  your sleep  and  any  part  of  you  touched  the  net,  the  mosquitoes  would  bite  you, and  there  would  be  blood  on  the  net  in  the  morning.    Audrey,  lively  even when  asleep,  was  always  falling  into  the  net  where  it  was  tucked  in. Mamma  would 
come  in  to  see  if  we  were  all  right,  and  Audrey  had  disappeared
off  the  bed.

We  loved  to  play  House  with  our  dolls  -  I  was  always 
"Mrs.  Bouchier" and  Audrey  "Mrs.  Parr"  -  the  originals  were
two  Shanghai  ladies  who  came to  Wei  Hai  Wei  in  the  summer.

Another  favourite  game  was  Ships,  played  on  and  under  the  dining
room  table. The  table  top  was  the  deck,  the  chairs  the  stairs,  and
underneath,  the  cabin.

I  used  to  be  terrified  of  the  huge  spiders  and  the  flying
cockroaches  -  the  cockroaches  were  revolting,  especially  when 
squashed! I  always  had  to  call  for  help  when  confronted  by  a 
giant  spider  -  Amah would  come,  or  Mamma  or  Audrey  who  were 
braver  than  I!    The  spiders  were nearly  four  inches  across  with 
their  legs  spread  out,  with  huge  black hairy  bodies. Once  a  female 
spider  fell  from  the  ceiling,  and  the  white pouch  under  her  body 
burst  and  out  of  it  came  dozens  of  tiny  spiders racing  all  over
the  floor.

But  Mamma  and  Audrey  were  not  so  brave  in  thunderstorms. 
These were  incredibly  dramatic  with  earshattering  bangs  of 
thunder  and  brilliant forked  lightning  that  lit  up  the  room  at 
night. I  thought  them  exciting.

There  were  two  more  flats  in  Kennedy  Road.    Mamma  was 
restless,  and we  were  always  moving.    The  new  flat  was on  the 
ground  floor,  and  here  we had  a  dramatic  burglary.    The  windows 
were  barred,  but  even  so  one  morning we  woke  up  to  find  that  our  coats  had  gone  from  their  pegs  on  a  wall,  and outside  lying 
on  the  ground  was  a  long  pole  with  a  hook  at  the  end  of  it.

The  next  flat  was  at  the  Wanchai  end  of  Kennedy  Road,  near  the
Methodist  Church. Miss  Pedden,  a  Canadian  missionary,  lived  nearby
and used  to  come  and  play  the  piano. We  always  had  a  piano
-  everyone  did  - and  Mamma  played  and  Audrey  and  I  sang. We  had  music  books  with  collections of  the  old  songs: 
"Swanee  River",  "Killarney",  "Loch  Lomond",  "Annie Laurie", 
and  also  the  latest  American  song  hits  in  sheet  music:- "It's  a  Bird!",
"Cornfed  Indiana  Girl".

At  this  time  Mamma  made  friends  with  Mrs.  Nellie  Babbage, 
the  wife of  a  Sergeant-Major  in  the  Army. She  ran  the  Alexandra 
Cafe  in  Des Voeux  Road,  where  we  used  to  buy  delicious  French 
pastries,  including  my favourites,  cream  horns!    Mrs.  Babbage  was 
a  glamorous  lady,  quite  unlike anyone  I  had  ever  seen  before, and 
I  admired  her.    Once  I  went  to  stay with  her,  and  in  the  morning  I
watched  her  making  her  toilette  as  she  sat on  the  floor  in  the 
sunshine  in  front  of  her  Japanese  dressing  table  and mirror. She  put
on  lots  of  powder  and  rouge,  but  although  it  was rumoured  that 
she  wore  a  wig,  I  never  found  out  if  that  bright  auburn hair  was 
false!    One  sad  day  there  was  a  great  fuss  and  bother. Mamma
was  angry  with  her  erstwhile  friend  Mrs.  Babbage,  and  we  were
forbidden ever  to  speak  to  her  again. It  was  a  great  mystery,  and  I 
was  sorry  to lose  my  kind  friend.

From Kennedy Road we moved to Happy Valley. It was our home for some years, and the part of Hong Kong most closely associated with our childhood. We lived in one of a long terrace of houses in Wong Nei Chong Road, and at the seaward end of the road we caught the tram to school. The trams were double-decked. The upper deck and a small section of seats behind the driver were the 1st Class; and the 2nd Class was the rest of the lower deck, with its own door at the back.

One of my early memories of the trams was of seeing Harold Chaney and Ettie Stainfield sitting downstairs holding hands. They later married and had a daughter Yvonne. Then tragically Harold was killed while riding his motor cycle. Ettie changed her name to Claire. She was a vivacious amusing person with a succession of boy friends, and became one of Mamma's best friends.

My Chinese school friend Ruby Chue and her younger sister Lily lived next door to us in Wong Nei Chong Road. On special occasions, a birthday or a wedding or Chinese New Year, they invited me to their house to eat Chinese cakes and sweets, and to be present at the great ceremony of firing off a giant string of crackers. They were of all sizes, wrapped in red paper - the colour of good luck and happiness - and tied together in tens and hundreds to make a long wide string which was hung from the roof of the house down to the ground. The giant string of fire-crackers was lit at the bottom, and began banging away, the explosions gradually coming nearer and nearer to us as we stood on the first floor verandah, with the middle of the string hanging perilously close to us! Extra large crackers had been fastened at intervals, so that it was "bang, bang, bang, bang" - then "BANG, BANG"- deafening noise and smoke, and acrid smell. We held our breath as the explosions passed us on their way up, and the loudest bangs of all came at the top of the string. The air was full of smoke and the wonderful smell of crackers, and every one could talk again.

In those days there was often the sound of fire crackers, usually only single ones or small strings; and then occasionally these giant strings. Another sound frequently heard was the blasting of rock, to make room for a new building.

At the other end of our terrace lived an Irish family, the Tollans. The girls were Lizzie, Annie, Rose, Lorna and Chrissie. Perhaps it was at this time that we began to play the Irish games, "O Grady says", "Surrender to the King of the Baltimore", and the skipping rope game "One, two, three, O Leary"! We also played the Chinese game of Stone, Paper, Scissors, Stone, "Stone break scissors, scissors cut paper, paper cover stone"; and the game of Five Stones.

Audrey was always out playing with the other children, but I liked to lie on the sofa reading. I was fascinated by Angela Brazil's stories of school girls in England.

About this time William Crocker came into our lives, a handsome black haired man in the Navy. With his lively, cheerful manner and sense of fun, he radiated happiness and laughter. He and Mamma shared a love for music, especially Italian Opera, and from then on our gramaphone played nothing but "Rigoletto" and "La Traviata", and the voices of Caruso, Galli-Curci and Tetrazini became familiar in our house. Whenever a visiting Italian Opera Company played in Hong Kong Mamma and "Crocks" would attend every performance. She loved the Jewel Song from "Faust", but Audrey and I preferred the Storm and the Calm from "William Tell". I am sure Mamma would have married Crocks, but sadly he had a wife and two daughters at Home in Devon. Audrey was jealous of him but I would have been happy to acquire a father. 

Mamma joined the Craigengower Club and played tennis again. It was one of the Sports Clubs of Happy Valley beside the Race Course. The Leach family lived near us in Wong Nei Chong Road. The father Robert Leach had come from Malaya, a dark large man with a brown skin, very kind and generous. The mother Alice Lefevre Leach was very thin, dark haired and dark eyed, with some French blood, artistic and romantic and fond of children. Their family were Rob, Jim and Dick, and Daphne. Jim was fair haired and blue eyed, the others were all dark, Dick very like his father. We became friends with this family, and spent a lot of time with them, playing on the race course near the Black Rock. On one never to be forgotten occasion it poured with rain for days, and the whole Valley was flooded. We took off our shoes and socks and paddled, enjoying the sensation of bare feet on soaked grass.

Happy Valley Flooding

Many were the happy hours we spent gathered round Mrs. Leach at the piano, singing while she played songs from the song books piled up by the piano. Two of our favourites were:-

"There was a maid Hang Hang, She lived by the shores of the Yang tse-kiang"


"Once a little geisha called Wee San, Pretty as a picture on a fan"!

We all attended the Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School, on the other side of the Valley beyond the Monument at the beginning of Wanchai, where we sang hymns, and were taught Bible stories and given pretty Biblical text cards to keep. "Tell me the stories of Jesus, I long to hear", "Jesus bids us shine with a pure clear light", and "Jesus wants me for a sunbeam" were three of our hymns.

Wong Nei Chong Road was lined with Bauhinia trees, lovely with their deep pink flowers and unusual two-lobed leaves. Rose apple trees grew there as well; their greeny-white flowers turned into a scented fruit. Lantana bushes grew wild. They had a horrible smell, but we used to thread the little orange, pink and white flowers on to grass chains. Other wild flowers were pink oxalis, whose sour leaves you could eat; a verbena, snakeweed, with tiny blue flowers growing on a stiff spike, and the sensitive plant, mimosa pudica,with fluffy pink flowers and leaflets that magically began moving and closing up when you touched them.

The Leaches had a house full of animals, a dog called Caesar and several cats, one named the Lord Mayor of Cork, because it would not eat its food. The children called it "The Lord".

Mr. Leach was a Sea Captain, and used to bring back exotic foods from other ports. One of them was a syrupy drink called Grenadine.

At this time the Girl Guide Movement began in Hong Kong. Mrs. Porri, the energetic wife of the Methodist Church parson, the Reverend Clouston Porri, organised the first Troop to be raised in the Colony - ours. The Porris lived on Morrison Hill (demolished in later years) and our meetings were held in their garden, or if it rained in their house. We were known as the 1st Wanchai Girl Guides.

Mrs. Porri was Captain. I joined with school friends Nancy McEwen, Marjorie Hansen, Ruby Chue and Daphne Nicol among others. We learned first aid, bandaging; and to drill, to track, to signal by morse and semaphore, to tie sailors' knots, and many other new and unusual things. We were immensely proud of our blue uniforms, and our hats, stripes, badges and Girl Guide belts. I was Leader of the Forgetmenot Patrol, a strange flower to choose in a land where there were no forgetmenots! Audrey, Daphne Leach, Kathleen McEwen and Zena Bersey were Brownies.

We used to see grand Chinese processions going through the streets. Sometimes it was a wedding, the bride being carried to her new home in a sedan chair. She was completely hidden from the public gaze by curtains. With her in the procession were musicians, playing loud cheerful music; and servants carrying all her possessions, including tables, chairs, cupboards, wardrobes and all kinds of things to her new home.

At our Convent: Ma Mere,the Reverend Mother,was French; and the Head Mistress of the school, Ma Soeur Beatrice, was English. Sister Beatrice was severe, and we were rather afraid of her. Most of the nuns were French, with a few Chinese and Portuguese. 
My favourite nun was Ma Soeur Alix. She came out from France in 1922, aged about 26, and was teacher of the top class. She was kind and sympathetic, and never lost her temper. If she left the classroom and we took advantage of her absence and began talking, she would come in again smiling, with her hands over her ears, exclaiming in her very French accent "What a cacophony"! In her class, the naughty girls always sat in front and the good girls at the back! I do not know how we learned English from so French a nun, but when I passed my matriculation at the University, I won a Distinction in English. 
Sister Alix taught the 4th (top) Class, Sister St. Louis (and later Sister Elizabeth) taught the 3rd Class, Sister St. Leon the 2nd Class, Sister John the 1st Class, and Sister Blandine (and later Sister Lawrence) the Babies' Class. Sister Cecile was the sewing teacher. I cannot remember ever learning anything except cross stitch in red cotton from her! Sister Vincent was the music teacher and there was always the sound of the piano. She used to shout angrily at us from the window of the music room, when our loud voices in the playground disturbed a piano lesson. 
The nuns liked to organise entertainments. I can remember "Queen of the Roses", with Audrey and some of the other younger girls as Rose Fairies. On another occasion, I was "Britannia", wearing a helmet. And once there was a grand fancy dress party, when we were all photographed on the school steps, Rosie Xavier and I both dressed as Watteau shepherdesses. 
We Church of England girls used sometimes to join the Catholics in the school chapel, with its ornate statues, and the altar decorated with lilies, and the strange aroma of incense. We sang the Lourdes "Ave Maria" and "Heart of Jesus", and were given Jesus pictures by the nuns. On the wall of our class room hung a large picture of St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, our nuns' favourite saint. Occasionally Catholic priests would visit the classrooms. They were French or Italian with huge black beards. The nuns would flutter around them, and we girls would feel nervous. 
The playground of the Convent and the stone steps leading up to the school were crowded with pots of flowering plants, marguerites covered with white blooms, and sweet smelling heliotrope, and many others. The Chinese excelled in pot gardening. 
From the playground we could see into the cellars. There were cases and cases of wine. The nuns would come into class after tiffin gently breathing whiffs of wine over us. 
In the dining room sometimes we had the school tiffin, but usually we brought sandwiches, envying the Chinese girls whose amahs appeared from home with grand hot meals in enamel containers fitted one on top of another. After tiffin we often went out and bought nuts or fruit from the Chinese stalls. 
The Convent girls were of many nationalities - English, French, Chinese, Portuguese, Scottish, Siamese, Parsee, Spanish, German, American and Eurasian. 
Our best friends among the Chinese were Jean, May and Alma 0 Hoy (they were from Australia), Agnes Pau., Ruby Chue, Frances and Sylvia Heyshing, and Julia Lam. I used to wish that I could draw and paint as well as Julia did. But all the Chinese girls seemed to find it quite easy to produce exquisite flower paintings, whenever the nuns demanded them of us. Agnes Pau was clever and rather serious. She became one of Hong Kong's teachers, and headmistress of a big school. Parrin Ruttonjee, a Parsee of India, loved to read the magazine "Titbits", and used to pass them on to me to enjoy the jokes. She was one of our-cleverest girls, and became a distinguished Hong Kong doctor. 
Emily Landolt was partly Swiss and partly Japanese. I liked her for her easygoing, laughing nature. Lily Shearer was partly English and partly Japanese - she was a boarder at the Convent, very gentle and sweet and rather holy - the girls used to say she would become a nun. Yvonne and Cecilia Phalavasu were Siamese; Mary Soriano was Spanish; Mercedes Muller was German; Simone and Marcelle Gain, and their little identical twin sisters, Marie—Louise and Marie-Therese, were French. Rosie Xavier, Ernina Remedios, Leonora Collaco, Marie Nolasco and Lina Silva-Netto were Portuguese, Kathlynne Naylor and Dorothy and Katie Kirschberg were American, and came as boarders from the Philippines. Kathlynne was sophisticated, and I admired her and became her friend, but she hated the Convent and soon left Hong Kong. She used to write to me from California and send me pressed Mariposa lilies and other Californian flowers. Gladys Addison and her sister, half English and half French, came from the romantic Seychelle Islands. 
There was a large group of Scottish girls, daughters of employees of the Taikoo Dockyard - among them were, Betty Laing, Jenny Whyte, Jean Foulds, Mamie Wallace and Cathie Ferguson. We called them "The Taikoo Girls". Some of the English girls were Vera Stanley, Joyce and Iris Thornhill, Beatrice Hardwick, Lily and Katie Grimes, Daphne and Patsy Nicol, Irene Deacon, Zena Bersey, Marjorie Hansen (who was partly Danish) and Nancy and Kathleen McEwen (partly Scottish). Marjorie and Nancy were my two best English friends - they joined the Girl Guides with me. Zena was a lively little girl from Cornwall, very pretty with black curly hair, whose father had a fine voice and sang at concerts. Zena herself loved to sing "My beautiful my beautiful" (the Arab's farewell to his steed). Among our other school friends were Gertie and Kathleen Simmons, and Ruby, Rosebud and Vivienne Young, all of whom were exceptionally pretty; and Tootsie and Connie Smith. 
Fat cheerful Daphne Nicol got appendicitis and died. We all went to her funeral, and hysterically threw earth on to her coffin. Poor Mrs. Nicol had masses of photographs of Daphne copied and distributed among her school friends.

The  funeral  processions  were  very  dramatic. A  band  came  first,
playing  weird  sad  music,  then  the  coffin,  carried  on  poles  on
men's shoulders,  and  following  it  the  mourners,  all  dressed  in  white
and  sack cloth,  their  heads  covered  in  large  white  hoods. They  cried 
and  wailed at  the  tops  of  their  voices,  and  had  to  be  supported  by
servants,  in  case they  should  collapse. These  people  were  often
professional  mourners  who had  been  hired  by  the  family,  and  the 
more  noise  they  made,  the  more honour  to  the  dead  person.
Then  came  a  large  framed  photograph  of  the deceased,  carried 
on  high  for  all  to  see.    And  finally  all  sorts  ofmarvellous  things 
made  of  white  paper,  carried  on  poles,  animals,  birds and  flowers, 
to  be  burnt  at  the  funeral.


Chinese  graves  were  very  elaborate  and  beautiful. They  were  dotted
about  on  the  slopes  of  hills  in  the  New  Territories,  and  were  made
of carved  stone,  looking  almost  like  wide  chairs  leaning  against  the
hillside  with  arms  enclosing  a  stone  floor.    In  the  centre  of  the
gravestone  was  a  door,  behind  which  was  the  coffin,  and  on  the 
stone floor  in  front  stood  little  vases  with  joss  sticks  in  them.

In  our  early  days  in  Hong  Kong  we  often  saw  women  with  bound 
feet, wearing  tiny  embroidered  shoes.    They  moved  slowly,  leaning 
on  the  arms of  servant  girls,  one  on  each  side,  because  they  could
not  walk  alone.

Woman with Bound Feet

In  those  days  Chinese  ladies  wore  high  necked  jackets  and  long
skirts,  beautifully  coloured  and  embroidered. On  their  heads  they
wore wide  bands  of  embroidered  silk,  in  front  only,  so  as  not  to 
disturbtheir  buns  and  hairpins  at  the  back.    They  wore  earrings  and  bracelets, of  jade  and  gold. The  gentlemen  wore  jackets  and  long 
gowns,  and  black skullcaps  with  a  red  pompom  on  top.  Both  sexes  I
think  wore  soft  shoes.

By  the  time  I  left  Hong  Kong,  the  women  were  wearing  cheong  sam,
tight  fitting  dresses  with  skirts  split  up  the  sides,  so  attractive  on
slim  Chinese  figures.    The  men  by  then  were  dressed  in  foreign

In  1922  the  Prince  of  Wales  visited  Hong  Kong  on  his  Far  Eastern
tour.    Never  was  there  such  excitement,  or  tremendous  preparations.
There  were  receptions  and  parades  for  him,  and  firecrackers;  and 
wonderful decorations,  especially  at  night  when  all  the  Royal  Naval  Fleet  in  the Harbour  were  outlined  in  lights  and  buildings  were 
ornamented  with  large crowns  made  of  electric  lights.

The  Girl  Guides  paraded  for  the  Prince  on  Murray  Parade  Ground, 
a proud  occasion  for  usI And  on  another  day  we  went  with  our 
school  to  be inspected  by  the  Prince,  and  the  Governor,  Sir 
Reginald  Stubbs.

Murray  Parade  ground  was  a  great  place  for  parades.    Empire  Day,
May 24th,  was  always  celebrated  with  great  ceremonial,  also  the 
King's  Birthday in  June,  when  the  Governor  inspected  the  Troops, 
the  Navy,  Marines  and Police. He  used  to  look  splendid  in  his  white 
uniform  and  plumed  helmet.

We  grew  up  in  an  atmosphere  of  military  bands  playing  stirring
music and  soldiers  drilling  and  marching. This  was  part  of  a  British  Colony,  and we  were  immensely  proud  of  being  a  small  portion  of 
the  great  British  Empire. England  was  always  called  "Home"  with 
a  capital  "H",  and  people  would  talk of  "going  Home  on  leave".   
Mamma  would  tell  us  nostalgically  of  the beautiful  English  countryside 
with  its  wild  flowers.

But  to  Audrey  and  me,  England  was  just  a  name. Hong  Kong  was
our  home.    Living  among  the  Chinese  as  we  did,  we  felt  an  affinity
with them,  and  admired  their  commonsense,  patience,  courtesy 
and  humour. We  seemed  to  laugh  at  the  same  things.    Our  Amah 
was the  soul  of  kindness and  loyalty,  and  could  never  do  enough  for  our  mother  and  us.

We  grew  up  beside  the  Chinese  noise  and  exuberance,  their  shouting,
chanting,  firecrackers,  music,  the  hawkers  calling  out  their  wares;  the
beggars  calling  "Cumshawl",  the  rickshaw  coolies  -  "Shaw?",  and 
the  chair coolies  -  "chair?".

Perhaps  Mamma  never  quite  got  used  to  all  this. She  was  always 
afraid that  we  might  catch  some  dreadful  disease;  and  it  was 
ages  before  she  would allow  us  to  go  to  the  Chinese  New Year  Fair,
and  then  only  when  we  had promised  to  be  careful  and  not  let 
anyone  bump  into  us!    We  all  had  to  be vaccinated  against  smallpox 
regularly  every  few  years,  and  if  there  was  an epidemic  of  it  we  got  an  extra  vaccination.    Or  if  a  cholera  or  typhoid  or some 
such  epidemic,  we  were  inoculated  against  them.

Police  men  were  much  in  evidence,  most  of  them  Chinese,  or 
large  Sikhs with  turbans  and  black  beards;  the  Superintendents 
and  Inspectors  being British. There  had  to  be  a  good  Police  force  in 
such  a  place  as  Hong  Kong, where  bad  characters  could  come  and 
go  quite  easily  over  the  Border. Still,  there  were  many  robberies, 
and  we  were  careful  to  hold  our  handbags tightly.

Part  of  the  fascination  of  Hong  Kong  lay  in  the  mixture  of  many 
races of  people,  ours  and  the  Chinese,  and  the  Portuguese,  the
Eurasians  and  all the  others.

In  1923  we  moved  up  to  a  house  in  Broadwood  Road,  on  the 
Ridge overlooking  Happy  Valley.    It  was  a  lovely  tree-lined  road  of
houses  and gardens  with  wild  violets  and  ferns  growing  in  shady 
places. In  the gardens  were  azaleas,  pink  and  white  and  red,  yellow 
Allamanda,  Duranta with  sprays  of  mauve  blossoms,  Caesalpinia  with  pretty  yellow  flowers  and delicate  leaves,  hibiscus,  scarlet  and  pink 
and  yellow,  white  spider lilies,  blue  climbing  morning  glory 
(convolvulus),  pink  Honolulu  creeper, bignonia,  the  red  cracker  flower 
shrub  -  the  buds  "popped"  when  you squeezed  them  -  and  Chinese 
roses. In  the  flower  beds,  zinnia,  coreopsis, gaillardia,  African 
marigolds  and  French  marigolds,  Bachelors    buttons, pink  and  crimson and  white  cosmos,  asters,  cockscombs,  petunias, salvia, verbena.
In  our  garden  I  remember  the  pine  trees,  the  peach  tree  with  its
pink  blossoms,  the  roses  and  the  "Lady  of  the  Night"  shrub  whose 
bunches of  white  flowers  gave  off  a  strong  fragrance  at  night.   
Behind  our  house on  the  hillside  pretty  blue  torenias  grew  wild.

I  remember  the  colourful  butterflies  and  the  large  Atlas  moths,  and
hearing  the  birds  calling  "Come-to-the-Peak-ha-ha!"  and  the  rainbird,  so
called  because  it  sang  when  it  was  going  to  rain;  and  magpies  -
superstitious  Mamma  if  she  saw  one,  would  immediately  look  around 
for another,  declaring  that  it  was  unlucky  to  see  only  one  magpie.

Our  friends  the  Bradburys  lived  near  us  on  the  Ridge,  Bert  and
Margaret  and  their  daughters  Violet  and  Joan,  both  younger  than 
Audrey and  I. Margaret  was  a  calm  and  happy  person  with  an 
infectious  laugh, Bert  was  in  the  Dairy  Farm  and  Cold  Storage 
Company. He  invested  in stocks  and  shares  and,  having  the  Midas 
touch,  became  a  rich  man. But  his and  Margaret's  tastes  were
simple,  and  Mamma  used  to  say  that  they  did  not know  how  to  enjoy  their  money! Little  Joan  had  a  sweet  voice,  and  Audrey,
Vi  and  I  would  get  her  to  sing  a  popular  American  song  "Red 
lips,  kiss  my blues  away"!

In  the  sub-tropical  climate  of  Hong  Kong,  flowers  bloomed  all  the
year  round. There  were  wonderful  flowering  shrubs  growing  wild 
on  the hillsides  and  in  the  valleys  of  the  Island  and  the  New 
Territories. Many  of  these  had  white  flowers,  including  Tutcheria, 
Schima,  Gordonia, Melodinus  and  Gardenia  florida  whose  white 
flowers  with  pointed  petals turned  to  ivory  and  then  yellow. Very 
showy plants were Melastoma with purplish pink  flowers, and  Camellia
hongkongensis  with  flowers  of  another shade  of  pink.    Mussaenda 
was  a  strange  shrub  that  always  fascinated  me;its  tiny  yellow 
flowers  grew  in  bunches  on  long  stalks  surrounded  by  large white 
sepals  looking  like  leaves.

But  the  most  common  of  the  shrubs  and  our  best  loved  was  the 
Barley Bue,  with  its  large  rosepink  flower  that  turned  into  a  fruit 
good  to  eat; its  Latin  name  Rhodomyrtus,  the  Rose  Myrtle.

There  were  several  wild  roses,  the  most  showy  being  Rosa  laevigata;
when  in  full  bloom  it  was  a  heavenly  sight  -  a  huge  bush  covered 
with large  single  white  roses,  very  fragrant. The  other  kinds  had 
smaller flowers,  pink,  white  and  deep  rose.

In  this  floral  Paradise  it  was  a  joy  to  walk  along  the  paths  over  the
hills,  each  corner  opening  up  another  vista  of  steep  ravines,  more  hills,
sea,  islands,  lonely  valleys. In  the  Spring  the  hillsides  were  bright
with  new  leaves,  fresh  green,  orange  and  red.

We  found  ground  orchids  blooming  in  sheltered  cool  places,  usually
beside  hill  streams  or  nullahs,  the  plants  six  to  eight  inches  tall,  the
flowers  about  an  inch  and  a  half  across  -  one  a  pink  flower  growing 
singly on  its  long  stem  -  another  with  three  or  four  yellow  flowers  on 
the  stem. In  shady  places  grew  wild  violets,  half  hidden  by  ferns.   
There  were  said to  be  four  kinds  of  violets  growing  in  Hong  Kong 
and  124  different  kinds of  ferns!  Ferns  large  and  small  grew 
everywhere,  some  of  the  tiny  ones were  red  in  colour  when  young, 
very  lovely  they  were. Large  blue bellflowers  grew  in  masses  on a  grassy  hillside.    It  was  a  thrill  when  I first  saw  these  delicate  flowers 
blowing  in  the  wind. Their  name  was Platycodon  grandiflora.

The  year  we  went  to  live  on  the  Ridge  we  met  Andy  and  Terry, 
Walter Andrews  and  Leslie  Terry.    Andy  was  22,  and  shared  my 
liking  for  walking in  the  hills. We  walked  over  Wong  Nei  Chong  Gap 
to  Repulse  Bay  one  day when  Hong  Kong  was  looking  its  most 
beautiful,  and  all  the  flowers  were in  bloom.    Andy  came  from  East 
Anglia  and  used  to  tell  me  all  about  the Norfolk  Broads.    Terry  was  a  keen  photographer  and  must  have  taken  dozens of  photographs  of  Audrey  and  me!

In 1924 I had reached the top of the school (ed. note - she was 14), and my school days ended. The nuns asked me to stay on and teach English to a class of Chinese girls, as many of them knew little English. I agreed to try, but was not happy and gave it up after a few months, and began to learn Pitman's shorthand and typewriting to prepare myself for a career as a Secretary.

We moved down to Wong Nei Chong Road again and stayed with Mrs. Leach and Daphne. Mr. Leach being away at sea most of the time and the boys at school in England, Mrs. Leach was now taking in paying guests. The other lodgers were young bachelors, Western, Watts, O'Shea, Davies.

Happy Valley 1920s
Happy Valley in the 1920s

We were waiting for new flats to be finished in Village Road at the end of the Valley, and as soon as they were ready, Mamma, Audrey and I moved into one.

In 1926 Terry got me my first job as Secretary in his office at the Hong Kong Telephone Co., and he used to take me in the side-car of his motorcycle. Daisy Kersey had come out from Home to marry Terry. She was a fine pianist and a trained singer. One of her songs was "There are fairies at the bottom of our garden" sung in a powerful but not pretty voice. Terry was very proud of his musical wife.

Douglas Munton, "Munts", joined Mamma's firm Shewan Tomes and Co. at this time and became her great admirer. He was generous to Audrey and me, took us to the Races, paid for all our bets and refused to accept any of our winnings!

Through his influence I joined the Hong Kong Government Service, and became Secretary to Mr. Tim Hazlerigg, the Treasury Solicitor at the Supreme Court. He and Munts were friends at the Hong Kong Club. I was just sixteen years old, and very proud to be earning my own money.

The Supreme Court was a beautiful building but inside there was a queer old musty smell. It stood on one side of Statue Square, a place of green lawns and pots of marguerites. In the centre of the Square, Queen Victoria sat enthroned under a canopy, flanked by various other statues, including Sir Thomas Jackson, Baronet, founder of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, standing grandly facing his Bank.

Mr. Hazlerigg was a nice, kind man, and I liked working for him. Every morning without fail he used to ring up Robin Cotton, and hold a long conversation with her. She was a teacher in one of the Government schools. Mr. Hazlerigg was one of the Hong Kong grass widowers, like Munts, whose wives had not accompanied their husbands to Hong Kong. In later years Mr. Hazlerigg's wife died, and he married his Robin.

Now that I was earning money as well, we decided to order a headstone for Dadda's grave in Happy Valley cemetery, on the hillside behind the Racecourse grandstand. The headstone was of marble with Hong Kong granite enclosing the grave. On the tablet was inscribed Dadda's favourite text

"In my Father's house are many mansions" - John 14-2.


The cemetery was a pleasant place to walk in. It was beautifully kept by the Chinese gardeners, with flowering trees and shrubs and flowers in pots lining the paths.


Jack Grenham used to come and stroll with us in the cemetery, and sit by the fountain. We had made friends with him and Bert Burrows when Audrey joined a Naval concert party. Jack used to sing "I miss my Swiss" and yodel, Audrey and her friends sang "We're four poor Italianos" and "Two little sausages". Amateur concerts were all the rage in Hong Kong, when good, bad and indifferent singers appeared on the stage to sing old sentimental or stirring songs to the accompaniment of a piano. Sometimes professional concert parties came from England to perform in Hong Kong and Shanghai, and everyone flocked to see them.

Audrey and Winnie Henderson joined a dancing school run by Violet Capell and Daisy O'Keefe. They gave dancing displays. In her first solo dance Audrey was a nymph tripping about in a diaphanous dress, catching a butterfly in her cupped hands, to the strains of Sinding's "Rustle of Spring". In a Dutch clog dance the girls danced to Greig's "NorwegianDance No. 2", and other dances were performed to the haunting music of Greig's "Peer Gynt Suite".

When we were young in Hong Kong, Mamma made most of our clothes, as she had done in Wei Hai Wei, and many were the hours we spent in Tyeb's or Kayamally's, the Indian drapers' shops, choosing dress materials, needles, cottons, tapes, bias binding, ribbons and laces!

As we grew older, Mamma gave up dressmaking, and our dresses were made by a Chinese tailor. There were many of these little shops in back streets. In the front room were piles of English, American and French fashion books for us to pore over. From the back room could be heard the voices of the tailor's assistants and the whirring of sewing machines. Having chosen a style, we would hand over the imported English or French dress materials we had bought at Tyeb's or Kayamally's and the tailor would take our measurements and promise a day for fitting. It was wonderful how we and he could communicate in pidgin-English on the latest fashions! But these tailors and their workmen were real geniuses, and in about ten days would produce a smart dress, beautifully finished in every detail at very little cost. No wonder the Hong Kong girls were so well dressed!

Our underclothes were made in China, and we bought them in the Chinese silk shops. They were made of silk or satin, beautifully embroidered as only the Chinese knew how to, and adorned with lace. Our shoes were made by Chinese shoemakers, but our hats came from Mrs. Brennan, an American whose shop was a treasure house of smart American hats! And our stockings were of sheer silk. Our Amah washed and ironed all our clothes and the household things. She used a charcoal iron, and had to blow the coals frequently to keep them glowing. Never again would there be such perfect ironing!

On our way to the tailor's we walked up Flower Street past the open air flower stalls. All kinds of flowers were here, some loose and some in bunches with foliage round them, tied up with strong grass. You had to examine these carefully because sometimes the flower heads had been fastened on to pieces of split bamboo! They even made funeral wreaths, which hung over each stall. Mamma loved to wander along bargaining for flowers. My favourites were the dark scented violets sold in tight little bunches with a ruffle of their own leaves round them. But the two most precious flowers, only seen once a year, were the Chinese New Year flowers. Bowls of fragrant Jonquil Narcissi in full bloom - little white bloomswith yellow cups, growing in water and pebbles, scenting the air yards away. And the lovely Enkianthus, shining pink waxlike flowers dangling like bells under tufts of leaves at the top of long bare branches.

The Flower Market

Hong Kong shops were Lane Crawford's and Whiteaway Laidlaw's, English Department stores, and their Chinese equivalents, Sincere's and Wing On's - it was a rickshaw ride to these two; Swatow Lace shops, selling exquisite Chinese embroidered table cloths and mats of cotton, linen and grasscloth, Swatow "drawn work", filet lace, Canton shawls of silk, with designs of birds, flowers and dragons heavily embroidered in coloured silks; English and Chinese jewellers and silversmiths, the Chinese gold lighter in colour and their silver softer than the "English" gold and silver; in the Chinese shops was beautiful jade of every shade and other Eastern gems. Chinese curio shops sold an infinite variety of Chinese vases, bowls, carvings and lamps, in cloisonne, jadestone, porcelain, bronze, ivory and wood.

There were furniture shops with blackwood stands, marbletopped, low blackwood tables, chairs and stools, intricately carved in bird patterns, flower patterns, dragon patterns; camphorwood boxes carved with Chinese scenes, emitting a delicious aroma when opened. Camphorwood was in great demand for storing things against moths.

Mah Jong sets had their own shops, this being the national game. Sets were in great variety, the traditional style being tiles of bamboo and ivory.

Hong Kong Street
Hong Kong Street Scene

Rattan shops sold basketwork (rattan) chairs and tables, for use outside in the summer. One of these shops called itself "Do be chairful"!

Mamma often said how lucky we were to live in Hong Kong, but we did not need reminding! It was a happy life on this beautiful island, with friends of many races, and kind servants to care for us.

Returning from holidays up North, as our ship sailed into Hong Kong waters, past all the pretty islands, and the hills of Hong Kong and Kowloon began to appear, Audrey and I would agree that there was nowhere as beautiful as Hong Kong!

Two of my friends at this time were George Tarrant (Jerry), who walked with me in the hills; and Ian Grant of Butterfield and Swire, the shipping firm. I loved to hear from Ian about Ichang and other Yangtze River ports where he had served, and about England and Scotland. He gave me H.V. Morton's "In search of England" and "In search of Scotland".

George  Tarrant  (Jerry)
George Tarrant (Jerry)

One day in 1927 Mr. Hazlerigg told me that the Governor, Sir Cecil Clementi, needed a stenographer at Government.House and that I had been recommended for the post. I went to be interviewed by H.E. and was accepted. And so I began my career as the Governor's secretary in theyear of my seventeenth birthday. It was a great honour for me, so young, to be chosen!

Sir Cecil Clementi
Sir Cecil Clementi

Government House was a fine building of two storeys in large grounds with trees, shrubs and flower beds. It had wide verandahs on both sides upstairs and downstairs, furnished with potted palms, and there was the familiar grand view over the City and the Harbour towards Kowloon and its hills. A large banyan tree grew opposite the entrance, which faced the Peak. As you entered you turned left along the verandah, and at the end was the office of the Custodian of Government House, Mr. John Deakin, which I was to share with him. At the other end was the Aide-de-Camp's Office, and near it the Private Secretary's Office. The A.D..C. was always a Lieutenant in the Army, and the Private Secretary amember of the Hong Kong Colonial Service.

Government House
Government House

Sir Cecil Clementi was a tall handsome, distinguished man, his hair going gray; his wife, Lady Clementi (Penelope), also tall and fair with a delicate kind of beauty. Dione and Cecily aged about twelve and eleven, and Cresswell about eight, were fair like their mother and resembled both parents.

Mr. Deakin lived with his wife and children in the Lodge beside the main gate. He was a great character, rather handsome with gray hair, and spoke with a strong accent from somewhere in England. He never stopped talking and I do not know how I ever got through my work! He managed the domestic affairs of Government House and supervised the servants. The Governors' wives were certainly fortunate in having him.

The Governors, Aides-de-Camp and Private Secretaries changed but Mr. Deakin and I were permanent. I was at Government House for nearly seven years, until my marriage.

From my window I looked out on the trees of the garden, especially some tall palms. One summer's day when a typhoon struck Hong Kong, I watched as one of my trees was uprooted by the "tai fung" (great wind).

I loved working at Government House; it was like being one of a large family. Every morning I went to H.E.'s,office. I always called Sir Cecil "Your Excellency" and he and Lady Clementi always called me "Miss Steel", which made me feel very grown up. H.E. would dictate official letters and minutes; and also his personal letters, his favourite and most constant correspondent being his father-in-law, Admiral C.J. Eyres, D.S.O., of Bath. Those were the years of the Chinese warlords, and I had to take down in my notebook, and type, endless lengthy letters to Admiral Eyres about all the latest complicated machinations and wars between Chang Tso-lin, Wu Pei-fu, Feng Yu-hsiang (the Christian General), Yen Hsi-shan, Chang Hsueh-liang (the Young Marshal) and Chiang Kai-shek. I hope the Admiral was as fascinated by the warlords as Sir Cecil was. I certainly improved my knowledge of Chinese affairs, and it was a good test for Pitman's shorthand.

As well as typing official documents, minutes and letters, and personal letters, I kept the Government House visitors' book, which one of the boys brought to me from the main gate every morning. I typed copies of the previous day's names and addresses for H.E., his wife and the A.D.C. And I typed the table plans for lunch and dinner parties, and wrote the place cards and invitations. This was the first time I can remember the word "lunch" being used. We always called it "tiffin".

About this time Audrey and I began to go to tea dances in the Hong Kong Hotel Roof Garden. Our partners were Andrew Kinross, Frank Angus and Maurice Weill. We loved dancing, and it was not long before we were proficient at foxtrots, one steps and waltzes.

In  1928  we  left  Happy  Valley  and  went  to  live  at  Braemar 
Terrace, Quarry  Point. This  was  a  new  terrace  of  flats,  two-storeyed 
with  a  flat roof,  as  in  most  Hong  Kong  houses.    Ours  was  an 
upstairs  flat  with  stairsup  to  the  open  roof,  where  our  washing 
was  hung  to  dry,  and  where  the servants  kept  their  pot  plants.   
They  lived  in  rooms  that  opened  on  to the  roof  at  the  back. The 
roof  was  open  from  one  end  to  the  other,  and it  was  a  pleasant  place 
to  walk  and  enjoy  the  view,  which  was  a  spectacular one  over  the
eastern  end  of  the  harbour,  looking  towards  Kowloon  Peak  and
Lion  Rock  and  the  chain  of  hills. Away  to  the  left  was  the  busy
part  of the  harbour  at  Victoria  and  Kowloon,  and  to  the  right 
Lyemun  Pass.    Our part  of  the  harbour  was  relatively  empty 
with  usually  only  junks,  sampans and  the  occasional  steam  launch 
to  be  seen. It  was  quite  a  climb  up  the path  to  Braemar  from  the 
main  road  down  by  the  waterfront.    Along  this road  ran  the  tramway, 
passing  by  Quarry  Bay  and  the  Taikoo  Dockyard,  andending  at 
Shaukiwan,  in  the  east. And  westwards  was  the  road  we  took  to
town  and  to  our  offices,  passing  Causeway  Bay,  where  the  sampans 
and  junks anchored.    In  the  mornings  our  amah  used  to  wake  us 
at  seven. We  had  to leave  in  good  time,  to  be  at  our  offices  at  nine.

Causeway Bay Trams
Causeway Bay Tram
In  another  flat  lived  Molly  and  Ken  Oliver,  of  Butterfield  and  Swire
and  their  young  daughter  Phyllis. They  became  two  of  our  best  friends.

At  first  we  had  two  amahs  at  Braemar  Terrace.    The  cook  amah  was
unusually  tall  for  a  Cantonese,  and  we  called  them  High  Jinks  and 
Low  Jinks,

Later  High  Jinks  left  us,  and  a  cook  boy  took  her  place.    He  was  a
magnificent  cook. His  "chicken  and  rice"  embellished  with  almonds  and
raisins  was  a  masterpiece  of  the  art  of  Chinese  cooking. Our 
remaining amah's  name  was  Ah  Ha. She  was  a  tiny,  faithful  woman 
who  became  one  of  the family  and  was  dear  to  us. She  had  a 
daughter  Wen  Ching  who  sometimes  came to  stay  with  her,  and  a  son 
whom she  called  "Ma  Booey"  (my  boy),  also  a large  contented  cat 
that  she  kept  chained  up  at  the  top  of  the  stairs,  and the  usual

An  Amah  was  addressed  as  Ah  Sam  if  you  did  not  know  her  name.
Men servants  were  called  Boy  (not  because  they  were  young!). Large
establishments  like  the  bachelors'  messes  (houses  that  the  bachelors
shared)  and  Government  House  employed  several  boys,  and  the  senior 
was  the Number  One  Boy,  addressed  as  "Number  One",  if  not  by  his 
own  name. Coolies  were  young  men  who  cleaned  the  house.
Sometimes young  relatives of  the  servants  came  into  our  houses  to
train  to  be  amahs,  boys  or  coolies. They  were  known  as
"makee  learn".

Like  all  Amahs,  Ah  Ha  wore  a  white  jacket,  buttoned  up  high  in  the
neck,  and  shiny  black  trousers,  her  smooth  black  hair  drawn  back 
from  her forehead  with  hairpins  in  her  bun  at  the  back,  and  earrings.   
She  always looked  the  essence  of  neatness,  as  all  the  Chinese  women 
did. The  servants never  took  holidays,  except  to  visit  the  ancestral 
home;  in  Hong  Kong  this was  always  called  by  them  "Canton  more 
far",  and  in  Shanghai  "Ningpo  more far".    On  these  occasions  they 
found  a  substitute  to  work  for  us  while they  were  away. Wen  Ching 
came  to  us  sometimes.

Ah  Ha  cooked  her  food  over  a  charcoal  stove  made  of  earthenware 
and studded  with  large  holes. It  stood  on  the  ground  and  she 
would  squat beside  it,  cooking  her  rice  and  fish  and  vegetables, 
occasionally  fanning the  coals  to  keep  up  the  heat. Audrey  and  I 
were  often  offered  pieces  of the  hard,  crackly  rice  that  had  stuck  to 
the  bottom  of  the  pan.

At  Chinese  New  Year  Ah  Ha  used  to  give  Audrey  and  me  "lucky 
money",  a coin  wrapped  in  special  red  paper,  usually  a  Chinese 
cash  with  a  square  hole  in  the  middle,  but  sometimes  a  Hong 
Kong  coin  with  the  King's  head, and  we  all  wished  each  other
"Kung  hay  fat  choy"  -  happy  New  Year.

Chinese  New  Year  was  a  festive  time. The  holiday  lasted  for  several
days.    Fire  crackers  could  be  heard  all  day  long  and  into  the  night, 
and the  Chinese  wore  their  best  clothes  and  went  visiting  each 

Audrey  and  I  were  allowed  to  go  to  the  New  Year  market  at  last.
It  was  gay  with  the  sound  of  Chinese  music  and  the  chatter  of  the
crowds. Everything  imaginable  was  sold  at  the  stalls,  the  most 
memorable  for  me being  those  New  Year  flowers,  the  long  branches
of  hanging  bells, enkianthus;  and  the  ornamental  bowls  of  narcissi 
growing  in  pebbles and  water.    Their  haunting  fragrance  could 
never  be  forgotten.

The Clementis went Home on leave in 1928, and the Colonial Secretary, the Hon. Mr. Wilfrid Thomas Southorn, became acting Governor, or to give him his correct title, Officer Administrating the Government. He was a large man, rather colourless after Sir Cecil, but his wife certainly made up for that. Mrs. Southorn was Bella Sidney Woolf. Her brother and sister-in-law were Leonard and Virginia Woolf.

Lady Southorn

Lady Southorn

With the advent of the Southorns, the whole atmosphere of Government House changed; formality was relaxed, and I became Betty instead of Miss Steel. Mrs. Southorn was a small dark-haired Jewess, full of charm and talent. I became her secretary as well as H.E.'s. It was fun working for such a friendly, informal person. She was writing a series of stories and sketches about Hong Konig, and I typed her manuscripts, as well as those she had written in Ceylon. The Hong Kong sketches became the little book called "Chips of China", published in Hong Kong by Kelly and Walsh. I still have the copy she gave me.

Sir Cecil Clementi left Hong Kong early in 1930, and Mr. Southorn became O.A.G. again until the arrival of the new Governor, Sir William Peel. The Peels seemed very ordinary after the Clementis and Southorns!

There were many Aides-de-Camp and Private Secretaries during my seven years, pleasant young men with whom I had not much contact.

In the hot summer months the Peels lived at Mountain Lodge, the Governor's residence on the Peak. It was a long journey for me every day, by tram to Garden Road, and by chair up the the Peak tram lower terminus; then in the Peak tram up past the roads named after past Governors; Kennedy Road, MacDonnell Road, Bowen Road, May Road, and their stations, the tram climbing like a fly on a wall. It made one giddy looking down on Victoria and the Harbour at such an angle. At the upper terminus near the Peak Hotel, one of the Governor's sedan chairs was waiting for me, the two chair coolies dressed in the Governor's uniform of red and white, to carry me up the winding road to Mountain Lodge. It was a breathtakingly beautiful ride, at every bend a new view of hills and blue seas and islands. The grounds of Mountain Lodge were open hillsides and smooth undulating lawns, and lining the long winding driveway all the way to the house were bushes of brilliant blue hydrangeas. Mountain Lodge was perched on a slope of the Peak looking southwards, and dramatically stretched out below it was the vast bluesea, studded with green islands large and small as far as the eye could see, with here and there junks in full sail. Surely no other girl has had the good fortune to be carried to work in a sedan chair on the shoulders of scarlet-clad Chinese coolies over the hills of a sub-tropical island!

The Mountain Lodge

The Mountain Lodge

I had tiffin every day with H.E. and his wife and the A.D.C. and P.S. The food though delicious was no better than that in our own house or anywhere else in Hong Kong, since all Chinese were naturally good cooks.

Audrey was a secretary with the commercial firm of Harry Wicking & Co., and later with Dodwell & Co.

Mamma was with Shewan Tomes & Co. from the year 1917 until her retirement in 1948. The taipans of the firm were Mr. Robert Shewan, Mr. William Adamson, and later Mr. Ian Shewan, Robert's son. Mr. Andrew Shields was the local manager. I can remember Mamma telling us about the provident fund, and the annual bonus. The Office was in Chater Road in one of the old "Colonial" buildings that were universal in Hong Kong in those days. At street level there were supporting columns, making a covered pavement, and the floors above had deep verandahs.

Queens Road Central

Queens Road Central

Since we were very young Audrey and I had been used to calling for Mamma at her office at 5 o'clock whenever we had to go shopping together, or meet friends. We would go up in the lift; and the office was a huge room with a long counter in front, behind which was Mamma's desk, and those of her companions. We had to walk past this counter, and Mr. Toppin used to tease us and say that every time we came, he could see more of us over the top of the counter. Miss Hayward was an elderly English spinster who lived at the Helena May Institute. The rest of Mamma's office companions were Portuguese, friendly, smiling people who always gave us a great welcome, Mrs. de Sales, Esther Carvalho, Mr. Botelho and the others. Bertha Carvalho married a German, and became the Baroness von Braun. In another part of the office were the Chinese compradore and his staff.

At Christmas Mamma and all the office girls exchanged presents, beautifully wrapped in Christmas paper and tied with ribbon and bows. Mamma would arrive home on Christmas Eve loaded with presents.

The large Portuguese community in the Colony were descendants of long ago settlers in Macao. Some of their surnames were Alvares, Alves, d'Assumpcao, d'Almada, Barretto, Botelho, Braga, Carvalho, Collaco, Cordeiro, Figuereido, Gomes, Gutierrez, Gonzales, Nolasco, Noronha, Pereira, Remedios, Ribeiro, Rodriguez, da Rocha, da Roza, Rosario, da Silva, de Sales, de Souza, Soares, Silva-Netto, Tavares and Xavier. In 1928 their Consul-General was the aristocratic Senhor Cerveira de Albuquerque, who with his plump Senhora, and pretty daughter Mariasinha, had come from Portugal.

Mamma and her friend Margaret Bradbury used to meet in the Gloucester Hotel lounge for tea after Mamma had finished work, at 5 o'clock. They would sit chatting away happily and then go off to the cinema, invariably arriving late for the film, but that did not seem to worry them. Other friends of Mamma were Claire Chaney (Harold's widow), ever vivacious and good company - she married again twice; Dreyer, a jolly Dane, and his lovely girl friend Alice Blake; and George and Doll Witchell. George was a great humorist and kept everyone laughing.

Mamma always looked young for her age. She had black, wavy hair, and brown eyes, and was extremely neat in her dress. She loved Audrey and me to dress well, and encouraged us to spend our money on clothes.

In the summer of 1930 I went to stay with the Jennings for the last time before the return of Wei Hai Wei to the Chinese later that year. My ship was a Butterfield and Swire steamer, the ss. "Kweichow" I think. I was on deck, leaning on the rail, gazing over the harbour and waiting for the ship to start, when a girl came to lean beside me. She told me that she was going to visit Peking. She was Kathleen Benington, a Government school teacher, and although she was the older by ten years, we became great friends. Our ship called at Swatow and Foochow, where we were entertained to tiffin in the bachelors' messes, word having gone ahead of our coming. I remember sailing up the Min River, and the pretty anchorage with its pagoda on the river bank. After leaving Wei Hai, the ship sailed on to Tientsin, and from there Kathleen went to Peking by train.

We sailed back to Hong Kong together in another B. & S. ship. On the first night I was attacked by bed bugs crawling out of the wall beside my bunk. Terrified I went to tell Kathleen and she came and slept in the spare bunk in my cabin to give me moral support! We told the Captain the next day and he professed not to believe us; so having armed ourselves with a glass jar supplied by the ship's cook, the next night we caught a specimen bug and gave it to the Captain in the morning. I was moved to another cabin after that.

The year before, I had met Derrick Milne-Day and Audrey met Brian Massey. They were both in the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. Derrick was 22, very fair and rather overweight, and known to one and all as Fatty - an unkind name. He was a cheerful, easygoing young man and unusually intelligent. The son of missionaries on the Malabar Coast, India, he had hoped to be a doctor, but finances would not allow the medical training. Brian was a couple of years older than Derrick, the son of a Shanghai family. He affected a cynical manner and a slight American accent.

Derrick Milne Day

Derrick Mile-Day

And so began the era of dancing parties in the winter and swimming parties in the summer. Our friends were Eve O'Hagan and Mike Turner (Hong Kong Bank), Betty Laing and Lolly Goldman (Gilman & Co), Edna Blackburn and Jake Selby (a Scottish doctor), Joe Coppin and G.A. Plummer, "Plums", Joe's brother Dudley, Margaret and Rosemary King, Eileen Lammert and Jim Henry (Reuter's), Eileen Bonnar, Joey Lack, Daphne and Vernon Stanion (her brother), Minna Whitham and her brother James, Jenny Whyte, "Uncle" Burch (Hong Kong Bank), Teddie West, Dick Beaumont, Shorty Stock and others.

Betty and Audrey Steel

Betty and Audrey Steel

We danced at the Hong Kong Hotel and Repulse Bay Hotel, and occasionally at the various bachelors' messes - the Hong Kong Bank (Wayfoong Mess); Jardine, Matheson and Co. (Ewo Mess); Butterfield and Swire. Balls were held, usually at the Peninsula Hotel, on St. George's and St. Andrew's Mights. The girls were given dance cards in which were listed by name the foxtrots and waltzes, and the men wrote their names in the blank spaces. St. Andrew's Ball was enjoyed for its bagpipes, Scottish reels, haggis and kilts. By special license Balls went on until 1 a.m. They all praised me for my dancing - and who could resist dancing in those grand hotel ballrooms with their smooth, shiny, brightly polished wooden floors,to the music of a sweet sounding orchestra. I could have danced for ever! Dance orchestras were composed of Filipinos from Manila, who showed by their smiles that they enjoyed playing as much as we did dancing. Their repertoire was all the latest American dance tunes. These were a few of them - Always; All alone; Whispering; Singing in the rain; What'll I do?; You were meant for me; My wonderful one; You're the cream in my coffee; The Saxophone Waltz; Bye bye Blackbird; You're driving me crazy; Me and my shadow; I can't give you anything but love; The Naughty Waltz; Three o'clock in the morning.

Repulse Bay Hotel

Repulse Bay Hotel

Every Saturday evening in the winter was "Saturday night in the Far East" as the bachelors called it, when we attended the dinner dance at the Hong Kong Hotel. The tables were placed along the edges of the dance floor, and we danced between each course of our dinner. Hotel dances ended at midnight, the last dance often being "Goodnight Sweetheart"! On Sunday morning, Mamma, Audrey and I would linger over breakfast, while we told her every detail about the party. She was always intensely interested in all our friends and wanted to know everything.

Although Kathleen was very much a part of our lives and I met her several times a week for perhaps tea or dinner, often with Mamma or Audrey as well, she never came to the dances. Her friends were older married people.

Jimmie and Tootie Begg were two of our married friends. They came from Shanghai where she had been Jimmie Cumming before she married. They knew the famous mercenary "Two-gun Cohen" (Maurice Cohen), Chiang Kai-shek's bodyguard, a tough looking man who occasionally visited the Colony from Canton. Eileen Lammert married Jim Henry - she was extremely pretty, and he was a funny man who liked to make us laugh. But poor Eileen became ill with tuberculosis and died.

In the winter on Saturday afternoons there were Rugby football matches in Happy Valley, and the girls would attend, to watch their bachelor friends rushing about getting covered in mud and sweat. But one dreadful day Brian's neck was broken while playing Rugger. He recovered, but never regained his good health.

On Sundays Derrick and Brian came to tiffin with us at Braemar Terrace, and our cook boy would produce his incomparable meals of fried fish, or whole fish cooked with ginger, chicken and rice, or Malay curry. There has never been such delicious fresh fish as that caught by the Chinese fishermen in the sea around Hong Kong, cooked to perfection by Chinese cooks.

In the summer Derrick, Brian, Mike and "Uncle" rented a matshed on Repulse Bay beach, and every Sunday a party of us spent the day there. The whole beach was lined with matsheds, delightfully cool shelters divided into a wide verandah in front where we had our sandwich picnics, and two changing rooms at the back, one for the girls and one for the men. We swam before tiffin, walked on the beach afterwards, meeting friends, and swam again later. There were rafts to swim to, and water taps on the beach to wash off the salt water. Repulse Bay was the most popular beach in the Colony, and crowded on a Sunday. When walking on the beach we wore pretty floral beach pyjamas or shorts, made by our Chinese tailor. Behind the matsheds, lining the beach road, flame of the forest trees were in full bloom.

Repulse Bay Matsheds

Matsheds in Repulse Bay

Repulse Bay Hotel was set in the hillside above the beach. Steps led up to it through a garden of shrubs, flower beds and flower pots. It was a long low building, its wide verandah furnished with tables,and chairs and potted palms. Just inside was the ballroom, where tea dances and dinner dances were held. Electric fans hung from the ceilings, as they did in all hotels and offices, cooling the air in the hot summer. From the hotel verandah the view over Repulse Bay was quite lovely, especially so on nights when the stars shone and the fishing boats were out in the bay, each boat with a brilliant lamp for attracting fish.

Repulse Bay Hotel - panoramic

Repulse Bay Hotel

The "Drive round the island" was traditional. Hire-cars were stationed outside the Hong Kong hotel, driven by Indians or Chinese. In those days cars ran slowly, so that one could enjoy the colourful scenery and the very winding road without being tossed about. Around the small island, only 32 square miles, the road curved all the way. At night it was a romantic drive, past hollows in the hillside twinkling withfireflies; and fishing boats, with their bright lights reflected in the calm sea.

All day launch picnics were popular in the summer months. Several firms owned steam launches, used on weekdays for business with visiting ships; and on Sundays or holidays they could be hired by the firm's bachelors for picnics. One of these launches was the "Taimoshan" owned by the A.P.C. (Asiatic Petroleum Co.). These launches had their own Chinese coxwains and crews, who on picnic days were joined by perhaps the No. 1 Boy and the No. 2 Boy of the bachelors' mess concerned, bringing the food and drinks for the party. We boarded the launch atBlake Pier in the morning and set off down the harbour, sitting on cane chairs on deck enjoying the sea breezes. As soon as we had left Lyemun Pass and were in fairly open sea, out would come the surfboards, attached by long ropes to the stern of the launch, and those who enjoyed surfboarding were towed along, clinging on to the ropes, twisting and turning and being thrown into the sea, so that we had to turn around and go to their rescue. I never took part in this adventurous exercise.

On arrival at the chosen bay, we anchored and a rowing boat was launched to take some of the party ashore, while others swam to thebeach. Glorious days of warm seas - but we had to be careful not to stay out in the hot sun for too long! Our picnic tiffin was eaten on deck at a large table - what could be more perfect?

Deep Water Bay

Deep Water Bay


The three favourite beaches for launch picnics were at Junk Bay, Clear Water Bay and Big Wave Bay, where the waves really were big on mostdays, and one had the fun of leaping over each one as it swept in, or of being overwhelmed by it if one's timing was wrong. Each beach was more gorgeous than the other, with its dazzling white sand.

Sometimes we went moonlight bathing at Repulse Bay. It was strange and romantic under the moon and stars, swimming in a sea still warm from the sun, with the glitter of phosphorescence surrounding us.

Repulse Bay


Repulse Bay Hotel


Repulse Bay Hotel - panoramic

Repulse Bay, then two of the old Repulse Bay Hotel


There would come a Sunday when the sea was full of jelly bugs that pricked our bodies, and we knew it was the end of the swimming season.

The ground floor lounge of the Hong Kong Hotel was a popular meeting place for tea, and the first floor lounge for drinks, with its comfortable sofas and chairs. Adjoining this lounge was the dining room, where the food must surely have been the best in the world, the cooking a combination of French and Chinese, not forgetting the splendid Malay curries - what more need be said? An orchestra played light music at tea time.

We used to meet Kathleen or Eve at the Hong Kong Hotel for tea, or for a meal at Mac's Cafe next door, the first Grill Room Hong Kong ever had. And often we and Kathleen would have Chinese chow on the roof garden of the South China Restaurant in China Building. Besides the dining rooms indoors, you could eat in little summer houses out on the open roof, in a garden of pot plants. It was a delightful place on a summer's evening, looking out on the lights of the Peak and the town. While we were choosing our meal from the vast menu, a Boy brought us damp hot scented towels to wipe our hands on; and we ate "kwa chee" - melon seeds-while waiting for our meal. Some of our favourite dishes were chicken and walnuts, fried garoupa, sweet and sour pork, roasted duckskin, corn soup and "chow fan" - fried rice. Never was food so good! The next day Kathleen complained of indigestion but she said it was worth it, and soon we would be visiting the South China again! I must not forget to mention the "chow mein" - crispy noodles!

I bought my first folding camera, a Kodak with a bellows, from Gordon Frisque, the young American representative of Kodak in Hong Kong. We drove out to the countryside near Kowloon City, and he showed me how to take photographs. And so I became a dedicated photographer.

Some of our friends were Naval and Army officers. Richard Burston, a Lieutenant R.N. on the Commodore's staff, used to invite us to dine on board HMS Tamar, the shore based ship alongside the Naval Dockyard. And we went to dances on board H.M. ships which were gaily decorated with flags for the occasion. John Kealy of the Queen's Royal Regiment and Desmond Finney of the Beds and Herts (Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment) took me out sometimes, and later Margaret, Audrey and I got to know some extremely wild officers of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Margaret was sentimental. She loved the poems of Rupert Brooke (and "You are my heart's delight" was a favourite song of hers.

Kathleen met and fell in love with Bill Telfer, a Scotsman in Butterfield and Swire. But he was soon posted to one of the treaty ports. I used to take photographs of Kathleen to send to him. There was a happy ending when they were married in Peking a few years later.

On November llth, Armistice or Poppy Day, we sold poppies in the town in aid of ex-servicemen of the 1914-1918 War, and then attended the Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in Statue Square. This was Autumn in Hong Kong. Up till then we had worn cotton summer dresses, but on Poppy Day we put on our new long sleeved silk dresses that the tailor had made.We were sorry to see the end of our 90° summer! But the Hong Kong winter was delightful too, when I think the temperature never fell below 42°.

Douglas Munton, "Munts", had a house in Homuntin, Kowloon. I used to dine there occasionally with Mamma. His servants consisted of cookboy, coolie and wash amah.

On Sundays or holidays I sometimes went with Mamma and Munts for a drive in the New Territories in his car, and a picnic. These were the most happy days for me. It was heaven to be in the countryside; hills all around us, Chinese villages, some of them walled and moated, temples with curved roofs, Chinese graves set in the hillsides, ancient banyan trees with joss sticks burning under them, bamboo groves, pine trees, flowering shrubs growing wild, padi fields on the level and climbing up hillsides, at one season all wet, at another bright green with young rice shoots, women working at all kinds of tasks, their babies tied to their backs, little boys in charge of water buffaloes, usually riding on their broad backs, girls washing clothes in streams, pigs with curved backs, their stomachs touching the ground, chickens, ducks being led to a pond by a man with a stick, Hakka women in their large curtained hats.

One of our favourite picnic places was the Shing Mun River Valley, enclosed by hills and dominated by the highest, Tai Mo Shan; a beautiful place of pines, wild gardenias and camellias, ferns, barley bues and wild roses. This valley was doomed to become another of the many reservoirs providing the Colony with water.

Shung Mun River

Shing Mun River


I think it took about four hours to make the circle of the New Territories by car. You drove from Kowloon by the Lai Chi Kok Pass, past the Amah Rock, a formation resembling an amah with a baby on her back, to Shatin, and then beside Tide Cove, an inlet of the sea leading to Tolo Harbour - grand views here of islands and the open sea, and of Ma On Shan towering over to the east. Near here was Mirs Bay, in earlier days the haunt of pirates. Then past Taipo, its harbour crammed with the Hoklo people's junks and sampans, home to these fisher people.

Junks and Sanpans

Junks and Sampans


Then inland driving westwards past Fanling and its golf course and across country to the sea on the other side, Deep Bay, and then south past Un Long to Castle Peak, and eastwards back to Kowloon. The New Territories were full of attractive names, Plover Cove, Port Shelter, Gin Drinkers Bay, Pineapple Pass, Smugglers Ridge, Customs Pass, Starling Inlet.

Farmers in the New Territories

The New Territories

In  the  summer  of  1932  we  left  Braemar  Terrace  and  went  to  live 
in Kowloon.    As  we  were  going  Home  on  leave  in  1933,  we  did 
not  take  a  flat but  stayed  at  the  Knutsford  Hotel.    It  was  a  long 
journey  for  me  in  the mornings  and  evenings  because  H.E.  and 
Lady  Peel  were  in  summer  residence at  Mountain  Lodge. From  the 
Knutsford  Hotel,  I  travelled  by  bus  to  the Star  Ferry,  then  by 
ferry  across  the  harbour,  by  rickshaw  to  Battery  Path, by  chair  to 
the  Peak  tram,  tram  up  the  Peak,  and  Governor's  chair  to Mountain 
Lodge.    However,  I  was  quite  happy!


The Peak Tramway

The Mountain Lodge

Rickshaws, the Peak Tram and the Mountain Lodge.

Crossing  the  Harbour  in  the  ferry  took  ten  minutes.    We  sat  out onthe  open  deck,  where  there  were  rows  of  seats  with  adjustable
backs,  so that  they  always  faced  in  the  direction  we  were  going.   
Who  could  fail  to enjoy  this  pleasant  way  of  travelling  across  the 
bustling,  ever  interesting harbour?    In  the  evenings,  going  home,
often  there  were  gorgeous  sunsets that  lit  up  sky  and  sea.

Kowloon from HK in the day

Kowloon from HK in the night

Kowloon by day and night

The  waterfront  on  the  Hong  Kong  side  was  called  the  Praya  - 
from  the Portuguese. There  was  a  series  of  Piers.  .  On  one 
side  of  the  Star  Ferry Wharf  was  Queen's  Pier,  the  official  landing 
place  at  Statue  Square;  and  on the  other  side  was  Blake  Pier,  where  one  hired  a  motor  boat  at  night  if  one had  missed  the  last  ferry  after  a  dance.    These  motor  boats  were  called "Walla-wallas" 
for some  unknown  reason.    Beyond  were  the  wharves  of  the
Canton  and  Macao  steamers  and  various  ferries  going  to  places 
in  the  New Territories  or  to  Lantau  and  other  islands.

Queens Pier

Queen's Pier

It  was  all  reclaimed  land,  as  indeed  was  Causeway  Bay  and  all 
the waterfront  land  in  both  directions. The  Chinese  were  wonderful 
road builders  and  hill  demolishers.    In  our  time  Morrison  Hill  was 
flattened  for new  development,  a  great  feat. Men  and  women  worked 
together,  dozens  of them  at  a  time.    The  women  squatted  on  the 
ground  breaking  huge  stones into  little  ones  with  hammers,  wearing 
metal  guards  on  their  fingers. The famous  Hong  Kong  roads  were  the 
result  of  these  amazing  people's  joint work. I  think  that  most  of  these 
builders  were  Hakka  people,  the  women  who wore  the  big  hats 
with  curtains.

View of Causeway Bay

View of Causeway Bay

On  the  Kowloon  side  near  the  Star  Ferry  Wharf  was  the  Railway 
Station, terminus  of  the  Kowloon Canton  Railway,  and  the  Signal 
Station  on  the  top  of which  was  the  time  ball  and  where  weather 
signals  were  displayed.    The signals  warned  when  a  typhoon  was  near,  and  the  time  ball  dropped  with  a bang  every  midday!    Nearby 
was  the  Peninsula  Hotel,  Hong  Kong's  newest  and tallest,  seven 
storeys  high.

From  this  part  of  Kowloon  one  had  the  most  famous  of  the  Colony's
views,  "Hong  Kong  by  Night",  celebrated  in  paintings  and  photographs.
It really  was  a  scene  from  fairyland,  especially  on  a  starry  night  - 
lights  in the  harbour,  lights  in  Hong  Kong  all  the  way  up  the  Peak, 
and  stars  in  the sky.    You  couldn't  tell  where  the  lights  ended  and  the  stars  began!

On  the  other  side  of  the  Star  Ferry  were  the  wharves  where  the 
big steamers  berthed,  those  that  sailed  to  Europe,  the  P.  and  0. 
liners "Carthage",  "Corfu",  "Canton",  "Cathay"  and  others  (Peninsula
 and  Oriental Steam  Navigation  Company);  and  the  Blue  Funnel 
liners  "Patroclus",  "Antenor", and  others  (Alfred  Holt  and  Company);
the  French  ships  "Athos",  "Porthos", and  "D'Artagnan"  of  the 
Messageries  Maritimes  Line.    And  the  ships  that crossed  the  Pacific, 
"Empress  of  Canada",  "Empress  of  Asia",  "Empress  of Japan"  of  the  Canadian  Pacific  Line;  "President  Hoover",  "President
Coolidge"  of  the  U.S.  President  Line;  "Asama  Maru",  "Tatsuta  Maru",
"Chichibu  Maru"  of  the  NYK  (Nippon  Yusen  Kaisha).

Dates  of  arrival  and  departure  of  all  ships  were  advertised  in  the
local  newspapers. The  P.  and  0.  line  carried  the  mail  between 
Hong  Kong and  Europe. Each  week  one  mail  ship  arrived  and 
another  departed. Expected  dates  of  Home  mails  were  advertised  in 
the  papers  and  in  the  Post Office. The  sea  voyage  took  five  weeks.
If  we  wished  to  send  our  letters by  a  quicker  way,  we  marked  them 
"Via  Siberia". Then  they  were  taken  up  to Vladivostok  by  coastal 
steamer,  and  on  to  Europe  by  the  Trans-Siberian Railway,  a 
transit  of  three  weeks.

At  this  time  a  riding-school  was  started  at  Kai  Tak  in  Kowloon  by
Captain  Daniloff,  a  White  Russian  ex-Cossack  Officer. I  joined  the 
classes, with  Audrey,  Eve,  Margaret,  Rosemary,  Eileen  Bonnar, 
Edna  and  Kathleen. We  Hong  Kong  girls  were  not  much  good 
at  riding  the  frisky  China  ponies, because  most  of  us  got  thrown. 
Captain  Daniloff  must  have  been  most disappointed  in  us! I  was  the 
first  to  give  up  this  alarming  exercise,  and soon  for  us  the  riding  lessons  ended!

In  spite  of  working  in  our  offices  from  9  a.m.  until  5  p.m. 
every  day, and  on  Saturdays  from  9  a.m.  until  1  p.m.,  we  led  a  tremendously  active social  life.    My  diary  of  this  time  records  lunches,  teas,  dinners  and dances.

In  March  1933  Kathleen,  with  Bill  Telfer  and  the  Olivers,  Molly 
and  Ken and  Phyllis,  went  Home  on  leave,  in  the  Blue  Funnel 
s.s.  "Hector",  and  we went  on  board  to  see  them  off.   
"Seeing  off"  was  a  great  custom  in  Hong Kong. An  hour  before 
sailing  time,  the  ship's  lounge  would  be  full  of people  having 
drinks.    Soon  we  heard  the  sound  of  the  ship's  engines  and
the  cry  "All  visitors  ashore",  and  we  descended  the  gangway
to  the  dockside to  wave  goodbye  to  our  friends  leaning  on 
the  ship's  rails.

Usually  "Home  leave"  came  every  four  years,  and  the  time  spent
away from  Hong  Kong  was  nine  months,  which  included  the  sea 
journeys  of  five weeks  each.
In  April  and  May  1933  came  our  turn  to  go  on  leave!   Mamma 
and  Audreyfirst,  and  I  a  month  later.    I  stayed  with  Zoe  and 
Bill  Williams  until  my departure.    She  was  a  White  Russian,  Ithink  from  Shanghai,  a  gentle  girl and  a  great  favourite  of  Mamma. Her  name  was  Zoya  Leek  before  she  married Bill. They  came  on  board
to see  me-off  when  I  sailed  in  the  P.  and  0. liner  "Carthage".

And  so  Audrey  and  I  saw  England  for  the  first  time  when  I  was 
22,  and she  was  21;  and  Mamma  met  her  relations  again  after 
24  years.

A  Chinese  street  is  crowded,  colourful  and  noisy.    Shops  are 
open fronted.    Boards  are  pat  up  over  the  front  late  at  night, 
and  taken  down early  in  the  morning  -  the  Chinese  never 
seem  to  sleep!    Outside  the  shops are  hanging  banners  and  signs 
inscribed  with  elegant  Chinese  characters. From  the  upper  floors, 
washing  hangs  out  to  dry  on  long  poles.

Hong Kong Street at night
Hong Kong Street at Night
On  the  pavement,  women  in  black  jackets  and  trousers  sit  on  stools
sewing.    A  scribe  sits  at  a  table  on  the  pavement  writing  a  letter 
for someone,  using  a  brush  and  Chinese  ink  to  make  the 
beautiful  characters.

Pedlars  squat  on  the  pavement  with  their  baskets,  selling  fruit,
vegetables,  sweetmeats.    Men  with  portable  kitchens  sell  rice 
dishes  or soup  to  passersby  -  delicious  smell  of  hot  food.
Coolies  jog  along  with poles  across  their  shoulders;  at  each  end 
are  suspended  large  baskets filled  with  goods. On  their  heads  are
large  round  straw  hats  with  pointed tops,  to  keep  off  the  sun 
or  the  rain. Women  with  babies  tied  to  their backs  in  wide 
blue  cloths;  the  babies  go  on  sleeping  whatever  the  mothers
are  doing.

Whiffs  of  Chinese  cooking  coming  from  interiors,  pungent  aroma 
of guavas  and  other  southern  fruit,  fragrance  of  jasmine,  smell 
of  burning joss  sticks. Everyone  talking  loudly,  pedlars  calling 
their  wares, someone  shouting.    The  rickshaw  coolies  and  the  pedlars  shout  "Wei"  as  they
run  along,  clearing  a  way  through  the  crowd. Clatter  of  wooden 
clogs  when it  rains. Little  Chinese  boys  and  girls  in  jackets 
and  calf  length trousers,  girls  with  pigtails,  boys  with shaven  heads. 
In  the  summer  men roll  up  their  trousers,  some  wear  shorts 
and  white  topees.    Sitting  on stools  outside  their  shops,  men  with 
singlets  rolled  up  fan  their  bare stomachs.

At  night  Chinese  music  comes  from  a  tea  house  or  restaurant, 
sounds of  loud  voices.    Mah  Jong  tiles  being  slapped  down, 
smell  of  cooking. Gay  Chinese  lanterns  hanging  outside,  decorated 
with  Chinese  characters and  lit  by  electricity.

Rickshaw  coolies  sit  on  the  edge  of  the  pavement  waiting  for
customers  -  "Shaw?"  they  cry  as  we  approach.    There  is  nothing 
so  smooth or  enjoyable  as  riding  in  a  rickshaw  to  Sincere's, 
the  big  Chinese department  store,  or  to  Wing  On's  just  beyond.   
We  travel  at  a  leisurely pace,  watching  the  world  go  by. When  it 
rains,  the  rickshaw  coolie  stops, unpacks  a  tarpaulin  from  the  back 
of  the  rickshaw,  and  hooks  it  up  in  front of  his  passenger;   
who  can  peep  over  while  keeping  dry.    But  the  tarpaulin
has  a  horrid  smell!    The  rickshaw  man  dons  a  huge  straw  cloak 
and  hat,  and off  we  go!

At  the  bottom  of  Battery  Path  chair  coolies  wait  to  carry  people 
past St.  John's  Cathedral  and  up  Garden  Road  to  the  Peak 
tram.    The  motion  of a  sedan  chair,  with  its  two  long  poles 
balanced  on  the  shoulders  of  a  man front  and  back,  feels  a  little 
uncomfortable  at  first,  but  the  coolies soon  get  into  step,  and  then 
the  jogging  rhythm  becomes  pleasant  and soothing.

Outside  the  Cathedral,  groups  of  elderly  Chinese  men  squat  under 
the trees  talking,  each  man  with  his  pet  bird  in  a  cage  beside 
him  on  the ground.    We  too  have  a  caged  bird,  a  canary  that 
sings  incessantly. All  our  friends  keep  canaries  to  brighten  their 

Coolies  sleep  on  low  narrow  walls  over  nullahs  -  how  is  it  that 
they never  fall  off?    When  it  rains,  the  coolies  working  on  the 
roads  put  on straw  capes  and  their  large  hard  straw  hats, 
pointed  on  top.

When  we  lived  in  Kennedy  Road  we  went  to  school  by  tram, 
past  the Royal  Naval  Dockyard  with  a  sailor  standing  sentry  at
the  Gate,  past Wanchai,  a  Chinese  section  with  its  seething  masses
of  noisy  people, along  the  harbour  shore  where  sampans  were 
anchored  and  one  could  see  the sampan  families  living  on  board 
the  junks  and  sampans.    Beyond  them  theever  fascinating  harbour 
full  of  ships;  merchant  ships,  Naval  vessels, ferries,  steam  launches,
 junks  and  sampans.    Sounds  of  ships'  sirens  and whistles.    Hong
 Kong  was  named  after  its  Fragrant  Harbour.    Beyond  the Harbour, 
Kowloon  backed  by  a  line  of  hills  -  Kau  Lung,  the  Nine  Dragons.
On  our  right  the  Peak  and  the  Hong  Kong  hills  towering  above  us.
You  could  never  get  away  from  the  beauty  and  enchantment  of 
Hong  Kong!

We  alighted  from  the  tram  at  Causeway  Bay  and  walked  to 
the  Convent past  Chinese  shops  that  sold  all  kinds  of  strange 
foods.    We  used  to  buy chan  pi  moi  (salty-sweet  dried  plums), 
fa  sang  (peanuts)  and  kwa  chi (melon  seeds),  poured  out  of  large 
containers  by  the  man,  and  sold  to  us in  little  paper  cones, 
and  crisp  water  chestnuts,  and  ginger.

The  tram  went  on  past  the  junk  and  sampan  typhoon  shelter, 
the  Polo ground,  where  the  polo  players  rode  on  China  ponies, 
and  Taikoo  Dockyard  to Shaukiwan,  a  Chinese  quarter  near 
Lyemun  Pass,  the  eastern  entrance  to the  harbour. Going  home, 
we  got  off  the  tram  at  Garden  Road  and  walked  up to  Kennedy 
Road. The  tram  continued  past  Murray  Parade  Ground,  where  Army
regiments  marched  to  the  stirring  music  of  military  bands;  past 
the  Cricket Club,  and  through  Victoria,  the  City  of  Hong Kong,  where  the  European shops,  hotels,  offices  and  banks  were,  all  the  way  to  West  Point,  the Chinese  district  with  its  exciting  Chinese  restaurants  and  noise  and  life, and  on  to  Kennedy  Town,  the  western  tram  terminus.
Hong Kong Cricket Club
Hong Kong Cricket Club

in Central

When  we  were  very  young  it  was  a  great  treat  to  go  to  the 
cinema  at the  Coronet  Theatre.    We  were  allowed  to  go  alone; 
what  a  thrill  it  was to  buy  our  tickets  at  the  box  office,  and 
enter  the  long  hall  packed  with rows  of  seats,  the  orchestra  in 
the  pit  playing  stirring  marches  while waiting  for  the  show  to 
begin.    We  were  impatient  for  the  lights  to  go out.    The  films 
were  silent  in  those  days,  captions  would  appear  on  the screen, 
and  the  orchestra  played  appropriate  music  throughout.  We  ate
potato  chips  from  the  Bluebird  Cafe,  or  sweets,  out  of  paper 
bags,  while watching  our  favourite  film  stars:  Mary  Pickford, 
Douglas  Fairbanks, Charlie  Chaplin,  Harold  Lloyd;  or  Pearl  White  in 
an  episode  of  "The  Lightning Raider".    In  later  years,  grander 
cinema  theatres  were  built,  and  other  film stars  appeared:   
Rudolph  Valentino,  Ramon  Navarro,  Norma  and  Constance
Talmadge,  Gloria  Swanson,  Mary  Miles  Minter,  Monte  Blue, 
Wallace  Reid. I  used  to  write  to  the  film  stars,  and  receive  in 
return  their  signed photographs!

When  we  were  children,  the  Compradore  Book  was  an  important 
item  of housekeeping.    Every  day  Mamma  would  write  in  it  the 
food  and  household things  needed,  and  the  Boy  or  Amah  would 
take  it  to  the  Compradore's (Chinese  grocer's  shop),  where  the 
prices  would  be  added  beside  Mamma's list,  and  Boy  or  Amah  would  bring  the  various  items  home.

Mamma  never  went  into  the  kitchen.    She  said  it  was  better 
not  to interfere.    And  certainly  everything  worked  smoothly 
that  way. Our  food could  not  have  been  more  delicious,  or  the 
house  run  better. The  servants were  early  risers,  and  by  breakfast 
time  the  house  would  be  clean  and  tidy. But  of  course  Mamma, 
Audrey  and  I  were  away  all  day  at  our  offices.

House  Boys  wore  white  jackets  and  trousers.    Coolies  also  wore
white, but  someimes  their  trousers  were  black.    Amahs  always 
wore  white  jackets and  shiny  black  trousers.

Considering  how  noisy  the  Chinese  could  be,  it  was  amazing 
how  quiet the  servants  were.    In  their  soft  shoes  they  made  no 
sound  as  they  moved over  the  bare  wooden  highly  polished  floors.   
And  from  the  kitchen  no loud  voices  were  ever  heard.

In  the  old  days  every  house  had  a  filter,  an  earthenware  jar  for
filtering  the  drinking  water  in  times  of  epidemics  of  cholera  or 
some such  disease.    Filtered  water  tasted  horrid. We  often  had 
water  shortages, when  the  reservoirs  nearly  ran  dry  in  times  of 
drought  -  then  our  drinking water  had  to  be  filtered  too.

Soft  drinks  were  made  locally  by  Watson's  the  chemist,  -  lemonade,
orangeade,  ice  cream  soda,  sarsaparilla  -  called  "sarsy-suey"  by  the
Chinese,  "suey"  being  water.    The  bottles  were  light  green  and 
closed  by green  marbles.    To  open  the  bottle  you  pushed  the 
marble  in  with  your thumb,  and  out  would  come  an 
explosion  of  fizz.

When  two  Chinese  friends  saw  each  other  coming  in  the  street, 
they could  not  wait  to  meet,  but  began  to  shout  to  each  other, 
"Wai,  hai  pin su-ah?"  -  Hello,  where  are  you  going?

The  Taipans,  (heads  of  business  firms)  and  their  families  lived  in
beautiful  houses  on  the  Peak,  with  grand  views  over  the  sea 
and  islands. The  bachelors'  messes  of  the  Hongs  or  business  firms, 
such  as  Wayfoong, (the  Hong  Kong  and  Shanghai  Bank,)  and  Ewo 
(Jardine,  Matheson  and  Co), and  the  others,  were  on  the  Peak  too. But  we  envied  them  not,  for  although it  was  cooler  up  there  in  the 
summer,  they  were  often  enveloped  in  thick fog,  and  their  houses 
became  damp,  and  books  and  shoes  grew  mouldy. Wardrobes  and 
cupboards  in  Peak  houses  had  electric  lights  inside  to stave  off 
the  dampness.

The  wealthy  Chinese  lived  in  grand  houses  too,  mostly:  on  the 
slopes of  the  Peak  and  other  hills  to  the  west  of  Victoria.

Mah  Jong  was  played  by  Westerners  as  well  as  by  Chinese,  but 
there was  a  world  of  difference. For  us  it  was  quite  an  effort 
to  play  with the  Chinese  and  to  keep  up  with  them!    They  played 
at  high  speed,  notlooking  at  the  tiles,  but  just  feeling  them,  and 
they  would  bang  them  down on  the  table  without  bothering  to 
call  out  the  number  or  suit  of  the  tile. Of  course  the  game  was 
much  more  exciting  played  in  this  old  Chinese  way. They  were  great 
gamblers,  and  large  sums  of  money  changed  hands  at  Mah Jong.
They  would  play  until  the  early  hours  of  morning.    The  clatter  of
tiles  could  be  heard  far  away,  especially  in  the  summer  when 
everyone's windows  were  open.    Poor  Mamma  used  to  be  kept
awake  by  the  noise,  and would  complain  bitterly.

West  Point  was  full  of  life  at  night. From  the  brilliantly  lit
Chinese  restaurants  came  loud  voices  and  the  sound  of  Chinese 
music, mingled  with  the  clatter  of  Mah  Jong  tiles.    The  Chinese 
loved  bright lights  and  plenty  of  noise.    No  wonder  Hong 
Kong  was  such  a  cheerful place.

A  Chinese  dinner  at  one  of  these  restaurants  was  a  grand  affair.
Sometimes  we  children  were  invited  with  the  grownups. The  dinner
always started  late,  and  to  while  away  the  time  we  ate  "fa  sang", 
peanuts,  and "kwa  chee",  melon  seeds.    You  cracked  the 
kwa  chee  shells  and  took  out the  seeds  with  your  front  teeth, 
and  the  shells  fell  everywhere.  The Chinese  restaurants  were  vast 
places  full  of  private  rooms  all  engaged  by Chinese  for  dinner 
parties,   and  we  children  were  allowed  to  wander  about
the  building  until  dinner  was  served.    There  were  children  in  the
Chinese parties  having  to  wait  too,  it  seemed,  because  we 
used  to  meet  them  in our  wanderings,  all  of  us  peeping  into 
the  other  private  dining  rooms  to see  the  other  parties,  but  no 
one  minded.    There  was  a  great  feeling  of fun  and  gaiety  and 
plenty  of  noise  and  the  clatter  of  dishes,  and  waiters coming  in 
from   the  kitchen  with  trays  laden  with  bowls  of  lovely  smelling
food,  and  sometimes  the  sound  of  Chinese  music. Our  dinner 
began  at  last, everyone  sitting  at  a  huge  round  table,  with 
chopsticks  and  bowls,  and feasting  on  sharksfin  and  birdsnest  soup, 
garoupa,  sweet  and  sour  pork, roast  duck  skin,  chicken  and 
walnuts,  fried  rice',  and  countless  other delicacies.

But  honestly  we  liked  just  as  much  to  share  some  of  our 
Amah's  food at  home.    She  used  to  squat  on  the  ground 
cooking  it  over  a  charcoal  fire, a  little  fish  and  cabbage  and
boiled  rice.    We  loved  the  layer  of  rice that  had  stuck  to  the 
bottom  of  the  pan  and  was  all  crackly  and  burnt. Rich  foods  are 
kept  for  parties,  but  everyday  Chinese  food  is  quite simple.

At  the  Chinese  hotels  and  restaurants  special  rooms  were  set  aside
for  Mah  Jong  games,  and  also  for  those  who  wished  to  smoke 
opium;  these provided  couches  with  small  tables  beside  them, 
both  I  think  made  of blackwood  and  marble. Opium  was  smoked 
while  reclining,  and  the  little tables  were  for  preparing  the  opium

There  is  a  memory  of  being  stranded  on  a  beach  when  we  were 
very young. I  think  it  was  at  Lyemun  Bay.    Our  launch  had  to 
go  away  on business  and  the  coxswain  promised  to  return  soon.   
Afternoon  came,  and no  launch  -  and  evening  came,  and  still
no  launch!    The  sun  set  and darkness  began  to  fall.    We  all 
sat  at  the  top  of  the  beach,  waiting  and wondering.    The  night
insects  came  out  and  began  to  make  buzzing  noises in  the
bushes  behind  us. How  thankful  we  were  when  the  launch  arrived
at  last!

Our  newspapers  were  the  South  China  Morning  Post,  the  Hong 
Kong Telegraph,  and  the  China  Mail.    Young  Chinese  boys  sold 
them  in  the streets,  calling  out  "Mor  Po",  "Te  Ga",  "Chai  Mei"!

Our  favourite  fruits  were  the  laichees,  persimmons  and tangerines,
and  all  the  children  loved  the  sweet  juicy  sugar  cane. It  was 
sold  in pieces  several  inches  long,  and  we  bit  off  pieces  and 
after  chewing them  spat  the  remains  out  on  the  ground.

Causeway  Bay  near  our  Convent  was  a  typhoon  shelter  for  junks 
and sampans,  being  an  especially  sheltered  bay. It  was  a 
favourite  place  at all  times  with  the  junk  people  -  those  who
lived  their  whole  lives  in junks  -  and  we  would  see  their 
sampans  yulo-ing  people  back  and  forth to  the  junks. A  sampan 
was  propelled  by  a  man  or  woman  standing, moving  the  single 
oar  back  and  forth  -  this  was  to  "yulo". We  saw  the fishermen 
pulling  in  their  nets,  wearing  the  usual  large  straw  hats,
white  jackets  and  black  or  brown  trousers.

Typhoons  were  awe-inspiring  happenings.    At  the  first  sign  of 
the coming  of  a  typhoon,  signals  were  hoisted,  so  that  people 
could  prepare, The  sampan  and  junk  people  took  their  boats  to 
the  typhoon  shelters, and  the  Naval  and  merchant  ships  went  to 
the  middle  of  the  harbour  to "ride  out"  the  storm.    Typhoons
 came  in  the  heat  of  the  summer.    At first  there  was  a  queer 
stillness,  a  dark  grey  sky  and  a  little  rain.

Offices  and  shops  closed,  and  everyone  hurried  to  catch  the 
last  ferries or  trams  to  get  home. Then  the  last  signal  went 
up,  and  our  houses were  made  safe  by  closing  and  barring 
the  wooden  shutters  over  the windows,  and  shutting  every 
door. The  rain  came,  and  the  wind  started blowing,  harder  and 
harder. It  was  so  hot  indoors  with  everything closed  up,  we
felt  stifled.    And  the  wind  howled  and  shrieked,  and  trees
were  uprooted,  branches  torn  off,  and  everything  loose  in  the 
streets would  fly. People  were  knocked  over  -  you  couldn't  stand 
in  such  a  wind -  and  sometimes  ships  were  sunk  in  the 
harbour. Once  Audrey  and  I  tried to  go  outside  our  house  in  a 
typhoon,  but  we  were  soon  knocked  over  and had  to  crawl  back 
indoors.    We  were  lucky  not  to  be  hit  by  flying  debris.

In  a  few  hours  the  typhoon  was  over,  and  people  left  the 
shelter  of buildings  to  see  the  most  awful  scenes  of  devastation.
Trees  and branches  and  pieces  of  houses  and  all  kinds  of
things  lying  about,  and everything  was  wet,  and  the   air  felt  hot
and  wet  too.    "Typhoon"  comes from  the  Chinese  "dai  fung", 
meaning  "big  wind".

Cloth  Street  was  a  collection  of  little  open-fronted  shops,  selling
pretty  flowered  cotton  material  in  great  variety.    The  Chinese 
women bought  cloth  here  for  their  dresses,  and  we  did  too 
when  we  needed something  unusual. Once  Audrey  and  I went  to  a  fancy  dress  party dressed  as  "Early  Victorian"  ladies,  wearing 
elaborate  gowns  made  by our  tailor  and  his  assistants  out 
of  material  from  Cloth  Street. But  they  were  used  to  making  our 
long  evening  dresses,  so  nothing deterred  these  clever  men.