Who Built Hirams Highway
Whilst researching a book on the History of Hebe Haven Yacht Club a few years ago, I thought I’d check out the history behind the naming of Hirams Highway, and in doing so discovered quite a few differing versions about the builder of the road, from Hiram Potts, to K. Potts to a Lt. Potts to a Captain Potts and even a Major Potts.
I have known of the story for many years and have even had pictures taken by the original stone that names the road (it used to be just where you turn off Clearwater Bay Road onto Hirams Highway-in actual fact it is still there but a little further down and almost hidden in the shrubbery).
I also knew that he earned the nick name ‘Hiram’ because of his love of the American brand of sausages called “Hiram K. Potts” sausages.
Note the 42 RM CDO (42 Royal Marine Commando) on the side
Courtesy 42 RM Commando
Even Sir Denis Bray in his book ‘Hong Kong Metamorphosis’ named him incorrectly as Hiram Potts, but had correctly recorded the fact that he was a Lieutenant in the Royal Marine Commando’s. This is how he described his time as a District Officer.
“The district had no major towns and only two roads. One was a good two lane pre-war road down the length of the Clear Water Bay peninsula to a gun emplacement for the defence of the eastern approaches to Hong Kong. In early postwar years, a permit was required for access to this road as nearly the whole length of it was used as an ammunition stores, the munitions being stored in little huts at intervals on alternate sides of the road. The main road to Sai Kung town was a jeep track rejoicing in the name of Hiram’s Highway. It was built by the army in the very early postwar years as a reward for the resistance by the Sai Kung people during the Japanese occupation.
General Ritchie presenting the banner and monetary rewards
as thanks to the people of Sai Kung in 1947
The road derives its name from the Commando Lieutenant, Hiram Potts, who was in charge of its building in the early postwar days. He and his commandos laboured alongside people of the district to construct a perilous jeep track down from the Clear Water Bay Road. Traffic could only move one way, and if you missed the timing, you had to wait forty minutes for the next window of opportunity. The widened road was only opened for two-way traffic just before Chinese New Year in 1960."
Lieutenant John Wynne Potts of 42 Royal Commando had had a good war raiding the Japanese in coastal Burma. He arrived in HK with Admiral Harcourt's liberation fleet. During the war a lot of American food was shipped or dropped to British troops as part of the Lend-Lease Agreement, and amongst the food supplied to the Commandos was Hiram K Potts tinned sausages, and he loved them. The English love a nickname so Lt. John Wynne Potts acquired the nickname of Hiram.
Sai Kung prior to the war, had always been remote and difficult to get to, one of the reasons the Japanese found it difficult to control, the other being that the area was also the home of the Hong Kong Independent Battalion of the Guangdong Peoples Anti Japanese Guerrilla Force. (a branch of the East River Column)
The only way in was by a footpath or a boat. So with military logic, a Marine Commando, with an engineering background limited to digging trenches in India and gun emplacements on the Orkney Islands in Scotland, now had the task of constructing a road, to live up to the Marine motto ‘per mare per terram’ by land and sea. With his company of eighty Marines as well as Japanese and Korean POWs he set to building the road. A visiting officer seeing him at work made a sign saying Hiram's Highway and the name stuck. This was replaced later with a concrete block ‘cementing’ its name as Hirams Highway.
Wynne-Potts stayed in the Marines for 36 years retiring in 1978, also seeing action in Cyprus and Malaya. His son later became an inspector in the HK Police and posed by the stone.
Inspector Chris Wynne-Potts RHKP
Courtesy Colin Aitchison
By this time (1949) Potts had transferred from 42 Commando to 40 Commando and was still in HK. At a full dress parade, upon receiving the order 'Officers draw swords' Potts drew and presented his, but it was broken in half, he had been in a light hearted (drunken) sword fight with a fellow officer the night before and his sword had an accident. He completed the whole parade with only half a sword.
As one can see from his military records, he stayed in the Royal Marines for some time, retiring finally in 1978. He was only promoted to Honorary Major on his retirement. He died in 2009 in Chichester