Hong Kong surprises in the National Archives
Finding what you weren't looking for is part of the fun of a visit to the archives. Here are a few surprise finds from a visit to the UK's National Archives last month:
Refractory women on Kellett Island
The description of item WO 44/98  looked relevant to the rusty iron water tank quest. Turns out it wasn't, but as I skimmed through it this caught my eye:
"The Barrack Master has [unclear] to state, as one cause of the state of disrepair of the small Barrack at Kellett's island, that it has been occupied by some refractory women of the 18th Regiment, who had been placed there by the Assist. Adjud. General without the knowledge of or any previous communication with the Barrack Master."
It was written in 1844, so it's the earliest reference to Kellet Island  I've read. I didn't expect to find it being used as a mini-Alcatraz!
Another document, WO 55/2962 , has several maps at the back including this detailed map of Kellett Island as it looked in 1853. By that time the main building on the island was a magazine to store explosives:
The other two maps in that document show "Military Cantonments", ie military camps, in 1853. The first shows the "Cantonment at Victoria" - the area we know as Admiralty today :
The second shows the army's buildings at Stanley :
The army buildings at Stanley haven't survived, but at the bottom of the map is a small patch of land marked "Grave Yard". Those early graves and their gravestones are still there today, now part of the current Stanley Military Cemetery .
Re-starting Hong Kong in 1945
Klaus recently posted a couple of photos taken from "W.A.D. Brook's Air House" in November 1945:
Air Commodore W A D Brook was in charge of the RAF in Hong Kong at the time. The airmen were busy helping Hong Kong get back on its feet after the war.
I wondered if the archives would tell us anything about the house he took the photos from, which led to "Occupation of Hong Kong: reports by Air Commodore W.A.D. Brooke. Date: 1945 Aug.-Nov." .
He does mention his house:
"My own house was the residence of the Japanese Chief of Police, a very well built modern house overlooking the harbour with a bathroom to every bedroom and every modern inconvenience [sic.]."
And also made another couple of good observations of the situation at that time:
"As you might imagine there was a general spread of enthusiasm as most people were doing jobs they had never dreamed of and making a good show of it. One of my officers, a fighter pilot, was a Governor of a Jap concentration camp in which some 10,000 were incarcerated, including at least three Generals and one Admiral."
"We have done very well with the [Hok Un] Power Station , where we had to alter the fuel burners from coal to wood and back again in relation to the fuels that were available, from time to time. All this has been done by a very small body of personnel including a Lancashire boilerman who, when I complimented him on his efforts, said that "there's nowt much to it", and he had had worse jobs to fix up back in Wigan."
RAF Little Sai Wan's camp's magazine, c.1957
I took a look at the Operations Records Books for RAF Little Sai Wan , hoping to learn more about their listening operations. Instead the records are very dry, covering topics such as "Health & Welfare", "Distinguished Visitors", and the other minutiae of running a camp.
The pleasant surprise in this case was a copy of the camp's magazine, "Ariel", filed along with the more usual paperwork:
I enjoy seeing the adverts in old magazines:
The magazine doesn't have a date, but looking at the Rediffusion advert above I guess it was from early 1957, as that was the year they launched their cable television service in Hong Kong. Hopefully the TV would take the airmens' minds off the service in their canteen:
First use of radar to detect rainfall
In the rainy time of year, the Hong Kong Observatory's online Weather Radar  is my best friend. It shows the bands of rain approaching Hong Kong, so I can time outdoor dashes to catch the dry spells. One surprise was how early this technology was first used in Hong Kong - 1946!
That snippet came from reports about the AMES in Hong Kong. The AMES, or "Air Ministry Experimental Station", was the original name for the RAF's radar stations. Several operated in Hong Kong, and the rain radar report came from the AMES at RAF Kai Tak :
"2 Mar 1946: Several [unclear] were plotted during the morning and full information was passed to the Met. Section at Kowloon Observatory. Doubt was expressed as to the existence of nearby rain clouds, but shortly afterwards the district was swept by a heavy rainstorm which flooded the technical site. The Observatory was impressed, and [...] a system of liaison and regular reporting was commenced."
Another AMES report that mentions the weather came from the AMES up at RAF Tai Mo Shan . Not such good news though, it describes the miserable start to their time in Hong Kong:
- 1 Mar 1946: Camp enveloped in dense mist for the 5th successive day.
- 2 Mar 1946: 60 mph gust of wind blew off the parabolic reflector and smashed it irrepairably.... Main electrical supply failed. Petrol electric standby generator in use.
- 5 Mar 1946: Standby generator failed, camp now lit by hurricane lamps.
Living standards improved over time, so that by September 1950 reports from the AMES on Mount Davis  list regular film shows:
- 7 Sep 1950 "Now Barrabas was a Robber"
- 18 Sep 1950 "The Bishop's Wife"
- 21 Sep 1950 "Nightbeat"
- 26 Sep 1950 "Unfaithfully Yours"
I'd requested these documents from an interest in the AMES over at Ping Shan . It was the radar site nearest to the border with China, and their reports  show that apart from the film shows and weather services, there were times when the radar was used as originally intended:
"December 1949: Several Chinese Nationalist transport aircraft were intercepted during the month, mostly outside the Colonial boundary. [...] Raid Reporting tracks have fallen almost by half. In the main due to the grounding at Kai Tak of all non-defected Chinese National Airways Corporation and Chinese Air Transport Corporation aircraft. [...] Order 13/49 was received ordering the unit on to a 24 hour operational basis on receipt of the executive signal. This is a precautionary measure to counter any possible hostile action by the Chinese Nationalist Air Force if an when Great Britain recognises the Chinese Peoples Government as the Government of China."
This has turned out longer than I expected. I'm still only half way through, so I'll stop here and send out the second half in a few days time.
If you're visiting London and you're interested in Hong Kong's history, I recommend a visit to the National Archives. They're easy to get to, just a short walk from Kew Gardens Underground station. Here are details of how to prepare for a first visit.
Readers ask for information (photos, facts, memories, etc.) about:
New on Gwulo.com this week:
- 1844: Disputes with Ordnance. UKNA ref: WO 44/98
- Kellett Island
- 1851: Ordnance Office and War Office: Miscellaneous Entry Books and Papers. Lands and Buildings Owned and hired by the Ordnance -. Statements of Lands and Buildings... Hong Kong. UKNA ref: WO 55/2962
- Why is Admiralty different?
- Stanley Military Cantonment
- Stanley Military Cemetery
- 1945 Aug-Nov: Occupation of Hong Kong: reports by Air Commodore W.A.D. Brooke. UKNA ref: AIR 20/5485
- Hok Un / Hok Yuen Power Station [1921-1991]
- 1956 Jul- 1959: Dec Air Ministry and Ministry of Defence: Operations Record Books, Royal Air Force Stations. LITTLE SAIWAN. UKNA ref: AIR 28/1331
- Hong Kong Observatory Weather Radar Image
- 1945 Jul - 1946 May: No. 15069 AMES Kai Tak. UKNA ref: AIR 29/194
- RAF Kai Tak
- 1945 Jul - 1946 Jun: No. 5097 AMES Tai Mo Shan. UKNA ref: AIR 29/187
- RAF Tai Mo Shan
- 1946 - 1950: No. 21022 AMES Mount Davis. UKNA ref: AIR 29/1941
- RAF Mount Davis
- RAF Ping Shan
- 1946 - 50: No. 15138 AMES Tai Ping Shan. UKNA ref: AIR 29/1944