Photo (13): A civil-military marriage

Submitted by David on Sat, 11/11/2023 - 17:00
1926 Holyoak-Armstrong wedding, St John's Cathedral

The civil and military sides of British life came together for this marriage of Miss Dorothy Muriel Holyoak to Captain Charles Douglas Armstrong, MC, of the 1st Battalion, the East Surrey Regiment.

Their wedding was held at St John’s Cathedral on 16 October 1926, the time of year for perfect wedding weather in Hong Kong. Dorothy was no stranger to the Cathedral as she was christened there back in 1905, together with her sister Joyce. They were likely twin sisters, as their parents were married almost exactly one year before the christening.

As the photo shows, after the wedding ceremony the new husband and wife stepped out below an arch of swords, held aloft by Captain Armstrong’s fellow officers. The couple didn’t have far to walk though, as a car was waiting for them that, according to military tradition, men from Armstrong’s regiment would pull to their next destination.

Soldiers pulling car away from Cathedral after wedding

We’ve witnessed this tradition before in Volume 3 (p. 60). That occasion was a naval wedding, held further up Garden Road at St Joseph’s Church. Their car was heading downhill, which meant the sailors ‘pulling’ the car didn’t really have any work to do. But Mr and Mrs Armstrong were heading uphill from here to their reception at Government House. These soldiers would be working hard.

Hopefully there was a cold drink waiting for the soldiers when they arrived. The rest of the several hundred guests headed indoors for the reception, greeted first by the Governor and his wife in the drawing room, and then by the new couple in the ballroom. A group photo was taken in the grounds of Government House to commemorate the day. 

Wedding party in grounds of Government House
  • Standing, from left to right, are Hong Kong’s Governor Sir Cecil Clementi, Mrs N G Holyoak (bride’s mother), Captain C D Armstrong (groom), Miss M J Holyoak (bride’s sister and chief bridesmaid), and Lieutenant C J Yeo (best man).
  • Seated are Lady Clementi and Mrs D M Armstrong (bride), with the two other bridesmaids, Dione and Cecily Clementi, at their feet.

Apart from the bridesmaids, there aren’t many smiles among the group. In particular, I wondered if perhaps the mother, Mrs Holyoak, disapproved of the match? But looking more closely, she is wearing a black lace gown and a black hat, both signs of mourning. Her husband, Dorothy’s father, had died less than five months earlier, so there must have been mixed emotions on this day. This also explains the presence of the governor, Sir Cecil Clementi, KCMG, as he had kindly stepped in to give the bride away at the altar.

The late Mr Holyoak (shown below, in 1924) had been the chairman of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce and several other major organisations in Hong Kong. As he was also a member of both the Executive and Legislative Councils, the governor would have known him well.

Percy Hobson Holyoak at Repulse Bay in 1924

From Government House the couple headed north to Fanling where they spent their honeymoon. (That’s a bit far for the soldiers to pull a car, so hopefully the driver was allowed to start the engine!) The honeymoon was all too brief, as the local newspaper announced that ‘Capt. Armstrong and his wife will leave for India with the East Surrey Regiment on Wednesday, 27 October’.

Captain Armstrong was a career soldier who joined the Army in 1915 and fought in both world wars. Between the wars he followed the 1st Battalion to Egypt, Sudan, Hong Kong, and India. This latest relocation was nothing special for him; it was just one of many.

But how did Dorothy feel about it? Although she was an old hand at sea travel, and may well have visited India before, moving there as a young army wife would have been very different. Sadly, with the benefit of hindsight we see that it didn’t work out – records show that the couple divorced, and that both had remarried by the mid-1930s. 

The above photos and text come from the draft of my next book, Volume 5 of the Old Hong Kong Photos and The Tales They Tell series. Please let me know if you spot any mistakes in the text.

My thanks go to Christopher Munn, who has kindly written the following endorsement for the new book's back cover:

In his latest selection from’s inexhaustible trove of old photos, David continues to find life and meaning in the most unlikely places. This is a brilliantly sympathetic exploration of the people, professions and communities who made Hong Kong work.

Christopher Munn, co-editor, Dictionary of Hong Kong Biography

Volumes 1-4 of the book series are available to order from the Gwulo website, in local bookstores, and from Amazon (affiliate link).

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