1956 riots

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 07/24/2010 - 08:02

I've been trying to find some film or radio  commentary about/ during the 1956 riots (not 66 or  67).  I guess RTHK must have had some film as part of its news broadcasts. Does anyone have any, or know where they can be unearthed? Newspaper footage also of interest!


Carol Jones

My memories:

- looters emptied a mainland shop on Cheung Sha Wan Road near Maple Street Playground,

- police marching by grandma's second floor rental residence on Apliu St.  When her landlord ignored the police order to move away from the balcony, the leader quickly pulled out his sidearm and pointed at him, and he just as quickly complied.  That was scary.

- grandma and I crossed Tai Po Road at Shek Kip Mei to visit her relative  Except us,  the streets in all directions were completely empty and quiet in broad daylight under curfew.  Then riot police appeared and marched by us with shields, batons and guns.  That was more scary.    

The 1956 riots were very serious. Martial law was almost declared. It was a clash between the Kuomingtang and the Communists. I was a 19 year old sailor serving in the HMS Tamar Naval Base. We were placed on full alert, with armed sailors manning the perimeter of HMS Tamar and the Dockyard. Hand grenades were withdrawn from the armory, and one of the ten armed motor launches of the Royal Naval Hong Kong Flotilla were anchored off Sham Shui Po,  where some of the captured rioters were detained in a compound there. Maybe in the old British POW prison ?

Military and Naval families were removed from their quarters and placed in safety. It was a critical time for Hong Kong, and the final days of our marvellous British Empire, with the debacle of the Suez war taking place, and the failed Hungarian uprising against the Soviets, at the same time. There is a horrific picture of a rioter, roasted to death, trapped by a burning car, published in the South Chine Newspaper. I have a copy of that picture, I must find it.

Peter Yeates Hong Kong Flotilla-Royal Navy

Submitted by on
Thu, 02/05/2015 - 13:04

The riots were instigated by triad members, allegedly under the orders of Kuomintang agents.  The wife of a Swiss diplomat burned to death in a taxi.  Communist party supporters, especially those in Tsuen Wan, were targetted, tortured and killed.  There is an official report published by the government.  Luckily the rioting did not spread to Hong Kong island.

I well remember the day of this riot. I was travelling by bus from Prince Edward Road towards Tsim Sha Tsui and when we got to Mong Kok all the Chinese paasengers hurriedly got off the bus, and I was left alone with the driver. Rioters were in a frenzy in that area and were peering in to all the buses. The driver advised me to conceal myself underneath my seat. Carefully peering out of the window I could see a couple of  British soldiers in uniform dodging stones being thrown at them in the front entrance of the Mong Kok theatre (which was not open). The bus continued its journey and when we got to Jordan Road, I saw the still smoldering wreck of the taxi, but apart from slowing down slightly the bus just kept on going. I got off near the Star Ferry pier, and took a walla walla to get on board my ship located in mid-harbour. That was quite an experience! 

I was a Sapper with 24 Field Engineer Regiment Royal Engineers, 56 Field Squadron based at Gordon Camp in the New Territories. On the day of the start of the riots, our fire bells rang out meaning that we were to parade on the camp square. When mustered we were instructed to go and put all of our packs on, go to the armory, and get ammunition then report back on the square. At no stage were we told the reason why or where we were going. By the way, we missed our lunch, bugger. From our transport area came a number of 10 tonners and 3 tonners. I with others of 'B' Troop 56 put on the lead 10 tonner. Still nothing as to where we were going although it soon became apparent that there was trouble. We left the camp turning left on our way towards Kowloon from the Tai Lam area and soon came across many large boulders that had been dislodged from the mountains and rolled down across the road. We cleared quite a number of these and even had at times many rolled down towards us when clearing the road. We eventually reached Tsuen Wan passing a large factory and factory housing complex to our left side. (this area would soon be a scary sight for us). We were instructed to drive through Tsuen Wan and were told not to stop under any circumstances. We turned at the top of the hill and returned stopping at Tsuen Wan police station. Guards were posted and we were given something to eat and drink (not beer). Once settled we were divided up and sent out to patrol the area with 2 police interpreters.  Others were sent out to set up roadblocks and help the police with pockets of rioters. When traveling through the town in the first instance we were presented with sites that I prefer not to write up about on here, being that Tsuen Wan was the evilest area of the rioting. At around 8 pm were sent to relieve those on a roadblock in the factory area. All was quiet for quite some time but then a single whistle blew and hundreds of Chinese appeared on the road and stood baying away at us., another blast and they all disappeared. This went on and on and crowds were appearing and disappearing from both sides of the road and gradually getting closer to us. The police with us were told to call and tell them to disperse, to no avail. Once they had got within about 20 yards of us they were told to disperse or we would open fire. We were told to load and take the safety catch off and aim ready to fire. This had an effect and they dispersed. The night was noisy and at times the road was full of people appearing and disappearing but no further problems they having got the message. Days on were taken up with patrolling with police officers, detaining and corralling them for questioning, etc. One day very early, around 3 am we went out with police officers who were going through a shanty town area searching and detaining people, we were there to just support them. Days later when things were settling down we left the area and returned to camp.

The Police museum at Wanchai Gap had some graphic newsreel footage on the 1956 riots. British Forces marching up Nathan Rd as I recall.

A retiring expat head of a govt dept told the Governor in 1990  he was there in 1956 doing his UK national service. He said "the force we used then was worse than at Tiananmen in 1989."

The retiring ex-pat head of a Government dept told the Governor in 1990 he was there in 1956 doing his UK National Service. Not doubting his National ServiceI but I think he wants to get his facts right unless of course, his sympathies lay elsewhere?. Perhaps if he is still of this world he might tell us of what part of the British Sevice he was in and where he was involved in the rioting,

His words "The force we used then was worse than at Tiananmen in 1989" beares no resemblance to what went on in Kowloon or Tsuen Wan. I was with 56 Field Squadron Royal Engineers in Tsuen Wan and his words are different to the instructions we were given when we worked with the police. For a start British Forces were there to help the police keep control of the rioting mobs, at no time did we use any force.

Whilst on duty in Tsuen Wan the only time that we came close to using force was when the police interpreters we had with us on a roadblock on the western side of Tsuen Wan where the large textile factories and factory tenement blocks were situated, were given instructions to use their loud hailers to tell the crowd of several thousand Chinese factory workers to stop and not approach any closer (being only 30 yards away from our roadblock) or we would open fire on them. We were already in a firing position with safety catches off and rifle raised at the ready position. They sensibly dispersed and peace was attained for the rest of the night.

We helped the police on many occasions throughout the disturbances and I will say again We did not use any degree of force in carrying out our duty's,

Hi, Carol I put a number of photos (nothing dramatic) of the 1956 riots in Tsuen Wan in 1956 on the FaceBook site 'Royal Engineers and other services in Hong Kong between 1950 - 1961. You are welcome to make copies of them but I would ask that you acknowledge me as them being my photos. 

Good luck Bill.

Hi Osmond I have 13 photos that I took whilst in Tsuen Wan on riot duty in 1956. I will be forwarding them to you tomorrow 31 May 2022. I hope they meet your approval.                                                                                                                                                                                                     I myself am researching on the internet photographs of the rioting in Hong Kong at that time in 1956 and also my time serving in the colony with the Royal Engineers at Gordon Camp on the Castle Peak road. With that in mind are there any photographs that you can point me to for inclusion in my album on this subject?

Once again I hope that my few photographs meet your approval and are of use to you.

My REgards to you and look forward to further meetings between us.