In honour of Remembrance Day, we hike the Shing Mun Redoubt, a key part of Hong Kong’s wartime defenses.
Remembrance Day used to be a big event in the Hong Kong calendar, but has languished post handover. It would be a pity not to mark the brave but doomed efforts of the defenders, and the suffering of Hong Kong citizens during the four-year Japanese occupation. So a ceremony has been scheduled for Thursday, November 12 (the day after Remembrance Day), at the City Hall Memorial Garden in Central – not the former venue of the Cenotaph – where wreaths will be laid.
A couple of books have brought the horrors of that time more clearly to my mind: Hiroshima Joe by Martin Booth and Fragrant Harbour by John Lanchester. Both vividly evoke the war years, and convey the sense of chaos and confusion as the defenders faced the Japanese. No wonder the most detailed history of the defence of Hong Kong is called Not the Slightest Chance (by Tony Banham), which echoes a quote from Sir Winston Churchill.
But the best way to bring history to life is to pull on your boots and visit the places where it occurred. The Gin Drinkers Line (named for Gin Drinkers Bay, now part of Kwai Fong) was a 13-mile “Oriental Maginot Line” of pillboxes, lookout positions and artillery observation posts that snaked through difficult terrain north of Kowloon. The lynch pin was the Shing Mun Redoubt, which is the focus of this month’s walk. It comprised an intricate tunnel network linking pillboxes, bunkers, a Command Post and artillery. The tunnels are named after famous London streets, such as Shaftesbury Avenue, Piccadilly and Charing Cross.
The bullet-scarred remnants of these fortifications being reclaimed by the forest are all that remain of a battle that was over almost before it started. It’s worth stopping a while, reading the information, and soaking up the rather melancholy atmosphere.
To get there, take a taxi (there are car parks if you plan a round trip) to the start of Stage 6 of the MacLehose Trail on Tai Po Road, and stroll alongside the Kowloon Reservoirs. You’ll soon become aware of a modern invader – hordes of rhesus macaques.
Although there were monkeys indigenous to Hong Kong, it is thought this population originated from animals released during the construction of the reservoirs, supposedly to consume the fruit of the strychnos plants. These days, however, they seem to rely on food from visitors or left in the rubbish bins, and they are growing rather large and aggressive in consequence. Please heed the warning signs and don’t consume any foodstuffs in front of them.
The walk to the Shing Mun Redoubt is an easy 4.6 km (90 minutes). Follow the signs for the MacLehose Trail (not the Wilson Trail). If you’re doing a return trip, follow the “M” signs one way, and “W” the other. This stage finishes at Shing Mun Reservoir, where you can picnic. To leave, head to the west of the reservoir and connect with Shing Mun Road to catch a cab.
Finally, best wishes to the Trailwalkers – you have more stamina than me!