There are three portals for instance at the end of Old Queens Road as shown below. I wonder how many people realize as they walk nonchalantly by, that these were war-time air raid tunnels where hundreds of civilians took refuge from the constant bombing and shelling that occurred during the three weeks of hostilities between 8th of December when the Japanese Imperial Army crossed the border into Hong Kong and 25th December 1941 when the British Crown Colony capitulated after a short but brutal period of fighting.
|People walking past air raid tunnel portals on Old Queens Road (Source: Wikipedia)|
|1941 Photo of air raid tunnel under construction (Source: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries)|
But there are other tunnels in Hong Kong often hidden in the country side. I stumbled across this one on Monday this week. The photograph below shows the entrance.
|Japanese tunnel entrance on a hillside at Smugglers Ridge (Writers Collection)|
This one is on a hill side at the eastern end of Smugglers Ridge near the defensive line known as the Gin Drinkers Line (GDL) named after Gin Drinkers Bay at the western end. The GDL was a line of pill boxes, barbed wire entanglements, trenches, weapons pits and minefields running east-west across the Kowloon Peninsula. The Japanese penetrated the line when they seized the Shing Mun Redoubt on the night of 9th/10th December 1941. It was the loss of the Shing Mun Redoubt and the weakness of the left flank of the GDL that necessitated the earlier than anticipated evacuation of the Mainland. Thereafter the Island of Hong Kong was besieged. Japanese troops landed on the night of 18th/19th December and moved quickly inland. Without an air force, outnumbered and outfought, the British forces surrendered on Christmas Day after a gallant and bloody fight.
Smugglers Ridge is a narrow ridge with a path running along the top that links up Golden Hill Road with the Shing Mun Redoubt and below it the dam and the Jubilee Reservoir. On one side of the dam is the reservoir and on the other the Shing Mun River valley. The Shing Mun River today and back in in 1941 had been reduced to a trickle after the construction of the dam around1935.
Sgt. Robert Robb and some 12 survivors of No 8 platoon that were guarding the Shing Mun Redoubt extricated along the ridge path once they realized that they were surrounded, outnumbered and that the Redoubt had been lost. Their Company Commander Captain Cyril ("Potato") Jones and their Platoon Commander Lt Jack Thomson were caught in the Artillery Observation Post above the Redoubt and were later blown out with explosives and grenades. They survived and were amongst the first prisoners of war taken by the Japanese. Lt Thomson being blinded in one eye from shrapnel.
|Shrapnel damage to the Artillery Observation Post (AOP) at the Shing Mun Redoubt (Writers Collection)|
|Captain Jones bottom left, Lt Thomson with eye patch and other defenders of the Shing Mun Redoubt taken prisoner on 10th December 1941 (Source: Stills from Japanese film clip)|
|Stuart in the tunnel (Writers Collection)|
So in we went - and I made sure my friend Stuart was in front. The cave turned out to be a network of interconnecting tunnels.
|Bats hanging about and other creepie crawlies (Writers Collection)|
With the schematic diagram below imagine folding the paper in the middle so that the upper and lower halves of the sheet of paper slope down like a tent - this is what the terrain looks like - the fold in the middle being the Ridge Path.
|Schematic of tunnels and portals (Writers Collection)|
Some of these tunnels have different levels i.e. you may go up a level and reappear at a portal higher up the hillside. Many have a brick or stone parapet at the entrance behind which a machine gun could have been positioned. Some of the Japanese tunnels are quite large and include room like structures which could have served as accommodation for a number of men or storage rooms for ammunition and suppplies. In some cases the portals are large enough to hide a light tank or a field gun but most are like this one, narrow with multiple portals usually on hillsides.
Happily no porcupine came charging out - and the bats were docile just hanging around (literally) rather than flying around. The metal detector showed nothing other than the remains of the lamp. I suppose ammunition, water and rations could have been stored in these caves. If the Allies had landed and these tunnels had been used, the enemy could literally have gone to ground. The tunnels are quite long and turn corners, so a grenade thrown in may not be sufficient. The Japanese were determined to fight a guerrilla war if the Allies landed, and as in the Pacific Islands, they were prepared to fight to the end.
Lawrence Collyer was a civilian internee at Stanley Internment Camp - in his diary he reports on the sound of blasting as the Japanese hurriedly started to construct these tunnels in the hillsides all round the Island, working day and night. These entries are from his diary (HK University Special Collections) for March 1945:
1st March 1945
|Coming out of the tunnel (Writers Collection)|