Friday, 1 June 2018

The Tai Wai Bunkers

One of my Facebook (FB)  friends, Kei Fu, posted a  message on the FB site "Battle of Hong Kong" showing a contour map with a location point labelled the "Tai Wai Bunkers." In his post he was wondering how to get access to these bunkers which had become incorporated into a major building site. The development which will be a 15-storey residential apartment block will be called The Met.Acapella. The  artists impression show a very attractive development close to the amenities of Tai Wai and surrounded by the hills and countryside. Another FB friend, Victor Li, helped to pinpoint the location with photographs and map extracts. Kwong Chi-man, a history professor, advised on the FB site that he had been in contact with Civil Engineering & Development Dept (CEDD) and Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) regarding the importance of protecting these WW2 bunkers. Chi-man posted a photograph which showed a very substantial bunker ("the long bunker"). I had not heard of these bunkers before, but immediately wondered given the size of the long bunker and the presence of four other splinter proof shelters, and proximity to Tai Po Road, whether this could be the site of the Advanced Battalion HQ of the 2nd Battalion of the 14th Punjab Regiment.  The battalion was commanded by Lt-Col Gerald Ralph Kidd who was killed in action during fighting at Shouson Hill on the Island.

There were three possibilities as to who may have occupied these surviving WW2 military structures:

1. Advanced Bn HQ 2/14 Punjabs.

2. 'D' Coy HQ 2/14 Punjabs.

3. Battery HQ for Forward Guns of the Hong Kong Singapore Royal Artillery (HKSRA) positioned in Tai Wai locality.

Any one of these three usages are possibilities, and the site could have been a combination of any two, or even all three.

On the declaration of a State of Emergency on Sunday 7th December 1941 six howitzers were deployed to forward locations in the vicinity of Tai Wai. These included two 3.7-inch and two 4.5-inch howitzers from 2nd Mountain Battery, and two 6-inch howitzers from 25th Medium Battery. The two 3.7-inch guns were transported by pack mules and were probably positioned furthest forward. The 4.5 and 6-inch guns needed to be towed by lorries and would therefore have been deployed close to the Tai Po Road. Other guns (3.7-inch howitzers) were deployed at Customs Pass, on the right flank of the Gin Drinkers Line (GDL), whist others were positioned to the rear of the GDL at Main Filters, located at the southern end of Tai Po Road,  and the Polo Ground near Prince Edward Road. Nearby AOPs were manned at Sandal Wood, Crown Point, Golden Hill, Shing Mun Redoubt, Texaco Peninsula and Crown Point. Mainland Royal Artillery had their HQ in splinter proof shelters adjacent to those occupied by Mainland (Kowloon) Infantry Brigade at the northern end of Waterloo Road. 

The map extract from the war-time map below shows the 5 1/2, 6 1/2 and 7 1/2 milestones (MS) along the Tai Po Road. It also shows the approximate position of the Tai Wai Bunkers which seem to be located very close to the 71/2 MS.  


The Mainland Brigade War Diary and the Royal Artillery war diaries, and and the 2/14 Punjab War Diary mentions no exact location of Battalion HQ, or 'D'  Coy HQ or Forward Batteries HQ.  'D' Coy 2/14 Punjabs was occupying the  left flank of the Punjab sector from Tai Po Road towards Shatin Pass. When the Mainland evacuation (of troops)  began on Thursday 11th December, 1941, Captain David Mathers, commanding 'D' Coy, 2/14 Punjab writes in the war diary section pertaining to 'D' Coy that the company was was ordered to RV at the 51/2 MS. From the 51/2 MS they took the catch water path (marked in white on the map above).

At 1100 hours  on 11th December, 'D' Coy's forward troops fired their Boys anti-tank rifles at two Japanese light tanks seen on Tai Po Road near the Shatin level-crossing, probing the Punjab defences.
Dec. 11th 1215 hours:
"Last troops left forward positions. I met the CO at Advanced Battalion HQ and proceeded to 51/2 MS. On arrival found that 'D' Coy had been posted in position above the catchment . Spent next four hours walking along the catchment, up Railway Pass, round Beacon Hill locating Coy positions."
Dec. 11th 1830 hours:
"Withdrew Coy along the catchment up Shatin Pass, down Jats Incline to Devil's Peak Pier."
We know that Rear Bn HQ commanded by Lt James Flynn was located at Whitfield Barracks in Kowloon.  The Advanced Bn HQ was on or close to Tai Po Road, but was it at the Tai Wai Bunkers which were close to  the 71/2 MS or was there another set of bunkers at the 61/2 MS now demolished?  The reason for posing this question, is that the Diary of Events for Rear Bn HQ written by Lt James Flynn refers to the 61/2 MS HQ
Dec. 10th 2400 hours:
"Reported to CO at 6 1/2 MS HQ".
This could be an error, and perhaps 71/2 MS was meant, but this seems unlikely. We are then back to the possibility of there once having been more military structures at the 61/2 MS. Perhaps a reader may know. The 61/2 MS must have been close to where Shatin Heights is now situated. At the  71/2 MS there is  a small park named after the milestone and in which there is a replica of the 7 1/2 MS. 
            
71/2 MS Rest Garden
Replica of MS
The building site for The Met.Acapella is a short distance from the replica MS. I wanted to see these shelters, but the problem arose as to how to get there. I would not be allowed to walk in to the building site without permission and without supervision and health and safety requirements like a  hard-hat, but I thought I might be able to reach the bunkers from the hillside above. So I trekked up the road leading to the Po Leung Kuk hospital located at the end of a cul-de-sac and overlooking the building site. I explained to the security guard that I was hiking down the hill from outside the perimeter fence. I then proceeded to work my way around the outside of the permitter fence until I reached a pylon a little way down the slope. I passed under the pylon and made my way downhill and slightly to the right. The vegetation was not too thick and the slope was not too steep and by holding into the trees I was able to make my way down to building site.

Source: Po Leung Kok YC Cheng Centre web site
I emerged above the building site and to the rear of the site. The slope had been protected by slope work and a large steel wire netted fence had been erected to catch any rock-fall. 

My route from the hospital to the back of the building site 
I spent some time going along the lower slope expecting to find the bunkers, but soon realised the only way to see them was to get into the building site. I entered the site at the rear and made my way past the swimming pool, which was under construction, and followed the northern perimeter of the building site where I found the string of WW2 bunkers. 

Splinter proof shelter
The same shelter looking west towards the rear of the site 
The long bunker looking east towards the entrance to the site 
Entrance portals at the long bunker 
The long bunker looking west towards the rear of the site
Entrance to one of the splinter proof shelters
Standard design splinter proof shelter. 
Set of two splinter proofs 
Since I was in a building site without permission - I took photographs hurriedly, and walked out the main entrance of the site. Nobody questioned me and it was a preferable to walk out the main entrance than retrace my path up the hill to the Po Leung Kuk hospital facility. After I posted my photos on FB Battle of Hong Kong site a number of other photos were posted showing the Tai Wai Bunkers in better condition, and including some internal photos of the bunkers taken before the area became a building site. The long bunker had two or three portals but no apertures. The splinter proof shelters had apertures that had been bricked up. 

Rob Weir informed me that the site was used at one time during the 1960s/1970s as a Riding School.  Victor Li advised me that before and during the war the site was part of the Kai Kee poultry farm.

Damaged map showing four sets of splinter proofs and the long bunker (Courtesy: Victor Li)
The map extract above shows the former Shatin Riding School, and the set of four splinter proofs (labelled Bunker No. 2), and the long bunker (labelled Bunker No. 1). The photograph below from the on-line marketing brochure for the development shows what the residence will look like when finished. 

The Met.Acapella
The red line, marked on the photo above, shows the approximate line of bunkers. The major concern of history enthusiasts is that the bunkers, which are already overgrown and dilapidated, are likely to be further damaged due to the proximity of a major construction site. The only way to see the bunkers now is from the building site. When the building is completed there is concern about public accessibility. I suspect these bunkers will be very inaccessible and neglected in future. Colin Blackwell posted a copy of the Summary of the Land Grant which requires the developer not to damage the military structures.

There is still a question mark as to who used these bunkers. Was it the site of the Forward Artillery, was it Advanced Bn HQ for 2/14 Punjabs, or was it HQ for 'D' Coy 2/14th Punjabs, or a combination of the three. To many people, and perhaps to some of the future residents of the Met.Acapella, these are just unsightly ruins, but to an increasing number of people, these are seen as a precious link to our wartime history and the defence of Hong Kong in December 1941. They are historic buildings and they deserve to be better cared for. 





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Acknowledgments:

Colin Blackwell
Kei Fu
Kwong, Chi Man
Victor Li