Friday 1 December 2017

Vandalism at Brigadier Lawson's Bunkers (2017)

After the evacuation of troops from the Mainland, Brigadier Lawson assumed command of West Infantry Brigade and Brigadier Wallis took command of East Infantry Brigade. The Japanese landed on the Island on the night of 18 December 1941. The next morning Brigadier Lawson found that his Brigade HQ bunkers had become part of the front line and his HQ was surrounded by Japanese troops who had seized Wong Nai Chung Gap (WNC Gap) earlier that morning. The bomb-proof shelters that were used as his HQ still remain beside a petrol station on WNC Gap Road. I often go there because it is part of the WNC Gap "Battle Trail" and I periodically conduct guided battlefield tours along this trail.  The shelters are sometimes referred to as Lawson's Bunker. In the spring of 2017,  the site was vandalised.  I had noticed that for a long time these bunkers had been strewn with rubbish, empty beer cans, cigarette-ends and all kinds of other junk. It had been used by children from the nearby French International School to smoke, drink, eat and congregate but they had shown no respect for this historic site. A place where so many had faced death including Brigadier Lawson.  The Antiquities & Monuments Office (AMO)  finally got round to tidying up the site and they deserved praise for doing a very good clear-up of this important site. It is a site which has special significance to Canadians. Lawson was the most senior Canadian officer to be killed in action in WW2. 

Soon after this, I felt quite outraged to find that the site had been vandalised by teenagers from the French International School. This time they had spray-painted the structures. The graffiti was in French and some of it obscene. One morning I managed to photograph one of the students smoking in the spray-painted shelter shown in the photograph below. This was the shelter closest to the road. Here the wounded had been moved in the hope of getting an ambulance to pick them up and here they had died. 

A bombproof structure that I think may have been a garage. 

One of the spray-painted bunkers protected by a blast wall. 
Spray-painted graffiti which is difficult to remove
The next set of photographs (courtesy of history enthusiast Alexander Macdonald) show the messy state of the site before the Antiquities and Monuments Office  (AMO) clear-up.

The garage full of junk
Litter and junk filling up the passageway

What a mess and this is a historic site.
What a difference was made after the tidy up by AMO - see the photographs below marred only by the mindless graffiti and fresh litter which appeared later.

After the clear-up by AMO
After the AMO clear-up but sadly after the vandalisation
I posted several of these photographs on my Facebook (FB) page and on the Battle of Hong Kong FB page. The Hong Kong Free Press wrote a story about it. There was widespread outrage and protest that these historic buildings should be treated like this. These structures are like war shrine because so many died at this spot. Brigadier lawson was buried at this site (later exhumed and reburied at Sai Wan military cemetery). Lawson, and those who fought here, and those who died here, deserved better than this. I wrote to the Headmaster of the French International School (FIS) and to the Executive Secretary of the AMO. The French International School and the French Consulate were also appalled and were very responsive. It was done by a small number of students. The AMO also responded positively.  They removed the graffiti and cleaned the place up. They have security guards located at the site and since this occurred in 2017 there has been no further reoccurrence of this.

At the time I met the Headmaster of FIS and a number of teachers in the history faculty both for French stream and English stream. I met some of the FIS students who that morning had been across to the site and tidied up the discarded litter. They did this of their own volition. They too were upset by what had happened and also by the negative publicity for their school caused by the thoughtless actions of a small handful of students. The school were anxious to work with AMO to restitute the damage. The restitution had to be effected by conservators because of the fragility for example of the steel doors. The school looked at one stage considered adopting the site, which is just across the road from their WNC Gap Road entrance, and keeping it clean and tidy and reporting any damage. This would have given the students a sense of ownership of the site. This I don't think ever happened. I did take one group of 6th formers around the war sites near their school to explain what happened and why these structures are important. I think the publicity by Hong Kong Free Press and other news outlets did some good because it highlights the need to protect and preserve these war ruins that still remain in many places around Hong Kong. The reaction showed that people care about these structures.  Another positive is that the students at FIS will have a much better understanding of what these buildings are and what happened in the Battle for Hong Kong in the area around their school and hopefully, these war ruins will be spared further damage and littering. 


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