Like the one on Jardine's Lookout, this trilingual plaque on
the side of Wong Nai Chung Gap Road honors Canadian soldiers who
lost their lives in the Battle of Hong Kong during World War II
I wonder how many people realize that this now
peaceful valley was a battlefield in December 1941?
Over the course of hiking in Hong Kong, one will invariably come across battlefield relics and other structures related to World War II. Among them are ruins of redoubts (including those at Shing Mun and up on Devil's Peak) and pillboxes, caves dug by the Imperial Japanese military during the Second World War, war memorials and even large outdoor stoves built in anticipation of such facilities being needed by people fleeing from the Japanese invaders (who, at that point, already had been fighting in -- and occupying significant swathes of -- China for some years); and they can be found on Hong Kong Island as well as the Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories.
On the same day as the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor (only it was December 7th, 1941, there but December 8th on the other side of the International Date Line), the Imperial Japanese military forces invaded Thailand and attacked the then British possessions of Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong. Invading from the north, they quickly seized control of vast swathes of Hong Kong; so much so that only Hong Kong Island remained under British control on December 13th.
After systematically bombarding the north shore of Hong Kong Island, the Japanese forces crossed Victoria Harbour and landed on the island on December 18th. On the morning of the next day, the Japanese military destroyed the headquarters of one of the two brigades of British Commonwealth troops defending the island located at Wong Nai Chung Gap, a strategically important passage linking the north and south of the island. On December 25th, Hong Kong fell into the hands of the Japanese and would be occupied by them until August 30th, 1945 -- 15 days after the official end of the Second World War.
Hong Kong's first battlefield trail was established at Wong Nai Chung Gap in 2006 but it was only earlier today that a friend and I went and hiked along it. Covering approximately two kilometers and overlapping a tree walk for part of the way, the Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail begins close to where the Hong Kong Trail and Wilson Trail come together, just a few meters away from the Hong Kong Parkview complex. Featuring ten "stations" of interest (each of which has informative panels marking out the spots), sections of this well marked trail also reveal scenic vistas, including of the area where fierce battles had been waged but where little immediately obvious traces actually remain of such.
If truth be told, much of the historical interest comes from reading the information panels and realizing that you are at very spots where historical events took place rather than actually seeing the World War II relics as many of them aren't all that well preserved, if not pretty much no longer in existence. In addition, it was sad to see that the remaining bunkers of the ill-fated West Brigade Headquarters looks to be filled with empty cans and bottles left there by ignorant and/or disrespectful individuals who don't appear to care that people perished at that spot.
So while I'm glad to have finally checked out this battlefield trail today, I am left ruing that it's not better looked after. (On a related note: a wooden shelter along the way has a hornet's nest on its ceiling, so I can't imagine many people wanting to make use of it, even when it pours with rain!) Also, while I can understand the reasons for Hong Kong's first battlefield trail being located at Wong Nai Chung Gap, I reckon it would at least be more visually interesting to have (another) one over at Shing Mun; what with such as the tunnels and trenches connecting various sections of the redoubt that was supposed to be the strongpoint of the Gin Drinkers' Line remaining largely intact to this day.