The Hong Kong Military Service Corps (HKMSC) was a regular British Army unit that was recruited in Hong Kong and consisted mainly of Chinese living in the colony, and served Hong Kong until its disbandment in 1997. Its history will be revealed at an exhibition titled "Unsung Bravery: The History of the Hong Kong Military Service Corps", to be held at the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence from tomorrow (December 13) until June 11, 2014. Including about 70 valuable artefacts and historical photos relating to the HKMSC, the exhibition offers a chance for visitors to learn about this military unit and the contribution it made during the British administration of Hong Kong.
The first recorded British-Chinese regiment established by the British Army in Hong Kong dates back to 1857 during the Second Opium War (1856-1860). Faced by a shortage of manpower, the army began recruiting local Chinese, and a Canton Chinese Commissariat, which was also known as the Chinese Coolie Corps, was established in 1857. Serving under British or Indian officers, the corps provided logistical support for a British expeditionary force during the Opium War. It was possible for Chinese soldiers who could speak a little English to earn promotion up to the rank of sergeant among the non-commissioned ranks. Local Chinese were subsequently recruited as sappers and attached to different British military units.
Before Hong Kong fell to the Japanese in 1941 during the Second World War, the newly formed Hong Kong Chinese Regiment recruited local residents to help man the territory's artillery and coastal defences. British-Chinese soldiers also took part in the defence of Hong Kong against the Japanese Army alongside their British counterparts, and many of them were killed or wounded or ended up as prisoners of war. Some British-Chinese soldiers volunteered to serve outside Hong Kong, and fought alongside the British Army against the Japanese in Burma (now known as Myanmar), Malaya (present-day Malaysia and Singapore) and India.
Britain resumed its administration of Hong Kong after the Second World War, but, struggling with the decline of the British Empire, found it difficult to maintain the military manpower needed to ensure the territory's security. The Hong Kong Chinese Training Unit (HKCTU) was thus established, comprising local residents who were enlisted as regular soldiers. The unit was renamed the Hong Kong Military Service Corps in 1962.
The HKMSC replaced the HKCTU on September 1, 1962. Following the decision to increase the number of locally enlisted personnel (LEP), the corps recruited and trained some 6 000 soldiers between 1962 and 1993. The LEP became regular soldiers in the British Army and were deployed to different units according to their skills and trades, providing various support services to the British garrison in Hong Kong.
From the 1960s to 1997, the duties of the HKMSC included rescue services during natural disasters, such as the typhoons during the 1960s and the landslides on Kotewall Road and in Kwun Tong (present-day Tsui Ping Road) in 1972. The corps also carried out anti-illegal immigrant operations along the Hong Kong-China border, and was deployed in support of the Police to quell disturbances during the 1967 riots. These soldiers not only helped maintain Hong Kong's own security, stability and prosperity, but also performed duties overseas, such as participating in the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus in 1991 during the Gulf War.
Based at the Lyemun Barracks (present-day Lei Yue Mun Park and Holiday Village and the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence) and later at Stonecutters Island Barracks (currently used by the Hong Kong Garrison of the Chinese People's Liberation Army), the HKMSC provided comprehensive training for cadets, including drills, weapons training, jungle warfare exercises, first aid and even English lessons to improve recruits' English communication skills to an intermediate level.
British-Chinese soldiers performed a vital role in helping to maintain stability and order in Hong Kong for many years. From serving as sappers during the Second Opium War to fighting as gunners in the Battle of Hong Kong and from quelling disturbances during the Hong Kong riots to organising open days for the general public, these soldiers completed their tasks with professionalism and pride. Their role finally came to an end when the British Garrison left Hong Kong in 1997.
The Museum of Coastal Defence is located at 175 Tung Hei Road, Shau Kei Wan, Hong Kong. It is open from 10am to 5pm and is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays) and the first two days of the Lunar New Year. Admission is $10 and half-price concessions are applicable to full-time students, people with disabilities and senior citizens aged 60 or above. Admission is free on Wednesdays.
For more details of the exhibition, please visit the Museum's website at www.hk.coastaldefence.museum/en/section1-1.php or call 2569 1500 .
Ends/Thursday, December 12, 2013
Issued at HKT 17:41
Photo shows the 1978-1979 edition of "The Dragon" - the journal of the Hong Kong Military Service Corps.
A group photo of the Hong Kong Military Service Corps taken in 1972 in front of the Lyemun Barracks, which served as its headquarters.