New exhibition commemorates HK volunteer corps
An exhibition marking the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Hong Kong Volunteers is currently on show at the Museum of Coastal Defence.
The exhibition - "Serving Hong Kong: the Hong Kong Volunteers" - has been jointly organised by the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence and the "RHKR The Volunteers Association".
Featuring more than 50 artefacts and illustrated text panels, the exhibition enables the public to learn more about the establishment of the Volunteers, their work and transformation in line with changes taking place in Hong Kong. The exhibition will run until May 31, 2005.
The Volunteers were formed in May 1854 when Hong Kong's naval force left the territory for the battlefields of the Crimean War in Europe, leaving the pirates in the waters of Penny's Bay, Lingtin Ocean and the South China Sea free to rob and pillage. This led the Hong Kong Government to call for civilians to join the Corps of Volunteers to defend the lives and property of the civilian population in the absence of the naval force.
Among the 99 people who signed up to defend the territory, most were British. There were also some Portuguese, Germans and Scandinavians. Prominent members of society, including the Taipan of Dent Company and the Duddell brothers, also joined up. This first volunteer force was disbanded when the naval force returned to Hong Kong.
In 1862, the Volunteers regrouped into an artillery battery, a band and a rifle company. During the second period, they were called out to help subdue a serious outbreak of rioting between British and Indian soldiers. The force, however, lasted only four years till 1866.
In 1878, they were resurrected as the Artillery Volunteers, who participated in the British takeover of the New Territories and Kowloon Walled City in 1899. At that time, the employees of the major European firms provided a pool of potential recruits for the volunteer corps. In the early 20th century, Governors Nathan and Lugard were both enthusiastic about the Volunteers movement, spearheading a period of activity for the force.
After the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, many volunteers went off to fight in Europe. Due to the need to employ regular forces on active service elsewhere, the Volunteers were dropped and compulsory service was introduced in 1917. In 1920, a new Volunteer Ordinance was introduced. According to the new ordinance, the members were to assist the Police and regular forces in the case of any serious local disturbances, such as the Seamen's Strike of 1922 and the General Strike from 1925 to 1926. By the late 1930s, Japan's gradual encroachments into China led to the inclusion of Hong Kong Chinese, particularly those from the middle class, into the volunteer corps in separate units. Women were also recruited to assist in the provision of medical services.
On December 8, 1941, the Japanese started an all-out invasion into the territory. During the 18-day battle, the Volunteers, renamed the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps, mobilised their full strength in defence of the territory. The invaders, however, proved too powerful. Some of the volunteer officers were interned, while some escaped and formed the British Army Aid Group to assist the Chinese Government in the continuing struggle against Japan.
The Volunteers were reconstituted in 1948. Transforming from a number of independent and support units into an Infantry Battalion, the members became known as the Hong Kong Regiment. In 1951, the defence force was granted the title "Royal" and renamed the Royal Hong Kong Defence Force. In 1957, the Force was accorded the right to carry the battle honour, "Hong Kong". The new "honour" was borne on the Queen's Colour carried by the Hong Kong Regiment. But reliance on volunteers alone could not produce the numbers required for defence and internal security, so at this time the Hong Kong Government decided to introduce a Compulsory Service Ordinance. When the ordinance was suspended in 1961, the Force reverted to volunteers again.
The Hong Kong Regiment was converted into a reconnaissance unit with internal security duties in 1963. Apart from performing patrol duty and providing assistance in defending raids, the regiment also helped out in the translation and transmission of broadcast messages, maintained internal order, and took part in disaster-response rescue work.
After the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984, Hong Kong entered a transitional period. So did the regiment. Although the Hong Kong Government announced that the regiment would disband, the number of new recruits went up. But in June 1995, the regiment carried out its last field operations training. On the afternoon of September 2, the regiment marched through Wan Chai North, bidding farewell to the people of Hong Kong. In the evening, a formal Disbandment Parade took place at Gallipoli Lines in Fanling. On September 3, members of the regiment stood guard at Government House and lowered their flag for the last time at midnight, thereby bringing to an end their 141 years of volunteer service to Hong Kong.
The regiment witnessed unprecedented change in Hong Kong. Its members were committed to the cause of serving Hong Kong. Although they were amateurs, their commitment and bravery embodied the essence of the regiment.
However, Hong Kong Adventure Corps, born of the Junior Leaders' Corps that was disbanded along with the rest of the regiment, lives on. Based at High Island Training Camp, Sai Kung, the Corps carries forward the good work of the regiment, grooming the younger generation to serve the community.
To tie in with the exhibition, special programmes will be organised including a drill performance by the Hong Kong Adventure Corps to be held at 3pm on November 21 at the Museum of Coastal Defence. For details, visit the museum's website at http://hk.coastaldefence.museum
/ or call 2569 1249.
The Museum of Coastal Defence is located at 175 Tung Hei Road, Shau Kei Wan, Hong Kong. It opens from 10am to 5pm and is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays) and the first two days of Chinese New Year. Admission is $10 and a half-price concession is applicable to full-time students, people with disabilities and senior citizens aged 60 or above. Admission is free on Wednesdays.
A free shuttle-bus service between Heng Fa Chuen bus terminus and the Museum of Coastal Defence is available from 10am to 5pm on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays.
For enquiries, call 2569 1500.
Ends/Thursday, November 11, 2004