Sunday, 1 February 2015

A walk along the border - Hong Kong

On Saturday 31st Jan. 2015 I joined members of the  Orders Medals & Research Society (OMRS) for a  walk along the border with Hong Kong and the rest of China. This area was until recently part of a restricted zone and not possible to get access. This was once known as the  "bamboo curtain" a sensitive border in colonial times and one that was patrolled by both the British Army and the Royal Hong Kong Police.

In the 1960s through to the 1980s - the British Garrison was quite small and I suppose it's fair to say that had the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) decided to do so they could have crossed the border at any time perhaps with impunity. However after the joint declaration in 1984 it was only a matter of time before sovereignty would return to China in an orderly and agreed fashion. In the 1980s and 1990s the focus was more about preventing illegal immigrants from crossing the border rather than the PLA.

There was no need for the PLA to retake Hong Kong as Hong Kong was very useful to China as a link to the west and a gateway, albeit something of an anachronism that dated back to First Opium War and the Treaty of Nanking signed in 1842. Only once had the border been crossed by an invading army and that was early in the morning of 8th December 1941 (HK time) when the 38th Division of the Imperial Japanese Army  crossed the border into Hong Kong and Japan simultaneously attacked Hong Kong, Malaya, Philippines and the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbour.

I took the MTR and East Rail out from Central to Fanling and from there by green New Territories taxi to Lok Ma Chau Police Station. We were fortunate to have in this group a number of retired expatriate policemen who had during the course of their careers served out on the border and were able to recount their interesting experiences of policing in colonial Hong Kong and then later serving in the Hong Kong Police post handover.

The police station stands on a hill crest approached by a steep drive. When I first came to Hong Kong in 1985 people would come out to Lok Ma Chau to stand on this hill and look across into China. It was a photo stop where you get your picture of China. In those days when you looked across the Sham Chun River there was just ponds and paddy fields but nonetheless it was a tourist attraction and there were the inevitable stalls offering cheap souvenirs.

Today nobody really comes to take pictures of China because the border has become much more porous with people coming in both directions either on business or for tourism.  It's still a border and you need a visa to go across to shop in Shenzhen. What has really changed is the view. Instead of paddy fields its a modern metropolis that looks like Hong Kong's Central district. With high rise buildings stretching from west to east on the other side of the Sham Chun River also known as the Shenzhen River which marks the border.

China in that short space of time has opened up and become the world's second largest economy and Hong Kong now a part of China with a PLA military garrison occupying the premises once used by the British forces in colonial times.

Lok Ma Chau Police Station on a hill top looking over the frontier

A steep drive leads up to the Police Station
It was one of those grey days where you can't be sure whether the haze is mist or pollution but in reality it's probably a bit of both and more of the latter. The picture below shows the modern skyline of Shenzhen somewhat obscured by the haze. In the immediate foreground are the ponds and wetlands that typify the delta area of the Sham Chun River and include the Maipo wetlands now famous for the variety of birds that can be seen there.  The Sham Chun River flows to the west into Deep Bay or Hau Hoi Wan.

The new skyline across the wetlands on the other side of the border
Lok Ma Chau Police Station is still in use as a police station. The building was first built in 1915 originally with two stories,  the upper observation deck having been added later.

Still in use as a Police Station the building dates back to 1915
A murder occurred here in July 1930 when the Station Sgt.'s twenty five year old wife Dora Madgwick was killed by an Indian Constable in her living accommodation on the 2nd Floor. The Constable who had run amok,  later shot himself.  Sgt. Cornelius Madgwick later re-married to Marjorie Knight and he and his wife were here when war started in December 1941. They were both incarcerated in Stanley Civilian Internment Camp where they were billeted in Bungalow 'A' now the heritage museum within the grounds of St Stephens College.

The area of wetlands to the front and surrounding fields have little changed over the generations.

Fields below Lok Ma Chau Police Station  - a scene that has changed little over the years 
We then walked along the road which was once restricted to police and military vehicles from Lok Ma Chau to Lo Wo. On the way we passed one of the so-called MacIntosh Forts at Ma Tso Lung. These were named after Duncan MacIntosh,  Commissioner of Police after the war who arranged for the construction of  several of these hill top forts built along the border.

One of the "MacIntosh Forts" at Ma Tso Lung 

Parts of the border are still restricted (Shenzhen in the background)

Looking across to Shenzhen with New Territories cattle unconcerned  beside the river
The 1994 map extract below shows this stretch of the border. Notice the train and road crossing at Lok Ma Chau which was opened in 2003 and now a major crossing point into China. Lo Wu was always the main crossing point in earlier years and still continues to be the principal crossing point into China.


1994 map of this stretch of the border
The map extract below is from a January 1946 map. One immediately notices the the hills were given English names of hills back in Britain like the North Downs, the South Downs, the Cheviot Hills and the Mendips. You can see a track leading out the wetlands and the Police Station standing above the village (not shown) of Lok Ma Chau. There is no bridge. The main crossing point back then was at Lo Wu where  the road and railway crossed the border. The railway being part of the Kowloon-Canton Railway  then running from Canton to the Star Ferry Terminal in Kowloon. It was here the bulk of the Japanese Army crossed into Hong Kong and followed the road and railway south to Fanling.


1946 Map of the same stretch of the border from Lok Ma Chau to Lo Wu
From Lo Wu we walked along the side of the Indus River now called Ng Tung River leading to Sheung Shui and Fanling after an interesting walk along the old "bamboo curtain" and reflecting on times gone by.


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