close up of a tomb stone at Sai wan war cemetary, Hong Kong.

It can often be the case that an intended photo opportunity doesn’t pan out. Maybe the light isn’t right or a potential subject turns out not to be as interesting as you had hoped. It is equally true that if you look around you can stumble upon an alternative opportunity. This was the case with my latest Hong Kong photo walk/drive, which was initially intended to be a landscape shoot around the south of Hong Kong Island (Cape D’Aguilar, Shek O and Stanely). Unfortunately the sun was particularly harsh and the views we found were uninspiring but, while driving, we came upon the Sai Wan War Cemetery; an allied war cemetery dedicated primarily to those who died during the defence and occupation of Hong Kong during World War II. By a strange coincidence my fellow photographer on this photo walk is a former serviceman whom, just that morning, had received, in the post, his veterans pin from the Ministry of Defence.

The Battle of Hong Kong

It must have been particularly hard for the commonwealth soldiers tasked with the defence of Hong Kong. The territory was considered by the British government to be an outpost, likely to be indefensible as it could and would be quickly cut off from possible reinforcement.  The soldiers tasked with its defence were largely untested in battle and (in the case of the Canadian forces) also under-equipped. It’s the sort of stuff that movies are, and should, be made of. Soldiers surrounded and cut off, without hope of reinforcement or relief, doing their duty.

The Gin Drinkers Line

As mentioned in my last photo walkabout post, the territory of Hong Kong is made up of a number of islands, as well as an area of mainland China known as the New Territories. With typical British humour the defences constructed in the New Territories, just prior to the war, were christened The Gin Drinkers Line. A network of bunkers, artillery positions, reinforced machine gun nest and trenches stretching from Gin Drinkers Bay in the west across the Kowloon peninsular to Sai Kung in the east. The aim of the defensive line was to stall any Japanese advance for several weeks. Unfortunately a lack of manpower and resources meant that the defensive line was ineffective and was overwhelmed by the Japanese on the 10th of December 1941 (just two days after the commencement of hostilities) and, following some intense Japanese artillery bombardment and a Japanese landing on Hong Kong Island, the allied forces were forced to surrender on 25th December 1941.

Given the impromptu nature of this shoot I was surprised how emotionally powerful it was. War and death are never particularly pleasant but seeing the large number of graves to unknown soldiers “known unto god”, plus the mix of young and old killed in the conflict was very thought provoking. I normally don’t add titles to my images as I think a photograph should speak for itself but in this case I felt they were appropriate.