Feature Article on Looking back on the ‘Hughesiliers' – ‘Silver-Haired' Defenders for Hong Kong

To cope with the Japanese military threat on the eve of the Pacific War, the Hong Kong government introduced the Compulsory Service Ordinance in July 1939, requiring all British men between 18 and 41 to report for military service and, if fit, to be enrolled in the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps.

The following year, Major General A.E. Grasett (1888–1971) announced that the military age had been increased to 46 and that a volunteer defence unit comprising men aged 55 or above would be formed. Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel A.W. Hughes (1883–1964), this group of men were nicknamed the ‘Hughesiliers' after their leader, and, more amusingly, the ‘Methusaliers', after Methuselah, who was the oldest person mentioned in the Bible.

The ‘Hughesiliers' were expatriates in Hong Kong, mostly socialites and businessmen from Allied or neutral countries. They had a listed strength of four officers and 68 men of other ranks. Hughes left Hong Kong in 1941, and the command of the group was passed to Major J.J. Paterson (1886–1971), Managing Director of Jardine, Matheson & Co.

In December 1941, these ‘silver-haired' soldiers, stationed on Hong Kong Island, fought against the Japanese invaders. Though outnumbered, they tried hard to defend the North Point power station (near the present-day City Garden) and held out until the afternoon of the 19th, when their ammunition was exhausted. All were killed, wounded or captured.

These ‘silver-haired' defenders chose to take up arms to fight for Hong Kong with gallantry in Hong Kong's moment of need; some of them even lost their lives. Their valiant deeds deserve mention in the annals of history.


Japanese forces advance towards Hong Kong Island on 18 December 1941.


Japanese forces shell Braemar Hill, North Point, in December 1941.


Members A shelled pill-box at Braemar Hill in North Point, taken on 19 December 1941, the day after the Japanese landed on Hong Kong Island.


Major J.J. Paterson (1886-1971), who commanded the ‘Hughesiliers' on the outbreak of the Battle for Hong Kong.