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Feature Article on "Solitary Soldiers" Stranded in Hong Kong

After the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937, Japan accelerated the pace of its invasion of China, sending its troops southwards. On 12 October 1938, the Japanese landed at Daya Bay; soon after that, Guangzhou and Humen fell. At the end of November of the same year, the Chinese army withdrew to Sha Tau Kok. Without backup, about 1,000 men retreated to Hong Kong.

At that time, the British government still took a "friendly" stance towards Japan. Therefore, when these Chinese soldiers suddenly arrived in Hong Kong, the British Hong Kong authorities ordered them to disarm and detained them. Their arrival aggravated the problems caused by the influx of refugees to Hong Kong. The then Director of Medical Services, Dr P. S. Selwyn-Clarke, recalled in his memoir:

"The Japanese capture of Canton (present-day Guangzhou) had suddenly added military fugitives to our existing problem, and some 1,600 Chinese soldiers had been temporarily interned in two very hot and congested steamships in the harbour. "

In December 1938, the Chinese soldiers were detained in a refugee camp in Ma Tau Chung, Kowloon; the camp was located near the present-day Notre Dame College and Ma Tau Wai Estate. About a year later, the soldiers were moved to the Argyle Street Camp, in the vicinity of the present-day Kowloon City Magistrates' Courts and Hong Kong Eye Hospital.

Stranded in a foreign land, this group of Chinese soldiers (known as "solitary soldiers" at the time) kept strengthening themselves during their detention in Hong Kong. They underwent physical training in the camps, and learned various languages and skills. For instance, they formed a "stretcher unit" to prepare themselves for first-aid work on the battlefield in the future.

On 8 December 1941, the Japanese attacked Hong Kong, and the "solitary soldiers" were immediately engaged in defence deployments. During the Battle for Hong Kong, in addition to transporting wounded soldiers and cleaning hospitals, they were assigned on a mission to set up dispersal areas near the Taikoo Dockyard as temporary refuges for residents of North Point, in a bid to reduce casualties from the Japanese bombings.

In our revamped permanent exhibition, we will revisit the little-known stories of these heroic warriors resisting the Japanese forces and defending Hong Kong.


Chinese soldiers intercepted at the border, 1939. The two British soldiers, standing in the background, were from the Middlesex Regiment who later fought in the Battle for Hong Kong. (Courtesy of Mr Ko Tim-keung)

 

The "solitary soldiers" detained in the Argyle Street Camp, 1940. The Lion Rock can be seen in the backdrop. (Courtesy of Mr Ko Tim-keung)

Tender notice for the construction of a closed workshop at the Interned Chinese Soldiers Camp in Argyle Street, published in the Hong Kong Government Gazette in early 1940.

Newspaper clipping on the release of the "solitary soldiers" and their participation in defence missions for Hong Kong, in the 10 December 1941 issue of Ta Kung Pao.