Friend's Posts

A Curious Twist of Faith – Peter Moss

Josephine spent her earliest years in Hong Kong; too early to have retained any substantial memories. But she does remember that – before World War 2 – she and her parents occupied the ground floor (left) of these married quarters in Victoria Barracks,
where, in 1985, I would spend the last six months these premises were allowed to be occupied before their demolition to make way for present day Hong Kong Park. I too would later set up a Christmas tree in this very drawing room.
Because her memories are so scant that she feels no enduring attachment to this city, Josephine has kindly given me custody of the shoebox in which these photographs had been left to her by her father. She does remember being photographed on the Peak, overlooking this iconic view of the city below
She even has a vague memory of what Victoria Harbour looked like then.
There were battleships down there, clustered around HMS Tamar. Japan was already at war with China, and although she can’t recall this, Hong Kong was being flooded with refugees, bringing with them whatever they had salvaged, together with a palpable fear that the war might eventually spill over into the tiny colony where they had sought shelter.
Her father was in one of the Scottish regiments
which used to stage striking church parades down Queensway, with kilts swirling and pipes keening.
heading for the Murray Parade Ground
where they would carry out precision drills below St. John’s Cathedral.
Just above there was the Peak Tram
where Josephine vaguely remembers the carriages rattling by on the steep incline.
And up on the Peak itself was Mount Austin Road.
Her mother posed by the fountain
in the Botanic Gardens, where the loyal old black and white amahs tended the children in their care.
Everybody who was anybody in those days had a black and white amah, from that unique group of women who became an integral part of thousands of Chinese and expatriate homes. Josephine’s home was no exception.
Almost 50 years later I would claim this verandah for my own,
filling it with pot plants and rattan recliners.
But although traces of it remained, as in this prospect of Ladder Street,
the Hong Kong Josephine would have known – could she but remember it – would have been very different from the Hong Kong I first saw in 1965. To the point where I cannot now identify for certain where this particular photograph might have been taken.
Some things hadn’t changed. I saw rice fields like this being ploughed in the New Territories back in the 60s.
And there were still flotillas of junks to be found in the various nooks and crannies of Hong Kong’s extended coastline.
But other things had changed entirely. I do not recall steamers like these towing water skis
or troops assembled en mass to play recreational football on Shek O beach.
Nor do I remember Hong Kong’s littoral looking quite so sparsely populated.
But yes, the sampans were
as were the tombstones
Gone by the time I moved into Victoria Barracks was this magisterial view of St. John’s, The Bank and the Supreme Court, which by then was almost entirely obscured by high rises.
Ditto for this view from the barracks of Kowloon in the distance with HMS Tamar just beyond the chimney.
A view that occurs in more than one photograph in Josephine’s collection
This snapshot bears a handwritten note on the back describing it as Hong Kong’s naval base
but off which beach this family group was photographed neither Josephine nor I can possibly recall.
The same would be true of these views of the New Territories;
vistas that will by now be smothered in tower blocks and shopping malls. À la recherche du temps perdu!

Translate »