25 March 2019
Former British Army soldiers (from left) Alain Lau, Roger Ching and Alan Chan are proud of their military training and discipline. Photo: HKEJ
Former British Army soldiers (from left) Alain Lau, Roger Ching and Alan Chan are proud of their military training and discipline. Photo: HKEJ

HK veterans reminisce about life in British Army

The history of Hong Kong ethnic Chinese soldiers serving in the British Army can be traced back to the 1880s when locals were employed to assist in building barracks and other defense structures.

Later, many fought in major conflicts like the Boxer Rebellion in China from 1899 to 1901 and World War II from 1939 to 1945.

Roger Ching Yuen-ki, chairman of the HKOR Benevolent Association, joined the British Army in Hong Kong in 1975 as a member of Royal Military Police.

“As uniformed military policemen, we were responsible for policing service personnel, including NATO troops,” Ching explained.

In the 1980s, Ching was assigned to Western Germany to guard a checkpoint of the Berlin Wall.

“At that time, West Berlin, which was under the management of France, the United Kingdom and the United States, was in a rather chaotic state where crimes happened every day. The German police failed to maintain order, so we did the job,” he recalled.

Though his tour of duty in Germany was brief, Ching has remained concerned about what is happening in the country.

For example, he voiced doubts about the wisdom of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy on refugees.

“Imagine what if just 0.01 percent of the one million refugees entering the country belong to [Islamic State]?” Ching asked.

People might think Ching is overreacting to the refugee issue. 

But having served in the Special Investigation Branch of the British military police, he probably knows whereof he speaks.

He is not very optimistic about Hong Kong’s security either.

“Since 1997, there’s no longer intelligence sharing between the United Kingdom, the United States and Hong Kong, as we all know who’s behind the city,” he said.

“Hong Kong was very safe as intelligence sources from Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States used to be available, but there’s no guarantee now.”

Also, in view of the worsening territorial disputes in the South China Sea, it might become difficult for Malaysia, Indonesia and other Asian countries to share intelligence with Hong Kong.

Commenting on the growing political tensions in the city, Alain Lau Sing-wah, who joined the British Army in Hong Kong in 1987, voiced against any use of violence.

“Every political belief claims that it could bring about the betterment of its people. However, if one takes on the regime by resorting to violence, it also suggests that others could go against you by deploying violence. And should the government in office also resort to violent means?” Lau said, implying that such a vicious cycle will have no end.

“We have long passed the era when the winner is the one who beats everyone else to become the king. Over the course of history, people has come to learn how to arrive at a consensus and build a peaceful and stable society through negotiation.

“Those who have read modern war history know it is inevitable that conflicts must come with a massive toll on civilians,” Lau said.

Alan Chan Sau-yan, who belonged to the last generation of the British Army in Hong Kong, joined the military in 1993 when he turned 18, amid the widespread mood of uncertainty in the city prior to the 1997 handover.

“I was young and after serving in the military, I was only in my early 20s. I would at least have done something memorable in my life,” Chan recalled.

“A soldier is to obey commands by the superior without hesitation. In reality, there are no heroes among troops.”

Discharged from the army after the handover, Chan worked in the business sector, where his military training and discipline has proven helpful.

When going about his daily routine, for example, he is as disciplined as when he was in the good old days of military service.

“My colleagues are not too concerned about time, but not me. [In the military] you could end up in a prison cell if you’re not punctual.”

Chan believes that Hong Kong youth would have less bad habits and develop better physique if they had undergone military education and training.

“I am very grateful to the British Army for what they have taught me,” he said.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 17.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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The history of Hong Kong ethnic Chinese soldiers serving in the British Army ended with Hong Kong’s handover to China in 1997. Photo: HKEJ

Alan Chan (middle) and his fellow soldiers pose for a picture with their firearms. Photo: HKEJ

HKEJ writer

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