I joined the Royal Hong Kong Police in the mid 60’s. It was not quite the standard “going out to the colonies” that one might do as a single recruit. I had a group of fellows who were instant friends from the start and a family of Police waiting at the other end. The Colonial Office (which recruited us) called fourteen of us together the day before we flew out and introduced us as fellow recruits. We finished about mid-afternoon and were then left to our own devices. I believe we all ventured as a group into Soho for drinks and ultimately dinner and more drinks. The following day we all gathered at Heathrow by ten in the morning for a midday fight which was postponed until five. By the time we finally left we were, as you would imagine, well over the limit.
We were met at the other end, after using flight service to the maximum advantage, by the Rugby coach who quickly identified the players and gave us preferential treatment. That is to say we sat with him in the front of the bus learning about HK Rugby.
I tell that story because it fairly sums up what was best about HK to me and many others. First there was the camaraderie and second the sport. From talking to people who chose to live overseas today it is pretty much the same if only a matter of degree. There is usually an expatriate enclave which has somewhere to meet and whether one is a professional or in business one tends to associate mostly with other expats. They are the people you have home for a dinner party much the same as you would wherever you came from.
In the 1960’s in HK it was very pronounced. The level of camaraderie was probably stronger in the police because it was instant. I am sure however lawyers and architects and others soon developed the same spirit. The level of sport simply added to it.
Whether recruited to police or whether recruited to one of the big Hongs, it was the same. They all recruited from the universities and they had an eye for top sportsmen as well. This was especially true of Rugby and other team sports because if you fitted into a team sport you were a team player and that’s what they all wanted. Another reason they preferred top players in their chosen sport (or sports) was that these guys would be less likely to go out drinking at lunch time and be less alert workers in the afternoons. As a result of that foresight the standard of play especially in Rugby and Cricket was very high indeed.
In my case working in Special Branch based in Police Head Quarters where I spent most of my career, the chosen meeting place was the nearby HK Cricketers Club. This was the club which until very recently (that is recent to my arrival) had the sign “dogs and Chinese” not permitted. We walked to the club for lunch and in the summer afternoons (there was daylight saving) one of us would phone up and order a tennis court to be prepared which the groundsman would mark out on the open cricket ground. He would erect bleachers to stop the balls going too far and mark out a court . When we finished he would simply hose the marking away so the paddock was ready for cricket when needed.
As new recruits we spent the first three months in language school more than adequately backed up by way of homework with evenings in the red lights bars. Most of the girls spoke Cantonese and being able to converse with them provided a great incentive to diligence in learning. The encounters later in the evenings, some successful some hilariously gone wrong, added to the mateship and ragging that bound us together. We then stayed in training camp a further six months for police law studies, unarmed combat and small arms training. While I was in the training school we decided we had enough rugby talent to take on the Police first XV. It had not been done before and as one of the law instructors - a passionate Welshman of some talent himself - was backing us to the hilt the day finally came. We were narrowly beaten but that established that some of us were going to win a police jersey in the first fifteen before graduating. Hence we made friends outside the training school very early. Camaraderie both expanded and reinforced.
On leaving training we went to live in officers’ messes. I was posted to the island and by luck lived in Wanchai – the red light district. It saved travelling when it was on the doorstep. The men were drawn from all manner of backgrounds but many were police from other parts of the world. Two of my closest friends who still keep in touch today were in Kenya when the Mau Mau were active. Others had come through the Malayan emergency. My immediate superior and a man who became my mentor had actually come from the British Palestine Police and left in 1948 when Israel was recognised by the U.N.
In 1967 the spill over into HK of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the subsequent terrorist campaign with IED’s (a fancy name these days for home made bombs) being strategically placed in their dozens every almost night bound us even closer together. In my case I was badly injured when blown up whilst attempting to dismantle a bomb rather than leave my men exposed while cordoning off the street for hours waiting for the sand bags to arrive, such was the demand that night. When I was finally discharged from hospital some six weeks later my colleagues treated me with the same disrespect as previously and I felt very much part of a wider family. Despite the ragging of being eligible for the disabled Olympics and such I played in the police first 7 in the HK sevens which introduced each new season, the very next round and doctor’s prognoses of never playing sport again went out the window. And so life went on.
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