Police History: The Modern Era 1945-67
In 1945, the force had to be built anew. The 200 expatriate officers who emerged from Stanley Internment Camp were in poor physical health. When the camp gates opened, many went back to their former stations, determined to ensure a peaceable transition to British rule. Later, most were repatriated for medical leave; many left Hong Kong. Back from China where they had spent the occupation years, many Chinese constables and sergeants reported for duty. Some had followed instructions and stayed in uniform during the occupation; force commanders had given discreet instructions for this, on the sensible grounds that it was better for Hong Kong policemen to be on the streets than anyone the Japanese military government were likely to recruit.
From this nucleus, a new force had to be forged. The people of Hong Kong were extremely fortunate in having Duncan Maclntosh appointed Commissioner in 1946. The police force he took over was decimated, its equipment lost or looted, its stations largely destroyed. Strength was down to under 2,000. Maclntosh, who had been a policeman in Ireland and Malaya, came to Hong Kong from Singapore, where he had been Commissioner and had spent the war in internment. He was a truly formidable individual, unbending, determined and utterly professional.
His first concern was for his men. Pay rates were disgraceful. Housing in a society packed with refugees and ravaged by war was critically short. Maclntosh battled the government for increases in pay and better conditions for all ranks.
Hong Kong was in a desperate state. Former residents and refugees had flooded across the border. Some 45,000 hawkers crammed the narrow streets; robbers could dispose of stolen goods to a stallholder with instant ease. Triads had blossomed during the occupation and arrogantly ran drugs, vice and gambling rackets with seeming impunity.
Just as the extensive reforms initiated by Maclntosh were paying obvious dividends, tumultuous events in China swept Hong Kong once more into its turbulent wake. A new police headquarters was underway in Arsenal Yard, thousands of new recruits had been signed-up - many former soldiers or veterans of other forces, and morale was high. Then the climax of the civil war in China sent another wave of a million refugees pouring over the Shenzhen River or arriving from ports like Shanghai in crammed boats. Among them were battle-hardened nationalist soldiers, bitter and vengeful in defeat, armed and highly dangerous. Policemen were ambushed and murdered for their revolvers, kidnapping was endemic, violence was acute.
The Territory was tense. A string of fortified posts, still four decades later known as Maclntosh Cathedrals, was built along the border. From these strategic vantage points, police could look down as communist soldiers took over checkpoints on the other side of the narrow waterway.
Commissioner Maclntosh laid strong foundations for a force meant to last. His redoubtable, forceful personality had transformed the disjointed, shattered police into an effective and stable force. This had happened just in time for them to cope with a calamity, both natural and manmade.
Those hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees threw up shacks on every square foot of available land. On Christmas Day, 1953, a spark set one hut aflame. Whipped by dry winds, the fire raged through the motley collection of dwellings. By morning, 58,000 were homeless. Police helped to register them, the extent of suffering affecting everyone. From the ashes sprang the policies that led to the world's most successful public housing programme that now provides comfortable, well-designed homes for half of Hong Kong's people.
The early resettlement buildings, hurled up quickly to provide the most basic of shelter, were dreary concrete blocks. Those who lived in them were mostly new arrivals from China, many committed deeply to the defeated kuomintang. When a resettlement department official tried, on the Nationalist celebratory day of 10 October 1956, to pull down a political poster, there were angry protests. These led to appalling riots with old scores from across the border being settled in blood on Hong Kong streets. Inevitably, triad gangsters and street hoodlums plunged gleefully into the chaos, leading hordes of looters and rioters. From this eruption, too, there was to be a laudable result; it led directly to the foundation of what has become the Police Tactical Unit.
Their value was to be proved a decade later when a bizarre one-man protest over a five cents fare rise on the Star Ferry sparked off a riot that swept through Kowloon. In four nights of riots, some people were arrested. As usual, criminals moved with devastating efficiency; in the wake of demonstrations and protests, they sparked riots used as a cover for organised looting.
This brief flurry was but a rehearsal for the following spring. In China, the political turmoil spread and eventually lashed Hong Kong. Inflamed by rhetoric, fuelled by misplaced ideas of nationalism, huge mobs marched on Government House, waving aloft the Little Red Book and shouting slogans. Ranks of police faced crowds hurling insults, spitting, sometimes throwing acid. Never have strict discipline and stringent training paid such dividends. Staunchly, the thin khaki line held firm. Those early days in May 1967 were the start of a torrid, worrying summer. The mass protests tapered off, to be replaced by a campaign of terror and bombing. Bus and tram drivers were threatened, sometimes attacked if they went to work to keep Hong Kong on the move. Bombs were made in classrooms of left-wing schools and planted indiscriminately on the streets. Struggle committees were formed to foment strife against the government, although it was swiftly apparent none of the leaders to go to China to participate in the nationwide strife that was taking such an appalling toll, and the wealthy businessmen who had blessed the troubles, the "red fat cats" dispatched their children to universities in the much-disparaged United States and Britain.
Through the tear smoke and the terror, the police held firm. They never quavered.
Their loyalty was never in doubt. And in a remarkable show of support, the public rallied to their side. It was the common people of Hong Kong, and the police sworn to protect them, who turned the tide. The insanity gradually ebbed.
But was worse to come. In the most serious single incident of that year of violence, communist militia opened fire from the Chinese side of the border. Five policemen were cut down in the hail of bullets, nine others were injured. They were among a death toll which included bomb disposal officers killed trying to defuse booby-traps in city streets. The entire population was revolted by the bombings, particularly when a seven-year-old girl and her brother, aged two, playing outside their North Point home were killed.
China, too, was concerned about the worsening situation in Hong Kong. Large character posters went up in Guangzhou saying the troubles were caused by troublemakers trying to embarrass Beijing. By September, the situation had begun to quieten; the South China Morning Post reported, with a sense of wonder, a headline "Bomb-free day for Colony". It was to be many months, however, before the city returned to normal.
In April 1969, the men and women of the Force received a rare honour. The Queen bestowed the title Royal to the Hong Kong Police and Princes Alexandra became Commandant-General of both the regular and auxiliary forces.
|Overview - The Future|
|History - The First Century|
|The Modern Era 1945-67|
|Creating a Legend 1967-94|
|Changes to the Policing Model and the Return of Sovereignty 1994-99|
|The New Century|
|Women - An Equal Force|
|Ballistics & Sciences|
|Down Memory Lane|