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Looking back - Sikh to Shantung

Expat officers bolster the ranks
Welcome to OffBeat's third instalment looking at the Force's history through excerpts taken from the Royal Hong Kong Police Association Newsletter

Indians have served since the earliest days of the Hong Kong Police. Problems associated with religion, race and associated caste prejudices had always been somewhat difficult to handle and the history of the Force in the second part of the 19th Century was liberally sprinkled with instances of violence, not a few proving fatal.

Indians were drafted from the Sub-Continent on a need basis and there were always plenty of applicants from the Indian Army who were willing to take their discharge locally.

Recruitment was carried out from the Punjab and North West Frontier regions on an alternating Sikh/Muslim basis, so these two principal groups were throughout handled as individual entities. Once trained, separately but to the same syllabus, the two groups were not posted together to minimise friction. Britain had leased the New Territories in 1898 and the Indians generally proved popular and effective in this rural setting.

In the 1930s the intakes of Indians, whose service numbers were prefixed by the letter B, became large and in August 1941 the final entry prior to the Pacific War raised the total strength of the Indian Contingent to 814 for all ranks.

Following the Boxer Rebellion the status of the Wei Hai Wei men was high in British eyes and during the First World War this had been enhanced by the recruitment of some 50,000 of them for service in the Chinese Labour Corps. In 1922 the Hong Kong Government, seeking a source of further recruitment, dispatched E.D.C. Wolfe, the Captain Superintendent, to Shantung to examine the possibility of recruitment from there. Wolfe had previously been the Transvaal Recruiting Agent in Che Foo, a Shantung port, and had handled thousands of men destined for the gold mines in South Africa. He spoke the language and had established good contacts across the Shantung peninsular. As a result of Wolfe's two-month visit, two British Police Officers went to Wei Hai Wei to recruit and train the volunteers.

The first of many drafts from Wei Hai Wei arrived in Hong Kong in March 1923 and they were followed by two further groups that year. The largest contingent arrived in August 1924. It consisted of 102 men and five interpreters. As the Shantung were all from rural backgrounds they were initially posted to several New Territories stations where they largely replaced the Indians.

Recruitment of Wei Hai Wei men from Shantung continued until just before the Chinese revolution of 1949. After that, of course, it was impossible, but the Force was eager to accept those who had managed to leave China and also family members of serving officers. In later years the Shantung, being renowned for their build, bearing and turnout, became very much the 'guardsmen' of the Force, making outstanding drill and musketry instructors and excelling at Traffic point duty.

The Shantung also provided men, usually a dedicated platoon, to the Emergency Unit, and there was many a British officer, called upon to quell a bar room or waterfront brawl, who breathed more easily when supported by several of these formidable northern Chinese.

  • Next column, the Force is rebuilt after Hong Kong's liberation from the Japanese.

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