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Looking back - a need for marines

This marks the last column in OffBeat's historical series taken from the Royal Hong Kong Police Association Newsletter. We hope you have enjoyed the trip.

Piracy was always a major problem along the South China coast. Hong Kong's past is liberally illustrated with such incidents, many involving large vessels and lives lost. To counter this, an Anti-piracy Force, mainly Indians, was formed in 1914 and performed guard duties aboard coastal and river steamers. The large deep sea vessels plying the waters from Rangoon to Northern China either hired their own guards or relied upon their respective governments to provide the necessary protection. The British military provided men to guard very large vessels operating under the British flag but in 1930, despite an escalating piracy problem, the army had to withdraw and the responsibility fell upon the Hong Kong Police.

As this was beyond the resources of the Water Police, it was necessary to form a special unit and some 100 men, mostly from Punjab, Wei Hai Wei and the China coast's White Russian community, were drafted and trained. The contingents formed affiliations with the various shipping companies which paid for their service. The Indians and the Shantung men concentrated on the British Register whilst the Russians were allied to Canadian vessels.

Each contingent had a number of Sergeants from the regular Force attached to them and the first Anti-piracy Guard, consisting of a British Sergeant and 14 Russians, departed Hong Kong on July 10, 1930 aboard the RMS Empress of Canada bound for Shanghai.

The Russians had been recruited predominantly through Shanghai which had a large population of them, their families fleeing eastwards from the 1917 revolution. The number of Russians serving the Anti-piracy Unit never exceeded 30 and they assimilated well into Hong Kong's community. Twelve of them became British nationals and were consequently interned by the Japanese, while the remainder fended for themselves during the grim Hong Kong occupation.

The Anti-piracy Guard effectively combated piracy along the coast in the 1930s but it was not re-formed after the Pacific War. Of those Russians who resumed duty, a number remained with the now re-titled Marine Police, several serving for up to 25 years.

Immediate post war reforms abolished the recruitment of British and Commonwealth personnel into subordinate ranks, joining instead as Probationary Sub-Inspectors. A further boost to the resurgence of post-war Hong Kong was the 1946 recruitment of 20 men from the Metropolitan Police Force. The end of the British Mandate in Palestine in 1948 occasioned an influx of officers over the next two years, along with further arrivals from a now independent Malaysia. Independence in several west, east and central African territories and numerous Pacific islands also brought an influx.

A number of senior ranks were transferred within the Colonial Police Service system, but the vast majority had to resign from their former Forces and start all over again. They were at the end of the line, and on the bottom rung.

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