Friday 18 March 2011

Race Course Fire Memorial

For a while now we have been trying to reach this. There was a terrible fire at the Happy Valley Race Course in 1918, which killed over 500 people. Although the pictures are sadly missing, this page does quote The Hongkong Daily Press, from Wednesday 27th February 1918. The tone of the article is astonishing, it's a reminder of how differently the English language was used not so long ago. E.g....

There was a terrible crush, everyone struggled to save himself, Children were swept hither and thither, and I fear that several of them must have been trampled to death. The sheds had three storey’s. People who were on the top storey managed to force their way through the roof, and were seen crawling on top of it in hundreds endeavouring to escape. Pandemonium prevailed, and cries of “save life!” were heard in all directions. Those in the lower sheds were entombed in the debris, but a few managed to crawl out to safety.

The fire was got under at about 6p.m. The charred human remains were carted away by coolies of the Sanitary Board for burial. It is impossible to say how many were burned to death – probably this will never be known – but I think I am right when I state that the deaths number fully five hundred.

The victims of the fire were buried in the So Kun Po cemetery (So Kun Po is the name of the valley we live in, but there's no cemetery here any more) and in 1920 the authorities built the memorial, which now looks totally overgrown and neglected.

The memorial is up on the hill behind the Hong Kong Stadium, and there are a couple of paths to it - one of them leads from the paved area right outside the stadium (it's a flight of stairs at the far left, as you look at the stadium, but it's currently blocked off as they are renovating the steps) and the other is a path which leads off Eastern Hospital Road in between the car park and the Tung Wah hospital.

There are some photos of the memorial on Flickr. (thanks to fung1981)

馬場先難友紀念碑 Race Course Fire Memorial

I also found out last night, while researching the memorial and the valley in general, that a squatter camp was build on the side of the valley, known as Wesley Village. There's a bit more about it on Gwulo, a fantastic site about old Hong Kong, complete with excellent photographs. Maybe I'll write more about that later.

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