Carefree in Stanley

Belgian Beer and a view of Murray House

Belgian Beer and a view of Murray House

One of the things I like best to do on a sunny day in Hong Kong is go to Stanley.  This small and rather upscale village on the far side of Hong Kong Island takes some energy and effort to get to, but here you can sit behind a Belgian beer and watch the ships on the horizon go by on their way to distant ports. The combination of journey, beer, and view provide a sense of holiday for the few hours one spends in this place.  But Stanley was not always such a carefree place, and indeed for some it is a place where although cared for, the circumstance is not free.

The British did not do so well defending Hong Kong against the Japanese in World War Two.  Despite the elaborate tunnels and fortifications, the territory fell in just two weeks and the battle for Hong Kong ended on Christmas Day 1941. Hong Kong was occupied for 3 years and eight months, during which time martial law was imposed.  Those residents of Hong Kong who were from allied countries were considered enemies and were either sent elsewhere in Asia to work or interned in camps.  One of the largest of the Japanese camps, housing both men and women was located in Stanley.

On 5 January 1942 all British, Dutch and American citizens in Hong Kong were assembled at Murray Parade in front of Murray House and put in temporary billets. By the end of January 1942, nearly 3000 men, women, and children were taken to the camp in Stanley (others, according to a paper by Archer and Fedorowich were taken to smaller camps located in more urban parts of the territory). A local doctor persuaded the Japanese to utilise the Stanley site for the camp because he felt the chances for contracting malaria would be less due to the winds and other geographical features of the area. The distance also meant that women were more protected from the Japanese soldiers who were reported to have gone on rampages looking for women to rape.   It is somewhat appropriate, or perhaps ironic, that when the Bank of China tower was built in the 1980’s on the site of Murray House, the old colonial building was deconstructed and then reassembled in Stanley (along with Blake Pier).

Today, on the site where the internment camp was located sits a maximum security prison for men.  It was established just prior to the war (and was converted to the internment camp during the war) and is the oldest remaining working prison in Hong Kong.  Until 1990, when Hong Kong abolished capital punishment, the prison was also a place of execution, though the last prisoner to be hung was in 1966. Recent news about the prison includes a report of activists protesting the detainment of Koo Sze-yiu, who was jailed this February (2013) for nine months for desecrating Chinese and Hong Kong flags at two separate rallies in 2012 (see the SCMP reports here and here). Koo was protesting mainland Human Rights abuses, but local magistrates did not feel that his cause was served by burning the Hong Kong flag.

GeoFoodieI’ve compiled a list of other things to do when visiting Hong Kong on this post: Visiting Hong Kong: Things I would do if I were coming to visit.

For more about life as an internee of the Japanese, the wonderful film, Empire of the Sun, directed by Stephen Spielberg is definitely worth a watch, though it concerns the capture of Shanghai, not Hong Kong. You can get the movie from
and from

The novel by Janice Y K Lee, called The Piano Teacher, also provides a detailed account of expat life in Hong Kong before, during and after the war.  It is available in book and kindle format from and from

The web site, Gwulo: Old Hong Kong has a good list of further sources concerning the internment camp at Stanley. You can find it here.

This post is part of the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge.  The theme this week is Carefree.  You can find the challenge here   

15 thoughts on “Carefree in Stanley

  1. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Carefree | Bastet and Sekhmet

  2. I had no idea about that part that people were interned in Hong Kong during WWII. I sometimes wonder, as an American expat, that if something like an impending invasion occurred today, would we have enough time to escape back home. Yes, Empire of the Sun is an amazing film.

    • Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      Hong Kong’s past is very interesting. And rather young. There are still people out there who remember and can talk about it, which Is why, I think, it struggles with an identity. At the time the British messed up the evacuation. People were supposed to leave, but didn’t. Of course today they would use planes to evacuate. In those days it was ships.

  3. I went to Honk Kong about 10 years or so ago. Perhaps it is time for a return visit. We visited the Changi War Museum in Singapore recently. Very interesting and in places heart wrenching.

  4. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Carefree | Pilot Fish

  5. Fascinating story and history, thanks for sharing these
    I’m inviting you to join us for Travel Photo Mondays, the link runs all week so I hope you can join us for the next installment?

  6. Pingback: WP Photo Challenge: Carefree/ Cloudy with a Chance of Pie | JaniceHeck

  7. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge – Carefree | anniesshowroom

  8. Pingback: Photo Project ’52 Bolivian Sundays’ [week 33, 'Carefree']. | 3rdculturechildren

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