Stanley Military Cemetery – home to thousands who lost their lives during the Japanese invasion.
Few places in Hong Kong offer themselves to moments of reflection and thoughts of those who came before. Buildings fall, people move on and the fabric of whole districts can change in the space of a generation. But Stanley Military Cemetery, located on the southern outskirts of Stanley, remains a place to reflect.
On a recent sun-drenched afternoon there are only a few people visiting the cemetery. Originally constructed during the early colonial period, Stanley Military Cemetery was used for members of the British garrison and their families from 1841 to 1846. Closed for a number of years, the cemetery reopened in World War II, during one of Hong Kong’s darkest periods.
On Christmas Day, 1941, Hong Kong fell to the invading Japanese forces. While the fighting may have been brief it was intense and casualties were high. Conditions under the Japanese Occupation were tough. The cemetery was contained within the Stanley Internment Camp, where 2,800 prisoners of war – men, women and children – were held from January 1942 to August 1945. Many died and 121 prisoners of war are buried here, their graves marked by homemade granite headstones the prisoners carved themselves.
One touching headstone marks the graves of a 75-year-old internee, Mary Williamson, who died in 1942 and of her grandson, Lance Corporal Douglas H. Collins-Taylor, who died the year before, on the day Hong Kong fell.
Today the cemetery is beautifully maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. As well as the prisoners of war, there are 598 WWII Commonwealth servicemen buried or commemorated in the cemetery, 175 of whom remain unidentified. The cemetery also contains a new Hong Kong memorial to the Chinese casualties of the two world wars who have no known graves.
The ages on the headstones is particularly sobering. Many of the men were barely in their 20s when they made the ultimate sacrifice. I can’t help reflecting that while Hong Kong’s richest spend millions buying cemetery plots, it’s clear who has paid the higher price.
To wander around the cemetery does not take long. There are beautiful views of the South China Sea, the hills and trees, made even more pleasing by the cheerful sound of children playing in nearby St Stephen’s College. Although those buried here had their lives cut cruelly short, their final resting place is quiet, peaceful and dignified.