Header images courtesy of @cbkawai and @law8543 (via Instagram)
We often view war as something faraway, both physically and temporally, but in 1941, the Battle of Hong Kong was waged on our home turf for a little under three weeks, resulting in the then-colony being handed over to the Japanese military. It marked the first occasion that the British had ceded in battle to an invading force and presented a definitive blow to the Allied Forces during the Second World War.
Known to locals as Black Christmas, this monumental day marked the beginning of three years and eight months of Japanese occupation in Hong Kong. During those 17 days of defending the city, nowhere in Hong Kong took a harder and bloodier hit than the Battle of Wong Nai Chung Gap on 19 December 1941, whose unfortunate claim to historical fame is to have the highest number of casualties in a single day.
Whether you’re a history buff, a parent hoping to liven up the classroom, or a curious student just wanting to learn more about Hong Kong, this notable trail is for you. Tucked away between Mount Nicholson and Jardine’s Lookout lies a battlefield-turned-historical trail for those who want to walk the same paths as the Indian, Hong Kong, British, and Canadian troops that assembled to defend the city. Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail features 10 stations, marking important moments from the battle with educational signs and commemoration plaques.
History does not just have to stay locked within dusty books and musty classrooms! Pick a sunny day and grab a friend to take a walk through the past along the historic Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail.
The relationship of Hong Kong’s contemporary architecture and geographical layout to its deep history of colonialism and rapid development means history and modernity often co-exist in close proximity.
Although the area is now known for its luxury serviced apartments, the three-kilometre trail between Parkview and Wong Nai Chung Gap Road was once the scene of an extremely short-lived and violent but valiant stand against Japanese troops during the Second World War. In true “international city” form, the forces defending the city were comprised of a mix of the Middlesex Regiment, The Winnipeg Grenadiers, and the HKVDC, bringing soldiers from Hong Kong, India, Canada, and Britain together.
Prior to the invasion of Hong Kong, the Japanese had already taken over Canton (Guangzhou) three years prior. Subsequent foot-dragging on the part of the British military failed to supply Hong Kong with adequate resources and preparation to mount a defence against the invading forces. Rather than viewing the Japanese as legitimate threats, the Allied forces chose to view them as lesser military counterparts, despite Japanese forces already having occupied Canton, Hainan Island, and French Indo-China by that point.
After Wong Nai Chung fell, the Japanese held their ground against all defence attacks, providing a key turning point in the surrender of Hong Kong on 25 December, known to locals now as Black Christmas. For the next three years and eight months, the city lived under Japanese occupation before liberation arrived on 1 August 1945. The trail that now sits atop that battleground was commemorated in 2005 in the presence of surviving Canadian veterans from the war, marking key moments and artefacts from those horrific three weeks.
Distance: 3 kilometres approx.
Total ascent: 105 metres approx.
Total time: 1 hour approx.
Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail is located above the neighbourhood of Happy Valley, conveniently accessible via public transport and also by foot. Whether you make your trip from Central or from Happy Valley, you will be making your way to the Wong Nai Chung Reservoir for the start of your hike.
Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail itself is quite straight-forward and clearly marked. Immediately to your right once you enter past the black-and-white gate is Station 1. On the other side, to your immediate left, is a flight of stairs that will thread you up to Station 2, an anti-aircraft gun platform. Two anti-aircraft guns were mounted here to defend Central from bombing attempts, but all that remains now are the expense stores, used to hold shells.
At the base of that and along the path, you’ll come across some ammunition magazines. As you continue on, you’ll come up to a fork in the road. Head to the left down the flight of stairs for Station 3—Catchwater Lookout and the Western Defences! It used to be a valley, providing the dividing line between the East and West Brigade, but has since been filled in to make way for a modern sports ground.
For Station 5—Pillbox JL01—the trail feeds off to the side. You will come up to a junction where Station 5 is to the right, up a flight of stairs. During the invasion, grenades were dropped down the open shaft to root out and kill defenders. Station 4—Pillbox JL02—is to the left, which is also where the trail will continue for Station 6 and 7. Although the trail is shaded, particularly at the beginning, this next stretch keeps you directly under the sun, but there is a pavilion along the way for a much-needed rest and water break!
Not long after, you will come up to Jardine’s Lookout Fresh Water Service Reservoir, which is a large and flat area that’s good for dogs to run around—if you’re hiking with your pooch—or a quick picnic. You’ll find Station 6 and 7 here, also called the Service Reservoir Lookout (North and South).
Station 6 gives you a view of the initial attack by the Japanese in their aim to capture the police station on Wong Nai Chung Road. Station 7 gives you an eagle-eye view of the fighting across all of December, ending on Ship Street in Wan Chai. To continue, the stairs at the opposite end will take you down for a few minutes before you arrive at a road running perpendicular. Heading to the right will take you to Mount Butler Road, but you will follow to the left, towards Tai Tam Reservoir and the rest of the Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail.
As you round up to the second rest pavilion, you will arrive at Station 8—Sir Cecil’s Ride—which was the lookout over Japan’s initial advancement along the north shore of Hong Kong Island. It oversees the Wong Nai Chung Gap Police Station, the West Brigade Headquarters, and Mount Nicholson.
The mountainous part of the trail ends quite abruptly at the top of the flight of stairs you took when you arrived at the petrol station. To reach Station 9 and 10, head down Wong Nai Chung Gap Road in the opposite direction you came from. Station 9 is located next to another petrol station and bus stop across the road.
Meanwhile, Station 10 is located across from the Hong Kong Tennis Centre. Station 9 is actually the old West Brigade Headquarters and was the initial defence against Japanese attacks, but quickly lost ground and were forced to retreat. To leave, the bus stop next to Station 9 has transit options to take you back to Central.