This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: ADM 1767).


I. Sequence showing Kowloon power station, and lines of coolie women carrying logs to the operative boiler. HA.LS onto a second power station in a built up area - Taikoo (?)

II. Miscellaneous scenes in Hong Kong. RN officers and men shopping in a street market. Shoe-shine boy at work. Group of three sailors, each in a rickshaw - a rather pointed contrast here between the well fed, indeed beefy ratings, and their rather emaciated looking bearers - the camera excites a certain amount of interest from both spectators and subjects. Crowded street scene - passing Chinese look or wave to the camera. A group of three Lieutenants do some shopping.

III. Interior of submarine's battery compartment, and CU of Petty Officer at generator control board.

IV. Ship at sea. CU of a man sitting by the guard rail - he is wearing shorts and smoking, and writes a letter, the pad on his knee. A stiff breeze is blowing


Summary: In the first days of the liberation of Hong Kong, Victoria was very short of electric power. The Kowloon power station was running, with one boiler on logs giving about 150 kw. The Japanese had taken up the land line from Taikoo power station and laid it across the harbour to connect to the Kowloon station. Two submarines went alongside in the dockyard to provide additional power for the island



Frank Welsh has argued that ‘The great achievement of Japanese rule in Hong Kong was to convince the Chinese population that, by comparison with that of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, British rule was both benign and competent’ (Welsh, 1993, 420-21). Following the surrender of British colonial officials on 25 December 1941 the Japanese ruled Hong Kong for a period of three years and eight months. During this time the territory was subject to martial law. It has been estimated that over ten thousand Hong Kong civilians were executed (Welsh, 1993, 421). A further 7000 British residents were held in prisoner-of-war or internment camps. The Japanese commandeered or destroyed properties in order to serve their military interests. They also assumed control of trading activities, replacing the Hong Kong dollar with the military yen. The majority of factories were taken over by the Japanese. There were shortages of fuel and public transport, and utilities routinely failed. Allied air attacks compounded Hong Kong’s straitened circumstances. A shortage of food, housing and medical provisions encouraged a Japanese policy of repatriation. The population of Hong Kong declined from 1.6 million in 1941 to 600,000 in 1945 as residents were forcibly returned to mainland China (Bradsher, 18 April 2005).

There was disagreement among the Allied nations regarding who should assume control of Hong Kong following the end of the war. The Chinese government regarded Hong Kong as rightfully theirs. In addition, they believed that they should receive territorial concessions as a reward for their participation in the war (Welsh, 1993, 422-23). The American government, particularly during the period of Roosevelt’s presidency, was largely supportive of Chinese claims. There was also a belief in the Foreign Office of the British government that Hong Kong should no longer be part of the Empire. The Colonial Office and Winston Churchill disagreed, however, and support for the British case increased as the weaknesses of the then Chinese regime became apparent. Eventually  Hong Kong returned to British rule. The American command in the Far East gave British forces permission to retake the territory. The incumbent American president, Harry S. Truman, meanwhile assured China that this action did not reflect future US policy on Hong Kong (Welsh, 1993, 430).

Philip Snow claims that during the scenes of liberation by the British, the ‘White Sun’ nationalist flag ‘outnumbered the Union Jacks by four to one’ (Snow, 2004, 259). Frank Welsh believes, however, that for Hong Kong’s residents ‘practical difficulties’ were more pressing than their political concerns (Welsh, 1993, 432). The new military administration worked quickly. Free food supplies were provided and over 30,000 coolies were employed to help repair the damage wrought by the Japanese. The Hongkong and Shanghai Bank restored Hong Kong’s currency and provided funds to enable public utilities to function. It is Steve Tsang’s belief that the restoration of British administration in Hong Kong was the ‘most shining example of all the territories liberated from the Japanese’ (Tsang, 1997, 53). Welsh concurs, stating that the speed and success of this post-war readjustment was ‘unparalleled elsewhere’ (Welsh, 1993, 433). He argues that, as a result, ‘Confidence in British rule, shattered by the experiences of 1941, was regained’ (Welsh, 1993, 433). Snow, however, is more cautious. He remarks that ‘Behind all the panoply of their re-entry, behind the grim grey warships and shining white uniforms, the British rulers of Hong Kong were feeble as never before’ (Snow, 2004, 264-65). He futher argues that patrolling the streets and shepherding Japanese troops into POW camps was the limit of the military’s power; meanwhile the urban areas of Hong Kong ‘lay prostrate to the mercy of Triad gangs’, while in the countryside ‘the British had no kind of a grip at all’ (Snow, 2004, 265).



The allocated title for this film, ‘Royal Navy Makes Efforts To Restore Electric Power in Hong Kong’, is not entirely fitting. The film is made up of a variety of scenes captured by a naval cameraman, and only the opening segment is concerned with the attempt to restore power at the Kowloon Power Station. There is little direct evidence here of the Navy’s work. The cameraman frames the two power stations that were involved in the operation and we have a glimpse of a naval ship in the background of one of the scenes. There is also evidence of some of the bombing that had been inflicted on Hong Kong. However, it is the Chinese residents of Hong Kong who are to be seen carrying out the main labour. Men and women, some wearing coolie hats, are shown transporting logs of various sizes from a yard near one of the factories.

The Royal Navy is, however, seen to be making an effort in their leisure activities. The majority of the film is taken up with officers’ excursions in the city. Several scenes show navy personnel shopping in the city’s markets. Here the priorities of the cameraman are clear. Although the streets are often crowded with local people it is the naval officers that he focuses on. This becomes apparent in a scene where a panned movement of the camera sweeps towards a group of locals. These people are at first attracted to the camera, but they move quickly out of the way when they realise that it has been tracking the movements of some officers. The film concludes with a segment filmed in the engine room of a submarine, followed by one that shows officers relaxing on the deck of a warship. Thus it is not focussed primarily on the effects of the war on the city of Hong Kong or on its residents. In fact, the scenes are somewhat random and the film would require a great deal of editing and/or compilation with other footage to serve any narrative function.

This film does nonetheless remain of value. It captures the contrast between the liberating forces and the residents of Hong Kong. There is a clear difference between the well-fed and well-dressed naval officers and the bare-chested rickshaw bearers who have to carry them around the city. There is a similar contrast in a scene that depicts some smartly dressed officers among a group of boys who wear clothes that are in near urchin-condition. The contrast grows wider still as one of the boys provides an officer with a shoeshine. The officer appears at ease during this process and makes an attempt to engage with the surrounding children.

Although the footage of market streets can seem prolonged, it does have some variety within it. There are gradations between the types of stall and the types of people who are shopping at them. In some areas the shoppers and the stall-holders appear to be more prosperous; correspondingly there are more locals in western-styled clothing in these scenes. There are also some shopping areas that are male-dominated while in others more females are present.

Although the cameraman of this film has not prioritised Hong Kong’s people, a good amount of local life has been captured. Moreover, he has captured locals who are interested in being filmed. The people of Hong Kong gaze at the camera, even if the camera’s gaze has not been directed at them. The way in which the British officers register the camera’s presence is different. They try to appear off-hand and at ease but commonly come across as being self-conscious, a result of their awareness that they are the proposed subject of this film.

Richard Osborne (September 2009)


Works Cited

Bradsher, Keith, ‘Thousands March in Anti-Japan Protest in Hong Kong’, New York Times, 18 April 2005,

Snow, Philip, The Fall of Hong Kong: Britain, China and the Japanese Occupation (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004).

Tsang, Steve, Hong Kong: An Appointment with China (London: I B Tauris, 1997).

Welsh, Frank, A History of Hong Kong (London: HarperCollins, 1993).



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