This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: BFA 711).



(The following data has been copied, without amendment, from Army Mobile News Team computer discs.)

01-00-00-00 BARS

01-01-44-44 Front entrance to Prince of Wales Bks

01-02-58-58 HMS Chatham moored alongside POW Bks

01-03-43-43 GVs over city and port areas

01-04-35-35 GVs over Stonecutters Island

01-05-32-32 Shot of seaking pilot (846 Naval Air Sqn)

01-05-58-58 Visit to HMS Plover

01-08-28-28 Fast Pursuit Boats from HMS Plover

01-09-08-08 Fast pursuit boats go after civilian vessel

01-11-44-44 GVs of HMS Plover

01-15-07-07 GVs of Hong Kong from HMS Plover

01-15-33-33 Capt of HMS Plover on the ships bridge

01-16-52-52 2IC of HMS Plover going about his duties

01-18-24-24 HMS Chatham with POW Bks in background

01-18-48-48 GV of Exhibition Centre from sea

01-18-55-55 Crew of HMS Plover working on deck

01-21-40-40 IV - Lt Comd Gary Sutton, CO, HMS Plover

01-26-00-00 Ships crew pose for a photograph

01-30-06-06 IV - Neil Moore, Wpn Engr

01-32-11-11 IV - Steven McSevitt, Snr Communicator

01-34-37-37 HMS Chatham and POW Bks (evening shot)

Advance preparations by British forces for the handover of Hong Kong; scenes at Prince of Wales Barracks, Stonecutter's Island, HMS Plover and HMS Chatham.



In 1841 the British Navy captured Hong Kong Island during the First Opium War with China (Melson, 1997, 4). The following year, Hong Kong Island was formally ceded to Britain under the Treaty of Nanking. In the latter half of the nineteenth century neighbouring areas were also gained by Britain, culminating with the 1898 Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory, under which the British secured a lease from the Qing Dynasty giving them full jurisdiction over the remaining land in the surrounding area. This 99-year lease was due to expire on 30 June 1997, a situation that led the governments of Britain and the People’s Republic of China to produce the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984. With this declaration the British government agreed that, when the lease expired, they would surrender sovereignty of the leased territories, as well as Hong Kong Island and Kowloon; in return, the Chinese government agreed to operate a ‘one country, two systems’ policy in Hong Kong, which would enable its capitalist system to continue.

The continued British rule of Hong Kong had gone ‘against the decolonisation grain’ that had been evident elsewhere in the Empire following the Second World War (Buckley, 1997, 170). Roger Buckley believes that the British remained in Hong Kong for so long because it was mutually beneficial to all parties concerned: ‘the British government could point to its administrative successes, the Chinese had the satisfaction of knowing that over half of its trade passed through Hong Kong by the early 1990s and the residents of the territory could expect to be left to get on with their own affairs’ (Buckley, 1997, 171). Steve Tsang believes that the situation finally changed because of a tilt in the balance of power: Britain knew that it could not win a war with China to keep control of the territory, meanwhile both countries ‘accepted that Hong Kong had become too valuable to risk its destruction’ (Tsang, 2004, 268). The transfer of power was not entirely smooth, however. Chris Patten, the last Governor of Hong Kong, angered the Chinese government when he introduced measures that aimed to reinforce democratic power within the territory (Buckley, 1997, 127-35; Tsang, 1997, 189-200).

Although the British government retained overall control of Hong Kong until the handover, in the run-up to this transfer there were some marked changes in the way the territory was run. Discounting the Governor, the senior posts in the Hong Kong government were all held by non-Europeans (Buckley, 1997, 146). Meanwhile, responsibility for security was transferred from the British military to the local Hong Kong police (Buckley, 1997, 147). Buckley believes that Chris Patten was responsible for the ‘symbolic undermining of British military prestige in Hong Kong’, as he took the decision to remove the military presence from Hong Kong’s executive council (Buckley, 1947, 147).

During the early 1990s the Royal Navy was reduced to operating a ‘handful of patrol boats’ (Buckley, 1947, 147). Their role in Hong Kong during this period was search and rescue, the capture of illegal immigrants, and the prevention of smuggling (Melson, 1997, 129-46). In April 1993 the Navy’s last remaining coastal watching station in Hong Kong was closed down, and in May 1993 HMS Tamar, the Navy’s base in central Hong Kong, was sold off for land development (Melson, 1997, 150). The ships of the Hong Kong squadron took part in the handover ceremonies, but they were then sold on to the Philippines Navy. Following the Chinese takeover, the Navy’s base on Stonecutters Island became the government dockyard, and the Prince of Wales Barracks became the headquarters of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison (Melson, 1997, 150-58).

30 June 1997 was seen by many as the date on which Britain’s imperial role finally came to an end. Many of these ambitions were achieved with the support of the British Navy, and the date was certainly seen as significant within that organisation. Lieutenant Commander G. Tilsey remarked that ‘30th June 1997 will see the Royal Navy’s final sunset on a British Hong Kong. The Navy has been the guardian and protector here for many years, in a more direct manner than anywhere else in the world. From the congested waters of Victoria Harbour to the choppy, muddy seas of Mirs Bay, the Royal Navy has provided deterrence, support and protection – perhaps the last of this sort of extended, permanent, patrolling presence that the UK will ever require East of Suez’ (Melson, 1997, 159).

Hong Kong Handover was shot by Sergeant Stuart McKenzie of the Headquarters Land Command Mobile News Team. While earlier military film units shot their footage for the historical record and for publicity purposes, the Mobile News Team was primarily concerned with public relations, and often shot footage that concentrated on individual servicemen, with the aim of securing publicity on regional television. 



Hong Kong Handover is not a film that aims to provide a comprehensive record of the Navy’s involvement in the transfer of power in Hong Kong; instead it focuses on some of the final daily operations of the crew of HMS Plover. The film’s title is not particularly indicative of its content: although it was filmed on 18 June 1997, just 12 days before the handover, and the ship highlighted in the film was featured in the handover ceremonies, the action that takes place is not directly linked with events that took place on 30 June 1997.  Nevertheless, the film does provide a valuable document of the final days of British control of the region.

In the first instance, it shows something of the day-to-day operations that HMS Plover was involved in. As well as seeing the crew perform some fairly mundane actions on deck, we also get to see pursuit boats launched from the vessel in chase of a civilian boat, which they suspect is involved in smuggling. Navy officers board this boat and inspect the papers of its crew.

Secondly, the film records the thoughts of some of the serving officers. Here, in a series of individual profiles, members of crew are asked about their roles, what they think of Hong Kong, and how the feel about the Navy’s departure. Although imbued with military reserve, their responses display a personal attachment to Hong Kong and also a sense of regret that their role will soon be at an end. Lieutenant Commander Garry Sutton states ‘I feel sad that we are going, and I feel that we can go out holding our heads high’; Lieutenant David Ward says that he feels ‘very sad’, but that he was ‘lucky to have been here’; Weapon Engineer Neil Moore enjoyed ‘horrendously fast’ Hong Kong ‘very much’ and remarks that it is the ‘end of an era’; Senior Communicator Steven McSevitt doesn’t believe that the Chinese will change Hong Kong too much as ‘it’s got too much going for it’.

Finally, despite the fact that the film is unstructured and unedited, it does provide the materials for a narrative about the end of power in Hong Kong. There is footage that captures significant places, filmed either from a helicopter or from the ships in the harbour: we see the Prince of Wales Barracks; HMS Chatham (a frigate that was used to control military operations during the final months of British sovereignty); Stonecutters Island; and the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (where the handover ceremonies took place). In addition, it is apt that the film finishes with one of the most profound images for British imperialism: a sunset. A common 19th century adage maintained that Britain’s was ‘the empire on which the sun never sets’. Here we see the evening sun reflected in the high rise buildings of the city. The sun goes down over the harbour, setting upon HMS Chatham and HMS Plover. On board the latter ship we see two naval officers, who salute their flag is it lowered for one of the final times.

Richard Osborne (August 2010)


Works Cited

Buckley, Roger, Hong Kong: The Road to 1997 (Cambridge: CUP, 1997).

Melson, P.J., ed., White Ensign – Red Dragon: The History of the Royal Navy in Hong Kong 1841-1997 (Hong Kong: Edinburgh Financial Publishing, 1997).

Tsang, Steve, A Modern History of Hong Kong (London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2004).

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



  • HONG KONG HANDOVER, JUNE 1997 (TAPE 1) (Allocated)
Series Title:

Technical Data

Film Gauge (Format):
Beta SP

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Headquarters Land Command
McKenzie, Stuart (Sergeant)
Production company
Headquarters Land Command Mobile News Team





Production Organisations