Despite constant development and redevelopment in fast paced Hong Kong, World War 2 ruins still exist in areas like Mount Davis.
Hong Kong in WW2
Within hours of attacking Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941, Japanese forces also attacked British interests in the Pacific, including Malaysia and Hong Kong. The British were somewhat unprepared – as in Singapore, they had several coastal batteries for defence against a sea borne threat but were taken by surprise by the Japanese attack. Within days the British had been pushed back to Hong Kong island. Despite resisting for as long as possible at the Wong Nai Chung Gap, the British forces were overwhelmed and Hong Kong island was cut in two. On the 25th December the Allied forces on Hong Kong formally surrendered to the Japanese. As in Singapore, there were multiple reports of massacres committed by the Japanese against prisoners of war, medical staff, and wounded soldiers.
Mount Davis is a small peak to the West of it’s more famous sister, Victoria Peak. It sits on the very Western edge of Hong Kong island, and as such was the perfect site for a British artillery battery to provide protection to Hong Kong harbour. Fort Davis was established in 1912, and in 1941 was home to a battery of three 9.2 inch guns. The battery was heavily bombarded by the Japanese during their attack on Hong Kong Island, and the British crews eventually destroyed the equipment prior to surrendering.
Mount Davis ruins
Large parts of the Mount Davis battery still exist on the hill, including two of the gun positions, several outbuildings, and numerous buildings that appear to have been barracks. Most of the smaller buildings have been sealed with concrete, and of course there is nothing left inside, but nevertheless these ruins offer a fascinating insight into the history of World War 2 in Hong Kong.
Getting to Mount Davis
Access to Mount Davis is fairly easy. The nearest MTR stations are HKU and Kennedy Town, from where the walk is a kilometre or so (uphill), but not too taxing. Walking south along Pok Fu Lam road, turn right onto Mount Davis Road (from where there are nice views over the harbour), with the cemetery on the right. In a short while the road forks – the right road (Mount Davis Path) leads to the summit. The road is usually closed with a barrier to prevent vehicle access, but foot access is allowed. A long but fairly gentle climb takes you to a garden area on the right – from there, take the left path and lose some of the height you just gained. Then when the path splits again, take the right path and regain the height. It is around this area that the ruins start.
The tarmac road winds all the way to the summit of Mount Davis, but to see the ruins requires leaving the road and taking the side trails. These also offer a shorter, if steeper, path to the top. Luckily the Friends of Mount Davis have set up numbered signs to indicate the path, conveniently taking you past the most interesting ruins. The trails are all clear and fairly well trodden, so if you find yourself bush-whacking, you have probably gone the wrong way. Good boots and heavy footsteps are a good idea for these trails – twice I startled snakes who were sunning themselves on or besides the path – including one very large reptile that shot across the trail about a metre in front of me.
Shortly after the final junction mentioned above, a step of concrete steps leads up to a small building on the right. Perhaps this was some sort of guardhouse to the battery?
Continuing up the road, the first of the Friends of Mount Davis signboards indicate a detour to the right is in order. Climbing up, this section was slightly more overgrown than later sections, but is still clear. To the left leads to two concrete sealed buildings that look like pillboxes looking out over the ocean. Straight ahead returns to the tarmac road (which leads to the first battery), while right is a dirt track that leads directly to the battery. This is the first of the ‘big’ ruins on the trail. The gun pit is intact, with some small metal fittings and other items still visible. A tree grows in the middle of the pit, while pillboxes (sealed) face the road. Behind the gun pit is a small building that looks like a storage shed. There is also a convenient shaded rest area here, with good views over the ocean.
Continuing up the road, the ruins start in earnest. Almost immediately on the left is a set of concrete sets leading up. At the top of these you can turn right and descend slightly to see another few buildings (go behind the first to find an observation position overlooking the first battery).
Turning right at the top of the steps leads a very imposing structure – a high sided concrete passageway which several 90 degree turns. This apparently leads to what was the Port War Signal Station (source), a two storey building.
Continuing up the path skips out a big loop of the road and leads directly to the second battery. Very much like the first, the structure is largely in tact and has commanding views over the water. It’s easy to imagine, with the jungle cut back, how this would be a perfect defensive position.
The road soon arrives at the Mount Davis Youth Hostel. On the right hand side historic structures mingle with modern telecommunications equipment. Heading directly ahead up two sets of stairs brings you to a field on the summit. From here it looks like there is very little to see, but heading across the field to either the far left or far right leads to a path that circles the summit. All along the path are battery buildings (perhaps accommodation or storage?) that can be entered. Each has a protective wall in front of it, and large sections of the original camouflage paint can be seen on the buildings.
Descending Mount Davis
There are a couple of ways to descend Mount Davis. The most obvious is to turn around and retrace your footsteps, using the road instead of the trails for faster downhill speed. One route I do not recommend is following the numbered signboards to the end. I made the mistake of following number 16, seeing a gentle descend, and hoping it would provide me with a quick way back to Kennedy Town MTR. Instead, the path took me to signboard 20 and then stopped. The helpful arrows on previous boards were no longer present. Luckily it had dumped me on a disused tarmac road, which I could follow south-west (clockwise) to eventually meet back up with the road to the summit – but it took time and I’m sure a normal road descent would have been quicker.
There are several other WW2 ruins in Hong Kong, including the Pinewood Battery on the adjacent Victoria Peak (you could do both sites in one day if you set off earlier than me). The Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail and the Gin Drinker’s Line (which I haven’t visited yet) are two other sites. In terms of Second World War military history other sites of interest in Hong Kong include Sai Wan War Cemetery, Stanley Military Cemetery, and the Cenotaph.