Fighting over seize; Racing under siege
It was one of the first military actions among the Pacific campaign of World War II.
On the same morning as the attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, forces of the Empire of Japan attacked the British colony.
During the Japanese invasion, the Racecourse filled the all purposes role for which its terrain and accommodation fitted it.
The stands were used as an ambulance station and a relief hospital, to share other hospitals for war casualties.
After the invaders landed at North Point, however, the Valley was close to the “front line” and a natural “No Man’s Land”.
For the last week of the fighting the area had no services and no police.
They shelled the houses on Leighton Hill, along Stubbs Road and at Morrison Hill.
1941-12-24, Japanese charged shouting across the Valley from Broadwood Ridge, their tracer bullets making pretty fireworks on the night.
The invaders entered the Club stands and raped some of the nurses.
Ponies, escaped or released from the stables, clattered down the roads.
1941-12-25, the war moved into Wanchai that morning, and by 3.20 p.m. it was all over.
After the surrender, the Japanese used the Racecourse:
as a camp for a supply unit and its horses
as a drill and parade ground and
as a dump for hundreds of “captured” wrecked motor-cars towed in from the streets.
Hong Kong’s place names as well as its street names were all changed by the Japanese, to destroy all European influences.
Happy Valley became “Aobadani” (Green Leaves Gorge).
Some purist having quarrelled with “Pow Ma Ti” (Racing Ground) as a proper Chinese rendering of “Racecourse”
That familiar sign on the Valley tram-cars was changed to “King Ma Cheung” (Race Horse Track).
Very quickly after the Japanese took Hong Kong, the problem of survival was the inescapable obsession of the population.
European, Britons and Americans were interned.
With resources limited, the new rulers were glad to allow the rest to fend for themselves — including all the Chinese.
Half the residents became unemployed; and soon it was obvious that there was to be an acute and incurable shortage of jobs and food.
In the circumstances, thought naturally turned at once to resumption of any activity that would provide a “meal ticket”.
This urge prompted the early resumption of racing.
Within two months after the surrender the newspapers reported a movement to petition the authorities for permission and assistance.
The “Hong Kong Race Club” was formed very immediately.
Previous members of the Jockey Club were invited to register.
300 were reported to have done so, including some 77 owners — almost all Chinese.
But among them some neutrals, called “Third Nationals”.
An official list of ponies was published, showing 281 in total.
Among them, the latter two categories as yet un-named and un-raced.
Ten ponies had been killed by shell or bomb, or had been destroyed.
Fifty or sixty had been borrowed by the Japanese Army but would probably be returned later.
The best-known pony mentioned among the killed was Mr Lan’s FAR VIEW.
One not mentioned at all was Lady Grasett’s record-breaker, SAPPER.
The Hong Kong Race Club created itself by the Japanese to succeed the HKJC —but the Jockey Club lived on regardless.
1942-02-09 a meeting of the surviving Stewards was held in the internment camp at Stanley.
Mr Percy Tester was in the chair.
1942-02-10, Tuesday, a meeting was called and was attended by about thirty people, mostly Chinese, but including Japanese.
Those present were informed that “the late Hong Kong Jockey Club” had a bank balance of $400,000.
The Racecourse stands were in good condition, though the stables had suffered some damage.
To effect repairs it was hoped to obtain an advance of $50,000 “from the authorities”.
But they would doubtless respond to the proper encouragement.
Soon, fodder for seven months was available.
The new organization composed of Chinese members, Japanese and some “Third Nationals”.
Race meetings were held for the next three and a half years.
1943, Ho Kam-tong resigned his positions in the Race Club with an excuse of old age.
1944, race programmes were soon shrinking again.
The minimum Pari-mutuel bet became ¥10, and all Cash Sweep tickets cost ¥2.
1945, the ponies died off and the events petered out early.
1945-04-29, an ominous note appeared in the publicity for the Meeting:
“The Twelfth Meeting on Sunday, April 29, may possibly be the last one for some time, as the Club’s officials have decided to discontinue further Meetings in order to avoid incurring further loss, according to the Chairman of the Race Club.”
Attendances, the spokesman said, had become poor, and insufficient to meet expenses.
The decision, however, would rest with the authorities.
1945-05-13, no official announcement was made in English, but a small paragraph appeared in the newspaper draw the curtain.
The report said that winding-up proceedings were being carried out at the Race Club by a skeleton staff of about 40.
There were about 30 ponies belonging to members.
Again, the disposal of which was being left to the authorities.
Later, one of the stands was used as a kennel for Japanese police dogs.
Third Nationals, Sangokujin, is a Japanese anachronism term referring to her ex-colonial nationals of Korea and Taiwan in the aftermath of World War II.
When the food shortage became acute, prisoners of war were brought over from Shamshuipo camp to dig up the centre of the course near the Black Rock, for the cultivation of vegetables.
Acknowledgment to HKJC Racing Registry for offering relevant records.