RAF Shatin Airfield – the Shek Kip Mei Fire and Flatted Factories

Peter Howell has sent further photographs taken during his time stationed at RAF Shatin Airfield, Hong Kong.

HF: The Shek Kip Fire may not at first glance seem to have a connection to the industrial history of Hong Kong. However it directly led to the Government instigating public housing and, I believe, also to Government built public factory estates, also known as flatted factories, a few of which still exist, which i hope to post an article about in the near future.

Below is a summary of Peter’s  time at the RAF base in Shatin.

1900 Air Observation Post Flight, 657 Squadron, arrived in Hong Kong at
the end of April 1953. Within a few weeks, the personnel had
re-assembled their four Auster Mk 6 and one Auster Mk 7 aircraft and
started flying operations from the airstrip near Shatin village.

I was 18 years old on arrival, and my role was that of Air Wireless
Mechanic. As at that stage the aircraft were not fitted with VHF radios,
I had very little to do other than maintain the wire aerials that were
fitted to enable the Army No. 18 Medium Wave Transmitter/receivers
wireless sets to be operated. As a consequence I was very much the spare
hand and spent much of my time doing duty crew tasks, refuelling, hand
starting the engines, taxiing directing etc. Also simply giving a hand
where needed, to the Engine mechanics, Airframe mechanics, the
Electrician and The Fabric worker. Later on in 1953 VHF radios were
fitted to the aircraft which gave me more of my own specialised work to do.

I remained at the Flight until September 1954 when I relocated to No. 80
Squadron at RAF Kai Tak to broaden my experience, finally returning to
the United Kingdom for demobilisation in March 1955.

P.H I’ve attached to this email the few photographs that I have of the
disastrous Shek Kip Mei fire at Christmas time 1953. The fire and its consequences must be well documented, as far as I can remember. We first saw the smoke after lunch
on Christmas Day. I and a few pals visited the area on Boxing Day when 3
of the attached pics were taken.

The Shek Kip Mei fire was important as it directly led to the instigation of public housing by the government: Public housing in Hong Kong is a set of mass housing programmes through which the Government of Hong Kong provides affordable housing for lower-income residents. It is a major component of housing in Hong Kong, with nearly half of the population now residing in some form of public housing. The public housing policy dates to 1954, after a fire in Shek Kip Mei destroyed thousands of shanty homes and prompted the government to begin constructing homes for the poor.(1)

RAF Shatin Airfield Shek Kip Mei Image 1 Peter Howell

Image 1 Photos stitched together as a panorama showing the aftermath of the Shek Kip Mei fire 25th December 1953

RAF Shatin Airfield Shek Kip Mei Image 2 Peter Howell

Image 2 A child pointing out smoke still rising from the ashes, Boxing Day 1953

RAF Shatin Airfield Shek Kip Mei Image 3 Peter Howell

Image 3 A scene at Shek Kip Mei on Boxing Day, the day after the fire

RAF Shatin Airfield Shek Kip Mei Image 4 Peter Howell

Image 4 Smoke rising from the Shek Kip Mei fire as seen from Arcullis Camp, Shatin, 25.12.1953


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_housing_in_Hong_Kong


  1.  The Shek Kip Mei Fire wikipedia
  2.  Shek Kip Mei, after the fire gwulo
  3. Memories of Home, 50 years of Public Housing in Hong Kong, Hong Kong Housing Authority

This article was first posted on 8th August 2021.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. RAF Shatin Airfield – Aircraft in Flight
  2. RAF Shatin Airfield – Routine Patrols, Part One
  3. RAF Shatin Airfield – Routine Patrols, Part Two
  4. RAF Shatin Airfield – Headquarters, Part One
  5. RAF Shatin Airfield – Headquarters, Part Two
  6. RAF Shatin Airfield – aerial images
  7. RAF Shatin Airfield – daily life
  8. Shatin Airfield 1949-1962
  9. Shatin Airfield – 1954 article about British Army/RAF use
  10. Shatin Army Camp – link to Shatin Airfield
  11. Shatin – first powered flight in Hong Kong 1911
  12. An Aeroplane Called Wanda – historic flight over Shatin March 18th, 1911.
  13. Charles Van den Born – first powered flight in Hong Kong, Shatin, 1911

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