Shatin Army Camp – link to Shatin Airfield

Robert Woodburn: Most of the two and a half years I spent in Hong Kong in the 1950s was at RAF Kai Tak.

However, in October 1954 I was posted from Kai Tak to the Army base at Sha Tin as a Senior Aircraftman. My living quarters was situated just off the main Sha Tin road and I was transported daily to the airstrip with it’s hangar and crew rooms. Each day started with a parade and inspection which, as an airman, was very foreign to me.

I always volunteered to go up with the army pilots on Auster test flights which gave me plenty of opportunities to see the surrounding area from the air.

This [undated] photo of the army camp, which was about three miles from the airfield, shows the main entrance.

Shatin Army Camp main entrance undated Robert Woodburn

HF: There appears to be some confusion as to whether this military base at Shatin was Army or RAF.

Robert adds: With regard to Army or RAF Shatin I can only say that  when I was billeted at Shatin the largest majority of personnel that were there  were army, with an army officer in command, and the place was run as an army unit. 

Unlike Kai Tak, each working day started with a parade and full inspection of the troops. The small RAF contingent comprising only the aircraft ground crew assembled together at the rear of the parade ground – hats pulled right down low to conceal  their longish hair.
 
When the parade was dismissed the RAF team were transported in army trucks to the airfield where they all went about their daily duties, namely, ensuring the all the aircraft were serviceable and flight worthy.
 
However, Just to confuse the issue I have just discovered an old letter that I sent to my father at the time from Shatin with my address stated as follows:
1900 Ind AOP Flt RAF 
Shatin Hong  Kong
B A P O I
(My guess is that “AOP” stood for Air Observation Post and Flt RAF stood for Flight RAF)
 
I also guess that all the mail went to the post office at RAF Kai Tak and was distributed from there accordingly.
 
From the above and for what it’s worth I still feel that the  Shatin base was run by the army as opposed  to the RAF. However, there may be a clue for you in my Shatin Address. (1900 Ind)

IDJ has sent this photo of the camp. He says when received as a print it already had the arrows drawn on showing the headquarters location at the top and the airfield clearly seen in the centre.

Shatin -RAF Shatin HQ -plus caption-1960 IDJ

Published 1960

HF: These two photos purport to show the location of the headquarters indicated in IDJ’s image above. The first matches the main building shown in the main gate image above.

The second appears to also show the same scene but with clear differences in the shape of the compound and main building, the jetty extending  a considerable way and different features in the foothills behind.

Can anyone help to clarify what we are or are not looking at? And when?

shatin-army-camp-hq-c1960s-from-hku-hk-memory

Shatin Army Camp HQ Courtesy: HKU Libraries / HK Memory

shatin-army-camp-hq-c1960s-from-hku-hk-memory-photo-b

Shatin Army Camp HQ Courtesy: HKU Libraries / HK Memory

This article was first posted on 18th February 2016.

See:

  1. Gwulo.com on RAF Sha Tin short article by IDJ

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. Shatin Airfield 1949-1962
  2. Shatin Airfield – 1954 article about British Army/RAF use

7 Comments

  • Phil

    Hi Hugh
    This is a picture of Ho Tung Lau. Interesting to see that it was used by the army at the time. Jubilee gardens in Fo Tahn now stands on this site.
    Cheers
    Phil

  • Geoff Crown.

    Many thanks for the most interesting photographs.
    I had the pleasure of being posted to 20 Indipendent Recce Flt. AAC. (Tide Cove) From 1961 until Typhoon WANDA decided to strike Sha Tin. We lost all but one of our aircraft and the unit was then moved to Kai Tak (RAF)
    The above unit was Army.
    Regards
    Geoff Crown.

  • Bill Dick

    I was stationed in Shatin in the 50s sac Bill (jock) Dick airframe and yes it was Army rule the commanding officer was Major King there was 9 RAF personnel 7 of us worked at the airstrip I remember 3 pilots Major King, Captain Olsen and Captain Barton we nicknamed him (Dick) we had a very successful basketball and football team of which I played for both, just behind the camp wall about a hundred and fifty yards out in the water we built a pontoon and on days or weekends off used this for recreation diving from the platform good times, have some photos of guys I was stationed with.

    • Peter Howell

      I’ve arrived at this correspondence a bit late in the day, but can add some information. Firstly, the 3 photographs. The black and white pic and the 1st colour pic are of Arcullis Camp, or Arcullis House, and yes it was the accommodation for the Other Ranks, as well as the REME workshop, photographic darkrooms in the basement, and admin offices. The lower colour pic is of the Officers Mess situated some 500 yards or so north of Arcullis House.

      It was before my time, but I have read that 1903 Flight (656 Squadron RAF) were stationed in Malaya before being posted to Sha Tin around 1950. The unit operated at Sha Tin for a short period, then moved up to Korea where they were one of the only RAF units in Korea for the duration of the war. I believe that most of the air bombardment support in Korea was provided by the Royal Navy.

      Arcullis was possibly left unoccupied until 1953, when 1900 Independent AOP Flight (657 Squadron RAF) arrived.

      1900 Flight consisted of the CO, Major JB Chanter, 4 commissioned pilots, 15 RAF personnel, and about 25 army personnel, including a clerk and a REME vehicle maintenance fiter.

      The unit was formed up in the early part of 1953 at Middle Wallop. The 4 Auster Mk 6’s (I don’t think they were 5’s) and a T7 dual control aircraft were dismantled and crated up, and they, along with the entire personnel other than the CO left Wallop on March 17th very early in the morning, travelled to Liverpool by special train, embarked on the TS Empire Halladale and at 6pm that evening sailed for Hong Kong, along with many hundreds of mainly army personnel bound for Aden, Ceylon, Singapore, Hong Kong and Korea. The story of that 6 week voyage is a whole story in its own right.

      On arrival at Arcullis Camp, we found the house in a very ramshackle state, mosquito ridden and dirty. The army personnel spent many days getting the place habitable, and at the same time getting the nissen huts at the airstrip clean and usable. Meanwhile, the RAF personnel travelled to RAF Kai Tak in the back of the 3 ton lorries each day, rebuilding the aircraft and getting them airworthy.

      Once this work was finished, the unit operated in the role of most AOP flights. Observation and photographic reconnaissance, particularly border patrols, Observation in support of Artillery ‘shoots’, ditto for the Navy, as well as acting as a target for their Radar alignment. The unit also gave familiarisation flights to army personnel, for example enabling them to see how effective camouflage is from the air, and similar flights to VIP’s, particularly when they arrived in the colony.

      I was the RAF Air Radio Mechanic, and left the unit in October 1954 to widen my experience on 80 Squadron and Air Servicing Flight at Kai Tak.

      I believe 1900 Flight continued in operation until AOP became the Army Air Corps, after which I have no information.

      At the time of writing, most if the pilots have passed away, but I am in touch with a number of the personnel (all now in their upper 80’s) , including the Aircraft Fitter, a couple of Engine Mechanics, the Air Photographer and the Cook.

  • Ephraim Kam

    I discovered this article quite by chance yesterday, but the pictures and discussion brought back many memories. I am a local Chinese kid grew up in Shatin during the 50’s. I commuted between Shatin and Tai Po Market every school day on the KCR from 1959 to 1963. Therefore the Arcullis House and Ho Tung Lau were both familiar sights. One additional note to this discussion, there was a small ferry, sitting about 8 to 10 passengers running regularly between Ho Tung Lau and the pier of the Ma On Shan Iron Mine. The latter is Yiu On Estate today. Since there was no drivable road leading to Ma On Shan in those days, this ferry was a vital transportation to the workers and villagers, at least for those who could afford the fare.

    • Thank you very much for your comment Ephraim especially regarding the ferry for Ma On Shan Mine workers. I have inserted your comment in our article, Ma On Shan Iron Mine 1906-1976 – biggest mine in HK – further information, in a subsection titled Mine worker’s transport.

      Hugh Farmer

  • Laurence Marsden

    Came across this site while browsing, never dreaming that I would see a photo of my old camp and what a beautiful photo it is.,…The memories came flooding back as if it was yesterday.
    I arrived in Hong Kong in 1956 as a driver op(erator). and left to be demobbed in 1958…I was one of three from Kimmel Park Rhyl, who were lucky to get posted there. One was Donald Cook and the other Ralph Denyer… My name by the way, is Larry (Scouse) Marsden
    Thank you to the people on this site, who made it possible for me to write this message,..,Larry (Scouse)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *