The Race Course Fire Memorial was one of those things that I knew was around but had never really had the chance to visit, and then once I had the time it had really been pushed from my mind. It's only since last year when it was finally gazetted s a Government monument that it wriggled back into my mind and noted as a thing to make an effort to see. It's only taken me 10 or so years but I took an opportunity the other day to pop up and see the place with my own eyes.
It's not so convenient to get to because it's up on the hillside behind the Hong Kong Stadium in So Kon Po and this means it is a fair distance from public transport and out of sight and mind for most people. And, as nicely demonstrated by me, even those who know about it need to make a special effort to visit.
The memorial was built in 1922 to remember all those who perished during a catastrophic fire that swept through a temporary mat shed stand at Happy Valley racecourse in February 1918. It's not clear what the official death toll was and various reports put it anywhere between 570 and 600. Given the damage that fire can cause it's likely there are victims that have never been properly identified so I would guess the higher number is perhaps closer to the real figure. There is actually a very detailed description of the tragic events over on Gwulo.com (quite apt because I was visiting this site with David Bellis, Gwulo's ever-inquisitive owner).
Those bodies that were recovered were placed in a communal grave - the site upon which the HK Stadium now stands. According to the ever useful (but not necessarily accurate) wikipedia, when the building of the original HK Stadium commenced in 1953, the bodies were moved to Aberdeen. However I can't seem to verify this and the details seem a bit vague. Moved to Aberdeen Cemetery? If so where? I will have to make a long needed visit to the place and investigate.
Anyway, those lucky enough to be identified have had their names engraved into two stone tablets that form the memorials centrepiece. The writing in the centre - 中西士女之墓 - roughly translates as Chinese and foreign men and women victim's memorial. On the left appears to be all the female names and on the right it looks as though the men have been listed along with their Ancestral village names (offering a brief insight into the fact that a woman's ancestry in HK and China didn't matter - funnily enough it still doesn't as many a female indigenous villager will be able to tell you).
Actually, the bottom word 墓 (mou) is used to describe both a tomb or a memorial in Chinese, so I guess the distinction in HK isn't as pronounced as in the West.
I can't find any foreign names on the either of the tablets, so either all the victims were Chinese or there are some foreigners in there who adopted (or were given by those responsible for the memorial) Chinese names. However, my knowledge of Chinese names is fairly scratchy so it is possible some of the Chinese readers out there will be able to zoom in on the picture above and spot something that might indicate a foreigner. If you can please let me know.
To reach the site you need to head over to HK Stadium (closest MTR is Causeway Bay) and once at the front of the stadium, walk to the left hand side. The memorial is signposted and the signs say it is closed between 12 and 1pm. We actually arrived at smack on 12 and were a bit worried we were too late (especially as the walk uphill takes up a fair few minutes) but actually everything was open.
Even if it was closed, I fail to see how you can be stopped from entering given the fact that the outer wall is only thigh height (see below).