Hong Kong Military Service Corps
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The Hong Kong Military Service Corps (HKMSC) (Chinese: 香港軍事服務團) was a British army unit and part of the British garrison in Hong Kong (see British Forces Overseas Hong Kong). Throughout the history of Hong Kong, it has been the only regular British army unit raised in the territory made up almost entirely of Locally Enlisted Personnel (LEP).
The history of Hong Kong ethnic Chinese soldiers serving in the British Army can be traced back to the 1880s when Hong Kong locals were employed by the Royal Engineers in the building of barracks and defence work.
Many ethnic Chinese Hong Kongers fought alongside the British troops in the defence of Hong Kong in World War II. The battle group of the British Battalions consisted of 1st Battalion Middlesex Regiment, 2nd Battalion Royal Scots and the Hong Kong Chinese Regiment. Other battle groups were Royal Artillery, Canadian Battalions, Indian Forces and the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Force. A large number of ethnic Chinese Hong Kongers were killed or became prisoners of war.
Ethnic Chinese Hong Kongers also saw active service outside Hong Kong in Burma in 1942 against the Japanese forces, they fought alongside the 1st Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment.
In January 1948 the Hong Kong Chinese Training Unit (HKCTU) was formed by the Hong Kong ethnic Chinese who had served in the various artillery and coastal defence units during the Battle of Hong Kong in World War II, with the aim of recruiting and training Hong Kong ethnic Chinese soldiers to assist and support the British Garrison in Hong Kong. Hong Kong-born ethnic Chinese soldiers (British Dependent Territories Citizens) of the HKCTU pledged allegiance to the Monarch of the United Kingdom and were enlisted into the General Service Corps (GSC) of the British Regular Army. They wear the capbadge of the GSC. Members of the HKCTU were, later, frequently nicknamed, locally, in Cantonese Chinese, as sui lui pao bing (Chinese: 水雷炮兵; literally: "water mine and coastal artillery soldiers") or sui ngau (Chinese: 水牛; literally: "buffalo") in memory of their predecessors. Those enlisted before World War II were numbered HK1802xxx; those who joined after World War II, HK1826XXXX and HK1827xxxx.
In 1962 the HKCTU became the Hong Kong Military Service Corps (HKMSC) and consequently the GSC capbadge was replaced by a Dragon Emblem. Initially the Dragon insignia, which was a Division Sign, had represented the Hong Kong Garrison and all British army soldiers serving in Hong Kong wore a Dragon cloth-badge on their uniform. The Dragon logo was officially adopted by the HKMSC as their Corps Badge and Corps Flag. The HKMSC became a part of the General Service Corps of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) of the United Kingdom.
British Army careers
The HKMSC offered Hong Kong Chinese soldiers the opportunity to pursue a full career in the British Regular Army up to and including a Queen's Commissioned officer rank of the General List (HKMSC). As all members of the HKMSC were British Regular Army soldiers, they received a Regular Army Service Record Book when they left the army. Many of them had also been awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal (LS&GC) after 15 years of good and loyal service. British gallantry awards, membership of orders of chivalry, decorations and medal Ribbons had also been presented/granted to some HKMSC soldiers: these include the Queen's Gallantry Medal (QGM), the British Empire Medal (BEM), Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) status and Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) status.
HKMSC soldiers paid the United Kingdom income tax (at a 'Hong Kong' rate), via the MoD, like their British counterparts.
The unit's headquarters and training depot were originally located in Lyemun Barracks in 1948, between Shau Kei Wan and Chai Wan. It then moved to the Stonecutters Island in 1985. The HQ and Depot was commanded by a British Lieutenant Colonel, with a British and a Hong Kong Chinese Adjutant (both majors), a British and a Hong Kong Chinese Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) Warrant Officer Class 1 (WO1) and two British Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant (RQMS) and ORQMS Warrant Officer Class 2 (WO2). Recruitment, selection and training was carried out by Training Company, commanded by a British Army major, adopting the British Regular Army Recruit Training Syllabus. Most of the HKMSC recruit training instructors were initially trained in Hong Kong, then in UK. Training Company were also responsible for training the Ammunition Sub-Depot guards, made up of Hong Kong Sikhs (recruited as their religion barred them from smoking). The Deputy Commander British Forces (a Brigadier), was the Commandant HKMSC (a largely honorary title).
The Hong Kong Military Service Corps maintained its reputation for loyalty and military skill at the highest level, often outshining British and Gurkha troops based in Hong Kong. The HKMSC Shooting Team won the Team and Individual champion pistol shot a number of times at RASAAM (the Regular Army Skill at Arms Meeting) at Bisley, in the UK, and in 1992 a Training Company team representing the HQ and Depot HKMSC won the Dragon Cup for military skills (outperforming the Queen's Gurkha Signals in signalling and the British Military Hospital team in first aid); the competition was not held again.
The HKMSC reached a peak strength of 1,200 men, providing the British garrison in Hong Kong with supporting personnel. All HKMSC soldiers were basically trained in Hong Kong and from time to time attended upgrading and trade courses in the United Kingdom. HKMSC soldiers who were posted to and served with other non-HKMSC units, wore the other units' cap badge. Unit personnel were enlisted as officers and drivers in 29 Squadron, Royal Corps of Transport (RCT) based in Gun Club Hill Barracks. It provided crews for 415 Maritime Troop based on Stonecutters' Island, dog handlers in the Defence Animal Support Unit (DASU) of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps (RAVC) based in Sek Kong, officer instructors in the Royal Army Educational Corps (RAEC), officers and clerks in the Royal Army Pay Corps (RAPC), technicians in the Royal Signals (R Sigs) of the Queen's Gurkha Signals (QGS) and engineers and armourers in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME). The HKMC trained physical training instructors (PTI) in the Army Physical Training Corps (APTC), medics in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) based in the British Military Hospital (BMH), military police in the Royal Military Police (RMP), helicopter support crews in 660 Squadron AAC, Army Air Corps (AAC) based at Sek Kong Airfield, cooks in the Army Catering Corps (ACC), Weapons and Supplies Storekeepers in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) and intelligence staff in the Intelligence Corps. They also provided interpreters, clerks, Regimental Police and light-infantry personnel in Dragon Company of the General Service Corps (GSC) headquartered in Osborn Baracks, Kowloon Tong.
The modern era
During the Gulf War and in the early 1990s, the HKMSC provided officers and soldiers, primarily drivers and ambulance crews, to the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) on peacekeeping operations.
In 1996 the unit was disbanded prior to the transfer of Hong Kong's sovereignty to China in 1997. Just before the handover, the Hong Kong Ex-servicemen Association was formed by some of the local ex-servicemen; the association has branches in the UK and Canada.
In July 2006, Britain granted full British citizenship to all Gurkha soldiers and their dependants who had served in Hong Kong. However, the United Kingdom allowed only 500 HKMSC soldiers and their families to be granted British citizenship under the British Nationality Selection Scheme (BNSS), before the HKMSC was disbanded.
Some ex-HKMSC soldiers who had already resided in the United Kingdom, re-enlisted in the British Army on a Military Local Service Engagement (MLSE), Military Provost Guard Service (MPGS). Others joined the British Territorial Army (TA). Some other ex-HKMSC soldiers also continued their service in the regular UK Armed Forces after the disbandment of the Corps.