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Friday, 26th June 2009

Heading into the storm

As the world commemorated D-Day this month, the Observatory has its own story of bravery to tell. The time was Monday, 8 December 1941, a fine, wintry day.

"That morning I had enjoyed a tasty breakfast under my own roof, in the afternoon I was a captive in the hands
of the Japanese; it was certainly a rude and sudden change, and we thought it likely that we had the unenviable
distinction of being the very first prisoners to be taken in the war of East Asia.
...." (Note 1)

G.S.P. Heywood, Director from 1946 to 1956

G.S.P. Heywood, Director from 1946 to 1956

Thus wrote G.S.P. Heywood, one of the Director's two assistants at the time. Together with the other assistant, L. Starbucks, they were instructed to dismantle the Observatory's magnetic station at Au Tau and retrieve the equipment there. The place was in the New Territories some 40 kilometres from the Observatory by road. Thus they headed north, passed pickets and found the place deserted --- just as the enemy advanced south from across the border.

There they were captured and spent the next nearly four years in internment together with the then Director, B.D. Evans. It was another world when they emerged from confinement.

There is no lack of courageous acts in the history of the Observatory. During the direct hit by Typhoon Ellen in 1983, two observers, Messrs Leung Kar-man and Ng Tak-leung, persevered with their weather observation at Chek Lap Kok till the temporary weather station there was practically blown down. The photograph below shows the observers standing in front of what was left of the battered station before they were airlifted to safety.

The observers standing in front of what was left of the battered station before they were airlifted to safety.

There are silent heroes too. Just as the public go home when tropical cyclone signals are issued, these people head for the hills where the Observatory's weather radar are installed. They are the Radar Specialist Mechanics, charged with ensuring uninterrupted running of the radar which are extremely important for the monitoring of severe storms. There they will stay till the storm is away, usually for a couple of days, and longer if there is no relief because of blocked roads or failed slopes. They leave the comfort of home and family for the frontline and face ravaging winds and rain. For this, they deserve our every respect.

Knowing Observatory colleagues, I am sure the spirit will live on.

B.Y. Lee

Note 1: an excerpt from Mr Heywood's article, published with permission of the Heywood family by the Hong Kong Observatory in the book "Weathering the Storms", 2008.

Last revision date: <17 Jan 2013>