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Tuesday, 9th April 2013

Some Collective Memories of the Observatory - Director Graham Heywood

Continuing from my last blog on ex-Director Gordon Bell, this time I would like to talk about Mr Graham Scudamore Percival Heywood - the first Director of the Hong Kong Observatory after the Second World War.

One of the first things that I learnt from Mr John Peacock when I visited him in November 2012 was that Mr Heywood came from a very eminent family - a descendant[1] from William the Conqueror[2], the first Norman King of England!

Figure 1

History also told us that Mr Heywood was captured by Japanese soldiers on 8 December 1941, together with his colleague Leonard Starbuck, when carrying out duties at Au Tau in the New Territories near the border to dismantle the Observatory's magnetic station and collect the instruments there. They were probably the first batch of Hong Kong civil servants captured by the Japanese during the Second World War! After being held in various places in the New Territories, on 8 January 1942, they were taken by lorry to Sham Shui Po, where they were to spend the next three and a half years in the military Prisoner-of-War (POW) camp[4]. The then Director of the Royal Observatory, Mr Benjamin Evans, was incarcerated in Stanley Internment Camp[5] on Hong Kong Island, but the Japanese refused to allow Heywood and Starbuck to join the civilians there. They were not to meet Mr Evans again until 29 August 1945, at Stanley.

After the War ended, Mr Evans retired from the Observatory and returned to England. Mr Heywood took up the post of Director of the Royal Observatory on 18 May 1946. Together with Mr Starbuck and other colleagues joining the Observatory after the War, Mr Heywood re-built the Observatory operations and further developed its services for the public, until he retired in 1956.

When I visited Mr Peacock again in January 2013, he showed me a manuscript written by Mr Heywood about his days at the Sham Shui Po POW camp. The title of the manuscript is "It Won't Be Long Now - the story of a Japanese prison camp". Mr Peacock also introduced me to Ms Veronica Heywood, second daughter of Mr Heywood, who told me a lot about her father. For example, during his tenure at the Observatory, apart from having scientific publications on typhoon, he was also author of the book "Rambles in Hong Kong" and had a passion in hiking around the rural areas of Hong Kong. He liked to take his family to spend holidays in the heat of the summer at cooler altitudes underneath Sunset Peak on Lantau Island and lead plant-hunting and bird-watching expeditions into the Hong Kong hills together with his botanist friend Dr Geoffrey Herclots[6]. After retirement to England, Mr Heywood never lost his scientific curiosity - when everyone else was complaining about freezing taps and burst pipes, he was excited at the recording of all time low temperatures. He always thoroughly enjoyed visits from his old Observatory colleagues: his face would light up when, on a visit, Mr Gordon Bell, whom Mr Heywood had preceded as Director, told him of the satellite receiving equipment Mr Bell had invented for the use of the Observatory shortly after the first weather satellite was launched by the USA in the early 1960s.

Figure 2

Group photo of colleagues on retirement of Director Heywood in 1956

(front row from left to right: Royal Navy Commander Dennis Rowe, Mr and Mrs Frank Apps, Mr and Mrs Colin
Ramage, Mr and Mrs Heywood, Mr and Mrs Northan Lawrence, Mr and Mrs Pattison Goodfellow and an
attached military person; second row sixth from left: Mr John Peacock)

Mr Heywood passed away peacefully at home in Lockerley, Hampshire on 23 January 1985. Tributes sent at Mr Heywood's funeral from fellow Sham Shui Po POW internees told of how he had kept everyone's spirits up with his kindnesses and encouragement. Indeed, the following extracts from his manuscript clearly reflect his highly positive attitudes of life, and perhaps also his enlightenment from the internment, despite the prolonged hardships and adversities that he experienced:

Figure 3

Manuscript of Mr Heywood

"Then again, we were not going to ask too much of life. When the war was over, we told ourselves, we would never again sigh for the moon. We had discovered that we could do perfectly well without luxuries, and we could be content with the simple things of life ... good food, decent living conditions, and the companionship of our families. We began to realize that happiness depended very little on material possessions; the loss of all our worldly goods counted for nothing compared with the loss of freedom, home life and useful employment. Life had been getting too complicated; we would surely be more grateful for the simple things."

"It did not do to take too much thought for the morrow; better to try to live a good life each day for its own sake, and not for any vague rewards in some future existence ... anyway rather an unworthy motive, I had always thought. There was a meaning to life, here and now, ... "love thy neighbor as thyself" ... and there was one stronghold sure which would not fail me, the love of dear ones waiting for me at home. Perhaps we were unlucky to be born into this era of upheaval; perhaps though, our generation would have outstanding opportunities of shaping a better world."

"Accounts of life in the internment camp differed widely. One friend, an enthusiastic biologist, was full of his doings; he had grown champion vegetables, had seen all sort of rare birds (including vultures, after the corpses) and had run a successful yeast brewery. Altogether, he said, it had been a great experience ... a bit too long, perhaps, but not bad fun at all. Another ended up her account by saying "Oh, Mr. Heywood, it was hell on earth". It all depended on their point of view."

These are indeed words of wisdom. Here in Hong Kong, we have enjoyed freedom, peaceful times and abundance in material wealth since the War, but perhaps, we may not have recognized the fortunate environment we are in, and could choose to be content with the simple things of life. Heywood's words are truly food for thought for all of us today - in the midst of global warming, increasing consumerism, but decreasing spiritual satisfaction.

CM Shun








Last revision date: <27 May 2013>