The first Hong Kong Highland Games 1981

The first Highland Games in Hong Kong was held on 11 January 1981. 1981 was a special year as it marked the centenary of the Hong Kong St Andrew’s Society. In addition, the chieftain of the society of that year was Sir William Purves, who was also the Chief Executive Officer of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation and later became the Chairman of HSBC Holdings in 1990. Since it was the centenary of the Hong Kong St Andrew’s Society, and Sir William Purves had a high status in Hong Kong, provided him with the ability to mobilise the Scottish community in Hong Kong, Hong Kong held the first Highland Games under the suggestion Sir William Purves. Another reason the Highland Games could be held at that time was that the Queen's Owns Highlanders were stationed in Hong Kong. The Queen's Owns Highlanders were very important for the games because they could provide the venue (barracks), staffing, logistics, and even judges for the Highland Games. Support from the military was extremely important to St Andrew’s Society, which we will discuss later. For the Queen's Owns Highlanders, they were also happy to assist with the Highland Games because of the status of Sir William Purves. As Sir William Purves said ‘arrogantly’ in the programme on that day: ‘Thanks went to Major Mike Crowe of the Queen's Owns Highlanders “for helping the Regiment to understand us”’(South China Morning Post, 1981, p.19).

The first Hong Kong Highland Gathering was held in perfect winter weather. This was a full Highland games with caber tossing, piping, football, dancing, running, pillow fighting, sack racing, putting the shot, drumming, and hurling the welly, with Queen’s Own Highlanders, Gurkha, and Chinese pipers from local pipe bands competing. South China Morning Post (1981, p.19) described the event ‘had an international flavour reminiscent of Braemar’.

The first Hong Kong Highland Gathering was held in perfect winter weather. This was a full Highland games with caber tossing, piping, football, dancing, running, pillow fighting, sack racing, putting the shot, drumming, and hurling the welly, with Queen’s Own Highlanders, Gurkha, and Chinese pipers from local pipe bands competing. South China Morning Post (1981, p.19) described the event ‘had an international flavour reminiscent of Braemar’.

Figure 1 The Queen's Own Highlanders Pipe Band at the Hong Kong Highland Gathering 1981

Source: Donation from Gavin Ure

Figure 2 A piper competing at Hong Kong Highland Gathering 1981

Source: Donation from Gavin Ure


Figure 3 Tug of War by the Queen's Own Highlanders
Source: South China Morning Post, 1981, p.19

Different from Scotland, the gathering in Hong Kong (as well as the subsequent gatherings) was held in wintertime. The reason for holding it in winter was to avoid the summer holidays – during summer, many foreigners and their children would leave Hong Kong for vacation, and the number of participants would be much smaller. Typhoons and heavy rains in summer also made it not conducive to hold the gathering in summer. Furthermore, it would be difficult to invite piping judges to Hong Kong due to summer competing season in Scotland.

The piping competition was judged by Captain John Allan of the Queen’s Own Highlanders, who was also the Director of the Army School of Bagpipe Music at that time. His flight ticket, according to the Queen’s Own Highlanders (1984), was sponsored by British Caledonian Airways. Captain John Allan also composed a tune called ‘Hong Kong Highland Gathering’ to mark this special occasion, as John Allan wrote in the regimental publication The Cabar Feidh Collection in 1984:

The 1st Battalion Queen's Own Highlanders was stationed in Hong Kong in 1980-1981 and many members of the Regiment made friends with Scottish community in the Colony. The association was marked by a Highland Gathering held on 11th January 1981 in Stanley Fort, the barracks of the 1st Battalion Queen's Own Highlanders. The Gathering was run in conjunction with the Hong Kong St Andrew's Society under its Chieftain Mr Willie Purvis [sic]. (Queen’s Own Highlanders, 1984, p.89)
Figure 4 The tune presented by Captain John Allan to the Hong Kong St Andrew's Society on 11 January 1981
Source: Archives of the St Andrew’s Society

The gathering in 1981 was unprecedented in Scottish community in Hong Kong. While it was successful, the St Andrew’s Society was unsure if this would be held in Hong Kong in the following year. As South China Morning Post (1981, p.19) reported:
Purves there will be strong pressure to do so […] But Purves is chieftain for one year and the vice president is Mr David McDonald, Director of Public Works, who is likely to be the next chieftain. And it will be his and the incoming committee’s decision whether the gathering is repeated or indeed made an annual event.
The first Highland gathering was held largely with the assistance of the British Army. Judges, venues, and manpower were all provided by the British Army, so whether there would be a Highland Games in 1982 was a problem at that time. Willie Purves also acknowledged this problem, saying the Queen’s Own Highlanders would have left Hong Kong in 1982 and replaced by the Scots Guards, which would be different. Indeed, the commitment of the Scots Guards was low. We will discuss this in the next section. Despite this, Willie Purves was still optimistic for another gathering:

Certainly there are enough Scots in Hong Kong to justify it. And with pipers drawn from the Gurkha regiments, the police band, and other units such as Cape Collinson [a prison band], with dancers from the Union Church Reel Club, tug of War exponents from Jardine and the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, and burl Scots like Mr Hector Ross, willing to toss the caber, there is enough of a local contribution to ensure another successful gathering of the clans. (South China Morning Post, 1981, p.19)



Source:

South China Morning Post. (1981, Januray 17). Clansmen besiege Stanley Fort. South China Morning Post, p. 19.

The Queen’s Own Highlanders. (1984). The Cabar Feidh Collection: Pipe Music of the Queen’s Own Highlanders. London: Patersons.


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