June 30, 1997, was a historic event in British history, as the United Kingdom formerly returned Hong Kong to its motherland – the people’s Republic of China.
And central to the celebrations to mark the event were Fifers from of the 1st Battalion of the Black Watch, the last regiment to man the garrison at the ‘Pearl of the Orient’.
Five hundred men had flown out to Hong Kong at the beginning of February of that year but, by the start of June, 200 had returned home, the remainder beginning the process of shutting down the garrison and taking part in farewell parade at sunset on the last day of June and handing it over to the People’s Liberation Army.
Britain had ruled in the territory since 1841 after the Royal Navy had battered the Chinese into submission, and a national holiday had been declared for July 1, though the pledge had been made that fireworks would only be let off once the Royal Yacht was finally out of sight.
Among the Black Watch Fifers were Private Thomas Laing (24) of Methil and Private Marc Kettles (23)of Kennoway.
The Army was selling off all its vehicles in Hong Kong and making sure that all the lorries, trailers and Land Rovers were in pristine condition was 28-year-old Private Clark MacNamee of Auchtermuchty.
Privates John Paul Barry (20) and Robert Johnston (22) were part of the platoon’s Dragon Boat rowing team, whilst looking after signals were Sgt Ian Kilgour (32) from Glenrothes and Kirkcaldy’s Corporal Gordon Macduff (32).
Putting the men through their paces in the lead up to the celebrations was Sergeant Major Brian Gillfillan.
The 37-year-old from Cardenden was in charge on the training on the drill ground as preparations for the big day drew closer.
His big brother Jock had also been a Sergeant Major with the regiment, with the pair combining nearly 20 years service between them.
Sport had proven a big part of Brian’s Army life, having played with the British Forces team in the Hong Kong professional league, and other Fifers also found time away from the Army grounds for a bit of hard play as well.
Corporal Brian Oakley (27) from Oakley played Rugby Tens for the Black Watch and was a veteran of the Army U21s and Army in Scotland side and found himself playing for Hong Kong in Australia, pitched up against the likes of internationalists, Matthew Burke and David Campese, saying: “It’s great to be on the pitch with the best in the world.”
Paying a visit to the Black Watch’s footballers was former Dundee United player and manager Billy Kirkwood, then coach with the Hong Kong Inter Dict side, who offered a few tips as the sides played a friendly match at the Sha Tin Sports centre.
And keeping a watchful eye over proceeding back home in the Kingdom was Kirkcaldy’s Bill Kirkhope, who spent 30 years as a Hong Kong police officer who was awarded the Colonial Police Medal for meritorious service in 1991, before retiring to Dalgety Bay.
“There are bound to be changes, but I have every confidence that Hong Kong will continue to prosper,” he said.