January 2019
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IN THE COMMUNITY
Lest we forget
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IN THE COMMUNITY

Representing the Swire group, Tom Owen, Cathay Pacific's Director People, laid a wreath at the the Cenotaph in Hong Kong on Remembrance Day.
Representing the Swire group, Tom Owen, Cathay Pacific's Director People, laid a wreath at the the Cenotaph in Hong Kong on Remembrance Day.

On 11th November, Tom Owen, Cathay Pacific's Director People, represented the Swire group at the Remembrance Sunday service in Hong Kong, where he laid a wreath at the Cenotaph, honouring those who fell in the First and Second World Wars and in other major conflicts since. The ceremony was especially poignant, because it marked the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day – the end of World War I.

The appalling consequences for Swire of the 1939-1945 World War have been relatively well-documented elsewhere. The statistics are broad-brush because it is impossible to put an accurate figure to the perhaps thousands of Swire staff and their dependants killed, imprisoned or enslaved, the vast amount of property in Hong Kong and Mainland China destroyed.

Less has been written about how Swire fared in the so-called Great War of 1914-1918, whose battlefronts were a world away from its main areas of operation and the firm’s losses therefore smaller, but which is nonetheless remembered as a tragic interlude in our history.

Although China declared neutrality when war broke out in 1914, British shipping on its coast faced a significant threat from the German Navy, which had maintained a base at Qingdao since the 1890s. In then-British governed Hong Kong, the risk of attack was perceived to be high; able-bodied men were urged to sign up with the Volunteers and stand ready to defend the Colony to the death.

From 1915 onwards, with the tacit blessing of China's republican government, hundreds of thousands of its citizens joined the Chinese Labour Corps, travelling to France, the Middle East and Tsarist Russia to work in munitions factories, dig trenches, service tanks and haul supplies – making an inestimable contribution to the Allied offensive. Blue Funnel – managed in China by Swire – was amongst the British shipping lines pressed into service to help handle this mass migration and as part of its war effort, Swire was soon arranging passage for up to 4,000 men per month. Meanwhile, numbers of its own China Navigation Company coasters were requisitioned by the Admiralty and employed as supply ships or troop transports in the unfamiliar waters of the Mediterranean and Arabian Gulf. Four of these vessels were sunk by enemy torpedoes; 20 Swire officers and crewmen lost their lives while on active service. 

Hong Kong Volunteers in 1915
Hong Kong Volunteers in 1915


In 1914, Swire had just over 100 – mainly British – House Staff deployed in Hong Kong, Shanghai and at its 21 outports around China and in Japan. Of these, over 30 returned ‘home’ to join up and around the same again enlisted from the London office. Their departure left gaping holes in the staff ranks and one of the lasting effects of World War I was that Swire finally admitted women to work in its eastern offices. Of those young men who served their country, 15 were killed in action. The very first to fall was 2nd Lieutenant Glen Swire, younger son of the Chairman, who died at Ypres on 13th May 1915, shortly after his 18th birthday.
Lest we forget
Lest we forget
Celebrating Christmas for a good cause
Celebrating Christmas for a good cause
Paint it forward
Paint it forward
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Swire News 2019 January Issue
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