In January 1942, the month after Japanese forces invaded Hong Kong, an internment facility was created for non-Chinese enemy nationals. Stanley Camp housed about 2,800 people, among them the Head Postmaster of Hong Kong, Edward Wynne-Jones.
Wynne-Jones later recalled: ‘As may be imagined, time hung heavily on our hands during those long years, though hope never died. In 1943, it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to have a commemorative stamp issued when Hong Kong was finally liberated, and I set about designing one’. This would turn out to be more than just idle wishful thinking on his part. His design would become one of Hong Kong’s best-loved issues.
From his rough pencil sketch in the camp, Wynne-Jones asked a fellow internee to produce a finished drawing of it. W. E. Jones (no relation), who had been the Chief Draughtsman of the Hong Kong Public Works Department, did so using colored crayons.
After his release at the end of the war in 1945, Wynne-Jones brought this artwork back to Britain with him, and sent it to the Colonial Office for consideration. A design for the crown colonies’ planned Victory omnibus issue, showing the Houses of Parliament, had already been agreed with the Colonial Office.
However, because of the exceptional background to Wynne-Jones’ design, special permission was given by King George VI for it to be used in Hong Kong instead of the universal one. Two values, recess-printed by De La Rue, were issued on August 29, 1946: a 30c intended for domestic letters and a $1 for airmail use.
The design used a variety of symbols to convey a powerful message. The central portrait, naturally, was of King George VI, with a crown above his head, reasserting the power of the British Empire. Below this was the mythical phoenix bird, which died in flames and was reborn from the ashes, symbolising the colony’s recovery from disaster. A ribbon below the bird bore the word ‘Resurgo’ (Latin for ‘arise’), and the dates ‘1941’ and ‘1945’ recalling the period of the Japanese occupation. The name of the colony appeared in English at the top, while Lions of England held shields that gave the name in Chinese characters.
On each side of the stamps are vertical tablets bearing Chinese inscriptions. There are varying literal interpretations of these phrases, but the general sense is clear: on the left it says ‘China and Britain perpetually at peace’, and on the right ‘The phoenix revives: great good fortune’.
The original artwork contained an error in the calligraphy here, but this was spotted by a Chinese naval officer on board the British warship taking Wynne-Jones to the UK, and corrected before the stamps were issued.
A small detail that is easy to overlook is the two bats in flight at the sides of the oval frame surrounding the King’s head. To the Chinese, the bat is regarded as a symbol of good fortune and longevity.
W. E. Jones’s original crayon drawing now resides in the Royal Philatelic Collection. On this, the date given on the ribbon for the end of the occupation is ‘1944’ rather than ‘1945’. It’s the only major element of Wynne-Jones’s thinking that failed to come to reality.