Reminiscence on the 50th year of the Air Scout Troop

The Air Scouts of Wah Yan Kowloon – Origin And Prehistory

William(Bill)FANG(WYK 1967)July, 2017

Aviation Club

To me, the origin of WYK Air Scout can be traced to the school’s Aviation Club. Founded by Fr. Patrick Cunningham in 1960, the Aviation Club began with twenty-odd members, most of whom knew not much about aeroplanes and aviation. Many of us were photography enthusiasts, and the opportunity to take pictures of aircrafts and aviation installations attracted us to join the Aviation Club.

At the time, Fr. Cunningham was appointed the Port Chaplain of Hong Kong, meaning he was the head Catholic priest for all the seamen who came into port on ships, including US and British warships visiting Hong Kong for maintenance and R and R(rest and recreation). Fr. Cunningham would conduct church services on board for the seamen, and attend to their religious needs. He thought that it would be an eye-opener for Wah Yan boys to go visit these ships, which carried some of the world’s most advanced fighter jets and other military equipment. My brother and I were regular tag-alongs in Fr. Cunningham’s Mercedes Benz when he went out to port for Chaplain duty.

Those of us in the Aviation Club eventually developed knowledge of aviation. We were able to visit aircraft carriers and other warships that docked in the Hong Kong harbour. Because of the Vietnam War, many of the top US aircraft carriers were in the Asian vicinity. We went on the USS Midway, Kitty Hawk, Constellation, Intrepid and Enterprise (the largest in the world at the time), which carried some of the most advanced planes and helicopters. We got to climb on board the cockpits of an F–4 Phantom. We also visited a couple of US submarines.

We also visited the British aircraft carrier, the old HMS Ark Royal, and flew on the Asian maiden flight of the VC-10. We went frequently to the Hong Kong Aeronautics Engineering Co. (HAECO)at Kai Tak Airport to learn about aircraft maintenance and various aspects of aviation mechanics, training and operations. We toured the Kai Tak air traffic control towers and fire emergency facilities. In short, every week or two, we would be on to something.

My Good Friend Robin Yung (榮敬譽)

You must have heard of Robin Yung. Today, our troop’s scout room bears his name. Robin and I were classmates since Form One, and we were both die-hard members of the Aviation Club. Out of everybody, Robin had the most knowledge and dedication when it comes to aircrafts. He and I would share books and talk about the latest developments in aviation.

We both went to the US for university, he at Purdue in the Midwest, and me at Harvard on the east coast. Shortly after Christmas during our freshman year, I called him at his aunt’s as agreed-upon, and found out to my total shock that he had died the previous day from an automobile accident. This was the most distraught moment in my life, losing a buddy all of a sudden and not able to do anything. Some years later, Robin’s parents donated some money to Wah Yan and was asked how they wished to dedicate it. We thought the best idea was to let our Air Scouts bear memories of him.

Air Scout – Leadership Training

The idea of forming the first Air Scout troop in Hong Kong came five years later, in 1967. In Fr. Cunningham’s mind, the purpose was clear — it was a vehicle to provide Wah Yan boys with leadership training.

Fr. Cunningham had by then finished his tenure as Port Chaplain and returned to teach in Wah Yan Kowloon. Before being Port Chaplain, he was a Scoutmaster of WYK’s 11th Boy Scout Group. Now he wanted to start a new troop under our 11th Group, continuing the Aviation Club’s experience, and pioneering the first-ever Air Scout unit in Hong Kong.

Finding students with both scouting and aviation background proved to be nearly impossible, and Fr. Cunningham did not want to poach from Wah Yan’s other scout troops for leaders. I was practically the only person who had been a junior scout for three years and an avid member of the Aviation Club throughout. When he asked me to be an Assistant Scoutmaster (my highest previous rank was only a patrol leader), I said “Are you sure?” When I realized that his mind was deadset, I recommended that we brought on Leo Chu, my classmate and good friend, to assume the ASM duties together. Leo was a Queen’s Scout, and a consummate professional in his skills, knowledge and dedication. He would be the leader in training up the recruits. So that was how it got started.

Recruiting the First Scouts

The first project was to start recruiting, which was not easy considering the scout troop did not even exist. Why would the Form One boys who wanted to join scouting consider a troop that has yet to exist! The best formula was to “draft” the younger brothers of those who had been with the Aviation Club. So we got Benny Woo’s brother Vincent, Stephen Wan’s brother Thomas, Jimmy Tsien’s brother Samuel, John Chu’s brother Michael, and so on. It was a bit funny because the kids had no idea why they were being dragged into the Air Scout, and their older brothers also had no idea what it was all about, because they were never scouts themselves. They told their younger brothers, “This is Fr.Cunningham’s idea. Just do it.”

Then we looked at the higher Forms for anyone we could find to be patrol leaders. Somebody like David Chan was a great discovery — he was well-experienced in scouting from before Wah Yan, but did not join the WYK troops because he did not want to start from the bottom. So we grabbed him. Fr. Cunningham firmly believed that all we needed were a few “fine boys” from each of the higher Forms to establish an age ladder for the young ones. “We can train them, so long as they are good leadership material.” So we brought in older boys like Peter Lo and John Liu, etc.

Making Them “Look Like Scouts”

The next project was to train the recruits to pass the Tenderfoot tests so that they could be sworn in officially. That was not difficult. We had three months before the troop would make its first appearance at the annual Christ The King Assembly at the Hong Kong Stadium. Being a first for the city, the debut of the Wah Yan Kowloon Air Scout Troop would surely be a spectacle event. But first, we had to look the part.

For the first months, the recruits would meet every Saturday afternoon like the other scout troops, practice marching and formation, and learn the basic skills and scout knowledge. Except, without uniforms, we looked literally like “ragtag scouts” and felt being laughed at behind our backs. To be official, you have to at least look the part.

Uniforms for Air Scouts were non-existent in Hong Kong at the time. Getting them tailor-made was no problem, just had to pattern them after the same design as the WYK 11th Group uniform. But the real problem was the Air Scout berets, badges and insignia, which were unavailable even from the Hong Kong Scout Association. We had to order them from the United Kingdom, made payment with money order in British Pounds, and rushed them by airmail to Hong Kong.

Making It At The Knick Of Time

On the eve of the Christ The King march, the Air Scout recruits were all ready and smartly dressed in their new uniforms at their Saturday meeting, except without their berets, badges and insignia. They could not be sworn in. The investiture ceremony had to wait until the airfreight parcel arrived.

You can read about what happened in my Signum article “Investiture Under The Stars”. Like a miracle, the parcel arrived at Kai Tak Airport that afternoon! Fr. Cunningham immediately sped to the Airport Depot in his self-driven car to clear customs, and managed to get special dispensation to have the customs office open after hours(don’t ask me how). Meanwhile, we arranged for some girl guides to come from Maryknoll to help us sew the badges and insignia onto the uniforms and berets.

By nightfall, we were ready! The rest, as they say, was history …

The Early Days

In the summer of 1968, I left Hong Kong and our Air Scouts to study in the US.

To learn about the early years’ activities and adventures of the Air Scouts, I would recommend everyone to read the articles written by Leo Chu, my co-founding ASM, and other members in the original founding troop.

As we look back with pride and comraderie, we should look up to the spirit of Fr. Cunningham, whose dedication and unswerving conviction to instill leadership qualities and teamwork training and experience in all of us, has enriched our lives and those around us.

Thank you, Fr. Cunningham.

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