Guy Shirra’s memoirs: candour, comedy, colourful characters and tales of heroism

A runner and hiker, Guy founded the Sai Kung Hash House Harriers
A runner and hiker, Guy founded the Sai Kung Hash House Harriers
Guy (left) with Mike Sharp, former Sai Kung police chief
Guy (left) with Mike Sharp, former Sai Kung police chief

Sai Kung’s ubiquitous expat, Guy Shirra, has published his memoirs in a 185-page book called “The Accidental Prawn”.

Good memoirs must be candid and Guy knows this. His dad suffered from depression and killed himself, Guy writes. He used gas and could have blown the house down.  At the time Guy was 10. Depression plagued Guy too when he was younger, but an understanding doctor gave him pills “to level me out”.

Like most normal men, Guy says when he was younger he was obsessed by the opposite sex. He tells of sleeping naked under just a sheet by a large window and waking to find giggling girls looking in. A friend sold $10 tickets allowing mates to see him perform with a girl from a grassy bank outside his bedroom window. But Guy writes that he didn’t see a completely naked female until early in his police career. It was a murder victim.

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Several books of reminisces by former Hong Kong police officers have been published in Hong Kong recently. This one is better than the lot put together.

Born in 1947 near Stratford-upon-Avon, Guy attended boarding school in England before volunteering for overseas service in Sarawak. That was 1966 to 67.  Then he moved to Hong Kong to become a probationary inspector.  Cantonese lessons he found were easy: “I had an ear for tones”.  He met his wife, Annie, when he ambushed her on the Star Ferry to practice his Cantonese. They produced two daughters who gave them four grandchildren.

“The Accidental Prawn” has anecdotes galore.

During the 1967 riots a bomber kept placing explosives near a dog garden at Victoria Park. Guy climbed a tree with a good view of the dog garden and waited with an M1 carbine. At dawn an old man and fellow exercisers came into the garden and the man looked for somewhere to hang his brolly. He chose Guy’s tree and looked up to see the smiling gweilo police officer.  The old fellow freaked and bolted, yelling “yau gwei, yau gwei”. His companions galloped after him.  Guy climbed down, his hiding place revealed, and departed. The bomber struck again.

Guy on patrol in early policing days
Guy on patrol in early policing days

A fresh-faced newly minted inspector he recalls proudly putting on his smart dark-blue winter uniform for the first time, and striding forth from the police station on patrol.  He turned left and was hit by a bucketful of filthy water thrown by a cleaning lady. “I said something very rude, very loudly.” Then he saw the old lady had realised what she had done and had frozen with a look of sheer terror. He held up his hands in surrender and headed back to the police station.

Guy tells stories about colourful characters in the police force. One was “Crazy Horse” Dawson, Director of Special Branch. Crazy Horse decided one day he would mount a one-man raid on a gambling den. He marched up to the den’s door, throw it open and yelled, “Everyone stay where you are”. Crazy Horse then got bowled over and stomped as a horde of gamblers decided they needed to be elsewhere. Crazy Horse retired to become a Catholic priest.

Some of the stories are sad and serious, even heroic. Out with a rural patrol in 1972 villagers at Kei Ling Ha Lo Wei came running toward them carrying a 10-year-old girl, her foot nearly severed by a broken bottle. Guy slung her on his back and ran for three miles to a police launch, which took her to Taipo and an ambulance to QEH.

In June 1972 Guy was home in the Mid-Levels with Annie watching “The Two Ronnies”. He heard an enormous bang. The Kotewall Road landslide disaster had occurred.  Guy rushed to the scene and helped rescue survivors. Then he struggled deeper into the rubble. He heard a child’s cry, “Help me! I’m dying”. Scrapping with his hands he found a small hand, then an arm and shoulder. A boy’s face emerged from the mud. The kid said his name was Jules. Guy hauled him out and continued searching in the rubble for three hours.

Retired police superintendent Guy Shirra
Retired police superintendent Guy Shirra

Rescuers who went beyond the call of duty that day were awarded the George Medal, British Empire Medal for Gallantry and eight Queen’s Commendations for Brave Conduct. Guy’s medal was presented to him at Government House by Sir Murray MacLehose.

“The Accidental Prawn” is worth reading for its candour, comedy, colourful characters and tales of heroism.

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