Happy Valley: The Worlds Worst Sporting Disaster

Good Evening!

Welcome to a new post here at zoelouisesmithx.com! Before we get started I’d like to apologise for not posting on Saturday. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram you’ll have seen I was away in Newmarket over the weekend with the Racing TV’s Raceday team and I had no opportunity in the build up to write a post I was happy with so I would rather not post at all than post a low quality post. However I am back today with a new post. Today I am looking at the Happy Valley Racecourse Fire, which is the worlds worst sporting disaster in history. When I read about the tragedy I knew I wanted to share it as it is not something I knew about before recently. I don’t think it will be a long post but I wanted to share it all the same. So without further ado, let’s get into it.

Happy Valley Racecourse was first built in 1845 to provide horse racing to the British people in Hong Kong. The area in which it was built was previously swampland however it was the only suitable flat ground on the island, so to make way for the course, the Hong Kong government prohibited rice growing in villages surrounding the area. The first race meeting took place in December 1846.

On February 26th 1918, it was the second day of the annual ‘Derby Day’ meeting and it started like any other race day. To accommodate extra spectators for the big meeting, a temporary Grandstand was built.

The horses were coming out for the first race The China Stakes when shouts and screams were heard coming from the temporary Grandstand and people were seen rushing from the stand onto the main racecourse. Suddenly there was an explosive noise followed by a string of crackling noises and then the Grandstand started to lean towards the road before collapsing. The Grandstand was sheltering a small village of food stalls, bars and bookmakers so when it collapsed it resulted in knocking over food stalls and causing a fire when bamboo matting was set alight.

Immediately the district’s fire department was called, however this was such a huge incident that the marine police were also called up to help fight the fire.

By the following day, it was reported by the Hong Kong Telegraph that there had been 576 confirmed deaths. However most of the dead bodies had became so unrecognisable and were unable to be identified and were therefore assumed to be ‘Chinese’. A nearby hospital called Tung Wah Hospital offered their assistance by arranging for labourers to collect the bodies and taking them to a nearby area to be buried.

A Chinese-styled memorial site known as Race Course Fire Memorial was built in the Chinese cemetery which now stands before the East Stand of the Stadium. It was declared a momentum in 2015.

It is now widely believed that 614 people died making it one of the worst sporting disasters in history. The below images are very rare photos of the event that were sold in 2019 in a photo album at auction for £4000.

Source: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6725187/Photos-Hong-Kong-horse-racing-fire-killed-600-people-sell-4-000-auction.html

I know this is a short one but I wanted to share it because it’s truly a heart breaking situation. Nobody leaves their house to go anywhere not knowing if they will return home. Over 600 people went to a sporting event which they were all clearly really looking forward to and it ended up with them not returning home which is heart breaking. I couldn’t find it in my research but I would be interested in knowing how much work went into the aftermath by the Jockey Club to find out why and how this happened because the Grandstand should have been safe to hold that many people without collapsing. Also interesting to note, in my research I did find that no Jockey Club member or employee died in the event. Many news articles I read also said that although it was one of the biggest disasters in Hong Kong’s history, the Jockey Club knew it was going to be ‘bad for business’ and tried their best to cover up the small details and not allow a scandal to commence as they did not want to lose the race course. Whatever they chose to do, it clearly worked as they still have the racecourse.

I hope you found this one interesting to read and maybe learned something new. I’ll see you Saturday at 11am for a new post!


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