Obituary: Jenny of ‘Jenny’s Side Party’, Hong Kong

Author
Subjects
Biographies and personal histories, Obituaries
Tags
RAN Ships
None noted.
Publication
June 2009 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)

Mrs Ng Muk Kah, BEM

Generations of sailors who visited Hong Kong will mourn the death of Jenny. She was a much loved living legend who, for all the colony’s constant change, remained the same incomparable institution for over half a century.

Much of her life was an enigma. However. the authors of her twenty-seven Certificates of Service generally agreed that she was born in a sampan in Causeway Bay in 1917. Her mother, Jenny One, according to her one surviving Certificate of Service, which was copied in 1946 from an older, much battered and largely illegible document, ‘provided serviceable sampans for the general use of the Royal Navy, obtained sand, and was useful for changing money‘. She brought up her two daughters to help her.

Behind her perpetual great gold-toothed grin Jenny complained; ‘I velly chocker. All time work in sampan, no learn to lead or lite.’ But what she lacked in education she made up more than a hundredfold with her immense and impressive experience in ship husbandry, her unfailing thoroughness and apparently inexhaustible energy, her unquestionable loyalty and integrity, her infectious enthusiasm and her innate cheerfulness.

Officially, Jenny’s Date of Volunteering was recorded as 1928. From then until 1997, when the colony became a Special Administrative Region of China and the Royal Navy moved out, she and her team of tireless girls, who at one time numbered nearly three dozen, unofficially served the Royal and Commonwealth Navies in Hong Kong by cleaning and painting their ships, attending their buoy jumpers, and, dressed in their best, waiting with grace and charm upon their guests at cocktail parties. Captains and Executive Officers would find fresh flowers in their cabins and newspapers delivered daily. And many a departing officer received a generous gift as a memento from Jenny. For all of this, she steadfastly refused ever to take any payment. Instead she and her Side Party earned their keep selling soft drinks to the ships’ companies and accepting any item of scrap which could be found on board.

Jenny’s huge collection of photographs – too big, she said, to be put into books – she stored in a large envelope. They dated back to the mid 20th century and showed her in the ships she so faithfully served with Buffers and Side Parties, and with grateful officers, many of whom became distinguished admirals. In two thick albums she proudly kept her letters of reference, all without exception filled with praise and affection for her. One was a commendation by the Duke of Edinburgh for her work in the Royal Yacht during her visit to Hong Kong in 1959. She has a Long Service and Good Conduct Medal presented to her in 1938 by the captain of HMS Devonshire, and a bar engraved ‘HMS Leander, 1975‘.

Jenny’s Side Party: l to r, Ah Soo, Ah Yong, Du Yong, Jenny and Ah Hee (Source:Mike Taylor)

Jenny’s Side Party: l to r, Ah Soo, Ah Yong, Du Yong, Jenny and Ah Hee (Source:Mike Taylor)

Most treasured of all Jenny’s distinctions was the British Empire Medal awarded her in the Hong Kong Civilian List of the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 1980 and with which she, formally named Mrs. Ng Muk Kah, was invested by the Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Murray MacLehose.

In later years, Hong Kong was no longer visited by the great fleets of battleships and cruisers which gave Jenny and her Side Party their livelihood and she found it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. Yet she stayed fit and was always willing to undertake any work available. To the end of the Royal Navy’s presence in Hong Kong, there could be seen in the shadow of the towering Prince of Wales building within the naval base, a small round figure in traditional baggy black trousers and high-collared smock with a long pigtail and eternal smile who, regardless of time, remained it seemed for ever – just Jenny.

Jenny died peacefully in Hong Kong on Wednesday 18th February 2009. She was 92 years old.

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