British military training with live ammo in country parks? | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

British military training with live ammo in country parks?

Those of us who metal detect will of course be familiar with the blank rounds which litter the countryside from British army training in the 80s. However, recently I have found fired bullets (not casings) around various spots in Hong Kong, near or on major hiking routes like the MacLehose trail, sometimes smack dab in the center of the path where hundreds of thousands of hikers have likely trodden.

My question is, did the British military use live ammunition in training drills around the hills of Hong Kong, or were live ammo drills confined to the firing range? If live ammo was used, how did the military ensure public safety? Were there any designated "training zones" (similar to the one at Castle Peak used by the PLA today) for live fire drills which no longer exist and are now open to the public? I'd imagine these training zones probably wouldn't include popular paths such as the MacLehose trail.

Ps. Do we have any veterans who have served in HK on this website?


Hi There,

When I first hiked the Langau Trail back in the mid 1980s, I came across some of those spent practice rounds with coloured (blue\royal blue, I think) powders soon after starting section 5.  The spent brass rounds were literally on the steps up slope, still with some traces of the blue powders.   My team just leave them in situ and continue our hike as it would be bad with those with you if you encounter Police on hiking beat.

Days after that I asked a schoolmate who was in the Marine Police then about it and he responded that the Gurkas may still train somewhere out there.  But that was beyond the Police jurisdiction.

For the Castle Peak area, I believe it is still designated to be a restricted area and under the jurisdiction of the PLA.  GeoInfo Map still marks the boundary.

My 2 cents.


To clear things up, I should probably explain some cartridge-related terminology before I continue, to ensure we're all on the same page.

Cartridge explanatory diagram
Cartridge explanatory diagram, by hongkonger

The complete object in the diagram should properly be referred to as a "cartridge" or a "round". The "bullet" refers only to the object labelled 1 in the diagram. The bullet is the only object that leaves the barrel of the gun, and in blank rounds it is absent. (Referring to the complete object in the diagram as a "bullet", while common, is technically inaccurate.) The "casing" refers to the object labelled 2 in the diagram. The casing holds the bullet, the powder charge (3) and the primer (5) together, and provides a rim (4) which can be used as a gripping surface to manipulate the cartridge inside the gun.

Blank rounds used by the British military in field training exercises do not have a bullet, they only have a casing. These spent casings are very common in the countryside, and metal detectorists will no doubt have found hundreds of them scattered around.

However, what I have recently found are the bullets, which blank cartridges lack. Because they're the projectile which actually leaves the barrel of the gun when it's fired, they could pose a hazard to the public while the military is training in the area, and which is why I did not expect to find these bullets in the countryside.

It is impossible for live rounds to be used in HK country parks. Live firing can only be used in the designated target range and in field-firing simulated battles, these are always conducted in MOD lands and these extensively survey to ensure safety. Without photos, it is hard to judge what these "live round" empty cases are. 

I've found two empty and heavily deteriorated 303 British rounds while hiking in Fanling a couple years ago (around 2016). I remember coming across them near a dilapidated observation post that has now half sunken into the hiking trail, so I always wonder if those rounds might actually be from WW2.

We left the rounds in situ after fumbling them for a bit. 

I served as a medic in 18 Field Ambulance and Gurkha Engineers (Perone Camp, Castle Peak Road) 1976-1978. We only used live rounds on firing ranges for APWT annual personal weapons test. I was never involved in any live firing excercises and actually all the Ex I was involved in were internal security, crowd/riot control.

Live rounds at the time would be 7.62 SLR or 9mm Sterling (SMG) automatic, or Browning 9mm pistol. I think one or two of the Gurkha Regiments may have been issued with US M16 rifles 5.56mm calibre.

my recall of all live firing was strict discipline to collect all brass casings (usually in your beret). In addition you had to make a 'range declaration' to the OIC (Officer in Charge) "I have no live rounds or empty cases in my possession, Sir".

Thank you everyone for the many interesting replies.

blaawan, I initially assumed this to be the case as well. However, I have found bullets, not shell casings, some with rifling on them, which could only have come from live ammunition. I found a bunch near Buffalo Hill on the 4th section of the MacLehose trail (all of them were no more than half a meter away from the middle of the path), and I found one at Tai Lam Chung reservoir. All of them were very well used hiking paths.

SiliconDioxide, .303 blanks were used postwar for training purposes, and I've found many of those as well. The best way to tell them apart from WWII rounds is the headstamp, which usually tells us the date and location of manufacture. You can find them on the bottom of the shell casings. Based on the location (Fanling) which did not see much fighting if at all, I'd wager it's from postwar training.

Otley99, thank you very much for your anecdotes. Just out of curiosity, why were you made to collect brass casings? I'm assuming either the military wanted to reload them, or they didn't want a rogue squaddie reloading them himself and causing trouble.

Sorry for not posting pictures earlier to clarify things, my phone camera is broken. Here are some pictures to illustrate what I'm talking about.

Mystery bullet comparison
Mystery bullet comparison, by hongkonger
Buffalo Hill mystery bullets
Buffalo Hill mystery bullets, by hongkonger
Tai Lam Chung reservoir mystery bullet
Tai Lam Chung reservoir mystery bullet, by hongkonger

First picture is a comparison of all the bullets. Top row (lettered) are for comparison purposes only. A is a Japanese WWII 7.7mm bullet. B is a British WWII .303 Mk VII bullet.

1-6 were found at Buffalo Hill. 1 is apparently made, at least partially, of iron. 5 is slightly flattened and has very clear right handed rifling on it. 6 is of a different type to the others. All these bullets were found on a 20m stretch of the hiking trail. Bullets 1-5 seem like they might be American .30-06 M2 bullets, though I have no idea what they're doing here, and I haven't found any shell casings nearby to prove or disprove it. I asked Tony Banham a while back, and he said that he's never heard of anyone finding .30-06 in Hong Kong and he believes these are .303.

7 was found at Tai Lam Chung reservoir. I unfortunately didn't have my metal detector when I found it, I spotted it lying in the dust while I was taking a rest. I will likely go to the area in the future to do some detecting. The bullet shows signs of left handed rifling on one side, the other side is much too corroded. 

I mentioned the direction of rifling, because American firearms are traditionally manufactured with right handed rifling, and British firearms with left handed rifling.


Based on what we know now, I'm thinking of a few possibilities:

1. Hunter (Why would he be shooting at a well established hiking path? It seems to me that these bullets were shot not at animals, but at people.)

2. Battle of Hong Kong (Not much fighting happened around these areas, and the bullets 1-5, assuming they're .30-06, don't match.)

3. East river column guerillas (Did they have American weapons? I'd expect them to be operating around Buffalo Hill, but did they operate as far west as Tai Lam Chung?)

The collection of brass cases - well that was one of the less stupid things we did but like the stupid things you accepted it was so and didn't question. In retrospect perhaps it was a very early 'green view' - said tongue in cheek because my experience of the military  it was about as far the other way as it was possible to get. Perhaps about saving money - again my experience was of military austerity even back in the '70's. Austerity is nothing new

Friend of mine from Korea said they have to do the same when in National Service (conscription). The explanation given by his seniors was that in the bygone days there were people who would scavenge practice grounds for spent shell casings and re-chamber them for personal use, which could get into the hands of criminals. He mentioned hearing about a story of a trainee who has dropped one bullet while doing a full gear cross country march, and the instructor made him backtrack the whole journey until he can retrieve said lost bullet.

I lived in the Clear Water Bay area 1950/60's and recall RAF Hawker Hunters and Centurion tanks located across the bay off CWB Rd using Shelter Island for target practice.  I remember seeing the Hawker Hunters flying overhead, the flash of rockets leaving their wings, then the explosion a few seconds later.   Shelter Island was usually very pock-marked those days.

It's been a while since anyone's posted new information onto this thread, and I still am no closer to finding out the identities of these bullets. However, I did previously ask the question of whether East River Column soldiers were active as far west as Tai Lam Chung.

I recently bought Chan Sui-jeung's book East River Column: Hong Kong Guerrillas in the Second World War and After, which details the formation, wartime activities and postwar fate of the East River Column. I haven't finished the book yet, but I can say that the answer to my question is yes. East River Column soldiers had their base in Sai Kung, but they operated in areas as far west as Yuen Long and Lantau Island.