Majority of the miners and residents in the mining village were migrants coming from mainland China during the Civil War and later the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Population of MOS mining village drastically increased from 300 before 1948 to about 6,860 in 1953. The early miners were from Chiu Chow or Hakka. Then more miners came from Northern provinces in China, such as Shandong, Henan, Anhui or Hubei. The number dropped gradually afterwards as the mine experienced mechanisation and demanded less labours.
Before large-scale development of the MOS Iron Mine took place, there was a rural Hakka village, known as Wan Village, named after the surname of the villagers, who had made a living by farming for generations since the mid- Qing dynasty. As the population surged after 1949, settlements emerged at different locations and expanded as well, from the earlier and more crowded settlement at the Peak District to Ma On Bridge District, Mid-level District and the Pier District. Living condition at the mining village was desperate in early years, worsened by natural disasters and poor public security. People with different backgrounds, languages and cultures could not get along very well. Some miners were mistreated by their sub-contractors. In 1952, the miners set up the “Hong Kong Iron Miners Union”, followed by more fighting and labour disputes.
By 1952, most workers lived in barracks in the Peak District while those with families lived in huts built by themselves in the nearby Ma On Bridge District. Construction works concentrated at the Pier District after extractions were fully shifted to underground tunnels.
The workers also clustered according to their spoken language. For instance, more Mandarin-speaking miners chose to settle at the Peak District, while the Mid-level district was occupied by Chiu Chow residents.
As the settlements expanded to different districts and with the help of the churches serving the mining community, more facilities were provided, including commercial, educational, recreational and medical services.
Religious organisations had played a significant role in nurturing the communities in the MOS Iron Mine, providing material and spiritual support to people living in the settlements. Missionaries of both the Roman Catholic Church operated by the Order of Friars Minor and the Lutheran Church were forced to retreat to Hong Kong in the early 1950s due to the communist take-over, and decided to stay once they learned about the hardship of refugees in MOS.
As early as the summer of 1950, three Lutheran Theological Seminary students went to MOS to promote their faith. As there was no proper church for worshippers, Bishop John L. Benson of the Augustana Synod Mission (The Lutheran Church) seized the opportunity and sent three members to MOS to begin the missionary work. In a wooden house, they provided catechism and Bible classes, tuition class for children and literacy class for women. They continued to serve the worshippers in a wooden house until the Lutheran Church was funded to build a chapel that was opened in 1952. Yan Kwong Church was the first chapel constructed by the Lutheran Church in Hong Kong. As the population of the Pier District started to grow, another Lutheran chapel was constructed there in 1953.
The founder of the first Catholic mission church in MOS, Father Eleutherius Van Hoye retreated from the Belgian mission in Hubei to Hong Kong in 1951. His superior immediately re-assigned him to Japan. While he was waiting for his entrance-visa to Japan, he learned about the plight of the refugees in MOS. After his visit to the refugee community, he decided to stay in Hong Kong to develop his missionary work there. The St. Joseph’s Chapel was established in 1952 at the peak. Attributed to his four years of missionary works in China, Father Van Hoye spoke fluent Mandarin, the same language spoken by most of the MOS refugees in the MOS Iron Mine. Leader of the FMM Sisters, Sister Maria Anna Wojtukiewicz was a Polish but she could speak fluent Cantonese. This helped her to break the language barrier and earned the trust of the refugees.
In addition to religious services, the two churches established clinics and schools, providing necessities such as food and clothes to the community and also improved their accommodation. Even after the closure of the mine, some religious staffs remained to help the old miners while others chose to leave MOS.
Today, the Lutheran Church reopened their Grace Youth Camp at their church compound to promote heritage conservation of the MOS Iron Mine and their services in the community.
There was material shortage at the MOS Iron Mine in the post-war era. Residents in the mining settlements needed to manage their daily needs through reciprocity, from shelter, water, electricity, food and daily necessities, mobility and communication, to medical services. With the help of Mutual Trust Company and the two churches, living condition at the mining village improved gradually.
Early self-built shelters were constructed with make-shift local materials for free or at minimal costs. These shelters could barely survive under severe weather conditions. After typhoon Wanda hit in 1962, many households had to rebuild their shelters. Those who became homeless after typhoon counted on their neighbours for free lodging until their houses were rebuilt. People helped one another in rebuilding houses and the materials used were gradually replaced by stone and other more durable matters.
During the early 1950s, only two meals a day were provided at the canteens run by the sub-contractors or the mining company and but miners needed to pay for their meals. By the mid-1960s, all meals were mostly plain rice and workers could eat as much as they wanted.
Higher ranking staff members of Mutual Trust Company and Japanese engineers had a separate canteen at the Pier District. The Japanese engineers mentioned they mostly had Chinese food such as fried rice and Cantonese-style fried noodles etc.
Before the markets in the Peak and the Pier Districts were formed, miners could buy foods and groceries at the company’s co-operative but the prices tended to be much higher than market prices. The miserable conditions were alleviated when some former miners (who chose not to work or could no longer work in the mine) started small businesses to serve the community. These included growing vegetables, keeping poultries and pigs for self-consumption and sale, and running groceries stores. Local economy and the practice of credit purchases in the community helped foster social relations as people would pay back when they received their salaries.
In the 1950s, the distribution of residents was skewed towards the Peak District and there was once a street of eateries with various shops. When open-pit mining stopped in 1959 and the 110 ML tunnel was opened in 1963, the operation of the mining company started to shift to the Pier District, and market there started to thrive. The emergence of shops and hawkers showed how families of miners tried to earn extra income. The life of the mining community was enriched by these retail activities.
Motor boat service connected the Pier with Ho Tung Lau in Sha Tin. From there, people can travel further to Tai Po and the urban areas in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Within the MOS Iron Mine and the settlement areas, a regular bus service operated by Mutual Trust Company was the primary means of transportation for the miners between the Pier and the Peak Districts. School children not only walked to and from school but also sometimes managed to hop on the ore-transportation trucks for a ride if they happened to know the driver. There was a telephone to borrow and a public mailbox at the Pier District.
Teachers at the schools affiliated to the churches were respected by their students. Some of them lived as far as Kowloon but stayed at the staff dormitory on weekdays. It took them two hours to travel between their home and the school.
Living by the sea and close to the mountain, children of the MOS Iron Mine had nature as their playing field. In summer, they would go swimming in the beach and catching fishes, crabs and shrimps. Teachers sometimes took them to Kowloon or even Lantau Island for excursion. Yet these children assumed some of the adult responsibilities at an early age and helped with housework.
Mining is a hazardous industry that could pose many safety and health risks to miners. Mutual Trust Company built a clinic to provide basic medical services to the miners and their families. After the Japanese company joined the management of the Mine, the number of fatal accidents reduced gradually along with the mechanisation of the mining operation.
A free clinic was also set up in the St. Joseph’s Abbey. The Catholic free clinic ran every morning in the Peak District and once a week in the Pier District. However, if there were serious illness, people had to go to hospitals in the urban areas.
Though the daily life in the MOS Iron Mine seemed mundane, communities were enlivened now and then by various cultural practices. The arrival of migrants with different geographical origins brought with them their cultures, expressed in diverse forms through cuisine, clothing, music and so on.
As most of the miners in the MOS Iron Mine were former Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) soldiers, they celebrated the National Day of the Republic of China (ROC) on the 10th of October every year.
There were all kinds of celebration of traditional Chinese festivals such as the Dragon Boat Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival and especially the Lunar New Year. For instance, there was dragon boat racing held in Tai Po and the mining company would prepare a ship to carry people there to enjoy and witness the race. There is a Tudigong (Earth God) Temple in the Mid-level District of the Chiu Chow community. Three Chinese folk deities in the pantheon are worshipped in the temple, they are Earth God of Heaven, Chinese Sea Goddess and the Monkey King. At the same time, the establishment of churches also brought some western traditions to the village. One of the biggest celebrations was the Christmas, during which churches organised parties and gave gifts to the children.