S2 EP 6 – The Don of the Southern Boundary

Welcome to this week’s True Fiction Project Podcast. I have the privilege of speaking with Les Bird about his fascinating history as a Marine Police Officer in 1976 during the Hong Kong Handover. Les has now written two books about his 21 years in the Marines and his work in helping Vietnamese refugees arrive safely in Hong Kong following the end of the Vietnam War. He recounts specific memories of rescuing refugees from hired criminals and pirates and details the less than ideal conditions of travel that so many Vietnamese braved in order to make it to Hong Kong. Also hear a short story based on Les’ Marine adventures called “The Dawn of the Southern Boundary” from Annemarie Evans. 

[02:34] Who are the “Boatpeople” referenced in Les’ book and why were they fleeing to Hong Kong?

[06:31] Why did Hong Kong welcome these refugees when other countries were not as willing and what was Les’ role as a Marine Police Officer?

[09:20] What was Les’ connection with a former soldier in South Vietnam?

[14:23] What was the condition of the refugees as they arrived in Hong Kong?

[17:41] Les recalls memories from his time as an officer and the corruption that he encountered.

[25:53] Short story: “The Don of the Southern Boundary” by Annemarie Evans


It’s estimated that starting in 1975, between 1 and 2 million people fled by boat over the next 15 years from Vietnam to Hong Kong. 

Following the Vietnam War, Hong Kong became a hub for Vietnamese refugees to find safety and through the United Nations, be relocated to other countries like the US, Canada, and Australia.

Many Vietnamese refugees arrived in Hong Kong in unsuitable conditions as they were crammed by the thousands on boats for four to five weeks with no sanitation and little fresh air or food. 

Fiction Credits: 
Short story written and read by: Annemarie Evans
Contact Information: Annemarie Evans – Annemarie’s email

Born in 1951, Les comes from a military family. His father, grandfather and three uncles all served in the British Royal Navy, whilst his mother served as a gunner with the Royal Artillery during World War II. Les was the second from his family to serve in Hong Kong. His father was part of the Royal Navy force that came to Hong Kong in August, 1945, at the end of the Japanese military occupation and subsequently helped in the policing of the territory throughout 1946.
Les Bird joined the Royal Hong Kong Police in 1976 and worked in the Marine Police for 21 years until June, 1997. 
Bird’s work was diverse – he was a rural inspector of West Lantau, and in the early 80s he returned to launch-going duties overseeing the influx of tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees in the years that followed. During his service, Les commanded three of the five Marine divisions and also headed the SBU, the Marine Fast Pursuit Unit combating cross-border smuggling of people, arms, drugs and luxury cars.
After leaving the police in 1997, Les moved into the private sector, working in the security industry across Asia. He is an endurance athlete and has taken part in Ironman events and long-distance triathlons worldwide. He represented Great Britain at the 2009 Ironman World Championship. In 2011, he swam the English Channel and in 2012, summited Mont Blanc.
In 2020, he spoke to a sold-out audience at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival about his memoir A Small Band of Men: An Englishman’s Adventures in Hong Kong’s Marine Police. At the 2021 Festival, he presented photographs and stories from his second book Along the Southern Boundary: A Marine Police Officer’s Frontline Account of the Vietnamese Boatpeople and their Arrival in Hong Kong.

Les Bird Website
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Les Bird on LinkedIn

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