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A note to Mike Babin:
Our group is in your debt. The trip could not have been planned better. The events were all well done, and the travel and escort arrange-ments were first rate. Many thanks Mike - now it's time to get started planning the next trip.
by Jim Trick
Thirty one of us departed from Toronto and Vancouver on Dec 1st, prepared to spend between 14 and 16 hours enroute. Sunset got to Hong Kong just as the Vancouver group landed. No night on this trip, but we adjusted our watches and calendars to account for a lost day. We were met by our guide, Wendy, and whisked off to the hotel. A quick drink in the bar for some of us, then off to bed. Our hotel was L'Hotel Causeway Bay. Highly recommended, although there are not enough elevators for over 30 floors.
We were privileged to travel with a Hong Kong veteran, Ralph MacLean, RRC. Ralph, accompanied by his son-in-law Blake Prigden, was an inspiration to all of the rest of us. Ralph's energy, positive attitude, sense of humour and endurance were simply amazing. He attended all the events, and his presence added immensely to their value. Thanks for taking us with you, Ralph.
Note from Blake: Ralph’s additional schedule. On Monday, Dec 7th Ralph and I were hosted by the Consul General Ian Burchett and his staff. We enjoyed a very pleasant discussion and delicious Canadian meal. After, we met with a reporter from a local paper (the Apple Daily) for a lengthy interview (story to come out around Christmas). We then met Beatrice Cheung, the school teacher whose student sent Ralph a Christmas card three years ago. Beatrice, her husband Tim and a friend took us to see the Shamshuipo memorial park and commemorative plaque and stone. We also visited the Peninsula Hotel, where the troops were first dropped off. After, we enjoyed a nice Chinese dinner and their company. On Tuesday, Dec 8 we visited the Canadian International School, where Ralph met the, now 5th grader, who sent the original Christmas card and spoke to a very enthusiastic class. This was Ralph’s highlight.
After a filling buffet breakfast our jet-lagged crew were off on an escorted walking tour of "downtown" Hong Kong. It proved to be a great way to be introduced to the city and its history. We visited a statue in Hong Kong Park that is widely assumed to be a likeness of CSM Osborn, VC. It's annotated as the "Osborn Statue" in Wikipedia, but in fact the statue is of a World War 1 soldier and it memorializes Osborn. Next we were off to The Peak via the tram for lunch. After a typical delicious Chinese lunch, we boarded our bus for a motorized continuation to our morning tour.
In the evening we visited the Crown Wine Cellars for a delicious meal, accompanied by wine of course. Gregory De’Eb, who was our entertaining host, provided us with a historical sketch of the cellars which started life as a munitions storage site. We also learned that storing wine is a lot more complex than one might think. Greg showed us the collection of artifacts he's collected, including a sketch book "diary" created by the POWs at Sham Shui Po.
A day for reflection as we departed for our first official function, a Commemorative Ceremony at Stanley Military Cemetery. We were joined by some Canadians living in Hong Kong, as well as Canadian consulate staff. The mournful notes of the pipes and bugle echoed through the cemetery that holds many nationalities including 19 Canadians. Two of the HKVCA participants shared memories of their fathers and their suffering as POWs.
In the evening we attended a lecture at the Royal Asiatic Society. Franco David Macri, author of Clash of Empires in South China (more information at Amazon) presented an alternate view of the Battle of Hong Kong in the context of the ongoing war between China and Japan. Thought-provoking, but hard to assimilate the details in the limited time available. Well worth the visit.
This was one of the more physical days that we experienced, as we toured the battlefield where a decisive part of the Battle of Hong Kong took place. The weather threatened rain, but we were lucky and completed the walk without getting wet. We were guided by Tony Banham, a local historian, who graciously took time out of his work schedule to show us the key sites. Tony's knowledge is extensive, and his books are recommended reading, especially Not the Slightest Chance.
It's worth noting that Ralph MacLean, at 93, made the entire walk, and his presence added significantly to our understanding of those past events.
I haven't included details on the various stations on the tour here as Mike Babin did so as part of our 2005 trip report.
Having worked up our appetites, we were privileged to be invited to lunch at the Hong Kong Cricket Club. Our sponsor was Dennis Quong, a Canadian who has worked in Hong Kong for some time. Our lunch lasted into the afternoon and time ran out for us to visit the Museum of Coastal Defence. Something for next time.
We were treated to an excellent dinner at the Peking Garden restaurant.
Today we paid our respects to those either buried in Sai Wan Cemetery or listed on the Sai Wan Memorial Wall. The Canadian Consulate organizes this ceremony each year on the first Sunday in December. As usual it was well organized, and very well attended from the Hong Kong community at large, as there are many casualties from the other nations buried here as well.
A highlight this year was the stand-in for Gander named Brave Heart. See image to the right.
This is the second time I've attended this ceremony and its impact on me was significant. One cannot help but be moved by viewing the rows of gravestones and the dozens of names on the Wall, as the echoes of Last Post are heard.
A day to wander and enjoy. Some took things easy and stayed on the Island, others went as far afield as Lantau Island and visited the "Big Buddha". It was a day to admire the Christmas decorations of Hong Kong, and of course, to shop.
Our last day in Hong Kong. Hard to believe it's time to pack once again. 17 of us carried on to Japan while the remainder flew back to Canada. The Japan group landed in Tokyo in the early evening and made their way to the Grand Prince Hotel Takanawa. An excellent place to stay. Impressive toilet technology.
A full day of tours both on foot and by bus. Tokyo is the cleanest city I've ever seen, but traffic congestion is virtually constant.
Today we participated in a commemoration ceremony at Yokohama War Cemetery. Most of us were here because our fathers and other relatives had been transported to Japan on the "hellships" and were then used as slave labour. We had some difficulty finding the location for the ceremony as the cemetery is tucked in on a side road. The ceremony was simple but moving, with several wreaths being laid. As happened at Stanley, some of the HKVCA participants shared some memories of their fathers with the group. The Canadian Embassy in Tokyo had staff in attendance as well.
It's interesting that in this cemetery all the gravestones lay flat on the ground on top of a small base. Apparently this is unique and was done to make them impervious to earthquakes. The thumbnail to the left illustrates this and also shows the dedication of the Japanese staff in keeping the surroundings immaculate.
After lunch, we met with representatives of the POW Research Network as the group visiting in 2010 did. They were interested in our stories as they want to increase the awareness of what happened to the Allied POWs during the war. The discussions were lively and frank. Hopefully our visit will help them achieve the Network's objectives.
A full day of sightseeing. We had hoped to view Mount Fuji but wind and cloud kept the mountain out of view. A planned lake cruise in the PM had to be abandoned due to high winds, but our tour guide, Sue, was resourceful. We visited the Narukawa Art Museum on the shores of Lake Ashi, and then dropped in on an artisan who performed magic tricks with wood, creating works of art. Lots of Christmas presents bought at this store.
Our farewell dinner was at a local restaurant, giving us time to reminisce and promise to keep in touch.
Time to pack up and journey to the two airports for the flights home.
This trip was definitely worthwhile. It was well organized, balanced and I believe we all came back to Canada possessing a little more insight into what our relatives went through both during the battle and as POWs. Most heartening from my perspective was the presence of the younger generation within our group. Kudos to those parents who had the foresight to see the value of this type of experience for their children.
Thanks also to Ralph MacLean who made this pilgrimage even though it must have been difficult both physically and mentally. His presence made our whole experience more meaningful and personal. Looking forward to seeing you on the next one Ralph!
Note: many activities on this trip were experienced in 2010 and on earlier trips as well. To get a more detailed and personal impression visit Ken and Ruth Barton's 2010 Report or read the 2005 Report.