Individual Report: F40192 George PALMER

1st Bn The Royal Rifles of Canada

General Information

Rank: First Name: Second Name:
Corporal George Thomas
From: Enlistment Region: Date of Birth (y-m-d):
St. Peter's Bay PEI Nova Scotia & PEI 1909-03-06
Appointment: Company: Platoon:
Section 2IC HQ Coy 2 Anti-aircraft

Transportation - Home Base to Hong Kong

Members of 'C' Force from the East travelled across Canada by CNR troop train, picking up reinforcements enroute. Stops included Valcartier, Montreal, Ottawa, Armstrong ON, Capreol ON, Winnipeg, Melville SK, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Jasper, and Vancouver, arriving in Vancouver on Oct 27 at 0800 hrs.

The Winnipeg Grenadiers and the local soldiers that were with Brigade Headquarters from Winnipeg to BC travelled on a CPR train to Vancouver.

All members embarked from Vancouver on the ships AWATEA and PRINCE ROBERT. AWATEA was a New Zealand Liner and the PRINCE ROBERT was a converted cruiser. "C" Company of the Rifles was assigned to the PRINCE ROBERT, everyone else boarded the AWATEA. The ships sailed from Vancouver on Oct 27th and arrived in Hong Kong on November 16th, having made brief stops enroute at Honolulu and Manila.

Equipment earmarked for 'C' Force use was loaded on the ship DON JOSE, but would never reach Hong Kong as it was rerouted to Manila when hostilities commenced.

On arrival, all troops were quartered at Nanking Barracks, Sham Shui Po Camp, in Kowloon.

Battle Information

Excerpt from Michael Palmer's book: Dark Side of the Sun

Horror. There was no other way to describe the situation for the Canadian defenders as the Japanese military machine cut a swath down the middle of Hong Kong Island separating east from west. They were relentless in their advance and unmerciful with their savagery in so many cases.

Every defender had his/her own unique timeline and horrendous circumstances to contend with during the assault. My grandfather was no different.

Regarding weaponry, Platoon 2, the unit Palmer served in, had four twin Bren light machine guns for anti-aircraft defence. Each section of a rifle platoon was allotted one rifle per man and one Bren and one machine carbine. Around December 19th, two sections of Platoon 2 were ordered to reinforce Platoon 5 on Mount Parker, the second highest peak on Hong Kong Island at 532 meters.

Corporal Palmer, a section Commander at this point, and his friend, Graham Boudreau, were embedded within the two sections that began their trek up Mount Parker. Amid the chaotic battle scenes, plans were changing all the time, hour to hour. At some point their role had changed from shoring up the position to offence - they were tasked with ejecting the Japanese already digging in on the hill.

And then Palmer was reassigned again. Never a dull or static moment. He was told to lead some men in shoring up a defensive line nearby. Eventually his group got into a skirmish with the enemy but were overwhelmed by superior Japanese numbers and firepower. George and his men pulled back. During the engagement Palmer got lucky - a bullet glanced off his water canister as he tumbled down a hill. Chaos was everywhere. Men went missing and were getting injured or killed. Communication lines were hit or miss because the Japanese were cutting them in various places.

After gathering his wits, George doubled back through the confusing battle lines and managed to save a comrade by helping him back to friendly lines which were constantly being overwhelmed by Japanese forces. There was no let up despite the tenacity of the defenders. Their only hope was a faint one - that the British would come ashore eventually with ships to rescue them. But that was never in the cards.

Despite exhaustion, hunger and dehydration, Palmer continued helping out his group by carrying heavy ammunition containers up and down the hills from various positions while bullets flew all about. The Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, currently the Canadian Federal Minister of Veteran Affairs and who was a dear friend of Palmer’s (was his co-worker for many years) told me, “George just happened not to die. He was a man of great strength.” War is often dictated by luck and probabilities, and one's attitude on endurance and perseverance. Palmer was digging heavily into all these buckets during the battles in Hong Kong.

More and more men were getting incapacitated during the skirmishes around Mount Parker. On December 19, Palmer and his group decided to get the wounded to a hospital. They scavenged the area, trying hard to avoid roving Japanese units. They came across a lorry. The wounded were loaded onto the back of the truck and the rest filled the front cab including medical personnel. George jumped into the driver’s seat and drove the truck toward St. Albert’s—the nearest hospital. 

Driving westward along a pathway, they reached Wong Nei Chung Gap which had roads cutting north and south down the middle of the island. At the time, this area was being infiltrated by the enemy. They encountered some advance Japanese scout patrols resting on the side of the road and who were above in the nearby hills. The truck attracted small arms fire. George hit the gas hard, accelerating through the enemy hotspot, evading capture. Some of the men, including Palmer, were hit with bullets and/or shrapnel. Despite being shot in the leg’s calf muscle, a superficial flesh wound, George continued on, driving west onto Stubb’s Road until they arrived at St. Albert’s convent which had been converted into a hospital.

All the men were assessed, including Palmer. Aside from his leg wound he was also suffering from a swollen gland. They all remained at St. Albert’s because the Wong Nei Chung Gap soon fell into enemy hands. The door had closed - there was no chance of a return to his Royal Rifles unit on the East side of the island. He was officially listed as a patient although his injuries were not life-threatening. He began helping out with various day-to-day operational duties until a few days later when the combat lines would, once again, be upon him.

As the Japanese advanced toward St. Albert’s, all patients who could walk or hobble and who could hold a rifle were asked to man a defensive line in the outlying area. My grandfather explained to MacAulay that by the early morning hours of December 23rd, he was involved in this defensive perimeter. With the Japanese closing in quickly and because the watchman within Palmer’s group fell asleep on duty, they all awoke, surprised, to the sounds of Japanese voices all around them. At that point, they had no other choice but to surrender. Sleep might've been George’s saving grace. As MacAulay stated, “If George was awake, he probably would not have gone down without a fight”.

Wounded Information

Date Wounded Wound Description References
41/12/19leg wound36

Hospital Information

Name of hospital Date of admission Date of discharge Comments Reference

POW Camps

Camp ID Camp Name Location Company Type of Work Reference Arrival Date Departure Date
HK-SM-01StanleyFort Stanley, Hong Kong Island20, 31, 33Capture 41 Dec 30
HK-NP-01North PointNorth Point, Hong Kong Island41 Dec 3042 Sep 26
HK-SA-02ShamshuipoKowloon, Hong Kong42 Sep 2643 Jan 19
JP-Fu-5BOmineKawasaki-machi, Fukuoka pref., Kyushu Island, JapanFurukawa Industries OmineCoal mining843 Jan 2345 Sep 22

Transport to Japan

Draft Number Name of Ship Departure Date Arrival Date Arrival Port Comments Reference
XD3BTatuta Maru43 Jan 19, left Shamsuipo Camp, 0500 hrs; left Hong Kong 1300hrs43 Jan 22, 0400 hrsNagasaki, JapanTony Banham

Transportation: SE Asia to Home

Sep 22: George leaves Omine Camp (POWs start leaving around 4am) and leave nearby rail station at 6am. They arrive in Nagasaki the same day at around 12:00 noon. They board the British aircraft carrier HMS Speaker
Sep 24: The Speaker arrives in Okinawa
Sep 26: Canadian POWs including George Palmer board USS Renville
Oct 1: USS Renville docks in Manila
Oct 9: They board the the aircraft carrier Glory and leave Manila
Oct 13: passed about 200 miles south of Guam that morning
Oct 14: passed about 200 miles north of Truk that morning
Oct 15: passed close to the Marshall Islands
Oct 20: the Glory arrives at Pearl Harbour
Oct 21: Glory leaves Pearl Harbour enroute to Esquimalt
Oct 26: Glory arrives at Esquimalt
Oct 29: Palmer leaves Victoria, BC by train

Post-war Photo

Click for larger view

1980: George with his wife, Jeanette Palmer

Other Military Service

George was not involved in any other military service before or after WWII. After leaving Japan and returning to Prince Edward Island in late 1945, George went to Halifax, Nova Scotia on January 3, 1946 to the No. 6 District Depot, C.A. He remained there until January 17, 1946. On the 17th, George signed off on a "Discharge Certificate". He then became, "... discharged from the service under Routine Order 1029 (5C1), "... to return to civil life on demobilization." He returned to the farming and fishing industries at Cable Head, Prince Edward Island

Death and Cemetery Information

Date of Death (y-m-d) Cause of Death Death Class Death Ref
1991-07-07Post War
Cemetery LocationCemeteryGrave NumberGravestone Marker
St Peter's Bay Prince Edward Island CanadaSt. Peter's Bay Roman Catholic Church Cemetery

Gravestone Image

Click for larger view

Obituary / Life Story

From Grandson, Michael Palmer: I wrote a book about his life called Dark Side of the Sun (available online). In a nutshell, George was born on March 6, 1909 in Newcastle, New Brunswick. His father, William Palmer, left on a seasonal harvest work excursion to Western Canada around 1913 and was never heard from again. George and his mother, Mary Ellen Steele, moved back to MacAskill River, PEI where she had been raised and began working as a seamstress. Mary Ellen would tragically die in March 1932. During this period, George was involved in seasonal work involving farming, fishing and the lumber business in both PEI and Nova Scotia. He also had met the love of his life, Jeanette O'Hanley. Their first child, Louis Palmer, was born in 1934.  In 1940, George enlisted into the military and would eventually be assigned to the Royal Rifles of Canada which would travel to Hong Kong in 1941 as part of "C-Force". Fast forward to post-WWII - upon returning to PEI after the war in late 1945, George decided to leave the military and return to farming and fishing at Cable Head, PEI. George and Jeanette went on to raise seven more children after the war: Norbert, Michael, Joan, Richard, Paul, Jane, and Cindy (in addition to Louis before the war). By 1965 he left farming and fishing and became the postmaster at St. Peter's (near Cable Head) and after his retirement, built a new home in Cable Head. George passed away peacefully in the company of his wife and all his children on July 7, 1991 at the age of 82.  

Links and Other Resources

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Related documentation for information published in this report, such as birth information, discharge papers, press clippings and census documents may be available via shared resources in our HKVCA Vault. It is organized with folders named using regimental numbers. Use the first letter of the individual's service number to choose the correct folder, then scroll to the specific sub-folder displaying the service number of your interest.

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Report generated: 24 May 2024.

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Additional Notes

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  1. Service numbers for officers are locally generated for reporting only. During World War II officers were not allocated service numbers until 1945.
  2. 'C' Force soldiers who died overseas are memorialized in the Books of Remembrance and the Canadian Virtual War Memorial, both sponsored by Veterans Affairs Canada. Please use the search utility at VAC to assist you.
  3. Some birthdates and deathdates display as follows: 1918-00-00. In general, this indicates that we know the year but not the month or day.
  4. Our POW camp links along with our References link (near the bottom of the 'C' Force home page) are designed to give you a starting point for your research. There were many camps with many name changes. The best resource for all POW camps in Japan is the Roger Mansell Center for Research site.
  5. In most cases the rank displayed was the rank held before hostilities. Some veterans were promoted at some point prior to eventual post-war release from the army back in Canada. When notified of these changes we'll update the individual's record.
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  7. In some cases the References displayed as part of this report generate questions because there is no indication of their meaning. They were inherited with the original database, and currently we do not know what the source is. We hope to solve this problem in future.
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