Thank you to The Executive and Members of Legion Branch 288
My name is Len Cotton. I live here in West Kelowna and, as an RCMP veteran,
I’m a member of and support this branch.
On behalf of the Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association (HKVCA) of which I have been a member since its inception, I am happy to present this plaque to Branch 288 of the Royal Canadian Legion, recognizing the veterans of the Battle of Hong Kong who spent their 4 years of WWII in a number of Japanese Prisoner of War Camps in Hong Kong China and in Japan from 1941 to 1945.
The plaque depicts the battle & defence of Hong Kong, and is intended to commemorate the 1,976 Canadians who fought against the Japanese Imperial Army during three weeks of December 1941. The Canadians caught up in that battle were from two Canadian regiments – the Royal Rifles of Canada from eastern Canada, and the Winnipeg Grenadiers from western Canada. Mind you, when I say men, remember that most of them were old teenagers.
Without going into detail of the battle’s genesis and aftermath, know that the battle-hardened, well-trained, well equipped Japanese troops reached Hong Kong in December 1941 at the end of their long sweep down through China which had started in 1939. They attacked the British garrison in Hong Kong on Dec. 8th, which was Dec. 7th in the western hemisphere and, in fact, coincided with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.
After three weeks of intense battle centered on the small island of Hong Kong, where the Canadians had nothing more than light artillery like mortar and hand grenades, the Governor of Hong Kong had to accept the futility of continued fighting and instructed the garrison to lay down their weapons and surrender…on Christmas Day.
The Canadians, however, had fought so well that the Japanese troops were very angry over the losses they had suffered at the hands of an enemy that had very little equipment and were vastly outnumbered. Along with the general militaristic quasi-bushido attitude of the Japanese Imperial Army of that time, this may have had something to do with the terrible treatment the Canadians received as prisoners of war in the camps of Hong Kong and several more in Japan.
Many of the Canadians were sent to several labour camps in Japan to perform slave labour intended to assist the Japanese military effort. My own father was in Niigata on the north coast, northeast of Tokyo, he worked in a foundry, and lived in a bareboard multi-bunk hut, no heat, no insulation, no windows, summer and winter. The condition in these camps was touched on in some detail in such novels and movies as Bridge Over The River Kwai, King Rat, and To End All Wars. But the real life PoW’s did not have scripts to go by … and there were no stunt doubles … and the beheadings, beatings, bayonetings and target practice were not camera tricks.
The treatment meted out by the Japanese involved starvation rations, long hours every day of slave labour, many unwarranted beatings and killings, no medication or medical help. This resulted in many kinds of tropical diseases brought on by malnourishment and avitaminosis and that were not well known by the doctors back in Canada when these vets finally got home for medical treatment – diseases like malaria, pelagra, beri-beri, electric feet, dysentery, pheumonia, and deep long-lasting forms of what we now know as PTSD which also resulted in such psychological conditions as paranoia and schizophrenia. In all,
- 290/15% were killed during the three-week battle, and
- 267/15% died under those literally brutal conditions
The HKVCA is comprised initially of the sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, of those Canadian veterans and has now grown over more than 20 years to include grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well as non-related members who wish to commemorate the efforts and sacrifices suffered by these veterans in a place and time of unmitigated cruelty and deprivation.
As a son of one of these vets, I’m proud to lay the HKVCA Wreath here at the West Kelowna Remembrance Day ceremonies organized by Comrade George Steeves and his team from year to year, and this we do in memory of and honour to the vets of the Battle of Hong Kong. Their story is seldom if ever included in the stories of D-Day and the other battles of WW II. But they were there … for the whole thing.
I’ve distributed a copy of an article from the Legion magazine that gives some of the story of Canada’s role in the doomed British garrison of Hong Kong.
For a lot more of the history, photos and books, and even individual stories of certain veterans with whom we had the chance to talk to and record their personal experiences of this terrible time, I’d refer you to the HKVCA web site which is quite easily remembered as HKVCA.CA
On behalf of the Hong Kong Veterans, their families, and the HKVCA, thank you for accepting and placing this plaque in your branch in honour of the contributions and sacrifices of the veterans of the Battle of Hong Kong.
The HKVCA uses as its motto the Japanese words “Wasureru nai” which translates as “Never Forget”. In English, we use the words from the WW I poem that says “We will remember them.”
And that’s why I’m here.
Thank you so much for your attention.