The Second Mission: Canadian Survival in Hong Kong Prisoner-of-War Camps, 1941-1945

Thanks from HKVCA

This thesis is a valuable addition to our library as it deals in depth with the POW experience that the 'C' Force survivors were forced to undergo.

HKVCA thanks Matthew Schwarzkopf for allowing us to publish a web version on our site. Any errors found are the responsiblity of HKVCA, and were probably introduced during the conversion of the contents and subsequent editing.

The PDF version of this thesis is available on our site for download.

Matthew Schwarzkopf

A thesis submitted to the
Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies
in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the
MA degree in History

Department of History
Faculty of Arts
University of Ottawa

© Matthew Schwarzkopf, Ottawa, Canada, 2019


In November of 1941, 1,973 Canadian soldiers and two nurses sailed from Vancouver for Hong Kong to garrison the British colony and help defend it in the event of a Japanese attack. The ensuing battle was a decisive defeat for the defenders. 555 Canadians never returned home, over half of those dying in captivity, either in Hong Kong or later once transferred to Japan. The prisoners would become Canada’s longest serving prisoners-of-war of the Second World War and arguably suffered worse than any others. Yet, despite the high casualties, 84 per cent of the 1,684 initial captives survived the ordeal as prisoners in Hong Kong. Once one begins to understand what these men went through, it seems remarkable that so many of them managed to survive at all.

This thesis explores Canadian survival in Hong Kong prison camps and the various methods these captives used to overcome boredom, violence, disease, hunger, loneliness, and hopelessness. Using as a research basis clandestine diaries, journals, memoirs, and letters to and from family members, this thesis argues that the Canadians survived due to strong leadership, commitment to duty, creative ingenuity, and a firm determination to return to their families. Uncertainty was an unyielding enemy from day to day and the Hong Kong POWs had to rely on themselves and their compatriots to keep mentally sharp and physically fit. Canadian prisoners in Hong Kong were abused by their captors, fed meager rations, suffered a myriad of tropical diseases, and lived in appalling conditions. The fact that so many survived is a testament to their courage and resilience. This thesis will show how they did it.


First and foremost, I would like to thank my thesis supervisor Professor Serge Durflinger. I have been fortunate to have him as an instructor at the undergraduate and graduate level and have worked under him as a teaching assistant on two occasions. Not only has he helped me become a better historian and writer, but he has also offered timely advice on becoming a father for the first time after the age of forty.

The University of Ottawa’s History Department is blessed with some fantastic faculty and staff. Thank you to Suzanne Dalrymple, the department’s academic assistant, for all the administrative reminders that I may have otherwise forgotten. I am in debt to Professor Thomas Boogaart, for if we had not had that drink at the Royal Oak I may never have pursued my master’s degree. In addition, there are many other fine professors at the University of Ottawa, current and former, who have both taught me and fostered my love of history. Many thanks to Professors Eric Allina, Corinne Gaudin, Brenda Macdougall, Galen Perras, Patryk Polec, and Mark Slolarik. I am also grateful to the family of Achille Pinard for the generous scholarship that I was awarded.

I spent a great deal of time poring over prisoners’ diaries and using the library at the Canadian War Museum’s Military History Research Centre and wish to thank Carol Reid, the former archives collections specialist, for her enthusiastic help and expertise. Thank you also to Dr. Tim Cook who led me to some valuable sources.

A most special thanks to Hong Kong veteran George MacDonell who I had the pleasure of meeting in October 2016. He not only inspired the title of this thesis but inspired the overall theme of this work: survival. He also gave me confidence that there was still plenty to be written about Hong Kong POWs. His last words to me were that he hoped I would find something special to say. I believe I have.

Finally, I would like to thank my family. My parents Tom and Jane Schwarzkopf who gave me plenty of encouragement and editorial suggestions. My sisters Laura and Angela, both University of Ottawa alumni, the latter of whom served as my “accountability buddy” and made me check in with her every week to give updates on my progress. I could never have done this without my wonderful wife Sandra, who supported me every step of the way through five-plus years of university. Last, but by no means least, my daughter Norah who was born during the research phase of this thesis. The many, many sleepless nights were quickly remedied the following mornings with smiles and cuddles. If that is not motivating than I don’t know what is.


CGS – Chief of the General Staff
COS – British Chiefs of Staff Committee
IJA – Imperial Japanese Army
GOC – General Officer Commanding
HKVAC – Hong Kong Veterans Association of Canada
HKVDC – Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps
ICRC – International Committee of the Red Cross
NCO – Non-Commissioned Officer
POW – Prisoner of War
RAF – Royal Air Force
RCCS – Royal Canadian Corps of Signals
RRC – Royal Rifles of Canada
WG – Winnipeg Grenadiers
YMCA – Young Men’s Christian Association