by Brad St Croix

Chapter 5 — Unto the Breach: The Battle of Hong Kong

(Link to footnotes for this chapter)

The most enduring zombie myths about the Battle for Hong Kong involve the performance of the Canadian troops. The myths are divided into two opposing viewpoints. The first viewpoint—often held by British officers, historians, and authors—alleges that the Canadians performed so poorly that they produced the colony’s fall. Numerous examples can be found of this mindset. The 5/7 Rajputs War Diary recorded that “unfortunately they [the Canadians] were Garrison BNs who, though they may have had the right sprit, had had no tactical training whatsoever and in consequence pulled little or no weight in the Battle.”1 Major- General C.M. Maltby, the British commander at Hong Kong, wrote the first widely disseminated source that blamed the Canadians for Hong Kong’s loss. In the 1948 version of his Despatch, Maltby wrote:

[the Canadians] proved to be inadequately trained for modern war under the conditions existing in Hong Kong. They had very recently arrived in Hong Kong after a long sea voyage, and such time as was available had been devoted to the completion of the south shore defences and making themselves au fait with and practising the problems of countering a south shore landing. In this role they were never employed and, instead, they found themselves counter-attacking on steep hill sides covered with scrub, over strange country, and as a result they rapidly became exhausted.2

Originally, this passage had been preceded by the following sentence: “Though possessing first class material, this lack of training rendered them incapable of fire and movement and consequently when launched in many local counterattacks (and it was on these counter-attacks that the defence of the island depended) they suffered heavily and accomplished little.” In another statement removed from his first version, Maltby directly questioned Canadian leadership.3 Also cut from the Despatch was the following line: “The two Canadian battalions arrived in a state of training quite unfit for open warfare and had barely familiarised themselves with their static role of island defence.”4 But while Maltby’s account of the battle remains one of the most influential sources about the Battle for Hong Kong, it suffers from a great many problems as this chapter will demonstrate.

Such caustic assessments of “C” Force’s performance incited a counter-reaction in which the Canadian troops were presented as the best fighters in the garrison, an opinion held mostly by Canadian writers and historians. Carl Vincent, a fervent supporter of this myth, has written that “It is a fact, moreover, that wherever the Japanese ran into problems it was usually the Canadians who were responsible.” In addition, Vincent claimed that Canadians inflicted at least half of the Japanese casualties.5

Neither of these contrasting myths accurately represent the reality of the situation. The Canadian troops sent to Hong Kong, put in a situation that they were not fully prepared for, did their best given the circumstances. While Canadian Army official historian C.P. Stacey wrote that “C” Force’s training was lacking compared to the official Canadian Army standards later in the war, “surviving officers of the Canadian units are generally of the opinion that those units’ battleworthiness was not inferior to that of the others of the garrison.”6 But this measured conclusion was obscured by both nationalist boasting and finger pointing after the battle. And while Stacey provided a foundation for further study of the battle, he also boasted about “C” Force:

Their casualty lists show that their contribution to the defence was a large one, and the Japanese accounts which have been quoted attest the battalions’ solid fighting qualities. It is satisfactory to read in those accounts that it was in areas where these battalions were the major units engaged that the enemy encountered his greatest difficulties and suffered his heaviest losses.7

This chapter employs sources that Stacey could not access or did not use. Further, the unedited version of Maltby’s Despatch will be utilized as it provides insights into some disputed events of the battle. The different viewpoints have led to the creation of numerous zombie myths. Elizabeth Greenhalgh has summarized why employing varying perspectives is of great importance: “Without such perspective nationalistic mythologies have a nasty habit of obscuring accurate interpretations of the past.”8 This chapter, which explores the Battle of Hong Kong and Canadian performances during the fighting, does not claim to be an exhaustive narrative of the battle. Instead, individual episodes will be studied to demonstrate that “C” Force’s soldiers did not perform any worse or any better than other troops in Hong Kong’s garrison. Understanding how the Canadian forces fought at Hong Kong is essential to determining the battle’s legacy in Canada.

“C” Force’s Arrival in Hong Kong and Garrison Duties

“C” Force’s arrival in Hong Kong on 16 November 1941 aboard the Awatea caused a stir in the colony. The China Mail, in an extra edition that day, calling the Canadian troops a “Substantial Reinforcement of Garrison,” said their “thrilled the Colony upon which the tremendous significance of the substantial reinforcement was not lost.”9 Civilians lined the streets as the Canadians marched to their barracks. In his memoir, Kenneth Cambon of the Royal Rifles, summarizing the attitude of the troops and civilians alike, averred “our two battalions marched down Nathan road steel-helmeted and obviously invincible. The main street of Kowloon was lined by cheering crowds waving small Union Jacks.”10 The China Mail noted that while none of the soldiers had fought in the current war, many were First World War veterans.11 Indeed, many of “C” Force’s ranking members were veterans of the Great War, including its commander Lawson, Senior Administrative Officer Colonel Patrick Hennessy, commander of the Royal Rifles Lieutenant-Colonel William Home, and Lieutenant-Colonel John Sutcliffe, commander of the Grenadiers. Many company commanders and some of the other ranks were veterans too. In addition to the aforementioned Company Sergeant Major John Osborn of the Grenadiers who served with the 63rd Royal Naval Division during the previous war, rifleman Percy Wilmot of the Royal Rifles had fought in the 19th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and the 49th Battery of the Canadian Field Artillery.12 H.P. McNaughton, a poetic chronicler of the Grenadiers’ exploits, was also a First World War veteran.13 Not everyone believed having First World War combat experience was necessarily a positive thing. According to Brereton Greenhous, “the influence of First World War veterans in their midst, while perhaps adding an element of psychological stability, may well have encouraged them to think in terms of unwieldy frontal assaults under cover of massive artillery barrages, with entrenched machine guns and barbed wire the essence of defence.”14 While Greenhous’ first claim likely was true, battle evidence contradicts his second assertion.

“C” Force’s arrival positively affected the garrison’s morale. Captain Harold Robert Newton of the Rajputs wrote to his parents to say “the Canadians arrived. They are a good looking lot of chaps, as far as I have seen them.”15 Also impressed by the Canadians, Maltby asserted that “they are a nice tough looking crowd & although they had been at sea for 3 weeks they marched away from the docks very well.”16 The Rajput war diary noted the fact that the two Canadian battalions had “the most up-to-date equipment in October, [which] had a profound effect on the situation. Numerically, they constituted a valuable increase in the strength of the Garrison,” an odd comment for an underequipped “C” Force sported many First World War- vintage weapons.17 But brigade vehicles, sent separately aboard the slow freighter Don Jose, never arrived as the ship had to diverted to the Philippines as war loomed.18 Lack of transportation was a major problem for the garrison as Maltby cabled the War Office to say that twenty–five two-ton trucks had been purchased, and “if situation eases vehicles still essential for station duties to replace expensive hirings.”19

“C” Force’s seemingly effortless garrison duties were short-lived. Cambon provided a description of the luxurious accommodations awaiting the Canadians:

We were astounded by the luxury of the camp after eighteen months of Canadian Army life. Even the lowly rifleman had a single bed with sheets and a mosquito net. East Indian orderlies came in each morning with a cup of tea and an offer to shave you in bed and shine your shoes…all for a pittance. It was a shock to be addressed as Sahib, sir. Others were ready to press your uniform and even make the bed.

Cambon believed that this luxury might explain the poor British performance at the beginning of the war in the Far East.20 Rifleman Andrew Flanagan of the Royal Rifles described working days that began at 0700 hours and ended at 1200 hours due to the intense heat.21 According to Cambon, frequent brawls between Canadian and British troops broke out at bars and brothels over pay differences and prostitutes.22 Signalman William Allister summed up his time on garrison duty as “three glorious weeks of wild luxury, shopping, dining, drinking, spending, buying embroidered kimonos, carved tusks, silk pajamas.”23 For the week ending 29 November, Canadian troops carried out two forty–eight-hour manning exercises at fifty percent strength. Uninvolved troops continued their weapons training.24

The Canadian reinforcement allowed for an altered strategy to defend the colony. Maltby’s plan called for one infantry battalion on the mainland to provide cover for engineers to carry out demolitions of important roads and bridges. The Royal Scots would hold the left of the Gin Drinker’s Line, the Punjabs would secure the right, the Rajputs constituted the mainland brigade’s reserve. Hoping that the Gin Drinker’s Line would protect the harbour and the island’s northern portion from Japanese artillery fire, Maltby noted that “time was also of vital importance to complete demolitions of fuel stores, power houses, docks, wharves, etc., on the mainland; to clear certain food stocks and vital necessities from the mainland to the island; to sink shipping and lighters and to clear the harbour of thousands of junks and sampans.”25 The island brigade comprised the Middlesex Regiment, manning the island’s pillboxes, the Grenadiers tasked with defending the south-west side of the island, and the Royal Rifles based in the southeast. Partial manning of the defences began on 1 December as one platoon from each company took up battle positions.26

Canadian Press Reaction to “C” Force’s Arrival in Hong Kong

How the Canadian press received the news of the Canadian reinforcement, like much throughout Canadian history, was divided on linguistic lines. French language newspapers were either indifference or negative, while the English press supported the reinforcement. Le Droit of the Ottawa area declared “La Situation S’Aggrave en Extrême-Orient” on its front page on 17 November but said little about the value of the Canadian reinforcement. The paper did run a Canadian Press story that declared “un coup de maitre en diplomatie militaire”, disait-on dans les quartiers populaires de Hong Kong aujourd'hui, lorsque sur le coup de midi, on vit les soldats canadiens à l'exercice dans les casernes qui ent été mises à leur disposition depuis leur arrive ici hier matin.”27 La Devoir’s reporting was negative despite its use of more neutral language:

Il y a trente ans ces semoines-ci, M. Henri Bourassa, dans un discours en public, faisait entrevoir, parmi les développements de l'idée de participation du Canada aux guerres impériales, la certitude de voir un jour des contingents de jeunes Canadiens se battre aux bords de la mer de Chine ou du Japon, dans les pays asiatiques en tout cas. M. Bourassa n'avait pas si tort, quoique, à l'époque, on dit qu'il était halluciné. Il y a depuis quelques jours un important détachement de soldats canadiens, tant du Québec que du Manitoba, rendu à Hong-Kong, l'un des postes les plus importants de l'Empire britannique du côté de l'Asie. Ce petit corps expéditionnaire est vraisemblablement parti du Canada, par voie de Vancouver…

Unsurprisingly, The Globe and Mail supported the reinforcement, averring “the great majority of the Canadian people, we believe, will welcome the news that our fighting forces are going to lend an active hand in the effort now being made to preserve peace in the Pacific by impressing the Japanese government with the determination of the Anglo-Saxon democracies not to tolerate any further Japanese aggression…”29 The Calgary Herald declared that the “announcement of the arrival of Canadian troops at Hong Kong will create a feeling of satisfaction throughout this country” for “there has been some feeling of regret among Canadians that the men of this Dominion have not been permitted by war conditions to share in more active service so far.”30 The Montreal Gazette agreed, declaring that the “Announcement by Prime Minister King on Saturday night that Canadian troops had arrived safely at Hong Kong was thrilling news for citizens of the Dominion.”31 Such positive feelings would quickly fade.

Determining Combat Effectiveness

As the Canadian performance in the Battle of Hong Kong is central to so many myths, “C” Force’s combat effectiveness must be measured. This is an especially difficult task as troops of different nationalities and units became intermixed, thus making conclusions about one unit’s performance nigh impossible. Previously, no models have been applied to determine the Canadians’ combat effectiveness, a key element that this chapter will provide. Political scientist Kirstin J.H. Brathwaite has created a useful way to examine combat effectiveness at Hong Kong. In her article comparing British and Commonwealth units fighting in Singapore and Malaya during the Second World War, Brathwaite observed that the literature was too narrowly focused on either soldiers’ skills or their willingness to fight. She has contended that both elements must be understood to determine effectiveness.32

The comprehension of both the skills of the soldiers and their will to fight make an excellent model to examine the combat effectiveness of the Canadians at Hong Kong. This model does not rely on statistical data, an important consideration for relevant data for the battle is scarce or hard to prove. Brathwaite provided definitions of both skill and will. Skill is defined as a soldier’s ability to conduct basic tactics such as fire and movement and using their weapons. The quality of command leadership and one’s ability to coordinate and communicate with other units can also determine skill. Will can be measured by examining soldiers’ morale, discipline, and initiative. Soldiers with higher will desert less, better follow orders, and are more willing to fire their weapons. Soldiers with initiative seek out engagement with the enemy, are willing to try new tactics, and create opportunities in battle.33 This holistic approach is the best available method for measuring “C” Force’s combat effectiveness.

The Battle of Hong Kong: A Brief Outline

A brief outline of the battle is now necessary to provide clarity to make sense of the disorganized fighting. The Hong Kong garrison was made up of “C” Force, the 2nd Battalion the Royal Scots, the 2nd Battalion 14th Punjab Regiment, the 5th Battalion 7th Rajput Regiment, the 1st Battalion the Middlesex Regiment, the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps (HKVDC), various artillery batteries, and other support units.34 As war neared, all troops took up battle positions on 7 December.35 The Japanese attack began on 8 December with an air raid on Kai Tak Airfield at 0800 hours that destroyed the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) five outdated aircraft.36 Japanese planes also attacked Sham Shui Po barracks, wounding some Canadian soldiers.37 Immediately, garrison forces destroyed bridges between the border with China and the Gin Drinker’s Line. But the Shing Mun Redoubt, the central pivot of the Gin Drinker’s Line, fell unexpectedly on 9 December. As this loss rendered the entire line untenable, the defenders had to abandon it.38 Maltby ordered a general evacuation of the mainland on the 11th.

After the troops on the mainland retreated to the island in good order, the garrison was split into East and West Brigades. The East Brigade comprised of the Royal Rifles of Canada, the Rajputs, and troops of the HKVDC and the Middlesex Regiment, led by Brigadier Cedric Wallis of the Indian Army. The West Brigade, comprised of the Winnipeg Grenadiers, the Royal Scots, the Punjabs, and a company of the Middlesex Regiment, fell under Brigadier J.K. Lawson’s command. A Japanese demand for the garrison’s surrender was made on 13 December. Governor Mark Young swiftly rejected the demand plus another made on the 17th.39 The Japanese began to cross Lye Mun Passage on the island’s northeast corner late on 18 December. By the 19th, the Japanese had split the garrison in two.40 Fighting continued until Maltby ordered the garrison’s surrender on Christmas Day 1941.41 290 Canadians died fighting for Hong Kong. The Hong Kong garrison lost 955 killed, 659 were listed as missing. The Japanese lost 675 killed and 2,079 wounded.42

The Battle Begins, 8–18 December 1941

After the Japanese attack began, the Canadian troops revealed feelings of overconfidence based upon crude racial stereotypes. Sergeant James MacMillan of “A” Company of the Royal Rifles described his thoughts at war’s outbreak: “News that Japan had early that morning declared war on Great Britain and the United States came to us from an artillery sergeant-major on his way to post. And he actually seemed delighted to be the bearer of such tidings gloating over the fact that now was our chance to show these yellow-livered trouble-makers just where they stood.” MacMillan thought that Canadian troops based in Britain would be jealous that “C” Force had fought first.43 Signalman Georges Verreault, profaning “we’re at war with the yellow pigs,” expressed his “hope that before it [his death] happens, I can get my hands around a couple of Nip throats. The ‘Royal Scotts’ are being massacred up there according to a report. Hell why don’t they send us to their help? The two Canadians regiments are stuck on the island and the guys are roaring with frustration at not being able to join the battle.”44 Despite the Canadians’ overconfidence at the battle’s advent, such boasting demonstrated their will to fight.

“D” Company of the Grenadiers were the first Canadians to engage the Japanese. Sent to Kowloon as a rearguard to defend the harbor for evacuation, these soldiers exchanged some fire with Japanese troops and withdrew in good order with the rest of the mainland brigade.45 Canadian signallers on the mainland provided communications links for the Royal Scots, Rajputs, and Punjabs. Their tasks included fixing telephone lines damaged in the fighting and operating the Wireless Set No. 11, one of which was given to all the battalions on the mainland.46 The signallers came under fire from Japanese artillery and machine guns numerous times, while snipers were a danger near the pillboxes on the Gin Drinker’s Line.47 Captain George Billings, commanding the Canadian Signallers, praised his men’s efficiency and their high morale until the battle’s end.48

The earliest sustained enemy action faced by the Canadian infantry was the Japanese shelling of Hong Kong Island which began on 10 December and grew in intensity by the day. By the 16th, enemy artillery was taking its toll, with “Men showing signs of strain very little rest or sleep for anyone.”49 Rifleman Raymond Elliott of the Royal Rifles recorded the episodes of heavy shelling in his diary on the 10, 13, 14, 15, and 17 of December. Heavy air raids were noted on the 17th.50 Japanese air raids increased in intensity on the 18th to soften up garrison positions in anticipation of landings later that night. Opinions about enemy airplanes changed over the course of the battle. While Elliott initially described being thrilled by the aerial displays when Japanese planes attacked on 8 December, by 24 December he noted, “Enemy planes are bombing again very discouraging not to see one of our own planes.”51 MacMillan also described the Japanese air power: “looking up at these death-dealing monsters advancing directly over us, I can but recall what an empty feeling there was in my stomach as any moment I expected to see a ‘stick of eggs’ come plummeting down upon us. The Japanese apparently used a bit of psychology in their aerial attacks and most of these were made invariably at mealtimes to add to our discomfort.” He also noted that the Japanese pilots had poor bombing skills.52 Verreault also said that while he feared the bombs, the Japanese artillery caused more damage. He also insulted the fighting ability of the Japanese pilot for “our charming enemy refuses to bomb us if the sky is grey. The dear little one, they might catch cold.”53

The Japanese Landing on Hong Kong Island, 18 December

Once the Japanese landed on Hong Kong Island on 18 December, many garrison units were quickly overrun, including a Royal Rifle platoon lost at Lyemun Barracks near the northeast coast.54 According to Cambon, “the Japanese later admitted that they lost 65% of their men in this exercise against “C” Company. So the assumption that the outcome could have been far different with more support available is not unreasonable.”55 The Royal Rifles fought to retake the position against Japanese troops and fifth columnists but ultimately failed.56 According to Japanese accounts, the Canadians inflicted a high portion of their casualties. But such success came at a high cost as “‘C’ COY with attached personnel went into action at 2200 hours yesterday [18 December] with 172 OR [Other Ranks] and 5 officers, and at 1600 hours [on the] 19th, 54 men answered their names and 4 officers were present.”57 The Canadian troops had willingly engaged the enemy, but they suffered heavily for doing so.

The Canadians at Wong Nei Chong Gap

The Wong Nei Chong Gap, in the central part of Hong Kong Island, saw some of the most intense fighting experienced by Canadian troops during the entire battle. As the site of the West Brigade Headquarters, the gap sat at the confluence of several roads that stretched across the island, making the area a key target for Japanese forces. Many displays of bravery took place here, as did the Canadian ability to offer sustained, disciplined resistance. But fighting at the Wong Nei Chong Gap killed Lawson, creating a hole in “C” Force’s leadership structure, affecting the battle’s course, and enhancing the fight over “C” Force’s legacy. On 19 December, Lawson told Maltby, that Japanese troops had surrounded his command post in the Wong Nei Chong Gap and that he was “going outside to fight it out.”58 Lawson’s body was later found amongst the Canadian and Japanese dead surrounding the command post. According to Japanese historian Hisashi Takahashi, “the deep impression the Canadian contingent left on the Japanese in terms of valour, Colonel Shoji, Commander of the 230th Regiment, buried Lawson with full military honours and put up a monument in his memory.”59 Lawson’s death left the Canadians without a leader who possessed intimate knowledge of the British Army and personally knew. Thus, the Canadian battalions fell under the command of unfamiliar British officers.

Another act of sacrifice injured leadership in the Canadian ranks. The only Victoria Cross awarded during the Battle of Hong Kong went to Company Sergeant Major John Osborn of the Grenadiers for his actions on Mount Butler on 19 December. After leading the attack up the hill, Osborn helped to set up defence positions. But when the Japanese counterattacked and forced the Grenadiers from their positions, Osborn single-handedly covered his company’s retreat and directed stragglers to the new defensive position. As Osborn and some Grenadiers took shelter in a building, Japanese soldiers started lobbing grenades into their position. While Osborn threw the grenades back, when one landed in a position that he could not reach, shouting a warning to his men, Osborn jumped on the grenade. Dying instantly, Osborne saved many lives.60

Lawson and Osborn were not the only leaders to be killed early in the fighting. Sergeant George Paterson of the “HQ” Company of the Grenadiers died on 19 December while attacking the police station at the Wong Nei Chong Gap. Captain Alan Bowman, commander of “D” Company of the Grenadiers, also perished that day.61 On the 20th, brothers Lieutenants William and Eric Mitchell, both of the Grenadiers, died after Eric was first wounded and William stayed with him. It appears that they were killed after surrendering to the Japanese. Lieutenant Hugh Young, Company Sergeant Major Walter Fryatt, and Lance Sergeant Albert Woods, all of “B” Company of the Grenadiers, were killed at Black’s Link near Mount Cameron, fighting toward the Wong Nei Chong Gap on the 21st.62 The loss of so many officers and NCOs early in the battle caused disciplinary issues for various “C” Force sub-units of “C” Force, and led to problems later when the Canadian battalion commanders clashed with their British commanders.

Canadian drunkenness during the battle partially resulted from the loss of key leaders early in the fighting. Some claims of drunkenness amongst Canadians were true, others were exaggerations or second-hand assertions designed to sully Canadian reputations. One of the comments removed from the unedited Maltby Despatch concerned Canadian drunkenness. Major C. Manners, a retired British artillery officer, claimed that Canadians had been out of control and drunk at the Repulse Bay Hotel. As recorded by Maltby, Manners claimed they were all over the place drinking, under little control and that no further military action was taking place or, apparently, even contemplated,” adding that “the Canadians were doing nothing, the defences appeared to be quite inadequate, and that the Officer Commanding Coy was the worse for drink.”63 Though Greenhous rejected this claim, he noted that there was one drunken Canadian at Repulse Bay, Rifleman James Riley, who was passed out when the hotel was evacuated. Discovered by civilians sheltering in the hotel and disguised, he was repatriated to Canada before the war’s end and promptly discharged from the Canadian Army.64

Several other instances of Canadian drunkenness were alleged, but their validity is questionable. Author Tim Carew presented an anecdote about drunken Canadians, originally told by British soldier Corporal Pelham who supposedly encountered them on the night of the 18th:

Two obviously drunken voices were singing in a travesty of harmony of “Red River Valley,” “Now come sit by my side if you love me-e-e-e!” carolled the voices with deadly penetration; “dew not hasten to bid me adieu-u-u-u-u!” Pelham walked forward a few painful paces and saw the two Canadians. They sat leaning against one another, and drinking from a bottle.

After inviting Pelham to have a drink, one Canadian supposedly said to him, “me an’ my buddy here are sittin’ this goddam war out.” When Pelham asked about the truck they were sitting near, supposedly he was told, “‘we ain’t goin’ no place, pal,’ by the first Canadian who, with a resounding hiccup, added “like I said, we don’t want any part of this war. You want the truck, you help yourself. And gimme that bottle back.”65 According to Major J.H. Monro, Brigade Major of the Hong Kong Command Headquarters, a planned counterattack from the Repulse Bay Hotel toward the Wong Nei Chong Gap supposedly did not occur thanks to Canadian drunkenness. A two-pronged attack with another unit coming from Little Hong Kong also was never mounted. Monro claimed that “the first attack never started because the Canadians and their Commander were drunk. The General sent Temple out from Stanley to take charge of the situation. I think that because the Canadians did not attack the other was cancelled.”66 Monro was among those who criticized the Canadians’ fighting abilities despite having spent little time with them. Having spent most of campaign in the Battle Box, a bunker located fifty feet beneath a barracks in Victoria in the island’s northwest, Monro acknowledged that communication with the units was difficult. Still, he concluded “the Canadians, of whom we had hoped great things, proved to be worse than useless. They were quite untrained. They had no discipline and were most unsteady. In fact they were a hindrance rather than a help” Given his distance from the fighting, Monro’s conclusions must be called into question,67 as he and Carew are two examples of individuals who sought to present the Canadians as poor soldiers in order to buttress British reputations.

A Canadian commander’s drunkenness, described by RAF Squadron Leader D.S. Hill, may have played a role in the fighting near Bennet’s Hill on the island’s west side. As all RAF planes had been destroyed on 8 December, RAF personnel operated anti-aircraft guns and fought as infantry, with Hill and other RAF personnel attached to the Grenadiers’ “C” Company led by Major John Bailie.68 Events came to a head in the early hours of the 24th. When forced to retreat from Bennet’s Hill, noticing that some Grenadiers had not received the order, Hill took a few men to make contact. As Hill asserted:

The Canadians are badly rattled, even their officer seems to have lost control of his men. The Japs start shelling us and confusion sets in and the men start leaving their posts. A scene I never wish to see again. I am in an awkward position as I have no command over the Canadians. Just as they start moving back the road Major Baillee advances down the road waving a revolver and shouting to his men to get back to their posts. Some obey and some don’t. The Major is highly excited and his voice rings out through the night calling his men all the names he can think of.69

As no Canadians moved, Hill dashed across the bridge under fire to bring a supposedly drunk Bailie back to his unit. While most of the Canadians fled, some set up a mortar position. But the first shell they fired hit a tree, wounding several men. The wounded were dragged to a pillbox, and an ambulance arrived along with Lieutenants Railton Campbell and John Park. Hill described a complete breakdown in the chain of command: “Thank God the ambulance arrives at last, also Lts Campbell and Park. Campbell threatens to put the Major [Bailie] under arrest and Baillee threatens to put every Canadian under arrest. Comes the dawn and most of the Canadians have disappeared.”70

But Hill’s account does not match up with a report prepared by Major George Trist, second in command of the Grenadiers, later in the war. According to Trist:

At about 2230 hrs a phone call was received from Aberdeen Reservoir stating that some action was taking place in the area of Bennets Hill and Major Bailie left immediately, arriving by road some 20 minutes later at his Coy Hq. On arrival he was informed by C.S.M. Logan that the Japanese had shelled and attacked Little Bennets Hill and had driven out Lieut Whites platoon which had returned to No 2 platoon area on the reservoir bridge. Major Bailie went forward to find out the reason for the retirement and was advised by Capt Bardal that Lieut Whites platoon had fallen back owing to a heavy attack by the enemy.71

While an ambulance was called, Trist’s account did not note its arrival. Trist did mention the arrival of Campbell and his patrol at the Aberdeen Headquarters where a conference was held at 0530 hours on the 24th about what positions to assume on the hill. There was no mention of the threats to arrest anyone nor any insubordination. An attack planned for first light on the 25th was cancelled due to the temporary truce that lasted until the garrison’s surrender.72

As Hill was present during this incident while Trist was not, one could challenge Trist’s account. Still, aware that he might be criticized, Trist made clear “the writer commences this report knowing full well that any report containing criticisms or accusations is bound to be read with a certain amount of scepticism particularly if it is written in opposition to an official report submitted by a much higher authority.”73 While Hill’s recollection of the event was not an official report, Trist was concerned the Canadians were being blamed for Hong Kong’s fall.

However, some Canadians corroborated parts of Hill’s rendition. Private Bernard Jesse of the Grenadiers’ “D” Company claimed that by the morning of the 25th, “we had a hell of a lot less men. No doubt about it. Some were deserting, making tracks, but that was hopeless. They had nowhere to go. It was hopeless for all of us. I have often thought that, what the heck, if the Japs had wanted to, they could have simply starved us out on that island.”74 Hill had little to gain by making such criticisms about the Canadians, while Trist had the reputation of an entire battalion to protect. It is very likely that Bailie was drunk at the bridge. Some of the stories of Canadian drunkenness, like Bailie’s, are credible. Other claims were offered with little to no evidence and were advanced to supporting a preconceived idea of the fighting.

“D” Company of the Winnipeg Grenadiers and Their Stand at the Wong Nei Chong Gap

The brunt of the Japanese attack at the Wong Nei Chong Gap fell on “D” Company of the Grenadiers on 19 December. While Platoons 17 and 18 were overran when the attack began, fifty troops held on inside shelters, designed only to protect against weather, not from munitions, and inside a kitchen sited in a concrete building across the main road from the Brigade Headquarters.75 Their leadership was quickly killed or wounded. Company Commander Captain Alan Bowman was killed after eliminating a sniper on “D” Company’s front in the morning.76 After being wounded by a Japanese grenade shortly thereafter, second in command Captain R.W. Phillip was replaced by Lieutenant Thomas Blackwood.77 Luckily, the position had many machine guns and plenty of ammunition, which the defenders used to take a heavy toll of the Japanese.78 By the evening of the 20th, with ammunition running low, Captains Howard Bush and Billings departed to link up with any troops at the Wan Chai Gap or Hong Kong Command Headquarters. Uriah Laite, the Grenadiers’ chaplain, although asked to accompany Bush and Billings, declined so that he could stay with the men.79 As this position lacked a medical officer, Laite took care of the wounded, earning the Military Cross for his actions. Fatigue was taking its toll on the 21st as the men had not slept or eaten since the 19th, while water had run out in the kitchen building.80 Blackwood was wounded but continued to fight.81 On the morning of the 22th, the enemy blew in the doors of the shelter with a two-inch gun. By then, ammunition was completely exhausted and only twelve unwounded men remained. By the time “D” Company surrendered, at least thirty–seven wounded were in the kitchen.82 While the walking wounded were taken prisoner, the Japanese reportedly murdered the other seriously wounded men.83 For the troops to withstand such attacks took tremendous discipline and will.

Discipline Breakdown in the Royal Rifles’ “C” Company

Not all of “C” Force’s troops displayed good discipline before the enemy. Lieutenant Leonard Corrigan of “C” Company, Royal Rifles, recalled several breaks in discipline during the battle. While he restored discipline despite the garrison’s growing desperation, the Canadians were not impervious to the stress of battle. While holding Mount Cameron, Corrigan was ordered to patrol to his front to determine enemy strength. When a Japanese soldier attempted to slash him with a sword, Corrigan, grabbing the blade with his bare hand, killed the soldier with a pistol.84 After returning to his original position, Corrigan found that his men, believing him to be dead, had pulled back. Finding his men near the Company Headquarters, Corrigan ordered them back to the frontline and noted that upon “returning to the position, I had no trouble getting every thing ship-shape as the men still felt somewhat sheepish over their earlier performance.” Shortly thereafter, the Japanese reinitiated their attack but were beaten back by Bren gun fire and grenades. After repelling a subsequent smaller counterattack, Corrigan left again to the headquarters to ask for resupply. Upon his return, he discovered the position was empty again as the men had retreated after a mortar shell had killed a Bren gunner. Corrigan and a handful of troops reoccupied the position and briefly duelled with Japanese machine gunners before retreating. Entering the headquarters later in the day, Corrigan, finding it empty, was ordered to retreat to Victoria Peak where the West Brigade was reassembling. To Corrigan’s shock, he saw a white flag flying on The Peak. All discipline and order broke down once the garrison’s surrender was announced: “Pent-up emotions were given further impetus by the looting of stores of liquor and cigarettes and the combination of circumstances seemed to crumble the thin veneer of civilization within which men’s animal nature seems to lurk.” As Corrigan reflected, “perhaps we all might have done better under different circumstances, but I feel that most of us did our best here, and particularly am I proud of the fact that the replacement officers were at all times in the thick of things as can be seen from the casualty list, nor did I hear of any instance of the new chaps ‘cracking.’”85 Corrigan’s story shows the crucial role that leadership played in keeping Canadian discipline intact. Order could be regained, but it took strong leadership to do so.

Canadian Counterattack Toward the Wong Nei Chong Gap

One attempt to retake the Wong Nei Chong Gap demonstrated that the Canadians had the will to fight and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, two key elements in Braithwaite’s model. “A” Company of the Royal Rifles was ordered to contact West Brigade in the gap on 20 December. Platoon 18, in the lead, running into a Japanese pack train moving artillery toward the gap, inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy.86 According to Elliot, they “Met enemy bringing up big guns. Walked into an ambush. Exchanged fire for about an hour.

Outnumbered 10 to 1.”87 After a runner requested reinforcements, Platoon 17 was despatched to ambush the Japanese from a higher position. “A” Company was forced to retreat when Japanese reinforcements arrived. Unable to find West Brigade, Platoon 17 took advantage of contact with the enemy to inflict casualties. The Canadian also used tactical adjustments. Elliott described how on the 21st, when ordered to take Bridge Hill, he and his compatriots forced a Japanese retreat by setting the scrub on fire. “A” Company retook the hill, but as relief did not arrive, the tired men were ordered to withdraw.88

Despite the ability of some troops to improvise, a lack of training plagued the Canadians during the fighting. The Hong Kong Police war diary asserted that a Canadian officer told a policeman in Aberdeen on 20 December that neither he nor his men knew how to use Bren machine guns or grenades. A police sergeant gave them a quick instruction about both.89 Sergeant Leo Paul Berard of the Grenadiers had to do the same thing: “At this point, I heard through the grapevine that some of our forces were throwing grenades without being detonated. From then on, in full view of the men, I would play with a grenade, taking the pin off, holding the lever in place to secure the striker from the striking the cap of the four-second fuse.”90 But Canadians did not hesitate to use their weapons. Allister vividly described the first time he killed in combat: “A figure was dead center in my sights…silhouetted against the sky as I pulled the trigger. He dropped. The thought vaguely registered that I had just killed a man. And so easily. I only had to line up the sights on the center of the turtle, tighten my finger—bra-a-am! Down went another. A duck-shoot booth at a county fair.” While Allister felt like he was getting away with murder, he had demonstrated that the Canadians could use their weapons in combat if needed.91 Some of the myths about poor Canadian performance derive from a lack of understanding of what soldiers are trained to do. In describing the rearguard action on Kowloon, the producers of The Valour and the Horror exclaimed “everyone was handed a rifle, even army telephone lineman, Walter Jenkins.”92 This level of surprise reveals the filmmakers did not understand military training for all “C” Force’s troops were trained as soldiers first, no matter their primary role.

Counterattacks were an essential part of the defence of the island for holding the high ground allowed the defenders to control the surrounding area and beat back continuous Japanese assaults. Hong Kong Island’s small size made control of the high ground even more important. The Canadians were involved in numerous counterattacks, but as the majority of these attacks failed, Carew blamed the Canadians for the failures:

These abortive counter-attacks were made without preliminary reconnaissance by troops already exhausted be ten days of hard fighting. The blame for this melancholy state of affairs cannot be placed at General Maltby’s door, for he was shouldering a tactical burden which was rapidly becoming intolerable. Some objectives were won at fearful cost, but could not be held. Even if they were briefly held, they could not be consolidated.93

The hilly terrain was one of the defining elements of the battle on the island. Cambon described the hills “as actors in the play, not just the scenery.”94 Maltby infamously claimed that the Canadians became very tired due to the difficult conditions.95 As Sergeant George MacDonell of the Royal Rifles recalled, “the physical effort to climb these tangled, scrub- covered slopes, loaded down with weapons, water, and ammunition, was a major effort in itself. To do it all day and almost every day in the face of a determined, well-led enemy, who had to be killed to be evicted led to mind-numbing exhaustion.” The threats posed by enemy action from grenades, machine guns, and mortar fire made these conditions worse. Even when the Japanese were driven back, MacDonell noted, the Canadian troops lacked water and food and had little ammunition to repel inevitable Japanese counterattacks.96 Corrigan recalled the weight added by their armaments: “The going was pretty heavy as each man carried 250 rounds plus Brens and Bren ammunition and had had little rest and no food since the previous evening.”97 Despite the burden of equipment and the difficult terrain, the Canadians fought to the point of exhaustion. By the 19th, the Royal Rifles “had been doing continuous manning for over a week with no chance to sleep but in weapon pits. Some would fall down in the roadway and go to sleep and it took several shakings to get them going again.”98 Signalman Ray Squires noted that “they were very hungry as they had had no food for four days, and little if any sleep. Flesh, nerves, and blood simply cannot stand explosives for any continuous length of time.”99 MacMillan remarked on the difficulty in keeping troops alert: “Poor devils, these sentries, they couldn’t help it if they fell asleep: they hadn’t had any rest for the past five days now and not much food either, and in spite of their finest efforts to keep awake, their eyelids mechanically closed.”100 When retreating back to Palm Villa after capturing and then abandoning Notting Hill on the 20th, Cambon was grumbling when another soldier told him to stop complaining. Cambon credits this soldier, Rifleman William Barclay, with getting him back on track for “I had by now abandoned all hope of us coming out the winners. I knew what had happened to some of those already captured, and now was determined to try my best to go out with a bang, not a whimper.”101 Beset by tough physical conditions and relentless Japanese attacks, one can understand why Canadian troops were exhausted.

The Controversy at Stanley

The Canadians faced some of their most difficult fighting on and near the Stanley Peninsula. It was also the site of the most intense disagreement between British and Canadian commanders. Establishing the course of events definitively is difficult for various accounts portray the events in vastly different ways. The intensity created a decades-long fight in the historiography about the clash between Brigadier Cedric Wallis, commander of the East Brigade, and Lieutenant-Colonel William Home, commander of the Royal Rifles and the highest ranking Canadian after the deaths of Lawson and Hennessy.

Shortly after the Japanese landed on Hong Kong Island, the East Brigade withdrew toward the Stanley Peninsula, a retreat that took a toll on the Royal Rifles.102 By the 21st, the unit, in the line for several days, was exhausted. Wallis recounted that Home had requested to speak to Governor Mark Young, as Home feared that further resistance would only squander Canadian lives. Wallis attempted to stop Home from talking to Young before he spoke with Maltby. Home, unable to contact either official, was finally convinced by his subordinates to get some sleep.103 But such rest did not change Home’s view that further resistance was futile. Major Evan Stewart of the HKVDC, also cognizant of the garrison’s worsening predicament, noted on the 22nd that “there was a growing feeling among the rank and file that further resistance merely postponed the inevitable and was not worth the waste of life, though among the higher ranks it was well understood that every day, every hour, was of vital importance to the Empire war effort, and that we should fight it out to the bitter end.”104 Home tried to convince Wallis on the 23rd that further resistance was pointless. But Wallis appealed to Home’s sense of patriotism by remarking that Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King was encouraging the garrison to fight on, while adding that no other British unit commander sought surrender. Wallis’ appeal failed to change Home’s mind about the garrison’s ability to resist the Japanese attack.105 Still, the Royal Rifles remained on the front line.

Matters came to a head on 24 December. C.P. Stacey described the events of that day in a quite understated manner:

During the morning there was a discussion, apparently rather acrimonious, at Brigade Headquarters, which was now in the officers’ mess at Stanley Prison. “No R.R.C. personnel had had any rest night or day for a period of 5 consecutive days,” and the unit diary records that “Lt.-Col. Home insisted that the Battalion should be relieved otherwise he would not be responsible for what would happen.’ There was still telephone communication with Fortress Headquarters, and after a conversation between Home and General Maltby it was decided that the unit would be relieved that night and go back to Stanley Fort, farther down the peninsula, to rest.106

While visiting the Royal Rifles Headquarters, Wallis “found the C.O., 2nd in C[ommand] & several senior Canadian officers. The atmosphere was sullen & I was informed that it was the considered opinion of all officers & the Bn as a whole that useless casualties were being caused by continuing to fight.”107 Wallis considered removing Home from command but instead withdrew the Royal Rifles to Stanley Fort away from the fighting. However, “Wallis also said he considered arresting or shooting Holme & making MajPrice (2nd in C[ommand] R. Rifles) in command. He had however refrained from doing so as he had come to the conclusion many officers would have required shooting—that it was in fact almost a bloodless mutiny.”108 Writer Oliver Lindsay has questioned Wallis’ mindset for ‘”it seems apparent from his reference to shooting Canadian officers that he must have become seriously mentally unbalanced.”109 In reporting the situation of the 24th to Maltby, Wallis stated that “I said that except for the RRC all were good heart & he need have no fears we should ever give up.”110 Describing the fighting toward the battle’s end, Wallis wrote that “it became even move apparent that the RRC were of little value having lost all morale and being badly led.”111

Wallis was extremely critical of the Royal Rifles, almost to a ludicrous degree. He asserted that the Canadians’ heavy battle dress hindered their ability to fight on hilly terrain and move quickly. Yet there is ample evidence that the Canadians were outfitted in summer uniforms. First, the China Mail had recorded that the Canadian troops were all wearing tropical uniforms when they arrived in the colony. Second, multiple communications from the War Office to National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa discussed the fact that “C” Force would need summer battle dress in Hong Kong.112 Also, as many of the Canadians claimed to be cold and wet at night, obviously their battle dress was insufficient to keep the soldiers warm. Although such criticism demonstrates Wallis’ desperate desire to find fault with the Canadians wherever possible, Maltby allowed such ludicrous claims to influence his Despatch. Originally, he wrote that “the Royal Rifles of Canada’s positions on Sugar Loaf and Stanley Mound were precarious, the men exhausted from the unaccustomed hill climbing and from the wearing of heavy and unsuitable battle dress.”113 Clearly believing Wallis’ account, Maltby stated that “for the events on Stanley Peninsula it is necessary to read the War Narrative of Commander East Infantry Bde.”114 Ultimately these claims was removed from the Despatch without any objection from Maltby, demonstrating the questionable nature of such allegations.

Canadian recollections of the events at Stanley differ greatly from Wallis’ rendition. In a letter to Lieutenant-Colonel G.W.L. Nicholson of the Historical Branch of the Canadian Army, John H. Price asserted:

In my opinion Brig. Wallis’ report is not to be relied upon. He was then in such a state of great nervous excitement and I believe his mental state was such that he was incapable of collected judgement or of efficient leadership. The insinuation in his report is that Brig. Home suggested a complete and final withdrawal of the Canadian force from the fighting. This is untrue and I so told General Maltby.115

As Price and Maltby resided in the same prisoner of war camp for a short time, Maltby could have used Price’s recollection of events at Stanley. But he did not. Instead, noting only Wallis’ recollections of these events, Maltby wrote that on 24 December “Brigadier Wallis assured me that Stanley Force were in good heart and that he was confident that if the enemy attacked his three lines of defence they would suffer heavily. He confirmed that he had enough food, water and ammunition, and I ordered him to fight on and not to surrender as long as these conditions prevailed.”116 While Price contended that a general surrender was discussed, a separate Canadian capitulation was not mentioned, nor did he believe that Home had asked to see Governor Young as the unit was cut off. As the deaths of Lawson and Hennessy made Home the senior Canadian, Price emphatically addressed Home’s situation: “As such he inherited responsibilities which he took very seriously and which caused him great anxiety.” Further, Price recalled that only he and Home had attended this meeting, contradicting Wallis’ claim that several other officers were present.117 The 24 December entry in the Royal Rifles war diary does not align with Wallis’ version of events either:

B Coy “1600 hrs. (?) Coy. Comd. called to a Coy Comds’” meeting at Bn. H.Q. by O.C. Bn. (Brig. Wallis, INDIAN ARMY, C.O. EAST BDE. Was at the conference) Orders were issued for the Bn. to be relieved of their present positions by H.K.V.D.C. Tps. and other Imperial Tps. The R.R.C. Tps. in the STANLEY VILLAGE AREA to withdraw to STANLEY FORT to reorganize and obtain some rest (no R.R.C. personnel had had any rest night or day for a period of 5 consecutive days).118

Price noted that the Royal Rifles were brought into the line after only six hours of rest.119

Despite Wallis’ opinions of Canadian troops, they fought to the best of their abilities and circumstances in the area around Stanley. Canadians forced the Japanese off Bridge Hill on 22 December, one of the many times that the Canadians compelled Japanese troops to retreat. But the Japanese eventually retook the hill given a lack of available reinforcements.120 The Canadians did not lack the will to act but were not properly supported. The Middlesex war diary judged the Canadians very unfavourably on 22 December. While the Middlesex, a machine gun battalion, manned the pillboxes and worked closely with Canadians on numerous occasions, that relationship became strained in the fighting near Stanley. A Japanese attack was described in the Middlesex war diary:

M.Gs. opened rapid fire dispersing them and forcing their withdrawal. This action by these guns was of course a normal M.G. fire task but it was obvious the Canadian Infantry were unaccustomed to this type of operation for many came running back accusing all and sundry of having fired into them. It must be remembered that these Canadians were raw material and were unaccustomed to this kind of fire. Whatever the results were the two mortars which had been harassing our troops ceased firing.121

As Canadian troops reputedly had left their positions to look for food and did not return for several hours, the war diarist recorded on 23 December that “the Canadians had lost heart.”122 As will be demonstrated below, this was not the case for all Canadians in the fight at Hong Kong.

“D” Company of the Royal Rifles’ Assault on Stanley Village

On Christmas Day 1941, “D” Company of the Royal Rifles was ordered to push the Japanese out of Stanley Village in a daylight attack. The assault on the high ground sought to protect the fortress headquarters by pushing the Japanese out of the village and the surrounding area. As previously discussed, counterattacks were necessary to defend the garrison’s positions. But by the 25th, the tactical usefulness had been out stripped by the collapse of the strategic situation. Wallis displayed that he had lost touch with the overall situation when he ordered the assault. While the strategic decision was based upon sound principles, the tactical decision was unwise.

Wallis’ decision has been criticized since his order was given. Vincent described that the assault, “…for idiotic futility, ranks with the Charge of the Light Brigade.”123 Stacey provided a short account of the attack:

During the morning the Brigadier, finding that the Japanese had gained ground in the Stanley Village area and south of it, ordered the Royal Rifles to counter- attack. “D” Company delivered the attack without artillery support; the hills in the peninsula prevented the coastal batteries at its south end from firing into the area of the isthmus. The attack failed, and "D" Company lost 26 men killed and 75 wounded.124

Chronicling the attack in his account of the Royal Rifles, historian Grant Garneau laid the blame of the attack on Wallis for “the Commanding Officer [Home] ‘protested against such an attack in daylight as most likely being unproductive of any results but additional Canadian casualties.’ Brigadier Wallis insisted and “D” Company was ordered forward on this suicidal mission.”125 MacDonell, who was tasked with leading his platoon’s attack after all the officers had been killed or wounded, recalled thinking that “The sheer stupidity of the order to send us without artillery, mortar, or machine gun support into a village full of Japanese, in broad daylight, was not lost on me.”126 Maltby, unable to communicate with the East Brigade Headquarters, did not mention this attack in his Despatch.127

The Japanese heavily outnumbered “D” Company. After the war, Price estimated that at least a brigade’s worth of Japanese soldiers had been in the Stanley area.128 Rifleman Philip Doddridge recalled being told that there were only fifteen Japanese soldiers in the bungalows on the high ground at the edge of the village.129 Other estimates ranged from a few hundred to over a thousand Japanese soldiers being present. Elliot estimated that “D” Company had about 130 men, MacDonell estimated 120.130 While artillery support had been promised, no fire support materialized, and heavy machine gun fire also was absent.131 Platoon 16 advanced on the right side along the coast while Platoons 17 and 18 attacked on the left through the cemetery.132 The attack began at about 1330 hours from the Stanley Prison. Attacking on the right flank along the coast, Elliott recorded that:

When we were advancing we met English and Indian troops retreating said it was hopeless to try and take back village. They said there were thousands of enemy in village, guess they were right. Started across slope above village enemy spotted us and started shelling and firing rifles and machine guns some of the boys wounded by shrapnel. We went down ridge along shore and charged into the village were passing by boxes of T.N.T. bombs landed about five feet from it as we moved a little faster. Fighting every where. Bullets coming like hail.133

Elliott witnessed a gruesome wound suffered during the attack as “Sgt Major Ebdon shot in chin jaw broken spit the bullet out of his mouth close call.”134 Ebdon’s wound left him with a fractured jaw and eight missing teeth. Citing numerous casualties from the advance into the village, Elliott recalled the order to retreat was given at 1530 hours.135

Attacking on the left flank, MacDonell’s platoon, which assembled in a ditch beside the road that connected the fort to the village, came under enemy fire almost immediately. By advancing in short rushes and utilizing existing cover, the troops made it to the outer perimeter of the village with no casualties. MacDonell ordered his troops into a skirmish line and to fix bayonets. They charged into the graveyard, taking the enemy by surprise, overrunning them as “a confused and bloody melee of hand-to-hand fighting with bayonets then took place.” MacDonell entered the village after clearing Japanese troops out of the first row of houses with grenades. The Canadians moved further into the village, pouring fire into the Japanese troops advancing toward the bungalows. As the Japanese began to reorganize, they started inflicting Canadian casualties. MacDonell ordered his platoon to occupy positions in and around the line of houses they had cleared. Lieutenant Francis Power, commander of Platoon 17, was wounded, forcing MacDonell to take command of Power’s platoon too. Sergeant Lance Ross from Platoon 17 joined MacDonell at his position, using light machine guns to strafe the Japanese. According to Ross, Rifleman Joseph “Ed” Bujold threw grenades through the windows of the bungalow while the Japanese flanked their position by moving into the graveyard.136

A lull ensued as the Japanese regrouped for a counterattack. The men of “D” Company were running out of ammunition and had suffered several casualties. Their supply of water was exhausted, a considerable problem in the scorching heat of Hong Kong. The lull proved short- lived for the Japanese attacked again after twenty minutes, this time with artillery support. With the Japanese threatening to encircle the Canadian position, MacDonell received an order to pull back to Stanley Fort. The men of both platoons were sent back in small parties as Ross and MacDonell covered them, but non-mobile wounded had to be left behind. Ross and MacDonell, providing cover for each other, were the last to leave the village. Doddridge recalled that his commander Major Maurice Parker cried as he counted the soldiers returning from the attack for the company had lost twenty–six killed and seventy–five wounded.137 The members of “D” Company displayed remarkable discipline to attack an enemy on the high ground without protection. But bravery was not enough to take and hold this position.

But worse was to come as Canadians held their positions in anticipation of a Japanese attack expected to come later that day. As Flanagan noted in his diary on the last day of the battle, “Brigade headquarters shelled all day, counted 1008 shells. [Rifleman Ronald] Kinnie was killed at 1700 hours. At 2000 hours we were told that the Governor of Hong Kong had surrendered the island.”138 Elliott had his mixed emotions upon hearing the news: “Cease fire was given at 7:30. I don’t know if I was glad or sorry it will be no fun becoming a Prisoner of war. We are all thinking tonight of the turkies you are having for Xmas back home.”139 Time for reflection came after the garrison’s surrender. Historian Franco David Macri has quoted George MacDonell view’s that “No one disobeyed orders and MacDonell stated that there was, ‘no whining’. The men were prepared for the worst, and there was no discussion of surrender. He added that he ‘never heard of any AWOL; not a single case of discipline.’”140


In a deleted passage from his original Despatch, Maltby averred that if the Canadians had been “ably led, well trained and with time available, a very different story might have been recorded. It was unfortunate that troops in this state of training were despatched to an area where a crisis might develop at any moment.” 141 Though Maltby’s statement has a kernel of truth, it was surrounded by misinformation and prejudices. Furthermore, the Wallis-Home exchange is evidence of how national identity has clouded recollections of the fighting at Hong Kong. These examples are indicative of much of the literature about the Canadian role in the Battle of Hong Kong. Using Brathwaite’s model, I contend that the Canadian performance during the battle was decidedly mixed, a conclusion rarely offered in the historiography about the battle. Though there was a will to fight, the Canadians lacked many necessary skills. The stand of “D” Company of the Grenadiers at the Wong Nei Chong Gap and the attack of Stanley Village by “D” Company of the Royal Rifles were proof of the Canadian will to fight even against incredible odds. The discussion of the breakdown of the Canadian leadership during the battle is a new contribution to the historiography of the fighting at Hong Kong. While Japanese shelling and bombing negatively affected Canadian morale, as Corrigan had shown, strong leadership could improve morale. There were some breaks in Canadian discipline, including drunkenness and the abandoning of positions which was also the result of the leadership breakdown. Despite these flaws, the scrutiny of “C” Force’s fighting performance has been largely unfair. The Canadians fighting at Hong Kong did the best they could under the circumstances. While not supermen, neither were they terrible troops who caused the downfall of the colony. As H.P. McNaughton of the Grenadiers poetically recorded, the men of “C” Force endured at Hong Kong, “Out here they went to battle/And many met their God / As others kept on fighting / Against tremendous odds.”142