by Brad St Croix

Chapter 7 — From This Day to the Ending of the World:
The Legacy of the Battle of Hong Kong from 1942 to Present


(Link to footnotes for this chapter)

At the 2009 unveiling of the “C” Force Memorial Wall in Ottawa, Philip Doddridge, president of the Hong Kong Veterans’ Association (HKVA), remarked that “this ceremony today marks the fulfilment of a dream, a vision that started years ago when we began to realize that many of our comrades who have left this world, would not be recognized for their valiant efforts of so many years ago.”1 Doddridge was right to be concerned about the lack of recognition of what “C” Force did in Hong Kong. In a 2016 article, journalist Craig S. Smith claimed “the debate over what went wrong raged in the aftermath of the war but has long since grown cold.

These days, the sacrifice and courage of those who died are remembered more than the senselessness of their deaths. But historians have long acknowledged that it was a mistake to send untested Canadian boys to defend an indefensible island.”2 Even those who express sympathy toward the Hong Kong veterans and their families present the battle in a negative manner. The Battle of Hong Kong’s legacy is constantly being reconsidered. I argue that many individuals, employing the battle for their own purposes, are responsible for Hong Kong’s negative legacy in Canada. Opportunism and the protection of reputations affected the early legacy building of the battle for George Drew plus British and Canadian commanders used the battle for their own ends. By contrast, the Canadian government simply wanted the Hong Kong episode to disappear from the collective Canadian consciousness. Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King’s government, plus its successors, tried to quietly dismiss any mention of the battle or the plight of its veterans. While they failed, their actions often brought more attention to the Battle of Hong Kong as evidenced by the release of the Major-General C.M. Maltby’s Despatch in 1948 and the issue of Pacific campaign pay. The negative legacy of the battle gathered strength during the postwar years. The newspaper media played an important part in this, as it further spread the negativity associated with the battle. Yet the legacy can still be changed for the building of Hong Kong’s legacy remains ongoing in the twenty–first century.

George Drew’s Letter to King, Christmas 1941

In Canada, Hong Kong’s legacy fight began even before the battle’s end. On Christmas Day 1941, an open letter to King written by Ontario politician George Drew appeared in The Globe and Mail. Drew used the deaths of Canadians at Hong Kong to convince King to launch overseas conscription:

Please assure us that we will hear no more of the danger of disunity in Canada if our young men are called upon to do their duty. You cannot believe that the youth of Canada are unworthy of those young Canadians who are meeting their Gethsemane at Hong Kong at this very hour. Are the murderers of our own flesh and blood to go unpunished by other Canadians because some feeble voices proclaim that we should not send our men to fight beyond our own shores? God forbid that as a nation we should ever dishonour our glorious dead by repudiating the value of their sacrifice!3

As cited in Chapter 6, this letter marked the start of Drew’s campaign to use “C” Force to attack King and his government. But it would not be the last time “C” Force sacrifices were used to further various political agendas.

Hong Kong’s Impact on Canadian Policy during the Second World War

The fall of Hong Kong shaped how Canada deployed its military during the rest of the Second World War. After 1941, Canada was far more hesitant to accept British requests to deploy Canadian troops to the Empire’s far reaches. In early 1942, Britain asked Canada for troops to garrison the Falkland Islands for fear Japan might take the islands to support further attacks in the Atlantic or to offer them to Argentina. The call for Canadian troops to be sent to this isolated outpost was rejected.4 Canadian historian Galen Roger Perras has argued that the events at Hong Kong heavily affected this decision. Just as with “C” Force’s despatch, it was important to King that Canadians not be sent without obtaining President Franklin Roosevelt’s approval. Canadian Army leaders cited logistical difficulties in reaching the Falklands and the need to defend Canada from a growing Japanese threat as reasons for rejecting the request.

General Kenneth Stuart recommended that the request be declined due to the Europe-first strategy adopted at the August 1941 Argentia conference.5 As Perras has noted, Hong Kong loomed large as a key reason rejection the request:

However, [Under Secretary of State for External Affairs Norman] Robertson was not so certain that Canada should provide a Falklands garrison, and the reason behind this opinion was Hong Kong. Very much aware of growing demands for an official inquiry into the loss of almost 2000 Canadians at Hong Kong only weeks before, from the Under-Secretary’s point of view ‘it would be desirable to avoid, as far as possible, any risk of a similar case arising while the Hong Kong disaster was fresh in the public mind.’6

Commenting on the Falklands proposal, Canadian Army historian C.P. Stacey wrote:

So far as the written record goes, it would seem that throughout the discussion nobody in Ottawa ever mentioned Hong Kong. But Mr. [British Prime Minister Winston] Churchill’s request was made just three weeks after that colony, and the Canadians who formed part of its garrison, had surrendered to the Japanese. In January and February 1942, it is fair to say, very powerful arguments would have been required to prevail upon Mackenzie King's government to accept another military commitment in a remote British possession.7

Though Stacey erred by claiming Hong Kong was not mentioned, he was correct that the losses suffered just weeks before did impact governmental decision-making about sending troops to the Falklands.

British officials at the Dominions Office were puzzled by the Canadian refusal to send troops to the Falklands. After, DO officials monitoring the Hong Kong Inquiry had noted that Minister of National Defence for Naval Services Angus MacDonald had testified “I do not think anyone would contemplate in the circumstances a negative answer to the request. I do not think it was thinkable for this country to offer a negative answer to the request of the U.K.” This comment, a DO official asserted, was “interesting in the light of subsequent refusals by the Canadian Government to send forces to the Falkland Islands...”8 While DO functionaries did not believe anything had changed, the Canadian government clearly thought otherwise. No doubt recalling Japan’s complete control of the skies over Hong Kong, Robertson claimed that without proper air defences “there would be little point in sending in an infantry force as lambs to the slaughter.”9 The Battle of Hong Kong marked a clear change in Canadian policy toward Britain.

The Battle of Hong Kong also shaped Canada’s contribution to the Aleutians campaign in 1943. Japan occupied some islands in the Alaskan island chain as part of its massive Midway offensive in June 1942.10 In 1943, Canadian troops were sent to fight under American command. By the time the Canadians landed at Kiska in August, the Japanese had evacuated the island. But Perras has noted misgivings within the Cabinet War Committee (CWC) about sending troops to the Aleutians. Minister C.G. Power was particularly concerned about the mission: “Always mindful of the fortunes of his beloved Liberal Party, Power thought that sending troops to Kiska would have valuable results and he would support it. However, he wanted nothing at all to do with the proposal to garrison Attu or Amchitka...Power feared that it would put the troops in a position similar to that of the two Canadian battalions lost at Hong Kong.” Perras has posited that the capture of Power’s son, Francis, must have weighed on him “as he had been one of the proponents of strengthening Hong Kong.”11 Perras has contended that the King government feared another “political backlash and demonstrating a marked (and perhaps understandable) lack of confidence in its military advice after the disasters at Hong Kong and Dieppe, the government was intent on avoiding yet another catastrophe. The result was unparalleled civilian interference in such areas as the composition of the force, sailing orders, and operational planning.”12 The rejection of the Falklands Island garrison request and the limited participation in the Aleutians firmly shifted the Canadian wartime focus to Europe. Thus, “C” Force’s defeat and the fate of its captured men took a backseat to the Canadians personnel who helped to win the war in Europe. This series of events ensured that the Battle of Hong Kong was remembered primarily for its failure, not for the stand that was taken against Japanese aggression.

As Canadians prepared for the June 1944 Normandy invasion while fighting in Italy continued, civilian and military leaders discussed who bore ultimate responsibility if disaster struck. As Stacey commented, “it was perhaps natural that civil servants in daily touch with Ministers should view the possibility of a military disaster mainly in terms of its effect upon the political fortunes of the government. The references to Hong Kong and the embarrassments it had brought to the King administration suggest how deep a mark that painful episode had left in Ottawa.”13 The Battle of Hong Kong thus had a strong impact on the King government during the war, while the disaster also influenced government actions into the postwar period.

Legacy Building in the POW Camps

Some of the men who fought at Hong Kong took steps to shape how battle was remembered. While in prisoner of war (POW) camps, many troops wrote narratives designed to protect their reputations and those of their units. This early shaping of the battle’s legacy was largely motivated by the search for a scapegoat. As Canadian officers were placed in a separate camp from officers of the British and Indian battalions, there was little collaboration as various unit war diaries were rewritten. Brigadier Cedric Wallis’ account of the fighting on the Stanley Peninsula was a prime example. Major George Trist of the Winnipeg Grenadiers felt the need to record the Canadian side of the battle when he reconstructed the unit war diary in April 1942.

Trist wrote that one of the reasons for recording the events was “...that we (the Canadian Forces) are being blamed by the Imperial troops for the early fall of Hong Kong. And while it is not definitely known that the Imperial staff are going to adopt this attitude in their official report every precaution must be taken to ensure that any attempt to make “C” Force…the scape goat is adequately challenged by a submission of facts while they are still fresh in the memory.”14

Major John Price of the Royal Rifles of Canada sought to influence the process of legacy building by persuading others in their writings. In the hospital when the colony fell, Price was accidentally sent to the British officers’ camp at Argyle Street upon his release. However, “Colonel Price feels that his stay there [Argyle Street] was a good thing as he found British feelings were strongly anti-Canadian at the time [November 1942]. He pointed out to Brig Wallis and General Maltby that if British reports condemned the action by the Canadians at Hong Kong, Canadian reports might have some stones to throw.”15 Despite Price’s warning, Maltby later cast many stones.

While in Japanese captivity, Maltby kept a scrapbook for his daughters that contained family history, poems, and stories written by Maltby and other officers in the POW camps. Price wrote a piece in the scrapbook entitled “Canada” that briefly described Canada’s Confederation but mostly detailed “C” Force’s role in Hong Kong. While opining that “Canadian history is full of romantic episodes, gallant deeds, & successful achievements, not only at home but in many lands in contributing to the extension & stability of the British Empire...,” describing “C” Force, Price wrote that “though unsuccessful & even disastrous in effect, this expedition is only another proof of Canada’s desire to contribute to the defense of the Empire, however & wherever needed.” Price remarked that friendships and contacts were formed in the POW camps, “which will go far towards a better understanding of mutual problems & greatly serve to strengthen intra-Empire ties so that this great Commonwealth of Nations may rise again on the ruins of the modern world, stronger & greater & able & willing to exert that moral influence for good that world is so greatly in need of.”16 While Price’s goal to bolster Empire ties was evident in this passage, he failed as the postwar controversy surrounding Maltby’s Despatch made clear.

The Maltby Despatch

Despite the warnings Price had offered during their captivity, Maltby threw the first stones in the postwar era with his Despatch. The original draft of the Despatch, which contained the disparaging comments about the Canadians detailed in Chapter 5, was sent to the Canadian Army Historical Section. Objecting to the Despatch for he believed Maltby had not accurately portrayed Canada’s contribution to Hong Kong’s defence, Stacey wrote that “it was a bit embarrassing for a historian to be involved in what people might call tampering with the facts of the history, but my view was that general [Maltby], consciously or unconsciously, had tampered with them first.”17 Stacey, however, did not discuss Maltby’s performance during the battle.

Writing in 1951, Stacey argued that “while it is fairly clear that [Maltby] did not do a very competent job and did not command the confidence of his officers and troops, it is particularly desirable in this operation, I think, to avoid any remark which might bring on unpleasant discussions between this country and the United Kingdom, which have so far been avoided in this connection.”18 Stacey used personal accounts of the battle and archival sources to counter claims made in the Maltby Despatch.19 Trying to adopt a neutral position, Stacey sought to tell the “essential truth” of the matter without ridiculing individuals lest he “re-open old wounds or give unnecessary offence.” Stacey concluded, “with an eye to political, personal and regimental aspects, it seems out of the question to publish an absolutely frank discussion of what took place at Hong Kong. I have felt however that, having made a full examination of the records of the operations, I should set down on paper the main impressions left on my mind.”20 Stacey had to navigate a myriad of political and organizational roadblocks to produce the most accurate account that he could given the limitations imposed upon him. Legal historian David Ricardo Williams has called the editing of the Maltby Despatch the “Hong Kong Cover Up.”21 But this is simply untrue, while Williams presumed that Maltby, plus the other documents he cited, had accurate facts and assessments.

Maltby’s Despatch was not the only difficulty Stacey met when writing about Hong Kong in the official history. As Stacey explained, “this has been a difficult chapter to write, partly because of the political controversy which followed the operation, but still more because of the nature of the operations themselves and the recriminations which followed between different parts of the defending force.”22 Stacey bemoaned the lack of primary sources by contrasting Hong Kong with Canada’s other major wartime defeat for “Dieppe, I have made clear, was an extraordinarily well documented operation, not least on the German side. Hong Kong was not documented at all.”23 Discussing Stacey’s dislike of writing on Hong Kong, historian Alexander Fitzgerald-Black has stated that as “human memory of specific events, especially in the trauma of battle, is so selective and malleable, Stacey generally did not rely on the recollections of individuals. The important exceptions were the disasters at Hong Kong (1941), Dieppe (1942), and Operation Spring where the chaotic circumstances prevented the keeping of written message logs and other dependable records.”24 As Stacey explained in his autobiography, “things were made worse at the time by the political sensitiveness of the business. Hong Kong had been made the matter of a continuing attack on the government; with George Drew it was a sort of King Charles’s head, and anything we wrote was potentially explosive.”25 While Stacey did the best he could with his official history under the circumstances, the final product was incomplete when it came to descriptions of the battle and analysis of the fighting.

General Charles Foulkes, Chief of the General Staff from August 1945 to February 1951, played a key role in playing down the controversial elements of the Hong Kong story. Historian J.L. Granatstein has called Foulkes, a better politician than commander, “arguably Canada’s greatest military bureaucrat...”26 Foulkes’ influence over the official history of the Battle of Hong Kong demonstrated his renowned abilities. More concerned about not making waves with the British Army than accurately portraying the battle’s course, Foulkes, in a October 1946 telegram, explained that while he did not oppose revisions to Maltby’s Despatch, he cautioned against seeking “the changes outlined on the grounds that we do not want to stir up any controversy regarding the action of the Canadians in the Hong Kong force as we feel the sooner Hong Kong is forgotten the better for the future of the Canadian Armed Forces.”27 Faced with Stacey’s complaints, Maltby agreed to cut any passages that might cause embarrassment.28 As noted by Ralph B. Pugh of the British Dominions Office, Maltby allowed such changes because the writing of the report had satisfied him. But the damage was already been done to the Canadians’ reputations. As Pugh wrote, “I had not previously heard of the stories of indiscipline, drunkenness and cowardice. In all the circumstances they are not altogether surprising and there is something to be said for not giving them publicity in this way at the present time.”29 The offending passages were removed before the final draft was published.30 In 1948, after the Maltby Despatch was released, Foulkes informed the Minister of National Defence that “you will recall that after discussing this whole question with Field Marshal Montgomery he agreed to have these offending paragraphs taken out of the Maltby Despatch. Therefore, unless this case is reopened these regrettable circumstances can remain in oblivion.”31 Though Foulkes clearly wanted to keep discussion about Hong Kong to a minimum, the publication of the Maltby Despatch ensured that it would become a top political topic yet again.

Maltby’s Report Impact on King’s Government

The release of Maltby’s Despatch on 29 January 1948 reignited the controversy surrounding the 1941 telegrams in Canada’s House of Commons. Seeking to bring new allies into his fight, George Drew cabled former British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden on 23 February 1948 to ask for help in securing the publication of the telegrams for “it would be preposterous at this time for United Kingdom to assert right to prevent Canadian government publishing anything it regarded as proper...Feel sure they have not done so and strongly urge question be asked Monday in London as to what nature of exchange of communications has been between Canada and United Kingdom on this subject.”32 While passing the telegram to British Prime Minister Clement Attlee, Eden eventually informed Drew that his inquiries had made no headway.33

But Drew’s attacks did not abate, King wanted the Attlee government to explain that the telegrams sent in late 1941 to Canada had not mentioned the likelihood of an immediate threat from Japan.34 Asked for his opinion, Eric Machtig of the Commonwealth Relations Office, describing the matter as “... a perfect vendetta,”35 produced a plan that the British government accepted. After King cabled Attlee to request the release of these messages. Attlee would respond that while the telegrams could not be published, he could “however, confirm that any such suggestion as has been mentioned is entirely contrary to the facts and that none of the telegrams contained any warning that action by Japan of the kind described was expected.”36 After King read Attlee’s telegram in Parliament on 29 April, Drew cabled the British High Commissioner to Canada, Alexander Clutterbuck, to voice his displeasure:

I need not remind you of the unsatisfactory consequences of anything which might be interpreted as intervention in Canadian public issues by anyone from the United Kingdom it is only necessary to recall the unpleasant circumstances connected with a decision by Lord Byng to realize that when this occurs statements may be made which can only have a most unfortunate effect upon the good relations between Canada and the United Kingdom.37

Not mincing words in his updates to the Commonwealth Relations Office, Clutterbuck said, “generally, it would seem that there is little public interest and Drew’s outbursts against Dominion Government are now becoming so frequent that not much attention is paid to them. His attempts with support of Opposition in House of Commons to make party capital out of matter are certainly in poor taste, and intemperate way in which he has gone about it is not calculated to attract sympathy.”38

While the British declined to respond to Drew,39 the King-Attlee act of political theatre did not placate Drew. Once Drew became head of the federal Progressive Conservative Party in the autumn of 1948, he used his new position to continue assailing the Liberal government. On 28 February 1949, Drew and Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent verbally sparred in the House of Commons over both the letter and Drew’s charges. Accusing St. Laurent of charging him in 1942 to silence his criticism of Duff’s Report, Drew threatened to table his 1942 letters to King. But Drew’s attempt did not proceed for Britain still would not release the controversial telegrams of autumn 1941, leading Drew to counter that he had given the letter to the press.40 While the political fighting cast the battle in a negative light, “C” Force veterans gained some benefits.

Pacific Campaign Pay and the Pacific Star for “C” Force Veterans

For “C” Force veterans, their suffering at the hands of the Japanese is part of the battle’s bitter legacy. Their second battle began once the garrison surrendered to the Japanese. The troops were placed in POW camps, either North Point Camp on the island, or Sham Shi Po in Kowloon, with the latter housing most of the Canadians. Conditions quickly deteriorated thanks to overpopulation plus Japanese negligence that produced many POW deaths from diphtheria, dysentery, typhoid fever, and malnutrition. The Japanese also murdered some Canadians, including the execution of four soldiers after a failed escape attempt in August 1942.41 Starting in 1943, Canadians were sent in drafts to Japan to work as slave labourers in mines, factories, ports, and rail yards.42 More lives were lost to dangerous work conditions and the brutality meted out by Japanese guards. The Canadians were delivered from captivity when the war in the Pacific ended with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. But most POWs did not leave the camps until September 1945 due to Allied logistical problems.

While Hong Kong veterans were not entitled to wear the Pacific Star, they were awarded the 1939–1945 Star and the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal with Clasp.43 When questioned in Parliament in September 1945 about why “C” Force had not been awarded the Pacific Star, Minister of National Defence Douglas Abbot claimed it was “unusual that our gallant lads who fought at Hong Kong should not be eligible for this particular star. On making inquiries I find that the regulations which govern the issue of this not permit their being so included.” Noting this situation pertained for all Commonwealth nations, Abbot believed this matter would be corrected. Asked if the Hong Kong veterans would get the additional pay and allowances given to troops who volunteered to fight in the Pacific, Abbott, unable to offer an answer, would give one the next day. No answer, however, came.44 Historian Kenneth Taylor has posited that there was a financial motive behind this lack of recognition for “the award of the Pacific Star, which incidentally would have involved the payment of large sums of supplementary pay to add to the arrears of pay already due the survivors, was denied.” The Hong Kong veterans were upset about the lack of recognition as well. Taylor recounted a story from Price: “The Minister of National Defense welcomed them home on the West Coast with words of pride on behalf of the Prime Minister. In the pregnant pause which followed, the perennial rear rank voice expressed the sentiments of all. ‘Bugger the Prime Minister, what about the Pacific Star?’”45 Although Hong Kong veterans were awarded the Pacific Star at the end of October 1945, extending Pacific campaign pay was not given.46

The bitter verbal wrangling and political squabbles in the Canadian Parliament resulted in extra benefits for the Hong Kong veterans. When “C” Force personnel did not get the extra payments given to Canadian soldiers destined to fight in the invasion of Japan, the Opposition continually asked the King government about these payments after Japan’s surrender.47 The payments were hardly large; for example, the pay scale for privates was just thirty cents daily.48 Co-operation Commonwealth Federation Member of Parliament for Winnipeg North Centre Stanley Knowles, asking why the pay had not been given to “C” Force men, suggested that it be backdated to their departure from Canada in 1941.49 This suggestion led nowhere. In 1947, the Canadian Corps Association wrote to the Department of National Defence (DND) to show their support for Pacific campaign pay being given to the Hong Kong veterans. The payment was rejected as “the Hong Kong survivors were in fact treated more generously in connection with leave and other entitlements than any other Canadian personnel who, unfortunately, fell into the hands of our enemies.”

Little headway was made regarding these payments until 1949. Thanks to the Maltby Despatch’s release, the Hong Kong issue re-entered the debates in the House of Commons. On 17 March 1949, when questioned about DND’s policy about such extra payments, Minister of National Defence Brooke Claxton explained that “the order did not cover Canadians who had fought in the Pacific, including the Hong Kong force, the Kiska force and members of the R.C.A.F. [Royal Canadian Air Force] and others who had taken part in the active operations in the Pacific.” As Claxton announced, “in principle the matter was decided by the government some time ago, and I am glad to be able to announce now that the terms of the original order will be extended so as to make members of the Hong Kong forces eligible for Pacific pay until two months after return of such members to Canada.” Gordon Graydon, a Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament, followed this statement by declaring “another victory for George Drew.”50 When later questioned on the topic, the St. Laurent government announced that the Pacific campaign pay would finally be given, although the payments would not be awarded for service earlier than 1 June 1945, the date of the order in council. In addition, the veterans were given two months extra Pacific campaign pay after their return to Canada.51 The additional compensation was given because “of the hardships suffered by the surviving members of “C” Force while prisoners in the hands of the Japanese, following the fall of Hong Kong, sympathetic consideration has been given to representations in favour of extending Pacific Campaign rates of pay to members of the Hong Kong Expedition...”52 Despite the considerable damage the political fighting had done to the battle’s legacy, the Hong Kong veterans did obtain some benefits.

“C” Veterans Return Home

Once the Second World War finally ended, members of “C” Force faced more challenges back in Canada. As Hong Kong veteran Kenneth Cambon wrote, “it is difficult for me to write about my return home and the first few years in Canada. Strange that it should be that way, now that more than forty–four years have passed. In some ways they were harder on me than the years in prison camp. There the only goal was to survive.”53 Many of the returning veterans subsequently suffered from alcoholism, psychological issues, and general poor health. Sixty–six Hong Kong veterans were rendered “economically blind.” In addition, many blind Hong Kong veterans also suffered from an impaired sense of touch thanks to a vitamin deficiency called avitaminosis, which made it difficult, if not impossible for some, to learn Braille or to type.54 Many veterans had difficulty reintegrating back into civilian society. In his medical history of “C” Force, historian Charles Roland wrote, “often, they return home to dislocated families and have to struggle to cope with a world significantly changed from the one they knew before captivity.”55 In a piece titled “Living with An ExPOW” written by Audrey Brady, the wife of a former American POW, she compassionately summarized the problems facing the men held by the Japanese:

Nearly all ExPOWs suffer pain—both mental and physical. They appear to be in good health, but are not. They do not like to think of themselves as mentally disturbed, but do not deny the physical pain. Very few doctors understand the relationship between having been a POW and the present physical condition of the patient. This has discouraged many from seeking help and so they continue to suffer in silence, some turning to the solace of alcohol and drugs.56

Many “C” Force vets employed alcohol as a coping mechanism after their return to civilian life. Using alcohol to sleep after returning from the POW camps, Andrew Flanagan said that beer helped him sleep and whisky made him “fightable.”57 William Allister described the difficulty that he faced when trying to reintegrate with his family: “The more I strove to become part of this setting, the more it eluded me. Along with this awareness came an undefined anxiety that gnawed at me as though some furry tarantula had slipped into my brain and was creeping about with soft threatening steps. This was to be the hallmark of former POWs in the years ahead.”58 Government aid to the Hong Kong veterans left much to be desired, although veterans’ opinions were split. Astonished that the government would pay for his university schooling and give him a monthly stipend, Cambon believed the Canadian government did more for its veterans than any other belligerent country.59 Allister’s experience was more negative:

There was no counseling, no advice, no awareness that we might act or feel any differently. It was sink or swim, you’re on your own, boys. Like good Canadians we expected nothing, got nothing. We were paid off in a lump sum — four years back pay shoved into the pocket of my battle dress. Then five days that landed me on the train home, stomach inflamed, fingers trembling, nerves shot.60

As Roland has noted, “By 1949 it had become apparent that rehabilitation of these former prisoners of the Japanese had not preceded as well as had been hoped or expected.”61 A study conducted in the 1960s revealed that Hong Kong veterans opinions’ were split regarding their treatment by the Canadian government.62 Some veterans accused the government of ignoring their plight in hopes that the issues would go away. In a 19 June 1970 editorial in the Edmonton Journal, Stanley Baty charged that “in prison camp our captors were patiently waiting for our demise. Here at home some 25 years later it would appear as though our own government is playing the same waiting game.”63 Subsequent government actions proved Baty’s suspicions.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) was ill-prepared to help Hong Kong veterans once they returned to Canada. In his 19 April 1951 report to the DVA, Deputy Minister Major- General E.L.M. Burns, DVA Research Adviser E.J. Hider stated that “on the whole, the comparison shows that there is little difference in the results which have been achieved in rehabilitation the Hong-Kong group compared with the overall group. The extent to which registrants have been rehabilitated is considered to show that the co-operation which has existed between the veterans and the Department has been very effective.”64 Historians Mark Humphries and Lyndsay Rosenthal have disputed this assessment in their introduction to two DVA documents, including the one quoted above, that were reprinted in the Canadian Military History journal:

In a review of Department of Veterans Affairs pension files conducted in 1951, officials found that the rehabilitation rate of the Hong Kong veterans was 92.7%, similar to the ‘normal’ rates for all other veterans (93.3%). Rehabilitation was, though, narrowly defined by metrics which measured post-war versus prewar employment rates. The assumption was that if a veteran was employed and no- longer in receipt of a pension, he had been successfully reintegrated into civilian society. The problem, of course, with these types of aggregate studies and economic measurements is that they ignore the complexities of reestablishment and re-adjustment. While the main benchmark for the DVA was steady employment, these figures ignore other important qualitative factors such as familial and personal problems which many veterans later reported.65

Furthermore, the issue of mental health was brushed aside to focus on physical ailments. In a 28 March 1951 letter to senior treatment medical officers of the DVA, Director of General Treatment Services W.P. Warner wrote:

While it is true and quite understandably true that beside the existence of the probably organic lesion of the central nervous system, there is an emotional factor present in many of these veterans, this should not be the focal point for investigation, counselling, and treatment . It should be understood that probably veterans who suffered for years from diets markedly deficient in vitamins have an organic lesion; it is felt that while the veteran is in hospital under investigation, that aspect of his investigation and treatment should be stressed rather than immediately putting him on the neuropsychiatric service.66

The government’s initial treatment of the Hong Kong veterans was far from adequate. The mental strains incited by a long and harsh imprisonment were rejected as reasons behind issues facing the veterans. Later medical studies demonstrated that mental health problems plagued “C” Force soldiers.

Reasons Behind “C” Force Veterans’ Treatment in the Postwar Period

Why did the government treat the Hong Kong veterans so poorly? According to Professor Stephen Winter, “the roots of state discrimination against the Hong Kong veterans lay in the official representation of them as a duplicitous and malingering threat to Anglo Saxon civilization. That misrecognition permitted arbitrary distinctions in the rule of law, exposing veterans to state discrimination.”67 But a concept developed by scholar Viet Thanh Nguyen in his work, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, is more helpful to comprehend this situation. Nguyen argued that for war commemoration, the “other” are forgotten by the more powerful group.68 In the case of the Battle of Hong Kong, the Canadian government labelled the veterans as the other, a relic of defeat and a group to be forgotten. Consequently, these troops fell outside the dominant Canadian narrative of victory. While the ultimately government failed to permanently place the veterans in this position, still, it set a negative tone for public perceptions of the battle.

International relations considerations also played a role in the poor treatment of the Hong Kong veterans. In 1951, the Allied powers and Japan signed a Treaty of Peace that officially ended the war in the Pacific. One provision provided Hong Kong POWs with a payment of $1,995, or $1.50 for every day of incarceration by Japan as compensation for their hardship. Canada’s official position was that this provision ended any issues of compensation that former POWs might assert. Winter has argued that this position stemmed from Canada’s support for the rebuilding of Japan plus Japan’s vital status as a Cold War ally.69 An important distinction, particularly for former POWs, was that the payment did not come directly from Japan itself but from seized Japanese assets held in Canada.70 As “C” Force vet Roger Cyr stated, “I feel that the day I was captured by the Japanese, that my personal rights were hacked to death. I became a non-person. I was treated worse than a dog. I further believe that when time came for the allied powers to settle with Japan and when they eventually did negotiate a Peace Treaty and when they did sign the Peace Protocol in 1952, my rights were totally ignored.”71 The lack of recognition of Japanese wrongdoing inspired the Hong Kong veterans to fight for many years.

Studies on “C” Force Veterans Health

Several studies sought to determine how veterans’ incarceration had affected their mental and physical health. The investigations were carried out to determine what compensation the survivors were entitled to receive from the government. In December 1963, the House of Commons Committee on Veterans Affairs recommended undertaking a special study about the disabilities facing Hong Kong veterans.72 Dr. H.J. Richardson examined the files of 100 ex- POWs. While five percent of Hong Kong veterans lacked any no disability due to their POW experience, the rest suffered in some way from their time as POWs. Notable was the high number of deaths attributed to atherosclerotic heart disease, while ninety–five surveyed veterans were receiving a pension for avitaminosis.73 Richardson recommended that dental coverage be given to all Hong Kong veterans holding pensions for this condition, a recommendation that was implemented in May 1965. As Richardson argued:

the Commission consider giving effect to this evidence by conceding the possibility of a partial relationship between factors related to internment in the Far East as comprehended in entitlement for avitaminosis and the appearance of clinical A.S.H.D., such relationship to be assessed in terms consistent with the mortality experience of the group and with the evidence in the individual case, including the veteran’s age and other features which in expert medical opinion are relevant to the assessment of relationship.

Richardson also suggested that the commission review old rulings that dismissed any link between death by heart disease and “C” Force service be reviewed as there was a likely connection between heart disease and the Hong Kong veterans’ imprisonment.74

Beginning in 1985, the War Amputations of Canada and the HKVA undertook a general study of “C” Force veterans’ health to support a claim before the United Nations (UN) to hold Japan monetarily responsible for its wartime actions. Dr. Gustave Gingras, who had served in the Canadian Army Medical Corps during the Second World War, was asked to review the files of 400 Hong Kong veterans to obtain compensation for them, or their widows, for their slave labour.75 Gingras listed the numerous disorders suffered by veterans, including gastro-intestinal, foot, oral, ophthalmic, spinal, cardiovascular, respiratory, and urogenital issues. Avitaminosis, psychiatric issues, neurological impairment, and social problems were also noted. As Gingras concluded, “it is strongly believed that the surviving ex-POWs are ‘fragile’ persons and more prone to suffer from a variety of physical, psychiatric and social disorders than the so-called normal members of the general population.”76

Conducting interviews with many veterans, Gingras asked numerous questions about their health, including, “is it your feeling that the incarceration in a Japanese prison camp has jeopardized your physical and mental health?” The physical effects were apparent to many of the veterans. Leon Cyr said that the four years of war and captivity took ten years off his life. Walter Grey retired from the postal office at age fifty–one due to poor health.77 Many of the veterans felt there had been little to no change to their mental health. While the ongoing stigma surrounding mental health issues might explain such answers, the fact that some did not suffer from these issues cannot be discounted. However, other veterans were unsure about the effects of combat and imprisonment on their mental state. Frank Harding answered, “Physically, yes. Mentally—I would certainly say it has affected my relationship with my family. Maybe I am different...I don’t know.”78 William Overton had to give up a supervisory position due to bad nerves.79 John Simcoe answered, “Yes. I may appear calm, but I never am and I’ve been that way ever since. I have a great deal of apprehension and anxiety. If I am faced with stress I become very tense. I’m not what I should be.”80 The veterans were also asked if they thought their fellow ex-POWs were aging faster than the average veteran. Eugene Matchett felt that his memory was affected for his older brother had a much better memory.81 While Overton believed that some former POWs had died too soon due to their years in captivity, he believed that the death rates resembled those of other veterans past age sixty.82 Joseph Gurski pointedly responded “Not only do they age fast— they are dying sooner.”83

The submission to the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) was made in May 1987. As payments had been made as part the Treaty of Peace with Japan in 1952, both the Canadian and Japanese governments considered the matter closed. As such, the veterans received no support from Canada’s government. By 1991, the UNHRC found that the veterans had not exhausted the domestic options to pursue further compensation. Also, the UNHRC had no way to force the Japanese to pay.84 Winter noted, “The veterans had lost. By then, three-quarters of the Hong Kong veterans were dead. The remaining veterans and widows had sought redress without success for nearly fifty years. Continued litigation would be risky, expensive, and difficult.”85 The Ongoing Search for Addition Japanese Payments

In 1993, Hong Kong veterans pushed the Canadian government to provide compensation if Japan would not. Five years later, the Canadian government compensated the surviving veterans and 400 widows with $24,000 each. While “satisfied with the amount,” veterans were “upset that the money had to come from Canadian taxpayers instead of the Japanese government.”86 Further, surviving “C” Force veterans were told in 2001 that they would receive 100 percent pension coverage, a decision that came far too late as many veterans were dead.87 The pattern of “too little, too late” continued into the new millennium. Despite the common issues faced by the Hong Kong veterans, not all suffered equally. As Cambon noted, “I have been so lucky, but that is not the case with many of my comrades. The reasons for this are complex and not always entirely related to physical disabilities. Perhaps some never really escaped from those dreadful years. Freedom is more than a lack of a barbed wire fence. My heart goes out to them.”88

Japan finally issued an apology to the Hong Kong veterans on 8 December 2011. But the apology carried little weight for it was issued to HKVA President Philip Doddridge in a letter from Japan’s Ambassador to Canada, Kaoru Ishikawa. After stating that “the Japanese people should bear in mind that we must learn from the lesson of history, regard the facts of history as they are...” Ishikawa added, “I would like to state a heartfelt apology for our country having caused tremendous damage and pain to Canadian former POWs including you, who have undergone tragic experiences in the camps both in Japan and Hong Kong.” No monetary compensation came with this act of contrition.89

The Hong Kong Veterans’ Association

The Hong Kong Veterans’ Association was born in 1965 as Hong Kong veterans felt the government was not helping them to cope with the special circumstances inflicted upon them by years spent in Japanese captivity. The HKVA, claiming that the disability pension formula did not support them, decried medical professionals for ignoring the unique illnesses veterans had developed due to avitaminosis and assorted other conditions. Most importantly, the veterans came together given the difficulties they faced as individuals in obtaining benefits from the government. Regional groups formed first, but eventually these groups combined to create a national organization. The HKVA constitution was ratified on 20 August 1965. The aims and objectives of the association were “To assist all members in time of need, to maintain and improve social welfare and friendship among members and their dependants, to promote legislation for the physical well being of all members of all C Force or allied personnel who were imprisoned by Japan 1941–45.”90

HKVA branches created newsletters and magazines to keep members connected and informed. The Roll Call, the British Columbia branch’s newsletter, was edited and published quarterly by John Fonseca, a veteran of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps. Several issues in the 1970s featured a section entitled “Well, Somebody’s Got to Say It...” that focused on issues surrounding pensions, veterans care, and the struggle to achieve monetary compensation from Japan. Much anger was directed at the Canadian government for its handling of these issues. But in the summer 1978 issue, the editors wrote, “we are extremely happy to announce that the long awaited for Bill for increased disability pensions to Hong Kong Veterans bringing them into line with certain categories of civil servants, will soon become effective. Maximum of $310.76 increase on basic rate annually.”91 One controversial element of The Roll Call was the comments made about the efforts of Japanese Canadians for redress from the Canadian government. As Fonseca opined in 1978:

$75 millions for the cultural aspirations of national minorities (I wonder who they can be?). May I suggest to the Hon. Mister Minister that there are 190,000 veterans constituting a minority whose cultural aspirations are the maintenance of Canadian (and no way hyphenated either!) unity, honor and dignity from their representatives, apart from keeping body and soul together on a pittance.92

The mention of the hyphenated Canadians was a very thinly veiled attack on Japanese Canadians and their efforts for redress. By the late 1970s, Japanese Canadian groups were seeking an official apology from Canada for their wartime removal from the Pacific coast and financial compensation for their seized property. By 1988, a redress agreement had been achieved. Each individual who was “subjected to internment, relocation, deportation, loss of property or otherwise deprived of the full enjoyment of fundamental rights…” was given $21,000.93 Hong Kong veterans were upset that no such compensation was given to them: “To most veterans the benefits gained is a right and not a reward—a right earned by blood, sweat and tears—and acknowledge this with appreciation, only as such.”94 The HKVA carried out much good work for the Hong Kong veterans, but the organization was not without its controversy.

A new group soon took up the mantle of fighting for the Hong Kong veterans. The Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association (HKVCA) began at the 1993 national convention of the HKVA, when a new association, to be comprised of the children of the members of “C” Force, was proposed. The new organization stemmed from the concern that HKVA members were struggling to fulfill their mission given advancing age and health problems. The two organizations ran in parallel until 2001, when a semi-merger occurred at the national convention with the combining of the two groups’ administration and finances. The HKVCA defined its purpose as “to educate all Canadians on the role of Canada’s soldiers in the Battle of Hong Kong and on the effects of the internment of the battle’s survivors on both the soldiers and their families.” The goal to assist the Hong Kong veterans and their widows continued with the HKVCA.95 The HKVA still participates in commemorative programs as veterans have an active role within the HKVCA to educate Canadian youth.96

Media Reactions to Hong Kong in the Postwar Era

While the Canadian media covered the various developments that had affected the Hong Kong veterans over the second half of the twentieth century, many of these works repeated the myths and misinformation that have plagued the Battle of Hong Kong’s story since 1941. In a 1 July 1968 article in Maclean’s, Ian Adams covered the Battle of Hong Kong and the veterans who fought in it. Adams’ goal apparently was to anger his reading audience about the poor treatment meted out to Hong Kong veterans for he wrote that “here for the first time is a step-by- step documentation of the stupidity and folly that sent 2,000 untrained and ill-equipped men to defend an island on the other side of the world that everyone—except the heads of British army Intelligence—knew was indefensible.”97 This incorrect assertion is rather puzzling for Adams had quoted Stacey’s official history which had laid out the process that had sent Canadian troops to Hong Kong. Employing hindsight liberally to critique the political and military leaders, Adams called the Japanese attack on Hong Kong “obviously inevitable” and repeated Drew’s argument that a new and more militaristic regime in Japan installed in October 1941 had made war a certainty.98 Adams quoted Captain Wilfred Queen-Hughes of the Grenadiers who said that “we got the odds and sods, 16-year-old boys, men who had been in uniform two weeks, criminals. Literally the sweepings of the depot. Men no other command wanted and had rejected. And we had to take them because they were forced on us at 24 hours’ notice. My God! When they marched them in there was even a hunchback.” But Adams rightly noted that “in the years since World War II the Canadian government has acted as if it wished the Hong Kong survivors would just go away.”99 A sharp anecdote concluded the article:

When Maclean’s began researching this article we started at the historical section of the Department of National Defense. There, in an interview with researcher Philip Forsyth-Smith, Colonel D.J. Goodspeed said that “If you get around to talking to surviving veterans of the Hong Kong battle, you must appreciate that all these men are a little balmy after their experience in the P.O.W. camps. Therefore, don’t put too much stock in what they have to say.”100

The above passage attempts to highlight a supposed cover up of Hong Kong and government callousness toward “C” Force’s veterans. As Goodspeed was an official DND historian and a government official, his view on this subject should carry more weight than the opinion of others not involved with the government. Goodspeed was not the first member of the DND to view Hong Kong veterans with little sympathy for as W.H.S. Macklin, as Adjutant-General of the Canadian Army, called POWs “debris of past wars” and a waste of time for DND in 1950.101 Macklin’s part in the selecting of the units for “C” Force may explain why he wished this issue would die down. While governmental goals and actions were not as nefarious as presented in Adams’ article, the poor treatment of the veterans was all too true.

In 1981, David Ricardo Williams wrote an article on the 1948 release of the Maltby Despatch. Citing the political battles in the House of Commons and the Hong Kong Inquiry, Williams noted that “what Mr. Drew said was unassailable: an uninformed Government and a careless Defence Department mounted an expedition of relatively untrained troops without vehicles to a potential theatre of war.”102 Williams claimed there was government negligence after Foulkes had supported Drew’s position in 1948. When the debate reached the House of Commons, Claxton, responding to a question from Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament John Diefenbaker, stated there had been no consultations with the British. Days later, King refused to table all correspondence about the Maltby Despatch and Drew’s letter. Accusing King of taking part in a cover up, Williams outlined that while King had stated that there was no information to suggest war was coming in late November 1941, he seemed to have forgotten a speech he had given in October 1941, the same day that “C” Force had left Vancouver, in which he had said that war in the Pacific might start any day. Williams concluded his article by saying:

One can understand the Government in 1942 maintaining its innocence. It was wartime. But one can find no excuse for the shabby performance of Mr. King and Mr. Claxton in 1948. Their political partisanship was as great as that of Mr. Drew, but while in his desire to go for the Government’s jugular he may have exaggerated the extent of mismanagement, he at least told the truth.103

While Williams was right to castigate government officials for the dodging of questions and outright lies in 1948, George Drew had not told the truth.

An 18 November 1991 Maclean’s article by Rae Corelli offered an overview of the fighting in Hong Kong, POW time in Japanese captivity, and some veterans’ experiences when they returned to Hong Kong. While Corelli called the reinforcement of Hong Kong “Ottawa’s miscalculation,” which it undoubtedly was, he did not mention the benefit of hindsight when making this statement. Corelli also wrote that “now, a half-century later, they [Hong Kong veterans] form the rapidly dwindling Hong Kong Veterans’ Association of Canada. Denied compensation by the Japanese and largely ignored by military history, which prefers to dwell on tales of glory.” Corelli also cited Hong Kong veterans such as Robert Manchester who asserted that “‘every time I walk through those hills’…I say to the people with me, ‘God damn it, if we’d had an ounce of leadership and some equipment, we could have knocked the living socks right off those little bastards.’”104 The focus on poor leadership and equipment was a continuing trend of discussion on the Battle of Hong Kong both before and after Corelli’s article. Indeed, many of Corelli’s claims echo those found in The Valour and the Horror series which aired a few weeks after the article’s publication.

The “C” Force Memorial Wall

On 15 August 2009, when the “C” Force Memorial Wall was unveiled, Philip Doddridge remarked “and so, until this stone disintegrates and returns to dust, we will be remembered”105 The wall lists all the members of “C” Force commemorating its participation in the Battle of Hong Kong. The HKVCA spearheaded the effort, launching a fundraising campaign in 2007 that sought donations to construct the memorial. Both members of the HKVCA and businesses were approached for donations.106 While the National Capital Commission (NCC) offered land, it only allowed construction to begin after the original design was changed; the NCC had argued that the design “wasn’t innovative enough and had to be improved.” These changes doubled the cost of the project.107 The fundraising brochure for the memorial noted that “when the Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association was formed, the veterans asked us to create a memorial so that the Canadians who fought in Hong Kong, and what they experienced, would not be forgotten. We can now fulfill our promise to the Hong Kong Veterans.”108

While commemorative efforts for “C” Force were conducted in the early twenty–first century, the impetus came from private citizens, not Canada’s government. This was another example of the othering of the Hong Kong veterans, or as Nguyen has said, “not satisfied with being disremembered, we who are others find that it is up to us to remember ourselves.”109 The Hong Kong veterans took their commemoration into their own hands. There was little government help aside from the land donation. As Winter has argued:

Canada’s failure to acknowledge its wrongdoing is underscored by its role in memorializing Hong Kong veterans. In the late 2000s, Canada provided land for a privately funded memorial in Ottawa. This was not an unqualified act of public munificence. Not only is the war memorial an unusually private initiative, permission for construction was withheld until the commemorative association agreed to fund a design that was twice its original budget. The monument briefly describes the battle and lists those involved. It does not discuss wrongdoing.110

While Winter’s demand that the government admit guilt for sending “C” Force was misplaced, the lack of government assistance further demonstrated the government’s ongoing insistence to downplay the Battle of Hong Kong.


The deleterious legacy associated with the Battle of Hong Kong in Canada did not develop naturally, but it persisted because many individuals worked toward that goal. Some wanted to safeguard reputations, others sought political gain. Officers such as Maltby and Wallis shaped the legacy by blaming “C” Force for Hong Kong’s loss in their reports and recollections. Under pressure from Canada’s military leadership to downplay the Hong Kong story, C.P. Stacey was restrained in his writing about the battle while the fight over history spilled into the Canadian House of Commons. Despite government actions to limit the recognition and care of the “C” Force veterans, political pressure worked to the Hong Kong veterans’ advantage, the awarding of the Pacific Star and the important Pacific campaign pay were prime examples. Upon returning to Canada, the veterans faced many difficulties, including physical and mental health problems. The reintegration into civilian life was not easy for all. To fight for better treatment from the government, the veterans formed the HKVA, but they still faced an uphill battle for recognition and proper government support. The overarching negativity surrounding the Battle of Hong Kong had real consequences as suffering was treated as the “debris of past wars.” It took many years to gain full pensions for all Hong Kong veterans, a largely empty gesture from the government as many veterans had died. It was not until the release of The Valour and the Horror, discussed below, that any changes toward the Hong Kong veterans by the government began. This chapter adds to the battle’s historiography by examining one of the most striking demonstrations of the battle’s negative legacy, how the HKVCA spearheaded the creation of the Hong Kong Memorial Wall. Clearly, the government, even in the twenty–first century, still did not want to provide full support for this commemoration and even hampered the HKVCA’s efforts. The Battle of Hong Kong’s negative legacy is still strong, even seven decades after the fighting had ended.