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Memorial Services in Hong Kong Commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the Liberation of "C" Force

by Murray Doull

30 Jan 2005

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After almost two days of rest my energy is somewhat restored and I thought I should give the Executive and Regional Directors a report of the events that recently took place in Hong Kong.

There were a few snags we had to initially overcome to get the three HK vets and their caregivers overseas.  Aubrey Flegg (vet) and Betty Waldenberger, Larry Stebbe (vet) and his son Wayne Stebbe flew out of Vancouver on Wednesday, January 19 at 1:45PM for Hong Kong.  Due to the 16 hour time differential, they arrived in HK on Thursday night at 8:00 PM.  The flight was approximately 14.5 hrs.

We had difficulty getting Aubrey and Betty to the airport on time because of the extreme inclement weather in the interior.  Mountain passes were closed and the airports shut down.  We managed to get them on a flight out of Kelowna early Wednesday morning.  Unfortunately they were quite exhausted by the time they reached HK.  However, they soon recovered and were very active.

Wayne flew out from Winnipeg to meet his Dad who had traveled to Vancouver from Victoria.  Wayne's flight was the first one out of Winnipeg that day because of the bad weather back east.  His flight was delayed, but he arrived in time.

John Lowe (vet) and I flew out of Vancouver to HK at 1:45PM on Thursday, January 20.  We arrived in HK on Friday night at approximately 8:00PM.  Due to problems with John's birth certificate, we didn't receive his passport until about 40 hours before our flight.  A little too close for comfort!  John and I traveled a day later because flights were very full due to the trade show in HK and the pending Chinese New Year.

We were all met at the airport by Edwina Wong and Tom Ryan from the Canadian Consulate in HK along with Doug Clorey who is the Director General of Veterans Affairs Canada.  We were then escorted to the Mandarin Oriental on what was deemed the "veteran's bus" for the duration of our visit. 

On Friday morning, Aubrey and Larry and their caregivers attended breakfast at the hotel with the Minister of Veterans Affairs (Albina Guarnieri), the Deputy Minister(Jack Stagg), The Director General (Doug Clorey) and Consulate staff (Tom, Edwina, and Dylan).  Following breakfast the group traveled to the Canadian International School in Aberdeen.  Here the vets talked to the students and participated in a Q/A period in the middle school classroom.  The Minister addressed the student body in the school auditorium.  The Canadian delegation then went for lunch and returned to the hotel around 2:30PM.  John and I arrived in Hong Kong at about 8:00PM that evening.

Sai Wan Cemetery, looking down the hillSaturday morning we all met with Doug Clorey, Roger Galloway (MP for Sarnia) and Consulate staff for breakfast at the hotel.  We departed from the hotel in the veteran's bus at 9:30AM accompanied by the Minister and her staff, Consulate staff, Ken Sorfleet (Canadian Defense Attaché), and Roger Galloway to visit Sai Wan War Cemetery.  We visited the Canadian gravesites and chatted as we walked through the cemetery.  John Lowe's brother, James Lowe, was killed in the Battle of Hong Kong.  It was an emotional moment when we found his name on the Memorial Wall.  His grave is unmarked, but we know it is in row 26.  The vets talked extensively with the Minister and deputy Minister.  There were lots of photo opportunities.

Stanley CemeteryWe left for Stanley Cemetery shortly after 11:00AM.  We held a ceremony at Stanley.  The Minister laid a wreath for all of Canada, each of the vets laid a wreath in memory of their fallen comrades, and I had the privilege of laying a wreath on behalf of the Commemorative Association.  John Lowe read the Act of Remembrance.  Following the ceremony, we visited the Canadian gravesites and spent time walking through the cemetery.  I managed to take several photos.

We returned to the hotel at approximately 12:20PM, just in time to freshen up for the luncheon hosted by the Minister of Veterans Affairs in the East/West Room at the Mandarin Oriental.  There were approximately 40 invited guests at the luncheon.  These guests included Arthur Gomes, Dr. Raymond Mok, Maximo Cheng (all HKVDC), Jack Edwards (British army POW), Gerry Campbell (Consul General), and others.  The minister paid a long and wonderful tribute to the Hong Kong Veterans of Canada.  We were all very moved by her words.  Her speech meant a great deal to the three HK vets in attendance.  The HK vets and their caregivers were presented with Canadian jackets.  The Canadian delegation, proudly wearing their Canada jackets: L to R: Murray Doull, John Lowe, Aubrey Flegg, Larry Stebbe, Betty Waldenberger, Wayne StebbeWe wore these proudly for the duration of our trip.  The vets were also presented with hard cover copies of Tony Banham's new book " Not The Slightest Chance"  We enjoyed an exotic lunch and wonderful conversation with all in attendance.

After lunch we had a couple of hours to prepare for the Prime Minister's reception at 5:00PM in the Connaught Room.  There were approximately 600 invited guests at the reception.  The three HK vets were in the spotlight, even more so than the prime Minister it seemed.  They were tireless, and answered everyone's questions,  The vets had a great time and were almost the last ones to leave.  The Prime Minister's reception, L to R, Wayne Stebbe, Betty Waldenberger, Aubrey Flegg, David Anderson, Albina Guarnieri, Jack Stagg, Larry Stebbe, John LoweThe Prime Minister made a wonderful tribute to the Hong Kong Veterans of Canada and spent considerable time talking to Aubrey, Larry and John.  I found the Prime Minister to be very genuine in his interest to spend time with the vets.  The food was endless, the bar was full, and the company was varied and most interesting.  The vets thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

When the reception was over, the six Canucks retired to the "Captains Bar" for reflection and a nightcap.  Everywhere the vets went they had a following of well wishers and supporters.  A weary lot hit the sheets at about midnight after a very busy day with many memories to fall asleep with.

The next morning (Sunday, Jan.23) we all met for breakfast at the hotel.  We were joined by the Minister and her staff, Consulate staff, MP's and others.  We departed in a large motorcade for Sai Wan Cemetery at 10:00AM.  It was a beautiful sunny day and the temperature reached 23 degrees Celsius by noon.  Hundreds were in attendance.  The Prime Minister and his wife arrived and greeted the HK Vets who were assembled at the top of the cemetery.  With the piper leading the way the official party proceeded down the lengthy stairs at Sai Wan to the waiting crowd assembled around the Stone of Remembrance where the service took place.   The PM assisted Aubrey down the long flight of stairs.  Aubrey wears braces on his legs and has difficulty with stairs.  Sheila Martin took Betty's arm and helped her. L to R: Aubrey Flegg(WG), Larry Stebbe(WG) and John Lowe(RRC) standing in front of the Stone of Remembrance at Sai Wan Cemetery

It was a very moving ceremony.  More than once I had tears in my eyes.  The Prime Minister once again made a moving tribute to the sacrifices made by the Hong Kong Veterans from 1941 to their liberation in 1945 and beyond.  His words were "off the cuff" and moved us all.  Aubrey Flegg then spoke some words on behalf of all the HK vets.  Larry Stebbe read the Act of Remembrance in English and the Minister (Albina) read it in French.  Protestant and Catholic ministers said prayers.  The Last Post and reveille were played by the Piper.  Two minutes of silence were observed.  Over 30 wreaths were laid at the service starting with the PM, the Minister and the three HK vets.  Once again I had the privilege of following the HK vets on behalf of the Commemorative Association.  I will never forget how I felt at that moment.  While we were laying the wreaths, The Canadian International School Choir sang "Amazing Grace".  There were very few dry eyes at Sai Wan that morning. 

Sai Wan Cemetery, L to R: Betty Waldenberger, Aubrey Flegg, Albina Guarnieri, Mrs. Martin, Prime Minister Martin, Larry Stebbe, John LoweFollowing the service, The Prime Minister and Mrs. Martin spent time walking through the cemetery talking to the HK vets.  The PM and his wife then departed and the press swarmed the vets.  After about 15 minutes we told the press that was enough and we assisted the vets to the top of the hill where they were greeted by several members of the HKVDC who presented them with books.  Due to the heat we were sure to keep the vets hydrated.  They were very stalwart and excellent representatives for all the HK vets who were not there.  We were all very proud of them.

We were then swept away in limousines back to the hotel.  We were having a late lunch in one of the restaurants at the hotel when the PM and his wife came in and sat at the next table.  Before doing so, they greeted us and chatted.  The conversation continued across the tables.  The PM's security staff didn't know what to make of it when Aubrey and the PM were hugging each other!  Both the PM and his wife were very social and most interested in listening to the three vets.  A good time was had by all.

Wayne Stebbe, the Prime Minister, and Larry StebbeSaturday evening there was a farewell supper for Mr. and Mrs. Martin in the Connaught Room at the Mandarin.  Once again the PM praised the vets and spent considerable time with them before he left.  The PM and Mrs. Martin were only in Hong Kong for about 22 hours, and all of that time was focused around the Sai Wan Ceremony and the HK vets.  My hat goes off to him for this.  Once again the food was splendid, and the company was wonderful.  The HK vets were front and center and once again they were excellent representatives for all HK vets.  The Canucks hit the sheets once again around midnight with trunks full of memories and a smile on our faces.

After breakfast on Monday, the Minister and her party left to catch their plane back to Canada.  The Canadian Consul, Pierre Cousineau, along with Consulate staff (Dylan) escorted us onto the "veteran's bus" to meet Tony Banham.  We picked up Tony on some little side street in HK.  Larry Stebbe, John Lowe and Tony Banham, historian and authorAfter introductions, Tony took us on a battlefield tour.  As you know, Tony has researched the Battle of Hong Kong extensively, and we were very fortunate to have this British historian escort us to many historic sites.  We visited sites around Aberdeen and Won Chai Gap.  Brigadier Lawson's BunkerWe visited Larsen's Bunker, and the immediate area where John's brother lost his life.  There were several fine photo opportunities.  We visited the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defense.  It was at this location where the Japanese landed in 1941.  This is where John received his first taste of battle which lasted until the very end at the historic battle at Stanley Cemetery where so many of our HK vets fought so bravely and so many lost their young lives.

Tony is most certainly a very good friend of the HK vets and we are very thankful for his research and knowledge of the events that took place in December, 1941.  We followed the tour with lunch at the Boathouse Restaurant in Stanley Village.  After lunch the Consul and Tony departed and Dylan took us through a tour of Stanley Market.  This became a place where the Canucks learned the knack of bartering with the locals for the best price for souvenirs.  Our red Canadian jackets brought many questions from both the locals and tourists.  The jackets made it easy for us to find each other in the market. 

We returned to the hotel for supper and an earlier to bed than we were accustomed to so far.  We were all pretty exhausted from the pace of the last three days in Hong Kong.  We were all in bed asleep at an early hour.

Tuesday found the six of us waking up to a free day.  We gathered for breakfast and talked about what we wanted to do.  It was a quick and unanimous decision.  We headed back to Stanley Market and another lunch at the Boathouse Restaurant.  I must admit, I never realized that shopping could be so much fun.  Of course, the good company made it that much better.  We returned to the hotel around suppertime.  Aubrey and Betty decided to stay at the Mandarin.  Larry and Wayne, and John and I headed out to the Peking Garden for supper.  We had a great time and practiced our "chopstick talents".  Look for the joke about this in the BC March newsletter.

After leaving the Peking Garden, we strolled through some of the side streets in Hong Kong.  We stopped at a sidewalk bar and enjoyed a beer while watching the sites and enjoying the smells of the local eateries.  We went back to the hotel for a good night sleep.

Wednesday saw Aubrey and Betty and Larry and Wayne depart for home.  John and I saw them off, then Dylan took John and me on the Star Ferry over to Kowloon.  We browsed around and visited the famous Alexandra Hotel.  John remembers the Allied troops had orders to leave the hotel intact, but the Japanese smashed the windows and brought their horses, wagons and artillery into the main entrance.  The hotel has been rebuilt since the Second World War.  John and I returned to the hotel, a quiet supper, and a good night's sleep.

Thursday John and I slept in and went for a later breakfast.  We did some more shopping and strolling.  We packed in the afternoon in preparation for our Friday departure.  We once again enjoyed a quiet supper together and then a good night's sleep.

Tom Ryan saw us off to the airport and safely on our way.  We left HK at 1:20 PM Friday, Jan. 28 and arrived home at 9:40 AM the same day!  All is well, and everyone is home safe and sound.

I can't say enough about how well we were treated by the Canadian Consul staff, the Minister and her staff and the PM and his wife.  The veterans received the respect they so much deserve, and we had the privilege to pay our respects to the Canadians from "C" Force who lay overseas.