The Story of the Battle of Hong Kong

In the fall of 1941, nearly 2,000 Canadian soldiers and support staff were sent to Hong Kong.  The British government had requested Canada’s assistance in fending off the anticipated attack of the city by Japan’s Imperial Army.  Many of the soldiers had received little training, and they arrived in Hong Kong woefully short of appropriate supplies and arms to fight effectively.

Nonetheless, when the Japanese attacked on December 8, 1941 the Canadians fought with valour.  Including the Canadians, the total defensive force numbered about 14,000.  The Imperial Japanese Army attacked with a force of about 50,000  -  all well-trained and equipped.  The fierce battle lasted 18 days, during which nearly 300 Canadians were killed.  The Canadians did not surrender;  they were ordered by the Governor of Hong Kong to lay down arms when it was apparent that there was no hope of successfully repelling the overwhelming number of Japanese soldiers.

The survivors of the battle were taken prisoner and marched to POW camps on the island of Hong Kong and on the mainland in Kowloon.  The brutal treatment of the POWs began here and continued throughout the remainder of the war:  over 3 ½ years of beatings, starvation, inadequate shelter, lack of medication and labouring as slaves under the worst imaginable conditions.  Many of the Canadian POWs were shipped to Japan during 1943 and early 1944 and were used to mine coal, load ships, work in shipyards and other slave labour.  The brutality exhibited by their captors in Hong Kong continued unabated in Japan.

In all, nearly 300 Canadians died in the POW camps.

The soldiers who died in Hong Kong were buried in Sai Wan and Stanley War Cemeteries in Hong Kong.  Those who died in the camps in Japan were buried at Yokohama War Cemetery.

When the survivors returned home in September, 1945 many were suffering from diseases and medical conditions caused by their hellish treatment.  It took many years for Canada’s government to recognize the unique nature of their captivity and its effects and to provide suitable care and compensation.

Today fewer than 35 survive.

For many years it has been a tradition that Veterans and their families visit Hong Kong and Japan every 5 years to commemorate the sacrifices made by these brave Canadians.  It will not be acceptable to let the memory die with the last of the Veterans.

This December you are  invited to join a group who will be travelling to Hong Kong and (optionally) Japan to see where the battle took place and to commemorate those who fell during the battle and in the POW camps.