A group of 52 travelled to Hong Kong, leaving Canada on November 30. The purpose of the trip was to commemorate the Canadians who fought, died and survived the POW camps. Thirty eight of the group carried on to visit Japan.
Ken and Ruth Barton wrote the journal below and are pleased to share it with you.
A Traveller’s Journal -- Hong Kong
and Japan with the HKVCA
by Ken & Ruth Barton
Tuesday, November 30/Wednesday Dec
1 - Vancouver
The folks leaving from Vancouver began arriving at
the departure gate about 10 P.M. A slow
grouping of “poppies” began with many of the following questions: “hello, how you
are….and how are you connected to this journey? Does it really leave at 2 A.M.? “Yuk, I’m tired already and we haven’t even
It was a long flight over-- 13 hours but with excellent
service from Cathay Pacific. Before
landing at 7:30 HK time, we were served a supper and breakfast --both very
tasty. We were formally greeted and
welcomed at the new airport on Lantau
Island where our first
group pictures were taken.
The eastern folks who
had left from Toronto
had arrived about an hour and a half before us, and had received the same greeting and flowers for the Veterans and widows.
The old Kai Tak that the POWs slaved on is long gone under
land reclamation and this new modern facility is huge but seemed very efficient
in getting our tired bones and luggage onto the tour bus.
Because our rooms would
not be ready till later in the day, our first tour was a city tour from the airport …over cable
suspension bridges to Kowloon and then via
tunnel to Hong Kong Island proper. First impressions are of how tall everything
is. Apartment towers are 70 to 80
stories. Family living areas are often less
than 500 sq feet and laundry poles stick out the balcony. I can see the odd bit of washing that has
blown off from above, hung up further down.
How they fight fires in these
buildings is beyond me.
The day was fairly smoggy so May thought it best if we
headed to Aberdeen
harbour to take a sampan ride around the floating homes. Lots of fancy high priced boats from A-Z in
the marina proper, but this was nothing
new for us who live on the west coast but certainly new for some of the eastern
and prairie folks. Some floating
families in Aberdeen
harbour are born, live and die on the water.
Space here is at a premium to be sure.
Once off the Sampans, we
met Mike and Dawn Babin (our tour organizers) as we viewed the Jumbo floating
restaurant. It is aptly named and can only be described as huge! Evidently it is capable of feeding 2,000 at
It was off to Stanley Market next. Great for the girls to get some preliminary scouting
in for bargains but Greg Auld and I found the “Pickled Pelican” Pub overlooking
the Bay where we found a Guinness and a plate of natchos with our names on them.
Next it was bussing up to Victoria Peak but the smog, compliments
of the mainland according to our tour
guide ”May”, was obscuring what must be a terrific view on a clear day. While walking back I managed a few words with
Gerry Gerrard, who at 89 puts most of us to shame with his energy level. He is from Victoria and certainly knew my Dad at Wong
Nei Chong and later in some of the camps.
His eyesight is not the best, but walks 2 km everyday or tries to get
in a round of golf three times a week according to daughter Bev. I hope to have a small chat with our other
vets, Ken Pifher and Fred Cooper at some time.
Being asked questions of events that took place 65 plus
years ago must be difficult when so many of the veterans who survived, tried to
forget that horrific time. You have to
greatly admire these three gentlemen for coming and dredging up terrible memories
of their past.
After the Peak Tram ride down, it was time to head back to
the Causeway Bay Hotel to check in and grab a quick nap as lack of sleep was
beginning to tell.
Dinner was scheduled for 7 PM back in an exclusive banquet
room at the Jumbo Restaurant. Food was
good but, we felt no better than in Vancouver. No doubt super tired tasters were
judging. Hong Kong at
night with all the lights is spectacular.
Little or no electrical conservation seems evident here!
Thursday Dec. 2nd
Breakfast at 7:30 in the
hotel was an excellent buffet of both western and Chinese food. At 9:30 we were off to the “Central District”
for a 3 hour walking tour of historic Hong Kong
led by our guide Martin Heyes. Martin is a retired policeman who came for a
visit from England
40 years ago and never went back. He gave
us a most informative tour and will be with us on Saturday’s battle ground walk
along with Tony Banham.
That afternoon, we had a special trip arranged to a winery….
or so we thought.
“Little Hong Kong” as it is
known is an underground storage area for the exclusive storage of wines by collectors
of vintages from around the world. Wines
are very carefully stored using the former ammunition bunkers that the Hong
Kong Civil Defence Corps had ready to blow up as the Japanese advanced. Of course that did not happen but this was a
most interesting tour for our three vets, as one of them commented that he never
knew these bunkers existed. Gregory
De’Eb was our kind host seen here with veterans Ken Pifher, Gerry Gerrard and
Dinner was on our own so we found a basement restaurant a
couple of blocks from the hotel where we communicated to the waiter that all we
wanted was war wanton and beer for the six of us. Our bill came to $489 HK which is about $70
for the six of us. Another day we can
call a success.
Friday December 3rd
After breakfast we were picked up at 9:15 and bussed to the Stanley Cemetery for a commemorative service. The cemetery is old and was the Garrison’s
cemetery long before casualties of 1941 occurred. It has about 700 interned along with many “unknowns”.
Mike led us in a short but appropriate ceremony. We did a walk about and listened as Mr.
Dennis Quong explained some of the heritage of the cemetery.
With the ceremony concluded, we had an hour of free time so
it was back to Stanley Market for the obligatory shopping and then for lunch at
the Rock Salt Restaurant over looking the bay. Again, the meal was first rate. We had perhaps the best ravioli we have ever tasted!
Yet another hour in the market after the meal but the nice
thing is that the merchants do not hound you.
They do expect you to bargain hard but will only do so to a point and if
no deal is pending then no hard feelings are evident and no one chases after
While waiting for the bus, we were “interviewed” by a group
of school kids and their teacher doing a “tourist survey” Truth be known they were practicing their
“English”. The teacher looked all of 16
but it was a most enjoyable experience and of course there were lots of smiles
when I gave each a Canadian flag pin.
Our driver took the long road home by mistakenly going under
the harbour and over to Kowloon
before reversing back. Even with rush
hour there is very little honking and I have yet to see driver rudeness or road
rage. North Americans could take a
chapter out of their book.
We arrived back with little time to get ready for a reception
by Doreen Steidle, our Canadian Consul General, at the home of the
Consulate. A very pleasant evening occurred. Great food and drinks were provided. A terrific display of historic newspaper
articles and pictures of Dec. ‘41 was mounted around the terrace. Lo and behold I found a picture of my father
standing at ease beside, what I assume, was another officer watching the
Canadian troops disembark the Awatea as they marched to Sham Sui Po
barracks. Gerry Gerrard came over to
have a look and confirmed that that it certainly was the “Tommy Barton” he
remembered. Just how coincidental are
certain things in life? A copy of that
picture in highest resolution possible is being emailed to me.
Several other locals from all walks of life were invited to
the evening. Representatives of the
HKVDC attended including one veteran. We all mingled for pleasant chats.
Saturday Dec. 4th
It was the busiest day yet with an early breakfast and out
to the bus to head up to our Battlefield Walk with Tony Banham. Martin
Heyes, our tour guide in Central, also came along and give valuable additional
information. The walk basically started
high up Wong Nei Chong gap and ended at Lawson’s West Brigade Headquarters
where my Dad was chief clerk of the Corps of Military Staff Clerks. So much of the topography has changed from
the original, but you can certainly see the bunkers and follow the sections of
the gap trail and visualize the movement of the Japanese as they closed
in. There was a lot of information to
take in over the 3 hours. One could
easily spend several days on this trail section alone.
I wasn’t quite sure how
I was going to react when we got to this juncture of the tour. It was very emotional standing there alone
staring down into that very Bunker serving as West Brigade Headquarters. As Tony explained what happened here, I
imagined a young very fit 21 year old Tommy Barton inside that same structure
with all hell breaking loose 365 degrees around them. I took a couple of pictures and had to move
on as emotions were quickly getting the better of me.
A few meters to the north was the bunker that Gerry Gerrard
was in before he, too, managed to escape up over the hill known as Jardine’s Lookout. Below is a picture of
the three vets standing in front of that very bunker. I talked to Gerry shortly after about how he
got out but he said that it was hard to remember the details as all hell was
breaking loose very quickly and things seemed to happen instinctually for
survival alone. He thinks about 3 of
them managed to get through the encirclement and does not know how they really
Dad’s story at Brigade Headquarters was much like that of Gerry’s. He recalled taking his boots off to be in
stocking feet and moving down the road in pouring rain in the dead of night. He and
two other fellows could hear the voices of the Japanese troops either side of
the road. He said it is strange how
life deals some of the cards and the fact that they too were not discovered and
shot was beyond him.
I am beginning to notice how little effort is made in saving
the heritage of this island. It seems
that the thinking of the residents is only towards the future and the past is
nothing more than that. An example of
that attitude was evident when we looked across the road streaming with buses
cars etc. to see the cricket match in action.
Had the scene been 7 a.m. Dec. 19th 1941 we would have looked
across to an aid station just up from a drainage culvert to collect fresh water
and not what is now a substantial landfill with a service station also visible.
Flat land is a premium here of course.
Tony mentioned that
slowly they are making inroads to preserving local history. He explain the area which was known as
Sir Cecil’s Ride and how savage and horrific the fighting was where the Canadians
were outnumbered 10 to one, and yet inflicted very heavy casualties on the
Japanese until their sheer numbers and wave after wave of Banzi attacks
overwhelmed the defenders. They fought
until they ran out of ammunition, food, water or were too wounded to continue. Dad’s official report before he left the
bunker makes so much more historical sense now.
From “Lawson’s Bunker” we walked over to what was known as
the “Ridge” overlooking Repulse
Bay. Here too was a location of some of the
fiercest fighting with both sides taking heavy casualties but once again, and this
time, the Royal Rifles, Canadians were vastly outnumbered. The initial Japanese troops, according to
Tony, were much less prone to committing the atrocities that were to come with
the following platoons. History now
records a series of atrocities committed all the way down to where the Repulse
Bay Veranda Restaurant now stands. In ’41,
it was a posh hotel catering to upper British society with all the trappings,
racism and discrimination current of that day.
We enjoyed a first rate
lunch at the Veranda Restaurant. Again, it
was with excellent service. I did slip
out and grab a shot of what was known as the “Garage”. The “Garage” still stands and was the
location of one of the worst recorded atrocities.
After lunch we arrived at St. Stephens College for informative historical talks by
both Tony Banham and Geoffrey Charles Emerson as to the atrocities that
occurred here. Emerson has written an
extensive history of the Stanley Civilian Interment Camp of 1942-45.
Dinner was at a more western style restaurant, the Water
Mark, on the waterfront of course.
Repetitious as it sounds … the service and food were excellent.
The first Sunday in December is remembered with a ceremony
at the Sai Wan Cemetery. We start there tomorrow and then bus to Jiang
Shan Xiao restaurant for lunch. Later in
the day we have a reception by the Royal Hong Kong Regiment and finally dinner
at the Dragon King. This trip is rapidly
drawing to a close with a final day, Monday, at our own leisure
Sunday December 5th
Bright warm weather
continued today as we left for Sai
for a remembrance of all who served and died here during the battle. The cemetery is truly awe inspiring from the
moment you pass through the gates, down the many steps through row upon row of
headstones to the Cross of remembrance at the bottom, where a very moving
commemorative ceremony was held.
With all we had witnessed and learned over the past few
days, we were coming to some small understanding of why so many returning vets
spoke so little to their families of the horrific days spent here in Hong Kong and then somehow surviving as slave labour the
deprivation, beatings, malnutrition and disease as a POW. Emotions brought many of us to tears as we
remembered our loved ones.
Dignitaries and veterans
were led down by a piper as he continued to play at the back of the many who
were gathered. A Children’s choir beautifully
sang “Amazing Grace” and “What a Wonderful World”. Fred Cooper spoke of his time as a POW in Japan. Veterans and then dignitaries laid wreaths. Two
minutes of silence followed….the most difficult I’ve had to stand through. The tears flowed but I was never more proud
to sing “O Canada”
and be thankful for the life I’ve been privileged to have.
We returned later that
afternoon to a reception hosted by Mr. Ron Taylor, Chairman of the The Royal
Hong Kong Regiment (the Volunteers) Association. Free beer and an
informative talk and slide show of their history had been graciously arranged
for us. Their club house just happens to
be in Happy Valley just above the race course. They
have quite a view from their windows of the Happy Valley Race Track.
Our day concluded with a 14 course traditional meal at the
Dragon King. This dinner was for me the
topper of several excellent meals we have enjoyed. May and Wendy joined us at our table and many
a laugh was had.
It has been a very emotional day for us all and I’m
struggling to write this tonight. I think a night’s sleep will help clear my
head for a more accurate discourse of the day.
Monday Dec. 6
Today was a free day and we did little except wander the
streets and soak in some of the sights and culture. You see very little if any litter, no panhandling or homeless in a mass of humanity of all shapes and sizes.
You name it, and it is for
sale somewhere here. You wonder with the
price and scarcity of real estate how so many shops survive and thrive. This place is truly amazing. One does not describe Hong
Kong, you only experience it.
As most Canadian cities tend to spread out, Hong
Kong only goes up and then up some more! After a leisurely walk back to the hotel,
which included an afternoon stroll thru Victoria Park, we headed down for 2-1
in the hotel bar about 4p.m. It was time to let loose.
Several others joined us over the evening to share their
day’s events. Those of us of Scottish
heritage tackled the “waters of Life” about 8 p.m. Many a hearty laugh was enjoyed including Oda
Barlow’s “ashes” joke along with Ruth’s time tested demonstration of “Levitation”. Both Gerry and Ken got a kick out of that
Truth be told, several of us got to the edge but did not go
over… although I’m sure by evening’s end we were well lubricated for the final
night’s sleep in Hong Kong!
(a day that will live in Infamy)—Pres. Roosevelt on Dec. 8th as he
addressed the American Congress
Today is off to Japan. It was up for breakfast at 6:30 and onto the
bus by 7:15.
Fred Cooper was also
down to send us off to the airport. Many
shook his hand thanking him for making the trip. He was genuinely pleased to know that in our
way we are continuing to remember the HK veterans but he said he was up anyway
as his wife had called at 6 am HK time.
The flight up to Narita Japan was on an A330 airbus. Very comfortable and much quieter than the
777 that we came over on. They served us
a tasty lunch accompanied with a very nice Aussie white wine. Cathay Pacific is currently
rated #2 in the world and we can certainly understand why. Their service is fabulous.
We landed at Narita and had an hour bus ride into the Grand
Prince Hotel Takanawa. This hotel is a
step up from the Causeway
Bay but obviously pricier
to boot. It is well located just five minutes from the
Shinagawa rail station. Once checked in
we headed back down to the main street looking for a place to eat. Beside the 7-11 we found five tiny “hole in
the wall” restaurants. We chose the one that looked as if it was Thai food and
were not disappointed. Lucky for us,
they moved a “reserved” card off a table just in time as a line up steadily grew
outside the front door.
Below our hotel room is a large Japanese garden immaculately
sculpted and although it is the end of the season now, it must look terrific
come the spring blossoms.
Wednesday Dec. 8
The hotel buffet breakfast
was a combination of both western and eastern. We met Sumiyo Terai, our tour guide for a
bus tour of Tokyo. Su-san as we soon called her gave an
informative introduction to us who were first timers in Japan as to
some of the local traditions and customs, as our driver took us to a holy Buddhist
shrine. A traditional lunch was provided
and it too was outstanding, but certainly no better than what we have had back home. We are fortunate to have the best of both
worlds. Our afternoon was spent with a
visit to the Imperial
is 13 million and traffic concurs with that so a third of the day was sitting
and travelling. Perhaps tomorrow when
we go to Yokohama
we will have a greater variety of sights to see. Big cities are still big cities with not
Tomorrow will be another remembrance ceremony of all the
Canadian men who did not make it back from Japan. The afternoon will be spent with a team of
Japanese researchers who are doing their best, in some cases, to write or re-write
the true accounts of the number POW camps that existed.
Because I think this just may be the last trip for a
Canadian POW to make, I am hoping, more than anything they just might receive
some form of apology from some government official. It is likely too much to expect but it did
happen to a group of American vets who were here a couple of months back. My fingers are crossed as I doubt there may
be any of the survivors of those horrible 44 months able to make another
trip. The 70th anniversary of
the surrender of Hong Kong is in 2011.
Thursday Dec 9th 2010
We were at breakfast by
7:30 and on the bus by 8:20 for a trip to the Yokohama Cemetery
commemoration ceremony. The day was bright and
sunny after the clouds burnt off.
Traffic moves well but driving on the left still can be confusing at
times and streets lights and signs are quite bewildering.
The ride was about an hour and ½ over several bridges and tunnels
crossing the harbour. We arrived to find
a city of only 3 million and counting.
The ceremony at the cemetery was very similar to that at Stanley and equally moving
and emotional. The graves are just
immaculately cared for. The gardener responsible
for the Canadian section was attending in his black suit, no less. He bowed deeply and waved as we left on our
bus. I felt that to be a most respectful
gesture of our visit.
Here is Gerry with daughters Pat and Bev beside him before
laying a HKVCA wreath on behalf of the Gerrard family.
Our next stop was at Kisoji Restaurant for a traditional
beef sukiyaki lunch. All the servers were
splendid in their national dress of kimonos.
How does one find another superlative for that meal?
It took the better part of 1 ½ hours to get through traffic
and back to a local university classroom where we were greeted by the POW Research
Network of Japan. This too was a highlight
for the next three hours as they showed their work to-date and then video taped
interviews of both Ken Pifher and Gerry Gerrard as to their experiences in Hong
Kong and Japan
I imagined myself seated in our hosts' place. It would be very hard to be a researcher
sitting on that side of the table listening to our veterans' stories. My question to one of them as we were leaving
was “what has brought your team together as volunteers to pursue this interest?". For the most part the answer was “for
personal reasons”. At the very least these
volunteer researchers need to be congratulated for taking on such a difficult
task. They have an opportunity for
keeping the facts of history in front of their government. It is also an opportunity for our HKVCA to
have a role in supporting their research.
The three hours passed before we knew it. Unfortunately there was little time for
It was back to the hotel before heading out to the “American”
restaurant for a small dinner. I would
rather have had a traditional meal but got out voted by the gang of 5. :-)
Today has been not only a very worthwhile, but also a very
emotional day, particularly during the two minutes of silence. It would have been so good to have been able
to take back this journal along with my pictures and video for Dad. We have learned that so many of our fellow
travellers have the same story to tell. Many
did not know of the part their fathers played until a few years before their
death, if at all.
Tomorrow is a trip to Mt.Fuji and Hakone.
Friday Dec. 10
Our final day began early with an “on the bus at 7:45” for a
trip out to Mt. Fuji.
Traffic at that time of day was heading into Tokyo and our driver did a fine job for us
all day over narrow roads up hill and down dale.
Into the countryside we saw much more of the rural Japan. Houses are narrow and if any land is fla, it
has been planted in rice although the fields are at rest at this time of
The highways are tolled, and numerous stations electronically
tally the number of kilometres you have travelled between toll stations. Drivers are generally very courteous to one
another and little sign of the road rage we know about at home was ever seen. Of course the obligatory piddle stops came
with gift stalls, and all the tourist trappings available for purchase. Most
of what was for sale had “made in Korea“ labelled on
Because of the
mountainous nature of this country, there were many tunnels ranging from a few
hundred metres in length to several kms.
Mt Fuji grew ever larger as the bus approached. Again we were fortunate to enjoy a bright
sunny yet cool day. Cameras clicked
From here it was on to Hakone which is renowned for its hot springs and lake. It was a favoured place to holiday for the
Shoguns of old. In fact the original old
road they travelled on was lined each side by 400 year old cedars, and paralleled
our route for a short portion as we approached Hakone. We
just don’t see 400 year old trees in B.C. any more, period.
We boarded a catamaran
for a trip across the lake back to our bus which next took us up to the summit
for a gondola trip back down.
Su-San did a superb job
as our guide with many little cultural stories to keep the troops
The ride back to the hotel was long and tedious. Twice a year is “Bonus Day” in Japan and
today just happed to be one of them. Suffice to say….traffic was very heavy.
A final farewell dinner was held at the Gonpachi Ginza
restaurant. It too was superb in all
ways. Mike thanked everyone and
presented Su-San with her tip. She
thanked us from the heart and then headed over to her chair to have a private wee
tear, as tipping in Japan
is not standard. We Canadians made a
tremendous impact on her and she loved our sense of humour and quick retorts
and teasing that was constantly ongoing.
Eric Campbell thanked
Mike and presented him with an empty envelope - the combined tip collected from
his Scottish friends! :-)
Gerry Gerrard was last to get up, and he thanked all of us for what
he remembers as the best of three trips he has made. His speech was from the heart. He thanked us all for remembering and
continuing to remember the history of the veterans of Hong
It was back to the hotel for an early start for Canada
tomorrow. Time has flown by and we would
not have missed this trip, as they say, for all the rice in China. We would be remiss in not giving much of the
credit and thanks to Mike and Dawn Babin for all the effort they put forth to
have everything to flow without a hitch.
This has truly been an excellent trip where both the weather
and the itinerary came together to commemorate a horrific part of Canadian
history. May we never forget!
Ken and Ruth Barton Dec. 2010
Last updated: December 21, 2010