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(Reprinted from the Time Colonist)
Canwest News Service — With files from Matthew Pearson
Of the 80 or so remaining survivors, about five live on Vancouver Island
Don’t make eye contact. Never draw attention to yourself. Take the beatings. Above all, keep hope alive.
As a prisoner of war in Hong Kong, 20-year-old Phil Doddridge quickly figured out those rules of survival. The best way to get by was to avoid the notice of the brutal Japanese soldiers who were his captors.
Doddridge was among 1,975 Canadian soldiers — mostly from the Quebecbased Royal Rifles of Canada and the Winnipeg Grenadiers — sent to Hong Kong to help Britain defend its colony against the Japanese in the Second World War.
These all-but-forgotten veterans were used as slave labour and subsisted on starvation rations for almost four years in PoW camps. Their grit and grace in the face of horror has been mostly ignored by the country they served so gallantly.
Finally, they are receiving the recognition they deserve.
Doddridge, 87, is among the 80 Hong Kong vets who are still alive, including about five on Vancouver Island. Tomorrow, they will gather in Ottawa for the unveiling and dedication of the Hong Kong Veterans Memorial Wall.
The memorial, built on land made available by the National Capital Commission, is unusual in that it lists the names of all the Hong Kong veterans, including those still living. Canadian war memorials tend to be inscribed with only the names of the war dead.
“The memorial means a lot to me,” Doddridge said. “It’s important to me that we are finally going to be recognized on a permanent basis. We always felt we were neglected. Because of the vast conflict taking place in Europe at the time, they received all the attention. Our little effort in the far reaches of the Pacific went unnoticed.”
It was no little effort. Canada’s soldiers fought alongside the British and Indian troops when the Japanese attacked the Hong Kong garrison the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The soldiers held out for 17 and a half days, finally surrendering on Christmas Day, 1941.
In the battle, 290 Canadians were killed and 493 wounded. As the war went on, 133 Canadians would lose their lives in the Hong Kong prison camps. Another 136 died in camps in Japan.
The memorial consists of a six-metre concrete wall covered in granite. The names of 961 members of the Royal Rifles are etched on one side of the wall. On the other side are the names of 911 Grenadiers. The 106 members of brigade headquarters, including doctors, dentists and chaplains, are listed on either end of the memorial.
The Hong Kong vets came home suffering from tropical diseases that were little understood by Canadian doctors.
And others, like Victorian Jim Trick’s father, Charles, returned to their families suffering from what we know today as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Trick said the condition disrupted his early family life in Stonewall, Man. It wasn’t until years later that he began to understand how the war had shaped his father, a private with the Winnipeg Grenadiers.
The younger Trick, who retired in Victoria after a 30-plus year career as an infantryman with the Canadian Forces, created a website as a tribute to his father, who died in 1996. It includes passages from a diary the elder Trick kept during his nearly four years in captivity.
The wall memorial means the sacrifice he and other Hong Kong vets made will finally be recognized, he said.
The Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association has already raised more than $150,000 for the memorial, but needs another $150,000 to cover the rest of the construction and landscaping costs.
The association is appealing to all levels of government, private corporations and the public for the funds. Its website has details on how to make a donation.
Trick questioned why the federal government hadn’t come forward with funding.
“These people fought for their country, were treated in a way virtually no other prisoners of war [were] ever treated, treated badly by their country when they came back. And now we can’t even get the country to contribute to the lasting memory of [them],” he said.
International Trade Minister Stockwell Day is the grandson of a Hong Kong vet and will be attending tomorrow’s ceremony.