Individual Report: H6008 John OSBORN

1st Bn The Winnipeg Grenadiers


General Information

Rank: First Name: Second Name:
Warrant Officer Class II John Robert
From: Enlistment Region: Date of Birth (y-m-d):
St. Vital MB Manitoba 1899-01-22
Appointment: Company: Platoon:
Company Sergeant Major A Coy HQ

Transportation - Home Base to Hong Kong

Members of 'C' Force from the East travelled across Canada by CNR troop train, picking up reinforcements enroute. Stops included Valcartier, Montreal, Ottawa, Armstrong ON, Capreol ON, Winnipeg, Melville SK, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Jasper, and Vancouver, arriving in Vancouver on Oct 27 at 0800 hrs.

The Winnipeg Grenadiers and the local soldiers that were with Brigade Headquarters from Winnipeg to BC travelled on a CPR train to Vancouver.

All members embarked from Vancouver on the ships AWATEA and PRINCE ROBERT. AWATEA was a New Zealand Liner and the PRINCE ROBERT was a converted cruiser. "C" Company of the Rifles was assigned to the PRINCE ROBERT, everyone else boarded the AWATEA. The ships sailed from Vancouver on Oct 27th and arrived in Hong Kong on November 16th, having made brief stops enroute at Honolulu and Manila.

Equipment earmarked for 'C' Force use was loaded on the ship DON JOSE, but would never reach Hong Kong as it was rerouted to Manila when hostilities commenced.

On arrival, all troops were quartered at Nanking Barracks, Sham Shui Po Camp, in Kowloon.


Battle Information

We do not have specific battle information for this soldier in our online database. For a detailed description of the battle from a Canadian perspective, visit Canadian Participation in the Defense of Hong Kong (published by the Historical Section, Canadian Military Headquarters).

Wounded Information

No wounds recorded.

Decorations Received

Image Name of Award Abbreviation References Precedence Comments
Victoria CrossVC37, 38, 12501

VC Citation and Documentation

Canada Gazette dated 6 April 1946 (No. 14, Vol. 80, p. 2066) and CARO/6522 dated 18 April 1946

At Hong Kong on the morning of December 19,1941 a Company of Winnipeg Grenadiers to which Company Sergeant Major Osborn belonged became divided during an attack on Mount Butler, a hill rising steeply above sea level. A part of the Company led by CSM Osborn captured the hill at the point of the bayonet and held it for three hours when, owing to superior numbers of the enemy and fire from an unprotected flank, the position became unattainable. CSM Osborn single-handedly engaged the enemy while the remainder successfully rejoined the Company. CSM Osborn had to run the gauntlet of heavy rile and machine-gun fire with no consideration of his own safety. He assisted and directed stragglers to the new Company position, exposing himself to heavy enemy fire to cover their retirement. Whenever danger threatened, he was there to encourage his men.

During the afternoon the Company was cut off from the Battalion and completely surrounded by the enemy who were able to approach within grenade throwing distance of the slight depression which the Company was holding. Several enemy grenades were thrown which CSM Osborn picked up and threw back. The enemy threw a grenade which landed in a position where it was impossible to pick up and return in time. Shouting a warning to his comrades, this gallant Warrant Officer threw himself on the grenade which exploded and killed him instantly. His self-sacrifice undoubtedly saved the lives of many others.

CSM Osborn was an inspiring example to all throughout the defense which he assisted so magnificently in maintaining against an overwhelming enemy force for over eight-and-a-half hours and in his death he displayed the highest quality of heroism and sacrifice.

Details of the engagement as described by Sergeant W.F. Pugsley (H.6809):
The company area was known as Little Hong Kong and my platoon was stationed at the junction of Island Road and Repulse Bay Road. These were our original defence positions and were occupied from the outbreak of the war until the morning of December 19, 1941. At about 0100 hours on the morning of the 19th we received information from Major A.B. Gresham that the Japanese had landed on the Island and that "A" Company had been ordered to Wong-Nei-Chong Gap to repel the attack. He ordered the Platoon Commander, Lieutenant W.V. Mitchell, to proceed with his platoon and meet the balance of the company at a point on the Repulse Bay Road close to Brigade Headquarters. We moved off almost at once with all our guns and ammunition and arrived there at about 0430 hours where we met Major Gresham who had already been in to Brigade and got his orders. He advised us that the Japs had landed and that we had been detailed to push them off. He issued his orders to the platoon officers for the attack. My platoon was detailed as reserve platoon and in going in to the starting point, we followed the other two platoons and Company Headquarters at a distance of about 100 yards. The attack started at daybreak (approximately 0700 hours) and our instructions were to remain at the starting point and hold ourselves in readiness to help out at any point which might be held up. The attack was successful and the enemy were driven off Mount Butler. Company Sergeant-Major Osborn was with the forward attacking troops and we could see the bayonet charge from our positions. After Mount Butler had been occupied by our troops I received orders to take up a position in a saddle between Mount Butler and Jardine's Lookout on the left flank of the company and not to allow any Japs to come through that way. Our new positions were under continuous mortar fire from our front and machine gun fire from the direction of the road to the right of Mount Butler. We also noted very heavy fire from the direction of the positions held by our troops on Butler. At about 1000 hours I noticed our troops on Mount Butler were falling back and almost immediately recognized Japanese troops in large numbers coming over Butler and as they continued to advance down the valley in spite of the resistance being put up by our troops, I realized that the position held by me would be cut off and decided to try and rejoin the rest of the company. We made our way down a depression which ran parallel to but out of sight of the advancing Japs and eventually joined up with Major Gresham, Captain Tarbuth, Company Sergeant-Major Osborn and a small party of men. Captain Tarbuth was badly wounded and was being carried out. Company Sergeant-Major Osborn now took charge of the two Bren guns of my platoon and directed covering fire for the withdrawal of the party. He was cool and steady at all times and greatly helped the spirit of the men. The withdrawal was continued by on Bren covering while the other withdrew and then reversing the procedure. All this time we were under machine gun fire from the right flank and at about 1300 hours Captain Tarbuth, who was being carried by Private J. Williams, had to cross a slight rise in the ground and both were killed by machine gun fire. The Japs, who had by this time worked up on our right flank, opened up on our right Bren gun killing the crew and knocking out the gun. We still continued resistance with the one gun and rifle fire under the direction of Company Sergeant-Major Osborn and Major Gresham trying to get back to Wong-Nei-Chong but discovered that large numbers of the Japs had worked round behind us and that we were cut off. At last about 1515 hours Major Gresham decided to surrender and stepped out of the depression with his hands up and was immediately shot down and killed. By this time the Japs had got close enough to throw hand grenades into our position and Company Sergeant-Major Osborn and myself were discussing what was best to be done now when a grenade dropped beside him. He yelled to me and gave me a shove and I rolled down the hill and he rolled over on to the grenade and was killed. I firmly believe he did this on purpose and by his action saved the lives of myself and at least six other men who were in our group. This happened at about 1330 hours. Within the next ten minutes, the Japs rushed our positions and took the remnants of the company prisoners.

We were taken a distance of about 700 yards to an old frame building at the rear of their force which was attacking Wong-Nei-Chong Gap and held until noon the following day when we were moved to North Point Camp from where we were taken to Argyle Street Camp on the 21st December. During the morning of the 20th our shelter came under fire of our own mortar fire and one direct hit was made wounding Lieutenant McKillup, Lieutenant W.V. Mitchell, Lieutenant E.L. Mitchell, killing 6 men and wounding about 20 men. When we were taken out to North Point the Japanese would not let us take any of the wounded who could not walk and sated that they would be taken care of. Lieutenant W.V. Mitchell could have walked but decided to remain with his brother who was very badly wounded. They were never seen again and it is believed they were killed by the Japs. Lieutenant McKillup was able to make Argyle Street Camp but died of wounds January 4th, 1942.

The total casualties of the company including walking wounded taken to Argyle Street Camp was over one hundred.

Statement of Corporal K. Geddes, (H.17407) Winnipeg Grenadiers:
As far as I can remember the details of "A" Company attack on 19 December 1941 is this. The attack started about 0700 hours and we were told we had to drive the Japanese off Mount Butler. I was with Lieutenant McKillop's platoon in the front wave of the charge. Soon after the attack started, Mr. McKillop and one section got separated from the rest of the platoon and Company Sergeant-Major Osborn, who was near us at the time, took charge of the rest of the platoon and led them in the final charge up Mount Butler. He showed himself to be a real leader and his coolness under fire helped all of us. We captured Mount Butler and held it for two or three hours and stopped two attacks of the Japs to take it. Then they sent a large attack party which we could not stop and Major Gresham ordered us to retire to our first position. Company Sergeant-Major Osborn took charge of a Bren gun and directed its fire to cover the retirement. He was the coolest man I ever saw in action. I was one of a Bren gun crew and during the retirement got separated from the rest of the platoon in a gully and climbed a hill to try and see where they had got to. I could see them in another gully some distance to my left and from where I was I could see they were surrounded by Japs who were throwing hand grenades into their positions. I opened up with my Bren on the attacking Japs and then saw Major Gresham step up out of the gully holding a white handkerchief tied to a stick above his head. He was cut down by machine gun fire. Knowing that the party would have to surrender as they were outnumbered five or ten to one by the Japs, I decided to try and make my way back to Wong-Nei-Chong. I started back down the gully but had to cross a rise in the ground and came under machine gun fire from a Jap gun on the hillside and was wounded but managed to get over into the valley on the other side. This was about 1500 hours. I did not see Osborn killed but was told afterwards by men who were with him that he threw himself on a bomb and was killed about fifteen minutes after Major Gresham had been shot. I hid in the bushes until dark and then made my way back and joined up with some Indian troops near Happy Valley. I stayed the night with them and the next morning started for Wong-Nei-Chong and as I was passing St. Alberts Convent. I was stopped by a Medical Sergeant who was stopping all wounded men. He took my Bren gun away from me and sent me into see a doctor who sent me to Bowen Road Hospital for an x-ray. I was kept in hospital until the 11 February 1942 when my wound had healed and I was sent to North Point Camp.

During the whole of the time I was with or near Company Sergeant-Major Osborn, he showed a cool courage in the attack and when we had to retire a spirit of stubbornness in the face of the Japs who were much superior in numbers to ourselves.

Statement of Private W. Moore (K.25434), The Winnipeg Grenadiers
taken by Major E.E. Pearlman, Assistant Judge Advocate-General, Pacific Command in Vancouver on 27 November 1945:

I enlisted in the Winnipeg Grenadiers in October 1941 and proceeded to Hong Kong with the unit. During the action at Hong Kong, I was attached to "A" Company, Winnipeg Grenadiers of which H.6008 Company Sergeant-Major Osborn, John R. Was Company Sergeant-Major. On 19th December 1941, "A" Company Winnipeg Grenadiers was engaged by the enemy, and while we were fighting a withdrawal action I saw the incident which resulted in Company Sergeant-Major Osborn's death. At the time we were being subjected to heavy mortar, machine gun and grenade fire. The Japanese were just over the brow of a hill and firing cup grenades at us. These grenades were dropping all around us and we were all 'hitting the dirt' to obtain cover. I saw Company Sergeant-Major Osborn, J. drop to the ground for the same reason, I believed at the time, as the rest of us. He rolled off the path to the side and in doing so rolled on top of a grenade which exploded causing his death. Sergeant Pugsley dropped at the same time as Company Sergeant-Major Osborn but rolled in the opposite direction and was, to the best of my recollection, between five and ten yards from Osborn when the explosion occurred. I am unable to say whether Osborn's action in rolling on top of the grenade was accidental or whether it was done intentionally for the purpose of saving others from injury. The only person in my view in a position to give any further detailed information on this matter is Sergeant Pugsley of "A" Company, Winnipeg Grenadiers.

Commemorative Feature

Site Description Location Province Map Reference Lat/Long Date
Osborn Creek, John Osborn LakeDriftwood River; east of Nueltin Lake, MB, flows north intoManitoba63 O/05; 64 O/1455 29' 12"; 99 43' 28" / 59 47' 35"; 99 11' 45"1973, 1986

Death and Cemetery Information

Date of Death (y-m-d) Cause of Death Death Class Death Ref
1941-12-19Throw himself on a grenade to save others, at about 1330 hoursMissing In Action
Cemetery LocationCemeteryGrave NumberGravestone Marker
Cape Collinson Road Chai Wan Hong Kong ChinaSai Wan MemorialColumn 25.

Gravestone Image

Click for larger view

Obituary / Life Story

The SAI WAN MEMORIAL honours over 2000 men of the land forces of the British Commonwealth and Empire who died in the defence of Hong Kong during the Second World War. The SAI WAN MEMORIAL is in the form of a shelter building 24 metres long and 5.5 metres wide. It stands at the entrance to Sai Wan Bay War Cemetery, outside Victoria, the capital of Hong Kong. From the semi-circular forecourt, two wide openings lead to the interior of the building. The names are inscribed on panels of Portland stone. The dedicatory inscription reads:

1939 - 1945 The officers and men whose memory is honoured here died in the defence of Hong Kong in December 1941 and in the ensuing years of captivity and have no known grave.

The northern side of the Memorial is open and four granite piers support the copper roof. From a commanding position 305 metres above sea level, it looks out over the War Cemetery where some 1,500 men lie buried, and across the water to Mainland China - a magnificent view of sea and mountains.

Links

John OSBORN noted on Selkirk Manitoba ancestry

General Comments

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End of Report. Report generated: 17 Nov 2018.


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