Heads Held High: The Battle of Hong Kong, 1941 and Beyond

Darleen Keith is an undergraduate history student at Carleton University and mother of four. She had two great uncles serve in the Battle of Hong Kong, both of which survived the prison camps. She is currently finishing up her degree to pursue graduate studies.

George Buckley, E30087

Lancelot Ross, E1144


Submitted by:  Darleen Keith

HIST 4302, Dr. Tim Cook

April 2, 2008


The mood is sombre as a diminishing band of brothers gather to pay their final respects and honour a fellow comrade who fought with them and endured with them so long ago.  Remembered is a strong and gentle man, a carpenter by trade, who led a simple life filled with hard work, friends and family.  It is not long before memories shift back in time to when these veterans were in the prime of their life, despite the world being engaged in World War II.  Phil Doddridge remembers the summer of 1940: “I joined the Army on July, 1940, at the age of 18.  Nothing much was doing in the small village of New Richmond in 1940. […] I had quit school the year before and drifted rather aimlessly, doing odd jobs and living with my parents.”1 Similar experiences are recounted by Lance Ross, Ken Cambon and others who recall joining because of the advertised pay of $1.30 per day, a sense of loyalty and a desire for adventure.2  These men and others from parts of Quebec, Ontario, and Maritime Provinces, were welcomed and encouraged to join the Royal Rifles of Canada.3    

The despatch of 1,975 Canadian volunteers on October 27, 1941, to the Pacific front attracted little attention in Canada. Mention in the national press of Canadian forces in the battle of Hong Kong occurred in a small column in the Toronto Daily Star on December 8, 1941.4  Official Canadian historian of the Second World War, C.P. Stacey, has stated that the history of the Canadian Army is chiefly concerned with the campaigns of the Western Allies against Germany more than the war against Japan in the Pacific.5  This statement is quite understandable given that, by 1941, Canada had spent considerable time and resources in building a large field artillery in the U.K.    How ironic it is, then, that “although Canada directed its primary war effort against Nazi Germany the first major battle fought by the Canadian army was not in Europe, but in the Far East.”6 This paper will turn its attention away from the campaigns and public memories associated with Germany during World War II, and focus on the part played by two Canadian infantry battalions sent to the Pacific.   In 1941, the Canadian government despatched two battalions, namely, The Royal Rifles of Canada and the Winnipeg Grenadiers, designated as ‘C’ Force, to Hong Kong.  While the experiences of both battalions were intertwined, due to space limitations this paper will concentrate more on the Royal Rifles of Canada.  However, material that covers prisoner of war experiences and challenges faced upon liberation are representative of both battalions.  Furthermore, this paper will not cover the experiences of the two Canadian nursing sisters who accompanied ‘C’ Force, nor will it address the unique experiences of those higher authorities and commanding officers.

Much has been written about the fall of Hong Kong and the experiences of Canadian POWs in camps in Hong Kong and Japan.  Much of the existing scholarship is concerned about specific details of the battle and controversies surrounding Canada’s decision to send troops.  This research paper will draw upon a wide variety of primary and secondary sources to explore the battle of Hong Kong during World War II, however, the purpose of this paper is not to analyze existing scholarship or uncover new sources that cover the battle leading up to the final surrender.  This paper will provide a brief overview of the battle of Hong Kong, including controversies surrounding the Canadian government’s decision to send troops, as a precursor to the events that followed.  Furthermore, this paper will capture some of the shared experiences relative to the 17 days of battle, such as chaos, exhaustion, and casualties.  Public memory associated with the battle will also be explored, as Hong Kong veterans feel that it is a “terrible story known to few Canadians.”7    

Historian, Daniel Dancocks, has stated that Canadian prisoners of war are the “forgotten men of World War II, in that much has been written that glorifies military efforts but neglects prisoners of war.”8   New social histories have recently emerged that focus on ordinary men who did extraordinary things under extraordinary circumstances. Through the examination of diaries and memoirs the question will be asked:  “What is the experience of being a prisoner of war?”  This paper will add to existing scholarship on prisoners of war and focus specifically on the shared experiences of prisoners of war incarcerated in Hong Kong and Japan.    Furthermore, public memory associated with the prisoner of war experience of our Hong Kong veterans will be addressed to show a shift in attitudes as numbers of remaining Hong Kong veterans dwindle.

Most scholarship covering the battle of Hong Kong ends with a final chapter covering liberation in 1945.  Historians are not unique in this, as many ex-prisoners of war, upon describing their experiences through published memoirs, often end their account with a final note declaring: “the rest is history.”9  While the rest is history, it is a history largely undocumented by historians or veterans.   This paper will analyze primary and secondary resources to address some of the challenges faced by the ex-POWs once they returned home to reveal why some wounds take longer to heal than others.

Each and every year on November 11, Canadians stop for a moment of silence to honour those who have laid down their lives; the ‘ultimate’ sacrifice paid in the name of freedom.  This paper will conclude by asking the question:  “How have we honoured or recognized those soldiers that did not pay the ‘ultimate’ sacrifice of their lives on the battlefield?”  The subject of public memory and recognition, as it pertains to the ex-POWs of Hong Kong will be examined and it will be shown that there are many who have dedicated considerable time and energy in making sure that Canadians remember the strength and fortitude of those men who served and endured Hong Kong, and that their sacrifices remain a lasting testament that all sacrifice in the name of freedom deserves to be recognized.

The Royal Rifles of Canada were mobilized on the 8th of July, 1940, at Quebec.  Preceding mobilization, the unit trained in the Quebec district and in Sussex, New Brunswick.  In November and December of 1940, the battalion went to Newfoundland as part of the Island’s garrison, followed by coastal defence in St. John, N.B. late the following year, where they remained until they were “warned for duty with the expedition to Hong Kong on 9 October 1941.”10  The battalion was commanded by a seasoned World War I veteran and officer of the Permanent Force, Lieutenant-Colonel W.J. Home, M.C.  Ken Cambon, of the Royal Rifles of Canada, recalled, as clear as if it were yesterday, that “we wanted to go to war.”11   

The training policy required a full sixteen weeks of training before despatch to any front.  The subject of ‘training,’ with respect to the two battalions sent to Hong Kong, has been the source of much spilled ink and controversy.  The first rumblings of concern questioning the training of the men sent overseas occurred after the fall of Hong Kong in December of 1941, by George Drew, Ontario Conservative Leader, leading to the appointment of a Royal Commission in February of 1942.  The standard of training of the men was one of the primary topics considered during the Royal Commission, commonly referred to as the Duff Commission.   Historians, many decades later, continue to address the subject of training and make their own conclusions as to whether the training these men received hindered their performance during the seventeen days of battle or not.

As the subject of training has been a source of controversy through the years, equal scholarship and debate surrounds the government’s decision to send the battalions it did.  After a number of exchanges, the Dominion Office cabled Ottawa with respect to Hong Kong requesting a small reinforcement of the garrison of Hong Kong by “one or two battalions,” to increase the current strength of the garrison, provide a moral effect in the Far East and reassure Japan as to the intent of holding Hong Kong.12  Then Acting Minister of National Defence, Major Power, testified at the Duff Commission that “I do not think there was ever any question really or any discussion […] as to any reason why we should not take it on.  It struck me as the only thing to do.”13  The difficulty the government faced was not over the question of sending the battalions, as Ottawa depended on London for intelligence information, but over which battalions it should send.   

On September 24, 1941, the Director of Military Training, J.K. Lawson, prepared infantry lists of battalions in Canada breaking the battalions into groups of 1) best-trained, being designated ‘A’ group, 2) next best trained, ‘B’ group, and 3) “due to either recent employment requiring a period of refresher training or to insufficient training, are not recommended for operational consideration at present, ‘C’ group.14  There was opposition among military leaders in sending sufficiently trained troops, ready for England, for guard duty in the Pacific.15  As the task of the Hong Kong garrison was to defend the Colony against attack and deny the use of the harbour, General Crerar, Chief of the General Staff in Canada, recommended the Royal Rifles of Canada and the Winnipeg Grenadiers.  Crerar, later testifying at the Duff Commission, outlined his decision to recommend the Royal Rifles and the Winnipeg Grenadiers to “adhere to the principal of territorial representation,” with both Eastern and Western Canada being fairly represented.16  Furthermore, he felt that their previous garrison duty experience was “not in many respects unlike the task which await[ed] them in Hong Kong.” 17  The benefit of hindsight should not allow one to dwell upon the obvious paradoxes.  Thus, on the 27th of October, 1941, 1,975 Canadians, commanded by Brigadier J.K. Lawson, boarded the Awatea, with one company of the Royal Rifles on board the armed merchant cruiser, HMCS Prince Robert, and set sail for the Far East. 

The year 1941 saw Hong Kong as a Crown colony of the British Empire.  Located 90 miles southeast of Canton, China, it was one of their smallest but most valuable assets.  The Japanese viewed Hong Kong as a major enemy naval base serving as headquarters and base of the Royal Navy’s China station.18  Before the arrival of ‘C’ Force, Hong Kong had an existing garrison of four regular army infantry battalions, consisting of two British units, and two Indian Army units.  These battalions were supplemented by the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps.  William Allister, of the Winnipeg Grenadiers, recalled his arrival into the Hong Kong harbour “on a bright tropical morning, November 1941.”19   He further commented that “the air was throbbing with the explosive intensity of the excitement. […] We marched away from the harbour with the band blaring a bright marching tune, blissfully unaware we’d be crawling down this same [road], what was left of us, noses down, tails dragging, backs bent, wounded, weak, shoved and kicked along like beaten dogs…” 20

On 6 November 1941, the Japanese Imperial Headquarters ordered the China Expeditionary Army to prepare to attack Hong Kong with the objective to “neutralize air power and destroy vessels and installations,” with a main attack occurring on the north shore of Hong Kong Island.21  Canadian medical historian, Charles Roland, points out that there is no suggestion that “only the Japanese, or only the Axis powers behaved brutally during WWII, […] however, inhumane and brutal treatment occurred in Far Eastern POW camps; that statement needs no further documentation.”22  Unfortunately, Japan had made no preparations for feeding and housing some 11,000 prisoners of war, “as the concept of so many surrendering was simply inconceivable to them.”23  A brief outline of the Japanese Imperial Army and Japanese culture in the World War II context is necessary for a better understanding of the events that followed. 

The word ‘bushido’ occurs many times in accounts of the war in the Pacific.24  Bushido is a Japanese cultural phenomenon providing guidelines to appropriate Japanese behaviour on the battlefield, and is solely concerned with relations between samurai and their conduct in battle.25  Samurai were to have no relation with the enemy and women and children were not to be protected, as witnessed in other countries.  Furthermore, the concept of ‘surrender’ and being taken prisoner was different from that in Europe, Canada and the United States.  Minister of War, Tojo Hideki, testified on his own behalf concerning the philosophy of being taken prisoner during the war crimes trials following the war:  “In Japan [being taken prisoner] is a disgrace.  Under Japanese criminal law, anyone who becomes a prisoner while still able to resist has committed a criminal offense, the maximum penalty for which is the death penalty.”26  Surrendering during war was directly related to that of dishonour, bringing shame to one’s own family, government and nation.27  Deep-rooted cultural differences between Japan and Canada during the War added to the difficulty of Western prisoners trying to make sense of the brutality and inconsistency of their Japanese captors. 

A period of three weeks lapsed from the time the Canadians landed in Hong Kong, after a long sea voyage, to the time the Japanese first attacked the mainland.   This was a severely short period of time to acclimatize to the weather, food, time change and terrain, before being thrown into full-scale battle.  Stacey points out that, “the extraordinarily rugged terrain of Hong Kong was one of the hardest battlefields on which Canadians fought in any theatre.”28  A British soldier, commenting on this short period of acclimatization, noted in his diary:  “Poor devils!  Straight from guard duties in the West Indies & Canada they had not a clue about H.K. terrain and were pitch forked into the battle almost before they knew which was the Island and which was mainland.”29 The series of disasters which marked the opening months of the war with Japan were unprecedented and disorienting at best.  Official accounts written by company officers during the battle were destroyed shortly before surrender, for fear of coming into the hands of their captors.  Any ‘primary’ material available to historians was written by memory, months or sometimes years later, while prisoners of war and are often fragmented, contradictory and confusing.  There are many excellent scholarships available that have outlined the battle in extensive detail.  Canadian historian, Tony Banham, has produced an hour-by-hour and often minute-by-minute account of the battle in his book, Not the Slightest Chance.  Extensive coverage of the battle is beyond the scope of this paper; however, a broad outline will be provided, focusing mostly on the movements of the Royal Rifles of Canada during the battle. 

Many historians, for purposes of clarity, have divided the battle of Hong Kong, 1941, into three categories:  1)  loss of mainland (December 8-13),  2) siege of Island (Dec. 13-18) and 3) invasion of Island (Dec. 18-25).  This paper will subscribe to the above categories, as well, and provide a brief outline of each.  There are many “given’s’ that flow into each account of the sudden attack of the Japanese and ensuing battle:  1) lack of military preparedness for the battle Canadians became engaged in, as it was “universally anticipated that the Canadians would serve as garrison troops,”30 2) inaccurate appreciation of Japanese intentions made by western powers,31 and 3) lack of adequate sea, land and air defence, as well as insufficient transport vehicles and artillery.  Stacey’s final judgement of the battle seems rather obvious: “we can see today [1957] that the decision to reinforce Hong Kong was a mistake.”32  Major John H. Price later recorded:  “it required no great military genious to predict the outcome of the battle once the Japanese had landed on the island with their control of sea and air and great superiority in weapons and men.”33  However, Stacey reminds scholars and non-scholars alike that “the historian’s hindsight is always far, far better than the foresight of the men, groping in the dark, who had to do the work at the time.”34

1.  Loss of Mainland:  In the days leading up to the attack, Brigadier J.K. Lawson recorded in his diary, “’news’ says war in fortnight.  Hope our transport arrive.”35  Transport did not arrive as hoped when, on 7 December 1941, the Royal Rifles of Canada, situated on the Island, received orders from Island Brigade Headquarters to “stand to.”36 On Monday, December 8, at 4:45 a.m. local time, Major Charles Boxer, of Fortress Headquarters in Hong Kong, heard on a Tokyo broadcast “instructions in code to their nationals that war was imminent with Great Britain and America.”37  Everyone was alerted.  At the same time the Japanese prepared to attack Hong Kong, other Japanese forces were attacking in the Philippines, Malaya and Hawaii.

Civilians of Sham Shui Po and Kai Tak are awoken at 8:00 am by the loud crescendo of an air raid warning.  Japanese bombers could be seen overhead diving down to drop their payload on strategic targets. No units or sub-units of the Royal Rifles were on the mainland throughout this period of attacks.   Within 36 hours of the initial attack, the major line of defence, the Gin Drinkers Line, had been broken.  Within five days the Japanese Army had absolute control of the mainland, leading to the decision of General Maltby, General Officer Commanding British Troops in China, on the afternoon of 12 December, to “withdraw all remaining troops to the island immediately.”38  The initial defence of Hong Kong had not begun well.

2.  Seige of Island (December 13-18) :  In the early morning of December 13, the first Japanese demand for surrender is written by Lieutenant General Sakai and delivered to the Governor of Hong Kong, Mark Young, informing him that “my artillery and air force, which are ready to crush all parts of the Island, now await my order.”39  Saiko’s message further notes that unless negotiations for surrender begin immediately, “further resistance will lead to the annihilation of a million good citizens.”40  Governor Young replied, in short, that no meeting or parley would be held on the subject of surrender.41  True to their word, massive artillery and aerial bombardment resumed fall both day and night.  Sgt. Lance Ross, of the Royal Rifles of Canada, recorded the bombardment in his diary on December 16th:  “heavy shelling all day – expect attack at anytime.”42  Elsewhere, on the 16th of December, Governor Young had received his second formal request for surrender by the Japanese Military and Naval Authorities.  Once again, Young rejected any request for surrender.   Sgt. Ross’ premonitions were correct, as two days later, at 21:00 hours, the first wave of Japanese soldiers landed on the Island.

3.  Invasion of the Island (Dec. 18-25): On December 18th, Rifleman Sydney Skelton, recorded the following in his diary:  “This day has been the worst yet.  Our position has become a living hell.  My nerves are on edge.  I could eat a horse.”43 Skelton had no possible way of knowing the extent to which his living hell would soon unfold.  Once the Japanese landed in Hong Kong, “it was sheer chaos.”44  ‘Chaos’ is what many diaries, memoirs and historical accounts refer to during the invasion of the Island by the Japanese.  A full detailed account of the activities covering the 18th to the 25th is beyond the scope of this paper.  Many scholarships have meticulously covered the final battle in great detail.  What will be highlighted will be common experiences shared by many Canadian soldiers held up in various locations on the Island.  A number of commonalities were that of chaos, exhaustion, poor communication, and casualties. 

Ken Cambon, of the Royal Rifles, recalled the confusion while awaiting orders.  On December 18th, Lieutenant G.M. Williams’s and J.E.D. Smith’s platoons of C Company Royal Rifles, were ordered to occupy Mount Parker to block the Japanese advance.45 Cambon later recalled the events of that day:  “As I remember, we seemed to spend the day climbing hills, not knowing where we were, receiving conflicting orders and always being shot at by someone.”46  Historian, Brereton Greenhous, addresses the subject of chaos in modern battles when he states:  “All battles […] inevitably become confused and chaotic affairs as clashing wills and failing technologies generate all kinds of friction.”47  The metaphor ‘fog of war’ is often used to describe the confusion and chaos that exists in battle.  Adding to the confusion and chaos, communication systems were in a complete state of disorder.  The Royal Rifles of Canada Regimental history records how Brigadier Atkinson, when as Adjudant of the Royal Rifles, attempted to reach Island Headquarters by telephone and found himself “talking to a Jap who spoke broken English.”48  Communication problems existed throughout the entire battle and it was difficult for Headquarters to keep contact with sub-units. 

“C” Company, of the Royal Rifles of Canada, War Diary made note of the state of the men dug in:  “None… had had a hot meal for five days owing to the destruction of the cooking arrangements.  They have been doing continuous manning for over a week with no chance to sleep but in weapon pits.”49  Further records revealed the physical condition of the battalion by December 22:  “All ranks … were thoroughly tired out after the continuous movements of the preceeding days.  Lack of sleep, climbing hills through difficult trails, preparing defensive position, irregular and in some cases very meagre meals, all contributed to this condition.”50  This heightened sense of exhaustion did little to help the mounting friction between British and Canadian Commanders.  The exhaustion was so great at times that Lt-Col. Home, Commander of the Royal Rifles of the East Brigade on the Island, was willing to risk his military career by insisting that the Regiment be relieved on December 24 against the wishes of his immediate superior, “otherwise he would not be responsible for what would happen.”51  His battalion was dead tired and he felt further resistance would only result in the wasting of valuable Canadian lives.52  Relief was granted but cut short due to further determined attacks by the Japanese.  In the hours leading up to the surrender, casualties rapidly mounted.        

Many soldiers could not bring themselves to recount in their diaries the sorrow and untold suffering of the days leading to December 25th.   Thomas Forsyth, of the Winnipeg Grenadiers, was one such soldier, as seen recorded in his diary:  “I cannot bring myself to write what happened between the 18th and the 25th.  All I can say is that I saw too many brave men die, some were my best friends and died beside me.”53  Sgt. Ross echoed the same sentiment, as recorded in his diary on December 20th:  “too terrible to say anything about.  Japs good fighters.”54  Cambon recalled the brilliant but costly counter-attack around Stanley Village on Christmas Day that saw 26 killed and 75 wounded.55  ‘D’ Company of the Royal Rifles of Canada lost 84% of its original force of 120 men in Stanley, virtually decimating the company.56

Christmas Day, 1941, found the defenders of Hong Kong in desperate circumstances.  Juxtaposed alongside a looming sense of hopelessness, was the optimistic Christmas greeting of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill:  “Christmas greetings to you all.  Let this day be historical in the proud annals of our Empire.  The order of the day is to hold fast.”57  A more realistic Christmas day message came from an unexpected well-wisher, as the Japanese declared:  “Merry Christmas, […] you have fought a good fight, but you are outnumbered.  Now is the time to surrender.”58  Ken Gaudin, of the Royal Rifles of Canada, remembers Christmas Day, 1941, as he recalled how the wounded and dying in Stanley Barracks singing, “Silent Night, Holy Night,”59 while the white flag, unbeknownst to him, had already been raised near Fortress Headquarters.  Canadian losses incurred during the battle were heavy, amounting to a total of 23 officers and 267 other ranks killed or died of wounds, as well as 26 officers and 465 other ranks wounded.60

With the fall of Hong Kong, the Canadian government’s decision to send troops to the Pacific front on an ill-fated mission sparked controversy at home, as many scrambled to lay blame.  The exoneration of the Canadian Government in 1942 of “any dereliction of duty or error in judgement” by the Duff Commission only added fuel to the controversies.61 When Canadian soldiers returned home from the war some were outraged when they heard of printed accusations in Britain that Canadians were to blame for the fall of the colony.62 British commanders, in seeking to explain operational failure, chose to single out Commonwealth and Indian forces and Canadians bore the brunt of this criticism.63  

World War II is viewed in Canadian public memory as the good war, fought mostly in Europe.  Battles fought on the European front, such as Dieppe, Ortona and Normandy, continue to remain indelibly engraved in Canadian memory and are remembered as part of the ‘good fight.’  What little public memory there exists concerning the battle of Hong Kong is often focussed on criticisms or centred on the prisoners of war.  Ken Cambon, an ex-prisoner of war, tries to explain the public memories associated with Hong Kong, as he suggests that perhaps it is because the battle of Hong Kong is not a ‘I win’ story, and that “history is written by the winners and the losers expect what they get.”64   

If looked strictly through military lenses, Hong Kong can, perhaps, be regarded as a military disaster.  However, Canadian historian, Carl Vincent, feels that the battle of Hong Kong “deserves to stand in public memory along side the most famous exploits of the Canadian army.”65  It has often been said that “it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”  Many of the actions of courageous Canadians in Hong Kong deserve to be legendary and remembered, such as the gallantry at Wong Nei Chong Gap, and the counter-attacks at Stanley. Canadians’ memories of the battle of Hong Kong should, perhaps, be more aligned with those of George MacDowell, of the Royal Rifles of Canada, when he states that:  “these young men […] under impossible circumstances and against desperate odds, with their backs to the sea, fought to the end without a thought of surrender because of who they were and what they believed in.”66

Brereton Greenhous, referring to memoirs written by ex-prisoners of war from Hong Kong, has cautioned that some memoirs contain “uncertain recollections of those who survived, some assembled during a malevolent captivity, some in the immediate aftermath of war, others long afterwards from memories embittered by injustice, embellished by time, or embroidered by both.”67  Greenhous further notes that “while this may be true of the battle, as accounts vary due to the destruction of the original official records, there is little variation in the accounts of deprivation [and] punishment […] experienced while prisoners of war.”68  Over the past decade the voice of ex-prisoners of war, and their harrowing experiences, has slowly begun to emerge from the deep and hidden corners of their hearts and minds.  The diary of Rifleman Henry Lyons, of the Royal Rifles of Canada, gives one possible explanation for the silence of so many Hong Kong veterans for so long when he recorded:  “if we ever get out of here, there will be no use to tell our people, as it was so bad you wouldn’t expect anyone to believe that human beings could be so cruel.”69  Several scholarships have focussed on the experiences of Canadians in Hong Kong and Japanese prisoner of war camps.   Many other scholarships that provide details of the battle also identify specific details of prisoner of war life in great detail, including day to day activities and meticulous descriptions of the environment in which they were set.  This paper will focus on experiences that were common to most, and often all, POWs in prison camps in Hong Kong and Japan.  The shared experiences that will be discussed will be:  emasculation, work, brutality, resistance, morale, sameness, starvation and disease.

Articles 2 and 3 of the Geneva Convention relative to the treatment to prisoners of war, signed in 1929, states:  “Prisoners of war […] shall at all times be humanely treated and protected, particularly against acts of violence, from insults and public curiosity.”70 While the Geneva Convention on the treatment of POWs was often ignored in one fashion or another by many countries during the Second World War, Japan was unique in that the Japanese had signed but not ratified in its own parliament the document. Thus “Japan had no legal obligation in international law to follow the precepts of that particular Convention.”71 The cruel and harsh treatment of prisoners of war by the Japanese guards led to a six times higher death rate than those held captive elsewhere.72  For most Canadian soldiers serving during the Second World War, 1942 marked the beginning of their battle experience while, for the Canadian soldiers at Hong Kong, their fighting days had already ended and the nightmare of nearly four years of captivity had begun.

Those last days of 1941 and early days of 1942 have similarly been described by veterans as frightening and intensely worrisome alongside a feeling of relief that the wearisome battle was finally over and that a hot meal was in store.  One soldier recalling this period remarked:  “very hazy about what happened after that.  We sort of wandered around.  Told to go here, go there, do this, do that for the next couple of days.  I don’t remember where we ended up.”73  Canadian soldiers, on 31 December 1941, marched 16 miles to their first place of incarceration, North Point Camp.  North Point Camp became the point of reference to rate all other camps, and “a crucible which would test their will to the very limit of endurance”74  It was also at North Point that transpired the “transition from human dignity to the nothingness of being a prisoner of the Japanese Imperial Army.”75

The beginning stages of prisoner of war life at North Point Camp and, subsequently, Sham Shui Po Camp, required basic adjustments to captivity and acclimatization to overcrowded living conditions and a new calorie-reduced daily diet, consisting mainly of rice.  The effect of defeat, and subsequent captivity, had a dramatic effect on the morale of men.  Canadian medical historian, Charles Roland, addresses some of the psychological effects that would have been commonly felt by soldiers upon surrendering and subsequent defeat:  “once men have surrendered and survived, they have to cope with the psychological crisis of believing that they have failed in their military duty.”76  William Allister recalled the orders to surrender all their arms:  “It was all wrong.  My precious Lee-Enfield? […] Without it I was a half a man, helpless.”77

Combat and masculinity were intertwined concepts during the Second World War.  Soldiers were considered ‘real’ men, ready to risk their lives and fight in the name of freedom.  Any threat or assault upon a soldier’s masculinity could be internalized as a threat to his personal identity:  “protect and maintain what you are intrinsically, or you could lose it, mutate, become something else.”78 One soldier echoed this fear as he later recalled:  “our entire identity was to be removed, we were now chattel slaves brought to an alien land with its alien culture, its alien language.”79  Emasculation is a topic seldom discussed in the scholarship concerning the transition from soldier to prisoner of war.  Roland does provide a medical analysis of the affects of severe malnutrition on libido, and points out that “men were alarmed to think that the long-term malnutrition might produce permanent damage to their sexual capacities.”80

POWs were repeatedly subjected to being slapped harshly on the face for any reason whatsoever.  In describing the affect of this, one soldier recalled:  “It’s pretty hard to take.  It’s probably worse than being punched.”81 The importance of cigarettes helped neutralize possible threats to masculinity.   In the 1940s, cigarettes were often regarded as a symbol of manliness.  Roland states that “if smoking cigarettes conveyed an aura of manliness, who needed that support more than men who had been defeated and captured by the enemy.”82  Despite frail and weakened emasculated bodies, the hard physical labour that these men miraculously performed, sick or not, while incarcerated, would have helped ease any possible worries surrounding their gender identity.  

During the beginning stages of captivity there were no working parties for the Japanese.  Many found that they had significant amounts of time and filled their days playing sports, reading and “lounging around the corners of huts, the only subject of conversation being food.”83  As the War progressed, Japan began to suffer from a labour shortage in mines and factories and looked no further than to the thousands of young men held as their captives.  Canadians were sent to six different Japanese internment camps in four different drafts from January 1943 to April 1944, for a total of 1,183 Canadians moved to Japan until liberation in 1945.84  Those that remained at Sham Shui Po were sent out on day work parties, for jobs such as building an extension on the Kai Tak airfield.  Forsyth’s diary records :  “I was one of a large party who went out to the Kai Tak air field on the Kowloon side, worked with pick and shovel and handled crushed stone, and big bags of cement.”85 Clifford McDavid’s more realistic description of the same job is described when he recalled, “we moved a mountain for the airport.”86

In the beginning, men sought to join the Japanese work parties as this labour demand was seen largely in optimistic terms, with hopes of improved living conditions and better food. It was not long, however, before harsh reality confirmed that their situation was no better, and in many ways worse.  Rifleman George W. Murray, of the Royal Rifles of Canada, was one of 12 Canadians who died at Omine Camp, on the island of Kyushu.  Murray had worked with 163 other Canadians held captive at Omine.  Sgt. Lance Ross kept the most detailed account of prison life at Omine, and his diary records note that he was the first Canadian to enter the mine that he was in.87  Day and night the mine was staffed in rotating shifts.  Days “off” brought little rest as Ross records that men were required to work around the camp.88  Few men escaped the long gruelling days of slave labour, as those who were sick were often forced to work, as seen when Sgt. Ross lamented, “I have dysentery, passing blood but I have to go to work just the same.”89

Conditions were rarely better at other Japanese prison camps.  In fact, Niigata 5B was considered to be one of the worst places to be sent, as 75 Canadians died during their captivity in Niigata.  Niigata prisoners worked at the Shintitsu foundry, the Marutsu dockyards and the Rinko coal mine.  Harold Atkinson recalled working eleven hour days, seven days a week, with one day off each month.90 Atkinson worked at the shipyards loading and unloading boxcars containing heavy pig iron, as well as 90 kilo bags of soybeans.91 Canadian prisoners of war, James Martin and Harold Gibbons, were compelled, by camp commander Lieut. Masato Yoshida, to walk to work in bare feet every day for four months.92 War crimes trials held after the war concluded that Yoshida had been responsible for more ill-treatment of Canadians in Japan than any other war criminal.93

Accounts of prisoner of war experiences, either written in POW camps or recorded decades later in memoirs, all document the personal or witnessed harsh and brutal treatment of their Japanese captors.  St. Ross recorded in his diary on April 26, 1943:  “I got beat up by Jap Sgt.  Cut my lip and tried to knock me down and I couldn’t even hit back…”94  Many choose not to focus on their own suffering but on that of their fellow comrades.  John R. Stroud, of the Royal Rifles of Canada, recalled the fatal beatings of Rifleman Reginald Haley for not going fast enough at work.95  Few ex-prisoners did not make mention of the worst case of brutality either witnessed, or later recounted, at the war crimes trial, namely the torture and subsequent death of James Mortimer of the Royal Rifles of Canada.  George Dixon of the U.S. Navy, and fellow prisoner, testified at the war crimes trial that Mortimer and American prisoner, Gerald Titman, were accused of stealing a can of salmon from Japanese stores.  Mortimer and Titman were “strung by their thumbs and the ropes adjusted over the rafter to keep them on tip-toe.  Then they were tied to an outside gatepost in freezing weather and left there for seven to ten days.  They were beaten and kicked regularly by passing guards.”96  Both men died within days of being cut free.

The bitterness and trauma associated with the atrocities that occurred at St. Stephens College in 1941 were still seen 50 years later in an interview with Bob Clayton in the National Film Board of Canada’s production of the documentary, The Valour and the Horror.  Clayton, while visiting the site where the massacres occurred, shook his head and said, “what those bastards did in here, I’ll never forget.”97  Memories still remain of how the makeshift emergency hospital was overrun by approximately 150-200 Japanese soldiers who broke into the hospital where they stabbed to death helpless patients and raped, mutilated and murdered women nurses.  Captain James Barnett, chaplain of the Royal Rifles, recorded being witness to fifteen or twenty wounded soldiers lying in beds being bayoneted by Japanese soldiers.98 When the slaughter ended, survivors were put to work to clean up after the massacre.

Despite the inhumanity experienced at the hands of their Japanese captors, all was not quiet submission to the Japanese.  Sgt. Ross silently recorded in his diary:  ”they can break my back but not my heart!”99  While often feeling no better than ‘chattel slaves,’ accounts are seen of active and passive resistance while held in captivity.  The right to escape is enshrined in the Geneva Convention and duly understood by soldiers once taken into captivity.  A few soldiers gambled with their lives and attempted to escape, leading to the Japanese ordering all prisoners to sign a guarantee that they would not escape.  Lance-Corporal J. Porter refused to sign the order and was taken to Stanley Prison with six others.  Porter was shaken awake every hour throughout each night, beaten, and eventually denied any food and water.  This went on for many days, until Porter made the decision that any hope of freedom required him to sign the order, which, in the end, he did.100

Men also exercised their agency during work projects, as recalled by Bob Clayton. He remembered that work plans for the creation of a new runway at the Kai Tak airport were foiled when work parties sabotaged efforts by mixing “all kinds of stuff” in the cement.101  Being involved in underground operations was also a means of exercising one’s agency.  One such underground operation began as prisoners heard rumours of mass executions if Allied forces invaded.  At Omine Prison Camp in Japan, Sgt. Ross and Company Sergeant-Major Frank Ebdon were part of an underground operation that worked to prepare maps of the area and secure 800 sticks of dynamite from the mine where they worked, to smash their way out of camp upon word of Allied invasion.102 The Japanese later discovered the maps and forced Ross, Ebdon and six senior NCOs to remain standing for 36 hours straight, while they were, in turn, interrogated. Ross recorded the event in his diary:  “Got out today, stood up all that time.  Didn’t think it possible.”103 Ross, and many others like him, would continue to prove to themselves, time and time again, that despite all odds, anything was possible!

In the first few months of captivity, morale was at its lowest as men grappled with the effect of defeat and the hardships of their new environment.  One soldier remembered when he was told he had diphtheria and said:  “I looked at the electric wire fence and I considered putting an end to myself.  I don’t know why I didn’t do it, but I didn’t.  That’s the lowest I’ve ever been.”104  As survival often meant concentrating on getting through one day at a time, many relied on routine activities that helped boost their morale and give them the encouragement they needed to make it through another day.  As one soldier commented on the importance of morale:  “The only thing that saved a lot of us from dying was our morale.”105 Lord Russell of Liverpool, in his study of the allied prisoners in the Far East, attributed the fact that so many were able to survive their years of captivity, sound in mind, if not in body, was due to two factors:  religion and a sense of humour.106

Feeling at one point that he could not go on, one soldier recalled how humour helped him as he listened to Patrick McKenna sing a funny song while rubbing his pained feet afflicted by beriberi.107  Sgt. Ross recorded in his diary, Church parades, service and songs sung, and noted that while “some of the men have gone religious, never swear, others have turned to hate God’s name and curse everything and everyone, they are real atheists.”108  It appears that Lance-Corporal Francis Martyn may have been one of those referred to by Ross, as his diary makes several references to him “giving up swearing and talking dirty.”109  Sports and entertainment were also a part of prisoner of war life; however, sports probably played a less important role in maintaining morale than did other forms of entertainment.  Roland states that “as hunger became a serious problem the men gave up sports for lack of energy.”110

Books were described by one soldier as “a magic elixir to fill the brooding hours.”111  Thomas Forsyth documented during his captivity the extensive list of books he read in and out of hospital.  However, much like having to give up sports due to lack of energy, reading was often given up due to vitamin deficiencies that created painful and often permanent optic nerve damage.  Forsyth, unfortunately, did not escape this problem, as he later recorded:  “I will have to give up reading altogether.  I am afraid my eyes are giving me a lot of trouble.”112  Phil Doddridge recalled his time spent with fellow Royal Rifle of Canada, George Buckley, in Sham Shui Po, as they would share the recitation of poetry by Robert Service.113  Temporary lifts in morale also came in small doses in the form of mail, Red Cross parcels and meat; all of which were few and far between.  Leon Cyr of Royal Rifles of Canada, recalled that during his entire time of incarceration he only received one Red Cross parcel, which was divided between four guys.114  While many of these morale boosting activities did much to help one get through each miserable day, one soldier summed up what he learned about the ability to endure:  “In the end I learned that it isn’t the outward circumstances which determine what one can endure, but something in oneself which either breaks, or stays intact, under strain.”115

With respect to day-to-day activities, Dr. Roland states:  “That life went on as normally as possible is natural and expected though the sometimes remarkable adaptations to horrendous conditions may border on the incredible.”116  Roland further goes on to state that, “if any one aspect of prisoner of war life stands out in the memories of the men, it is the sameness.”117  Sameness and routine provided relief from the constant fear of the future.  Survival required getting through one day at a time, and that meant adherence to the monotony of everyday routines.  Routines became so instilled that one soldier later recalled:  “it was as if we had known no other life, the daily routine, the inadequate food, the shabby clothes, the daily humiliations, seem to be the real and only life we had known…all else seemed a dream, and Canada just a name on some dimly remembered map.”118

Diaries written while prisoners of war contained three similar topics that the men wrote about:  work, weather and food.  Sgt. Ebdon’s commonly found first line to many of his diary entries began with “same routine as yesterday.”119  Daily entries of one’s menu for the day was also a common diary entry.  Lance-Corporal Martyn recorded the menu of the day in North Point prison camp on January 16, 1942:  breakfast: rice, lunch: tea (plain) and supper: rice (small).120  A prisoner’s diet varied from time to time and from camp to camp, however, it consisted mainly of polished rice, sometimes replaced or supplemented by barley, corn and millet, with little or no meat or fish.121  Military organization was another aspect where routine was instilled and provided prisoners a sense of identity.  George MacDonnell, of the Royal Rifles of Canada, recalled that “we were an organized military unit, with its formal structure and ranks intact and fully operational. […] Each individual was constantly reminded that he was a Canadian soldier who was only temporarily under the control of the Japanese.”122

Despite all best efforts to remain strong and endure, disease was one reality of prisoner of war life that soldiers had little control over, as a result of long-continued malnutrition and starvation.  “Since entering the hospital on December 19th”, Martyn records, “I have had:  pneumonia—beri beri—diahoerra [sic]—malnutrition—underweight—sciabes [sic]—piles, and general weakness.”123  The list that Martyn describes was not unlike any other list that would have been produced by other prisoners of war.  The most common illnesses referred to in POW diaries from Hong Kong and Japan were that of dysentery, beriberi, ‘electric’ or ‘hot’ feet, visual impairments, open sores, and diphtheria.  Tom Forsyth makes his first reference to ‘electric’ feet in his diary on 25 August 1942, as many men after eight months of dietary deficiency and starvation were exhibiting numerous physical symptoms.  Forsyth further notes that the pain associated with ‘electric’ feet is “almost impossible to describe” and concludes his day’s entry with some hint of the severity: “one of our [sergeants] is delirious with the pain.”124  After the war, and upon medical inspection, the term ‘avitaminosis’ was used to cover all disease or diseases relating to vitamin deficiency in the diet.  ‘Electric feet’ became one such consequence of avitaminosis.  A post-war report concluded that 100% of all ex-POWs from Hong Kong and Japan suffered from avitaminosis.125

One trial that would test many to the very limits of their endurance came to those who succumbed to the diphtheria epidemic which swept through Sham Shui Po Camp in October of 1942.  Diphtheria is a highly infectious disease usually affecting the tissues of the throat as a heavy membrane develops, leading to eventual asphyxiation if not treated.  Toxins that develop due to the spread of the bacteria later affect the function of nerves and movement of limbs.126  For a considerable period diphtheria claimed the lives of three to four men a day.127  One soldier recalled that “those that survived the diphtheria epidemic felt they would be able to get through anything for the future.”128  Upon liberation, 267 Canadians died while prisoners of the Japanese, amounting to 40% of all prisoner of war deaths during the Second World War.129

After the war, medical tests and assessments were performed on the former prisoners.  By 1949, it had become apparent that “rehabilitation of these repatriates from Japanese prison camps had not proceeded as well as had been hoped or expected.”130  Dr. John Crawford, a former prisoner of war medical orderly, was commissioned to conduct an assessment of Hong Kong veterans for the presence of various symptoms, and to determine whether any changes in incidence had occurred since liberation in 1945.  The study set out to determine how many individuals were suffering from the after-effects of long-term nutritional starvation.  Frequent symptoms five years after liberation included fatigue, paraesthesia, or shooting pains in the feet and legs, visual complaints, gastro-intestinal difficulties and nervousness.   While some prisoners of war may have been fortunate enough to have escaped diphtheria, none escaped the pain and suffering related to vitamin deficiency in one’s diet.  One ex-prisoner of war later recalled that at the beginning of the war he weighed 158 pounds and was reduced to a mere 98 pounds upon liberation.131 The media also contributed to the message that Canadians had faired better than expected, underestimating the health affects of years of deprivation, as seen in a Globe & Mail article in September 1945, titled “Prisoners in Kowloon Healthier Than Hoped.”132

Canadians were shielded from being greeted by the emaciated, skeletal frames of their returning prisoners of war from Hong Kong and Japan, as it took one to two months for repatriation, by which time most of the ex-prisoners had gained back the weight they had lost while captive.  Showing little external signs of their years of deprivation, it is easy to see how the return of over 1400 prisoners of ‘C’ Force, from the Pacific, at the end of the war was largely overshadowed by the hundreds of thousands returning home from Europe.133 An article in the Montreal Gazette draws attention to another reason why these men have, in past, been referred to as “the forgotten heroes of WWII.”134 The article explains how their attitudes toward what they endured can be seen by one soldier’s comments after the war:  “I don’t want to talk about Jap treatment or brutality, it’s over and I want to forget it.”135  It would be decades before their voices would trickle onto the written pages of history so that all Canadians would know and never forget the emotional and physical trauma experienced by Canadian volunteers while in the service of their country.

Despite the initial homecoming fanfare and celebrity status, as recalled by George McDonell, there lurked, hidden amongst the overriding rapture of rediscovered freedom, fear and trepidation.137 One Canadian prisoner expressed the worries and anxieties about freedom in a letter to his friend.  He wrote:  “I can’t help but think of all the things we are going to have to learn before we feel at home.  Will we feel lost, frightened by the things we see?”138  Many did have difficulty adjusting to the early days of freedom as life in captivity was still fresh in their minds. In a report documenting the physical and psychological experiences of the prisoners of war, it was noted that the adjustment to home life was so difficult because the expectations of families and friends had been too great.139  Ken Cambon addressed this very topic when he noted that readjusting to freedom seemed harder than the years in prison camp as, “the only goal was to survive” while a prisoner of war.140 Cambon recalled that it was much more difficult to adapt to family patterns which were expected of him.141  Readjusting to family life and expectations was just part of the uphill battle these men would face throughout their lives.    

One of the first of many hurdles the ex-prisoners of war had to face was in dealing with the Canadian government and bringing proper justice upon those who had been accused of committing war crimes in the Pacific.  Those captured and accused of war crimes numbered approximately eight times more than those accused in Europe.142  Whether sufficient justice was served is a matter of contention, as the American policy of clemency in 1950 reduced many prison sentences.143 While many veterans were vehemently opposed to clemency, there was no outcry of public support, as attentions had been turned to the mounting tensions between the United States and the U.S.S.R. 

While the Canadian government and its citizens prepared for the possibility of nuclear war, the ex-prisoners of war from Hong Kong prepared to take on the Canadian government, as they banded together in 1948 and organized the Hong Kong Veterans Association (HKVA).  This battle would be long and drawn out, with small victories along the way.  Troubles began, with respect to future pension rights and compensation, when prisoners returned home and were examined by Canadian doctors unfamiliar with diagnosing tropical parasitic diseases, such as dysentery.  Encouraged by the quick return of lost weight, many discharge papers made no mention of their medical problems.144  This proved to be a significant roadblock for those Hong Kong veterans who later sought disability pensions as a result of their military service.  Veterans were encouraged by the increase in public support, as seen in an editorial published in June of 1948 in the Vancouver Daily Province titled, “Must They Fight Twice for Their Pay?”145  In 1952 Hong Kong veterans were awarded their first war claims payments as compensation for maltreatment during imprisonment.  This amount of $1.00 per day of imprisonment was awarded with an additional .50 per day added in 1958.146

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s the Hong Kong Veterans Association continued their fight with the government for benefits and compensation, with representatives appearing numerous times before the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.  In 1963, the HKVA sought benefits that would entitle all Canadian survivors of Japanese POW camps to an automatic pension of 50% disability, further allowing widows of veterans to receive widows’ benefits.  Lengthy studies and investigations were requested by the Pension Commission, leading to the government’s acknowledgement in January 1971 of the special service of Hong Kong veterans.  It took twenty-five years of pleading with the Canadian government for the veterans to be awarded the pension they felt they deserved.  During this period of time many veterans spent considerable amounts of time in and out of the hospital, while 143 of the 1,418 soldiers liberated in 1945 had died by 1965, with the average age of death being around 40.147  Paradoxically, in 1966, while veterans were still battling for pension rights, the Canadian government officially celebrated the 25th anniversary of the liberation of Canadian troops from captivity in the Far East by sending 80 veterans and “the usual heavy dose of politicians and bureaucrats and ministerial hangers-on” to Hong Kong.148  This was for many veterans their first trip back and old wounds were reopened, as reflected in the comments made by Queen-Hughes, a Winnipeg Grenadier, when he said:  “It’s like the government—they never really wanted to know what happened after sending us stupidly to Hong Kong in the first place.  […] They hid their eyes from the war crimes trials and pretended that they had nothing to do with Canadians.”149 The frustration and bitterness of the Hong Kong veterans would not end here, and is poignantly expressed in a poem written in 1970 by ex-POW, Geoffrey Marston, titled “A Hong Kong Diary.”  While the poem was directed towards his Japanese captors, it can also be applied to the feelings often expressed by veterans towards the Canadian government. Half-way through the poem it reads:

The days that did follow, or the years that went by,

    Mercy they never thought of, nor would they try,

    Yet for those who survived such a ghastly ordeal

    Today are still suffering from the scar that won’t heal.150       

Canadian ex-POWs from Hong Kong, and their posterity, have been world-wide leaders in the effort to convince reluctant governments to award pensions appropriate to service and to conditions experienced.151  Nowhere is this more evident than in one of their final conflicts.  In 1987 the War Amputations of Canada, in association with the Hong Kong Veterans Association of Canada, submitted an extensive claim to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, with respect to the gross violation of human rights committed by the Japanese for the incarceration of Canadian Servicemen in Hong Kong and Japanese prisoner of war camps during the Second World War.152 The initial goal of the submission, based on a gross violation of human rights, was to receive compensation from the Japanese government for the forced labour performed while prisoners of war.  Roadblocks, such as the 1952 Peace Treaty that absolved Japan of any responsibility, were not enough to thwart the efforts of the veterans and their supporters.  

In 1993, fed up with the Canadian government’s unwillingness to negotiate with Japan to pay reparations, the veterans proposed that the Canadian government pay their compensation claim.153 The list of supporters for the Hong Kong veterans, by this time, had grown significantly.  As veterans, and supporters alike, were gearing up to take on the Canadian government, citizen ‘enlightenment’ of the situation was needed to acquire the much needed public pressure. Subsequently, a documentary produced by H. Clifford Chadderton, of the War Amputations of Canada, and Patron of the HKVA, was prepared for the Canadian public, titled “Canada’s Hong Kong Veterans—The Compensation Story.”154 The response of the Canadian public was as favourable as hoped.  The Globe and Mail picked up the story and reported on 16 August 1993:  “Human-rights expert urges compensation for Canadian PoWs.”  The article quotes John Humphrey, a long-time head of the United Nations Human Rights Directorate: “Canada  will be tarred […] for its refusal to press for negotiation of one of the shameful legacies of the Second World War.”154  The article also scolds the Canadian government for turning its back on POWs.

Of the original 1,418 survivors of ‘C’ Force, only 350 of them would have been fortunate enough to see the fruits of their labours come to fruition in 1998 by the awarding of $24,000 to each surviving Far East POW, or to their widow, for the forced labour endured while prisoners of the Japanese. CBC News, on 12 December 1998, heralded the success of Canada’s Hong Kong veterans, but also reminded Canadians of the grievances they still harbour in never receiving a formal apology from the Japanese government for the suffering they endured while held captive during the war.155  Dollars can never fully compensate for the sacrifices made at Hong Kong, and there will always be those who argue ‘what has been has been.’  Argument and recrimination will do nothing to repair the damage, nor will it mitigate any of the hardships of those young Canadians who fell prisoners to the Japanese.

Remembrance Day is viewed as a sacred day each year when Canadian citizens from across the country gather to pay tribute to those men and women who sacrificed their lives in the name of freedom.  Canadians honour the many selfless acts of bravery and courage and express heartfelt gratitude for the freedom enjoyed today.  On Remembrance Day, 2007, The Gaspé Spec, a small local paper produced from an area where men enlisted with the Royal Rifles of Canada, published an article titled:  “The Hong Kong Veterans of Canada, ‘Our forgotten heroes.’”156  What of those ‘heroes’ who did not offer the ‘ultimate’ sacrifice of their life during wartime, and is it one’s responsibility to honour or recognize all sacrifices made in the name of freedom?  Dr. Roland feels that the battle of Hong Kong, and the prisoner of war experience, “deserve to be better known among those of us who have benefited from their sacrifices.”157

There have been many different forces that have affected the public memory of the battle of Hong Kong over the years.  What is interesting to note is the change in public perception, and, in many instances, the creation of a public memory, from the time survivors returned home until the present.  Initial perceptions about the war centred around the comments of Doddridge.  Doddridge recalled that “when we first returned to Canada, it was widely believed that we were losers, which, in a sense we were.”158 Losers or not, those who returned home were not anxious to change public perceptions that focused on defeat, as energies were turned elsewhere. 

 It was not until the 1960s that the first two historical accounts of the battle of Hong Kong appeared, albeit published by British historians, and more than likely with a British bias.  It was not until the 1980s and 1990s that new scholarship emerged written by Canadian historians, as well as Hong Kong veterans, leading to the creation of a history of the battle beyond that of military defeat and political blunder.  These accounts contributed significantly to fostering a greater public awareness and understanding of the hardships and challenges Canadian soldiers faced in other theatres of war during World War II.   Commemorations, celebrating key anniversaries that mark the date of Canadian liberation in Hong Kong and Japan, have further served to impress upon Canadian minds the valuable role the Canadian Army played in the Pacific War, as well as recognize their unique experiences.  One such commemoration, marking the 50th anniversary, led to the National Film Board of Canada’s production of the television documentary, titled:  The Valour and the Horror.  This film effectively portrays the dual messages that have disseminated through the years, namely, that of controversy, bitterness and horror, juxtaposed alongside courage, pride and valour.   There is, more than ever before, a certain sentiment associated with the memories of Hong Kong that were once echoed by Daniel J. MacDonald, Minister of Veteran Affairs in 1980, when he stated:  “we are in the company of a special breed of men.  They had to be.”159

With only 114 remaining Hong Kong veterans as of March, 2008, there is a growing concern among veterans that their sacrifices will be forgotten.   Many family members of those who served in the Far East feel it is their duty to make sure their memories live on, as seen by the formation of the Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association (HKVCA).  Formed in 1995, a group of sons and daughters of veterans banded together to assist aging veterans and widows.  They have also worked tirelessly to create a greater public awareness of the heroic role the soldiers played in the defence of Hong Kong and the hardships they faced for nearly four years while prisoners of war.

While the passing of time should not erase or overlook historical accounts in lieu of those presented in the “softer light of revision,”160 “what they suffered, and their spirit of courageous endurance, out to be remembered forever in their honour.”161 One such initiative to ensure that the battle of Hong Kong remain in the public eye has been undertaken by the HKVCA, in fulfillment of their promises made to the Veterans, that Canadians who fought in Hong Kong, and what they experienced, would not be forgotten.  The creation of a lasting memorial has been approved, in principle, which would see the construction of a ‘C’ Force Memorial Wall to serve as a tribute to those 1,975 Canadian volunteers who were sent to assist the British in defending against the Japanese invasion.  This memorial is scheduled for completion in 2010 and will be situated on National Capital Commission property located in Ottawa with easy public access.  Public support has been strong, as donations have poured in from agencies, corporations, friends and supporters, as well as the veterans and their families.   Bob Clayton, concluded the documentary with words spoken directly to his fellow comrades, when he said:  “Wherever you are, and wherever you go, you can say:  ‘I’m a Hong Kong Veteran,’ and hold your head up high.”162  We, too, as Canadians can walk with our heads held high knowing that we are the beneficiaries of their sacrifices and that the memorial wall will serve as a lasting testament recognizing all sacrifices in the name of freedom.


‘C’ Force Memorial Wall





1 Phil Doddridge, “Memories Uninvited,” Home Page, Retrieved February 13, 2008 from the World Wide Web:  http://www.geocities.com/phil_doddridge/.


2 Veteran Affairs Canada, “The Purpose,” Veteran Affairs Canada.  Retrieved February 23, 2008 from the World Wide Web: http://www.vac-acc.gc.ca/CLIENTS/sub.cfn?



3 Carl Vincent, No Reason Why: The Canadian Hong Kong Tragedy—an Examination (Stittsville, Canada’s Wings, Inc., 1981): 2.


4 Staff Writer, “Canadian Units Fight Air Raid at Hong Kong,” Toronto Star: Pages of the Past, 8 December 1941, Front Page.  Retrieved March 20, 2008 from the World Wide Web:  http://www.micromedia.pagesofthepast.ca.proxy.library.carleton.ca.


5 Charles P. Stacey, Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War, Volume 1: Six Years of War (Ottawa, Edmond Cloutier, 1955): 437.


6 Daniel G. Dancocks, In Enemy Hands: Canadian Prisoners of War 1939-45 (Edmonton, Hurtig Publishers Ltd., 1983): 220.


7 Terence and Brian McKenna (writers), “Savage Christmas: Hong Kong 1941” Television Documentary: The Valour and the Horror, Story by D’Arcy O’Connor, National Film Board of Canada, 1992.


8 Daniel G. Dancocks, In Enemy Hands, ix.


9 Tom Forsyth Diary, “Hong Kong Diary and Memories of Japan,” Library and Archives Canada (LAC), Ottawa, File #MG30, E181.


10 LAC, Ottawa, File # RG 33-120 Volume 2, “Royal Commission to Inquire Into and Report Upon the Organization, Authorization and Dispatch of the Canadian Expeditionary Force to the Crown Colony of Hong Kong, 1940-1942,” (referred to as Duff Commission, published in August 1942): Header: “The Royal Rifles of Canada.”


11 Ken Cambon, Guest of Hirohito (Vancouver, PW Press, 1990): 3.


12 Oliver Lindsay, The Battle for Hong Kong, 1941-1945: Hostage to Fortune (United Kingdom, Tempus Publishing Ltd., 2005): 55.


13 LAC, Ottawa, File #RG 33-120 Volume 2, “Duff Commission,” Testimony of Major Power, Minister of National Defence.


14 C.P. Stacey, Six Years of War, 442.


15 Daniel G. Dancocks, In Enemy Hands, 221.

16 LAC, Ottawa, File #RG 33-120 Volume 2, “Duff Commission,” Exhibit 13: Letter written by Major-General Crerar to Minister of National Defence on 30 September, 1941.


17 C.P. Stacey, Six Years of War, 442.

18 Tony Banham, Not the Slightest Change: The Defence of Hong Kong, 1941 (Hong Kong, Hong Kong Press, 2003): 9.


19 William Allister, Where Life and Death Hold Hands (Toronto, Stoddart Publishing Co. Ltd., 1989): 14.


20 Ibid., 15.


21 Tony Banham, Not the Slightest Change, 9.


22 Charles G. Roland, Long Night’s Journey into Day: Prisoners of War in Hong Kong and Japan, 1941-1945 (Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2001): 305.


23 Dave McIntosh, Hell on Earth: Aging Faster, Dying Sooner – Canadian Prisoners of the Japanese During World War II (Toronto, McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd., 1997): 117.


24 Charles G. Roland, Long Night’s Journey into Day, 304.


25 Ibid., 305.


26 Ibid., 305.


27 Ibid., 315.

28 C.P. Stacey, Six Years of War, 490.

29 Charles G. Roland, Long Night’s Journey into Day, 11.


30 C.P. Stacey, Six Years of War, 489.

31 Ibid., 489.

32 Ibid., 490.

33 Terry Copp, “The Defence of Hong Kong: December 1941,” Canadian Military History.  10:4 (Autumn 2001): 18.


34 C.P. Stacey, Six Years of War, 440.

35 Brigadier J.K. Lawson Diary, “Entries in Personal Diary –Brigadier J.K. Lawson, October 1941-December 1941,” Library and Archives Canada (LAC), Ottawa,

File #MG30-E64.

36 Hong Kong Veterans’ Association, The Royal Rifles of Canada in Hong Kong, 1941-1945 (Carp, Baird O’Keefe Publishing Co., 2001): 43.


37 Oliver Lindsay, Hostage to Fortune, 67.


38 C.P. Stacey, Six Years of War, 468.

39 Tony Banham, Not the Slightest Change, 69.

40 Ibid., 70.


41 Ibid., 70.

42 Lancelot Ross, “War Diary of Sgt. Lance Ross, Nov. 1941 to Oct. 1945,” (While this diary is contained at LAC, the copy I used is my own personal copy given to our family by Lance Ross.)


43 Oliver Lindsay, The Lasting Honour: The Fall of Hong Kong, 1941 (London, Hamish Hamilton Ltd., 1978): 83.


44 Tony Banham, Not the Slightest Change, 97.


45 Ibid., 105.


46 Ken Cambon, Guest of Hirohito, 19.

47 Brereton Greenhous, “C” Force to Hong Kong: A Canadian Catastrophe, 1941-1945 (Toronto, Dundurn Press, 1997): 71.


48 Hong Kong Veterans’ Association, The Royal Rifles of Canada in Hong Kong, 65.

49 Ibid., 61.


50 Ibid., 79.

51 Ibid., 83.

52 Tony Banham, Not the Slightest Change, 194.

53 Tom Forsyth, “War Diary & Memoirs,” LAC, Ottawa, File #MG30, E181, Recorded after the fighting finished on December 25, 1941.

54 Lancelot Ross, “War Diary,” Diary entry made on December 20, 1941.


55 Ken Cambon, Guest of Hirohito, 30.

56 George MacDonell, This Soldier’s Story: 1939-1945 (Carp, Baird, O’Keefe Publishing, Inc., 2001): 44.


57 Oliver Lindsay, The Lasting Honour, 143.

58 Ibid., 143.


59 Daniel G. Dancocks, In Enemy Hands, 225.

60 C.P. Stacey, Six Years of War, 488.


61 LAC, Ottawa, File #RG 33-120 Volume 2, “Duff Commission,” February, 1942.

62 Terence and Brian McKenna (writers), The Valour and the Horror, Story by D’Arcy O’Connor, National Film Board of Canada, 1992.

63 Terry Copp, “The Defence of Hong Kong: December 1941,” Canadian Military History.  10:4 (Autumn 2001): 5.

64 Ken Cambon, Guest of Hirohito, 43.

65 Carl Vincent, No Reason Why: The Canadian Hong Kong Tragedy, 249.

66 George MacDonell, This Soldier’s Story: 1939-1945, x.

67 Oliver Lindsay, Hostage to Fortune, 144.

68 Ibid., 144.


69 Henry Lyons, 1986 Interview, in Gustave Gingras and Carol Chapman, “The Sequelae of Inhuman Conditions,” Appendix E, LAC MG31 J12, Volume 12.


70 Diplomatic Conference of Geneva of 1929, “Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, Geneva, 27 July 1929,” International Committee of the Red Cross, Retrieved March 27, 2008 from the World Wide Web: http://www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/FULL/



71 Charles G. Roland, Long Night’s Journey into Day, xvi.

72 Terence and Brian McKenna (writers), The Valour and the Horror, Story by D’Arcy O’Connor, National Film Board of Canada, 1992.

73 Charles G. Roland, Long Night’s Journey into Day, 46.

74 Hong Kong Veterans’ Association, The Royal Rifles of Canada in Hong Kong, 93.

75 Ibid., 93.


76 Charles G. Roland, Long Night’s Journey into Day, xvi.


77 William Allister, Where Life and Death Hold Hands, 44.

78 Larry May, Robert Strikwerda & Patrick Hopkins (eds.), Rethinking Masculinity: Philosophical Explorations in Light of Feminism (2nd ed., Maryland, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.,) 108.


79 William Allister, Where Life and Death Hold Hands, 92.

80 Charles G. Roland, Long Night’s Journey into Day, 115.

81 Eugene Matchett, 1986 Interview, in Gustave Gingras and Carol Chapman, “The Sequelae of Inhuman Conditions,” Appendix E, LAC MG31 J12, Volume 12.

82 Charles G. Roland, Long Night’s Journey into Day, 102.

83 Ibid., 62.


84 Brereton Greenhous, “C” Force to Hong Kong, 129.

85 Tom Forsyth, “War Diary & Memoirs,” LAC, Ottawa, File #MG30, E181.

86 Clifford McDavid, 1986 Interview, in Gustave Gingras and Carol Chapman, “The Sequelae of Inhuman Conditions,” Appendix E, LAC MG31 J12, Volume 12.

87 Lancelot Ross, “War Diary,” Diary entry of ???.

88 Ibid., DATE!!!


89 Ibid., DATE!!!


90 Dave McIntosh, Hell on Earth: Aging Faster, Dying Sooner, 209.

91 Ibid., 209.


92 Ibid., 205.


93 Ibid., 211.


94 Lancelot Ross, “War Diary,” Diary entry of ???.

95 John Raymond Stroud, 1986 Interview, in Gustave Gingras and Carol Chapman, “The Sequelae of Inhuman Conditions,” Appendix E, LAC MG31 J12, Volume 12.

96 McIntosh, Hell on Earth: Aging Faster, Dying Sooner, 207.

97 Bob Clayton, The Valour and the Horror, Terence and Brian McKenna (writers).


98 Brereton Greenhous, “C” Force to Hong Kong, 114.

99 Lancelot Ross, “War Diary,” Diary entry of ???.

100 Oliver Lindsay, The Lasting Honour, 187.

101 Bob Clayton, The Valour and the Horror, Terence and Brian McKenna (writers).

102 Dave McIntosh, Hell on Earth: Aging Faster, Dying Sooner, 144.

103 Lancelot Ross, “War Diary,” Diary entry of ???.

104 Charles G. Roland, Long Night’s Journey into Day, 160.

105 Hong Kong Veterans’ Association, The Royal Rifles of Canada in Hong Kong, 1941-1945, 148.

106 Ibid., 131.


107 Ibid., 288.

108 Lancelot Ross, “War Diary,” Diary entry of ???.

109 Francis Martyn, “Diary of Francis Denis Ford Martyn,” LAC, Ottawa, File #MG30E 324.  Diary entry: April 1945.


110 Charles G. Roland, Long Night’s Journey into Day, 101.

111 William Allister, Where Life and Death Hold Hands, 57.

112 Tom Forsyth, “War Diary & Memoirs,” LAC, Ottawa, File #MG30, E181, Diary entry: Sept. 17, 1942.

113 Phil Doddridge, e-mail correspondence between author and Doddridge dated: February 13, 2008.


114 Leon Cyr, 1986 Interview, in Gustave Gingras and Carol Chapman, “The Sequelae of Inhuman Conditions,” Appendix E, LAC MG31 J12, Volume 12.

115 Charles G. Roland, Long Night’s Journey into Day, 194.

116 Ibid., 125.


117 Ibid., 72.

118 Jonathan F. Vance, Objects of Concern: Canadian Prisoners of War Through the Twentieth Century (Vancouver, UBC Press, 1994.): 184.


119 Frank William Ebdon, “Diary of Sgt. Frank William Ebdon—December 26, 1942-December 26, 1943,” LAC, Ottawa, File #MG30 E328 Volume 1, diary entry:  February 24, 1943.


120 Francis Martyn, “Diary of Francis Denis Ford Martyn,” LAC, Ottawa, File #MG30E 324.  Diary entry: January 16, 1942.

121 Charles G. Roland, Long Night’s Journey into Day, 216.

122 George MacDonell, This Soldier’s Story: 1939-1945, 52.

123 Francis Martyn, “Diary of Francis Denis Ford Martyn,” LAC, Ottawa, File #MG30E 324.  Diary entry: December, 1944.

124 Tom Forsyth, “War Diary & Memoirs,” LAC, Ottawa, File #MG30, E181. 

125 Gustave Gingras and Carol Chapman. “The Sequelae of Inhuman Conditions and Slave Labour Experienced by Members of Canadian Components of the Hong Kong Forces, 1941-1945,” Vol 2, Pt. 1, LAC, Ottawa, File #MG31 J12, Volume12, File 6.

126 Charles G. Roland, Long Night’s Journey into Day, 157.

127 Hong Kong Veterans’ Association, The Royal Rifles of Canada in Hong Kong, 1941-1945, 118.

128 Ibid., 123.


129 Hong Kong Veterans’ Commemorative Association, Hong Kong Veterans’ Commemorative Association ‘C’ Force Memorial Wall Brochure, Retrieved on March 27, 2008 from the World Wide Web:  https://www.hkvca.ca/memwall/Brochure.pdf.


130 Col. James Crawford, “Preliminary Report on a Follow-up Study of Repatriates from Japanese Prisoner of War Camps,” Department of Veterans Affairs, Treatment Services Bulletin 5:4 (April 1950): 160.


131 Walter Greg, 1986 Interview, in Gustave Gingras and Carol Chapman, “The Sequelae of Inhuman Conditions,” Appendix E, LAC MG31 J12, Volume 12.

132 William Stewart, “Prisoners in Kowloon Healthier Than Hoped,” The Globe and Mail, 6 September, 1945.  Retrieved on February 23, 2008 from the World Wide Web: http://heritage.theglobeandmail.com.proxy.library.carleton.ca.


133 Dave McIntosh, Hell on Earth: Aging Faster, Dying Sooner, 242.

134 Terry Johnson, Jonathon Cote, Phillip Day & Steve Weatherbe, “The Alberta Report,” August 31, 1987, LAC, Ottawa, MG31 J12 Volume 12, “Gingras Fonds”.


135 Ibid.


137 George MacDonell, This Soldier’s Story: 1939-1945, 100.

138 Jonathan F. Vance, Objects of Concern, 217.

139 Gustave Gingras and Carol Chapman. “The Sequelae of Inhuman Conditions and Slave Labour Experienced by Members of Canadian Components of the Hong Kong Forces, 1941-1945,” Vol 2, Pt. 1, LAC, Ottawa, File #MG31 J12, Volume12, File 6.

140 Ken Cambon, Guest of Hirohito, 101.

141 Ibid., 101.

142 McIntosh, Hell on Earth: Aging Faster, Dying Sooner, 239.

143 Ibid., 242.


144 Carl Vincent, No Reason Why: The Canadian Hong Kong Tragedy, 238.

145 Ibid., 241.


146 Ibid., 242.

147 McIntosh, Hell on Earth: Aging Faster, Dying Sooner, 252.

148 Ibid., 272.

149 Ibid., 273.

150 Geoffrey Marston, “Hong Kong Memoir,” LAC, Ottawa, File #MG31 G7. Poem written on Febuary 9, 1970, titled, “A Hong Kong Diary.”


151 Charles G. Roland, Long Night’s Journey into Day, 324.

152 Gustave Gingras and Carol Chapman. “The Sequelae of Inhuman Conditions and Slave Labour Experienced by Members of Canadian Components of the Hong Kong Forces, 1941-1945,” Vol 2, Pt. 1, LAC, Ottawa, File #MG31 J12, Volume12, File 6.

153 McIntosh, Hell on Earth: Aging Faster, Dying Sooner, 266.


154 Clifford Chadderton, “Canada’s Hong Kong Veterans—The Compensation Story,” 1993.  Retrieved on February 2, 2008 from the World Wide Web:  http://www.waramps.



154 Andre Ficard, “Human-rights expert urges compensation for Canadian Pows,” The Globe and Mail, 16 August, 1993.  Retrieved on March 23, 2008 from the World Wide Web: http://heritage.theglobeandmail.com.proxy.library.carleton.ca.

155 “Hong Kong vets get compensation,” CBC News, Saturday, December 12, 1998.  Retrieved on February 13,2008 from the World Wide Web:  http://www.cbc.ca/story/



156 Murray Doull, “The Hong Kong Veterans of Canada, ‘Our forgotten heroes,’” The Gaspe Spec 33:44 (November 2007): 5.


157 Charles G. Roland, Long Night’s Journey into Day, 327.

158 Phil Doddridge, “Memories Uninvited,” page 44.  Retrieved February 13, 2008 from the World Wide Web:  http://www.geocities.com/phil_doddridge/.

159 Daniel J. MacDonald, “Gustave Gingras Political Correspondance,” LAC, Ottawa, File #MG31 J12 Volume 12, File 6, letter by Minister of Veteran Affairs, 1980.


160 McIntosh, Hell on Earth: Aging Faster, Dying Sooner, viii.

161 “The Royal Rifles Come Home,” Montreal Gazette, 1945, LAC, Ottawa, File #MG30E 328, File 26, “Diary of Frank William Ebdon.”


162 Bob Clayton, The Valour and the Horror, Terence and Brian McKenna (writers).