During World War II, two Canadian battalions were deployed to Hong Kong to defend the city, and many of the soldiers sacrificed their lives in action. To mark this year's 70th anniversary of the Battle of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence will hold a new exhibition entitled "To the Last Man: Canadian Troops in the Battle of Hong Kong" from tomorrow (December 23) until June 20 next year to pay tribute to the spirit of the Canadian troops. Featuring more than 50 priceless pictures showing the gallantry of the soldiers in their defence of Hong Kong as well as their days in the prisoner-of-war camps, the exhibition not only provides an opportunity for visitors to learn about the history of the period, but also salutes the Canadian troops.
On November 16, 1941, two Canadian battalions, the Winnipeg Grenadiers and Royal Rifles of Canada, comprising 2 500 members boarded a huge transport vessel to journey to Hong Kong, where they joined the Hong Kong defence forces.
The Winnipeg Grenadiers was an infantry regiment of the Canadian Army formed in 1908. At the start of World War II, its members were put into garrison duty for 16 months in Jamaica. In October 1941, they returned to Canada and were then sent to Hong Kong for active duty. They received some new members, but those new members did not even have basic training and they also lacked ammunition appropriate for a standard battalion. As a result, the battalion lacked the strength needed for front-line duty.
The Royal Rifles of Canada was formed in 1862 and originated in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. The battalion was placed in active service during World War I. During World War II, its members served in Newfoundland in the east of Canada on garrison duty before being called to serve in Hong Kong in October 1941.
After the arrival of the Canadian troops, there was only a short period for acclimatisation. On December 8, 1941, the Japanese began their assault on Hong Kong Island and soon gained control of most of the north-eastern part of the island extending from Chai Wan to Mount Butler. The Canadian troops were immediately deployed to occupy Mount Butler and Jardine's Lookout. However, their fighting ability was seriously impeded due to their limited knowledge of the terrain. As a result, the troops suffered heavy casualties. At 3.25pm on Christmas Day, the Governor, Sir Mark Young, made the decision to surrender.
During the occupation, 1 500 Canadian prisoners of war were imprisoned in North Point Camp. As was the case with other prisoner-of-war camps, North Point Camp suffered from overcrowding and a lack of food and amenities, and medical facilities were almost non-existent. Some Canadian prisoners of war were dispatched to Japan as labourers, some fell ill with malnutrition, and others died due to lack of medicine. In addition, beatings by camp guards were a common occurrence.
The Japanese finally announced their surrender in 1945, and Canadian soldiers could then be sent back home. In the end, a total of 558 soldiers from the original force did not return home - more than one-fifth of those who had sailed from Vancouver to Hong Kong in 1941. As many Canadians fought to the last man, and the gallantry of the soldiers deserves special mention, this pictorial exhibition pays tribute to the Canadian troops who defended Hong Kong.
Through the historical pictures and panel text, the stories and the spirit of the Canadian troops can be recollected. Among the exhibits is the touching story of a big dog, Gander, who was sent to Hong Kong with the troops. Gander showed his bravery in protecting his comrades-in-arms and finally died in battle at Lei Yue Mun (around the present site of the Museum of Coastal Defence).
The Museum of Coastal Defence is located at 175 Tung Hei Road, Shau Kei Wan, Hong Kong. It is open from 10am to 5pm and is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays) and the first two days of the Lunar New Year. Admission is $10 and half-price concessions are applicable to full-time students, people with disabilities and senior citizens aged 60 or above. Admission is free on Wednesdays.
For more details of the exhibition, please visit the Museum's website at www.hk.coastaldefence.museum/en/section3-3-06.php or call 2569 1500 .
Ends/Thursday, December 22, 2011
The Royal Rifles of Canada leave Valcartier, Quebec, on October 23, 1941, and head for their embarkation point in Vancouver for their journey to Hong Kong. This photo is on display at the "To the Last Man: Canadian Troops in the Battle of Hong Kong" exhibition at the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence.
Canadian troops march along Nathan Road toward Sham Shui Po Camp after disembarkation. They appear fit and confident. This photo will be on display at the "To the Last Man: Canadian Troops in the Battle of Hong Kong" exhibition at the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence.
This rare photo, taken in 1942, shows prisoners of war behind barbed wire at Sham Shui Po Prisoner-of-War Camp. This photo will be on display at the "To the Last Man: Canadian Troops in the Battle of Hong Kong" exhibition at the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence.
Gander, also known as "Pal", was the only dog from Canada to receive the Dickin Medal. Gander was sent to Hong Kong with the Royal Rifles of Canada in 1941. During the battle at Lei Yue Mun (around the present site of the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence), Gander showed his bravery in protecting his comrades-in-arms. When the Japanese landed near the soldiers at the beach, Gander barked and attempted to bite them. Later, when the Japanese troops were getting near a group of wounded Canadian soldiers, Gander protected them by suddenly charging at the Japanese. The enemy soldiers changed their route, which spared the wounded Canadians. Finally, when Gander saw an enemy grenade, he grabbed it in his mouth and carried it to where it would not harm his companions. Unfortunately, the grenade exploded and killed him.