In 1941 the Japanese juggernaut was rolling through China, seemingly unstoppable, yet British commanders decided to reinforce the garrison at Hong Kong. A British general en route from the far east to Britain stopped off at Ottawa and persuaded Harry Crerar, later commander of the Canadian Army in Europe, to offer two battalions of Canadian troops along with some support personnel for the defence of Hong Kong. The British government eagerly accepted and the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles of Canada headed to Jamaica for some training, arriving in Hong Kong in mid November.

There were obvious signs that this was not going to go well, the ship carrying the contingent’s vehicles wound up in Manila, Philippines, and three weeks after they got there the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Japanese troops began to build up in the area adjoining Kowloon (the mainland portion of Hong Kong). The assault began in earnest on 11 December and the garrison surrendered on Christmas Day.

Almost 2000 Canadians perished, 18 Saskatchewan boys, most of them members of the Winnipeg Grenadiers, died at Hong Kong or in POW camps after the fall of the city:

GC Badger                              EH Baptiste

AE Boulding                            JA Coady

EA Fox                                   AA Granger

GB Harper                              LW Johnson

HF Lucas                                WJ McGinnis

JR Osborn                              W Parenteau

V Ross                                  GW Sayers

RC Smith                               LM Warr

RH Watson                            SG Whitbread


There are many harrowing stories about the events during the battle for Hong Kong, but in many ways the aftermath stories are the more compelling. The Canadian POWs were transferred to Japan in 1943 and spent the rest of the war as slave labour in coal mines, etc. Perhaps the saddest commentary on this whole miserable episode is that it took more than 30 years for the Hong Kong vets to gain recognition from Veterans Affairs Canada that the tropical diseases that ravaged them merited special health care consideration.

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