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Canadian Commemorative Ceremony 2015 – Speech by the Consul General of Canada

Honoured veterans and families, Deputy Secretary Lo, Director-General Li, Distinguished guests, Friends:

C’est un privilège que vous soyez à Hong Kong afin de rendre hommage à la mémoire des soldats canadiens qui ont fait preuve de tant courage pendant la bataille de Hong Kong en 1941.

Le site de Sai Wan souligne l’importance des liens entre le Canada et Hong Kong.

Le monument commémoratif de Sai Wan, à l’entrée du cimetière, honore les membres des forces terrestres du Commonwealth morts pendant la défense de Hong Kong au cours de la seconde guerre mondiale.

I am pleased to be here with you today, at this solemn site, so beautifully maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, to commemorate Canadians and allied forces that fought in the Battle of Hong Kong.

This year’s commemorative ceremony is particularly special, because:

  • It marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War; and of course
  • The 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Hong Kong; and
  • Most importantly, because we are honoured by the presence of two veterans who fought in the Battle of Hong Kong:  Canadian veteran, Mr. Ralph MacLean, who has flown from his home in Alberta to join our ceremony; and Hong Kong veteran Mr. Peter Choi.

These gentlemen are our heroes.

We are also pleased to welcome two very special groups:

  • The Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association; and
  • The Stanley Internment Camp Reunion-Gathering.

They join us today, to honour the memories of their loved ones, who fought valiantly to defend Hong Kong, and endured great hardship between 1941 and 1945.

The Battle of Hong Kong began 74 years ago in December 1941.

It is not only a part of Hong Kong’s history but is also very much a part of Canada’s history.

As we know so well, in November 1941, nearly 2,000 young Canadian troops from two battalions – The Royal Rifles of Canada from Quebec, and the Winnipeg Grenadiers from Manitoba – arrived Hong Kong for a new assignment: garrison duty in the British Colony of Hong Kong.

Within weeks of their arrival, on December 8, 1941, the Japanese military launched an air attack and invasion of Hong Kong.

Our Canadians along with the allied forces demonstrated extraordinary courage by holding their ground for seventeen and a half days before the British Governor ultimately surrendered the colony of Hong Kong on Christmas Day 1941.

Many of the Canadian soldiers were later held by the Japanese military and endured years of harsh treatment as prisoners of war, suffering malnutrition and disease.

In total, more than 550 Canadians soldiers died in the defence of Hong Kong. Canadian soldiers, were the first to fight in the Second World War, were among the last soldiers to return home.

Comme nous l’avons fait chaque année depuis 1947, nous sommes rassemblés ici, en tant que communauté, pour rendre hommage et honorer ces sacrifices.

We are also here to remember a most unexpected World War Two hero.

This year, we are fortunate to have a black Newfoundlander named Brave Heart, whom you may have noticed leading our procession, to honour the memory of Sergeant Gander.

In November 1941, Gander the dog, a mascot of the Royal Rifles of Canada, was deployed to Hong Kong to accompany the regiment. Gander was not just a mascot, but he was also seen as a fellow soldier with a duty to perform.

His dedication was soon recognised and rewarded with a promotion and new title: “Sergeant” Gander.

Twice Sergeant Gander halted the enemy’s advance, and in a final act of bravery, sensing the danger facing a group of wounded Canadian soldiers under intense fire, Gander picked up a live grenade and ran away from the wounded Canadian soldiers.

A few seconds later, the grenade exploded killing him in action, but saving the lives of seven Canadian soldiers.

For Gander’s bravery, he was awarded posthumously, the Dickin Medal, which is commonly referred to as "the animals' Victoria Cross". A faithful companion whose sacrifice we must also remember and honour.

The ultimate sacrifices of the Canadian soldiers (including Sergeant Gander) during the Battle of Hong Kong mark an important chapter in the unique ties and bond and that continue to flourish between Canada and Hong Kong.

Ensemble, nous, Canadiens, Hongkongais et amis de toutes nations, reconnaissons cette dette envers les soldats tombés au champ d’honneur et tous nos vétérans.

We are also reminded of the heroism the Canadian servicemen remembered here at Sai Wan and in other theatres of war, most recently in Afghanistan, that allow us today to be proud, to stand strong and most of all, to be free.

To those who have departed, your lives and bravery will always be remembered.

Nous nous souviendrons d’eux.

We will remember them!

As I mentioned earlier, we are honoured to have a Canadian veteran, Mr. Ralph Maclean, here to share his first-hand experiences with us.

Mr. MacLean, like many of his comrades, enlisted for Canada's Royal Rifles at a very young age. Mr. MacLean was just 19 years old.

Mr. MacLean, who fought in the Battle of Hong Kong, was taken prisoner on Christmas Day 1941 and spent three years and eight months in Prisoner of War camps.

His legacy is something we must all remember and never forget. Despite his experiences, he said recently that he would fight all over again for the freedom of the next generation.

Mr. MacLean, on behalf of the Canadian community, the Government of Canada and everyone across Hong Kong, we honour you from the bottom of our hearts for your courage and we thank you most sincerely for joining us today.

Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Ralph MacLean….


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