Honoured veterans and families, Deputy Secretary Lo, Director-General Li, Director-General Wallace, your excellencies, distinguished guests, Friends:
Thank you all for joining us today, here at this solemn site, to commemorate the Canadians and Allied forces who fought in the Battle of Hong Kong.
Nous nous réunissons pour rendre hommage à la mémoire des soldats canadiens et des nations alliées qui ont fait preuve de leur courage pendant la bataille de Hong Kong.
This year’s commemorative ceremony is particularly special, because it marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Hong Kong; and we are honoured by the presence of four veterans who fought in the Second World War:
We are also pleased to welcome, in addition to representatives from our allied nations and from the Governments of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and of the People’s Republic of China, five very special people and groups:
The Battle of Hong Kong is an important part of Canada’s history.
It was here, on December 8, 1941, that Canadian troops experienced our country's first battle in World War II.
And four years later, their surviving members were among the last soldiers to return home.
In October 1941, 1,975 young Canadian troops mainly from two regiments – The Royal Rifles of Canada from Quebec, and the Winnipeg Grenadiers from Manitoba – departed Vancouver for garrison duties in Hong Kong.
Within three weeks of their arrival, on December 8, 1941, the Japanese military invaded Hong Kong.
For seventeen and a half days, our Canadians along with soldiers from Great Britain, British India, the Hong Kong Chinese Regiment and the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Force fought fiercely and courageously against the overwhelming power of the invaders.
When they could fight no more, the Colony surrendered on Christmas Day.
The surviving Canadians and their fellow British, Indian and Hong Kong soldiers and supporting personnel then suffered mistreatment, disease and malnutrition for nearly four years in the Prisoner of War camps.
In total, more than 550 Canadians soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield or in the camps, and almost 500 were wounded.
283 Canadian soldiers who fell in defense of Hong Kong, including 107 in unidentified graves, lay here at the Sai Wan War Cemetery. Another 20 are buried at Stanley Military Cemetery.
One of these is Sergeant John Payne of the Winnipeg Grenadiers, just 23 years old when when he died tried to escape from the Prisoner of War Camp in North Point.
In a final letter for his mother written in August 1942, he wrote this:
Dear Mother, I have decided, either fortunately or unfortunately as the case may be, to take a chance on getting through to Chungking…… There are numerous reasons for this step, the chief being that the cholera season & fly season is starting, dysentery & Beri Beri are high in camp …… for that reason, I know you won’t condemn my judgment.”
Sergeant Payne and three others -- Private John Adams, Lance Corporal George Berzenski and Private Percy Ellis – escaped, but were captured after their boat capsized.They were beaten, then executed.
These are the brutal facts of war, from which cannot shy away, if we are to understand and appreciate the courage and sacrifice of these fine young people… If we are to remember what they did and who they were.
Those who served with them, and after them, including the four veterans of the Second World War who are with us here today, deserve not only our deepest respect but also our sincerest gratitude.
They answered the call and did their duty not only to defend Hong Kong, but so that today we may live in peace.
Like many of you who are here today as students, in the choir or in uniform, they volunteered – even in small ways – to serve their community, their country, and humanity.
In their own day, this meant fighting to defend the values of freedom, peace and the rule of law shared and cherished to this day today by Canadians and the people of Hong Kong.
The ultimate sacrifices made by these Canadians helped to build the unique and strong bond between Canada and Hong Kong, which will continue to flourish through Canada's 150th Anniversary of Confederation in 2017.
Speaking for all Canadians at this year’s Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa, Prime Minister Trudeau said this:
“Time may fade, but our memories cannot. We all have a duty to hold the torch high, and to keep its flame alight. Liberty’s cause beats deeply within our hearts, and every generation of Canadians has answered the call to serve.”
To those who have departed, your lives and bravery will always be remembered.
Nous nous souviendrons d’eux.
We will remember them.