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Canadian Commemorative Service in Hong Kong

December 5, 2010

PERMANENT SECRETARY YOUNG,  DEPUTY COMMISSIONER GAO,  HONOURED VETERANS,  WIDOWS AND FAMILIES, DISTINGUISHED GUESTS, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN.

MONSIEUR LE SECRÉTAIRE PERMANENT YOUNG,

MONSIEUR LE COMMISSAIRE ADJOINT GAO,

HONORÉS ANCIENS COMBATTANTS, VEUVES ET FAMILLES, DISTINGUÉS INVITÉS, MESDAMES ET MESSIEURS.

IN OCTOBER 1941,  1, 975 SOLDIERS FROM TWO CANADIAN BATTALIONS, THE ROYAL RIFLES OF QUEBEC, AND THE WINNIPEG GRENADIERS, LEFT CANADIAN SHORES FOR THEIR NEW ASSIGNMENT: GARRISON DUTY IN THE BRITISH COLONY OF HONG KONG. 

ARRIVING IN HONG KONG IN NOVEMBER OF THAT YEAR, THEY TOOK UP THEIR NON-COMBAT ROLE AT A TIME WHEN WAR WITH JAPAN WAS NOT CONSIDERED IMMINENT.

AND YET, WITHIN WEEKS OF THEIR ARRIVAL, THE JAPANESE MILITARY LAUNCHED A SERIES OF ATTACKS ON PEARL HARBOUR, NORTHERN MALAYA, THE PHILIPPINES AND GUAM, AND ON DECEMBER 8 1941 HONG KONG WAS PLUNGED INTO WAR.

DECEMBER 8, 1941 WAS A SUNDAY, PROBABLY WITH WEATHER NOT UNLIKE TODAY. SHORTLY AFTER 8 IN THE MORNING,  THE JAPANESE MILITARY LAUNCHED THEIR AIR ATTACK. TWELVE JAPANESE PLANES DROPPED THEIR BOMBS ON ALLIED AIRCRAFT PARKED AT KAI TAK AIRPORT LEAVING THE CITY WITHOUT AIR DEFENSES.

WITHIN HOURS THE JAPANESE ARMY BEGAN THEIR INVASION, CROSSING THE MAINLAND BORDER AND MOVING INTO THE NEW TERRITORIES.  THE CANADIANS IN HONG KONG WERE THE FIRST CANADIAN TROOPS TO BE SEE COMBAT IN WORLD WAR II.

IN DEFENSE OF HONG KONG WERE 14,000 ALLIED SOLDIERS WHO FOUGHT A DESPERATE BATTLE AGAINST 60,000 JAPANESE TROOPS FOR SEVENTEEN AND A HALF DAYS, DEMONSTRATING EXTRAORDINARY  COURAGE AGAINST OVERWHELMING ODDS. 

WHEN THE BATTLE WAS OVER, AND WHEN THEY COULD FIGHT NO MORE, THE BRITISH GOVERNOR SURRENDERED THE COLONY OF HONG KONG ON DECEMBER  25, CHRISTMAS DAY.

EVERY YEAR SINCE 1947 THE GOVERNMENT OF CANADA HAS HELD THIS CEREMONY HERE, IN THIS CEMETERY, ON THE FIRST SUNDAY IN DECEMBER TO PAY OUR RESPECTS AND TO HONOUR THE SACRIFICE OF OUR FELLOW CANADIANS.

THANK YOU ALL FOR JOINING US TODAY. 

JE VOUS REMERCIE TOUS D’ÊTRE DES NÔTRES AUJOURD’HUI.

AS A GOVERNMENT AND AS A PEOPLE WE PROMISE NEVER TO FORGET.  

NOUS PROMETTONS DE NE JAMAIS OUBLIER.

WE COMMIT TO HONOURING THE VALIANT MEMBERS  OF ‘C’ FORCE:  OFFICERS, SOLDIERS AND THEIR SUPPORT INCLUDING MEDICAL STAFF AND NURSES.

WE REMEMBER THEIR BRAVERY AS THE ROYAL RIFLES DEFENDED THE EASTERN SIDE OF HONG KONG ISLAND AND THE RUGGED HILLS OF REPULSE BAY AND STANLEY PENINSULA

WHILE THE WINNIPEG GRENADIERS FOUGHT TO HOLD MT. BUTLER AND WONG NGAI CHONG GAP.

WE PROMISE TO REMEMBER THE 228 CANADIANS WHO DIED IN DEFENSE OF HONG KONG AND WHOSE NAMES ARE ON THE MEMORIAL WALL – THESE ARE THE BRAVE WITH NO KNOWN GRAVES.

CE SONT LES BRAVES QUI N’ONT PAS DE SÉPULTURE CONNUE.

AMONG THEM IS SERGEANT MAJOR JOHN ROBERT  OSBORN, WHO SACRIFICED HIS LIFE ON DECEMBER  19, 1941 ON THE SLOPES OF MOUNT BUTLER, WHEN HE THREW HIMSELF ON A GRENADE TO SAVE THE LIVES OF HIS FELLOW SOLDIERS.

FOR HIS BRAVERY HE WAS AWARDED, POSTHUMOUSLY, THE VICTORIA CROSS, THE FIRST CANADIAN RECIPIENT IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR.

WE PROMISE TO REMEMBER THE 283 SOLDIERS OF THE CANADIAN ARMY, INCLUDING 107 WHO ARE  IN UNIDENTIFIED GRAVES, HERE AT SAI WAN CEMETERY AND OUR 20 SOLDIERS WHO ARE BURIED AT STANLEY MILITARY CEMETERY.

AMONG THEM WE HONOUR BRIGADIER JOHN K. LAWSON, THE SENIOR CANADIAN COMMANDER WHO ACCOMPANIED HIS UNITS TO HONG KONG AND WHO LED THEM INTO BATTLE.  ON DECEMBER 19, 1941 DURING THE SAME FIERCE FIGHTING IN WHICH SERGEANT MAJOR JOHN ROBERT OSBORN LOST HIS LIFE, THE BRIGADIER’S WEST BRIGADE  HEADQUARTERS BECAME SURROUNDED BY JAPANESE TROOPS.  BRIGADIER LAWSON REPORTED TO FORTRESS HEADQUARTERS THAT HE WAS GOING OUTSIDE TO “SHOOT  IT OUT” ULTIMATELY TO HIS DEATH BUT COURAGEOUS AND DETERMINED TO THE END.        

DECEMBER 19TH AND 20TH WERE DESPERATE DAYS FOR CANADIANS.  IN ADDITION TO LOSING THE BRIGADIER, WE ALSO LOST HIS CHIEF OF STAFF, COLONEL PATRICK  HENNESSY. COLONEL HENNESSY WAS THE SECOND HIGHEST RANKING OFFICER IN THE CANADIAN COMMAND.

WHEN BRIGADIER LAWSON WAS KILLED COLONEL HENNESSY BECAME THE COMMANDER OF “C” FORCE.  BUT WITHIN HOURS HE TOO WAS MORTALLY WOUNDED WHEN HIS HEADQUARTERS WAS HIT BY ENEMY SHELLS.

BOTH MEN ARE BURIED HERE IN SAI WAN CEMETERY.

WE ALSO HONOUR OVER 493 CANADIANS WHO WERE WOUNDED IN THE DEFENSE OF HONG KONG AND WE HONOUR THOSE WHO DIED IN CAPTIVITY.

133 CANADIANS LOST THEIR LIVES IN  PRISON CAMPS IN HONG KONG AND 136 WOULD DIE IN  PRISONER OF WAR CAMPS IN JAPAN.

HERE IN THIS CEMETERY LIE THE GRAVES OF  FOUR BRAVE MEN  – PRIVATE JOHN ADAMS, LANCE CORPORAL GEORGE BERZENSKI, PRIVATE PERCY ELLIS AND SERGEANT JOHN PAYNE, WINNIPEG GRENADIERS WHO DIED TOGETHER, EXECUTED BY THE JAPANESE FOLLOWING AN ESCAPE ATTEMPT, ON 26 AUGUST 1942.  

HERE ALSO LIE THOSE PRISONERS OF WAR WHO COULD NOT SURVIVE THE OUTBREAK OF DIPTHERIA THAT ROLLED THROUGH THE POW CAMPS  IN HONG KONG, AND OTHERS WHO DIED FROM MALNUTRITION, MISTREATMENT AND DISEASE.

WE HONOUR THE SACRIFICE OF CORPORAL GEORGE THOMAS PALMER OF THE ROYAL RIFLES WHO WAS ONE OF THOSE WHO FOUGHT IN HONG KONG AND WAS TRANSFERRED TO A PRISONER OF WAR CAMP IN JAPAN AND WHOSE GRAND-DAUGHTER JOINS US  TODAY TO LAY A WREATH ON BEHALF OF HIS FAMILY.

WE HONOUR TWO WIDOWS WHO JOIN US TODAY – MRS ALEXANDRA SLOVINSKY, THE WIDOW OF PRIVATE WALTER SLOVINSKY AND MRS ODA BARLOW, THE WIDOW OF RIFLEMAN TED BARLOW, TWO BRAVE SOLDIERS FROM THE WINNIPEG GRENADIERS.

IN ADDITION TO HONOURING THOSE WHO DIED LET US RECOGNIZE AND SALUTE THOSE WHO LIVED.

WE WILL NOT FORGET THAT ON THESE HILLS FOUGHT, AND SURVIVED, BOYS AND MEN FROM THE PRAIRIES AND FROM QUEBEC: SONS AND FATHERS AND BROTHERS.

WE WILL NOT FORGET HOW DESPERATELY THEY FOUGHT AND HOW OVERWHELMING THE FOE.

NOUS N’OUBLIERONS PAS CEUX QUI SONT MORTS ET CEUX QUI FURENT CAPTURÉS VIVANTS, LE JOUR DE NOËL…SI LOIN DE CHEZ EUX.

WE WILL NOT FORGET THOSE WHO DIED AND THE LIVING WHO WERE CAPTURED, AT CHRISTMAS...SO FAR FROM HOME.

WE WILL NOT FORGET THAT 2010 MARKS THE 65TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ENDING OF WORLD WAR II,  THE DEFEAT OF A FORMIDABLE ENEMY AND THE RESTORATION OF FREEDOM.

WE WILL PAY TRIBUTE TO THE HISTORIANS – TONY BANHAM, GEOFFREY EMERSON, TIMOTHY KO AND OTHERS – WHO KEEP THESE MEMORIES ALIVE AND  WHO PROVIDE A VITAL RESOURCE AND CONNECTION ACROSS THE GENERATIONS TO THESE BRAVE MEN AND WOMEN.

·       TODAY WE WELCOME THREE CANADIAN VETERANS OF THE BATTLE OF HONG KONG WHO ARE HERE TODAY WITH  THEIR FAMILIES, AND MEMBERS OF THE  HONG KONG VETERANS COMMEMORATIVE ASSOCIATION. 

ALLOW ME TO INTRODUCE THEM TO YOU:

SIGNALMAN  HORACE  "GERRY "  GERRARD, LIKE MANY YOUNG TEENAGERS OF HIS DAY, JOINED THE ROYAL CANADIAN CORPS OF SIGNALS AT THE AGE OF 17.  GERRY WAS TAKEN PRISONER ON CHRISTMAS DAY AND SPENT YEARS IN  PRISONER OF WAR CAMPS, FIRST IN HONG KONG AND THEN IN JAPAN.   HE JOINS US TODAY WITH FOUR FAMILY MEMBERS FROM CANADA.

FOLLOWING HIS CAPTURE, RIFLEMAN  ARTHUR KENNETH  PIFHER OF THE ROYAL RIFLES OF CANADA WAS A  PRISONER OF WAR FIRST AT HONG KONG’S NORTH POINT CAMP ON HONG KONG ISLAND  AND THEN AT SHAMSHUIPO CAMP IN KOWLOON.  RIFLEMAN PIFHER IS JOINED TODAY BY HIS DAUGHTER AND TWO GRANDCHILDREN. 

RIFLEMAN FRED COOPER WAS 22 YEARS OLD WHEN HE JOINED AS A PRIVATE IN THE ROYAL RIFLES OF CANADA. FOLLOWING A FIERCE BATTLE IN THE AREA NOW KNOWN AS TAI TAM COUNTRY PARK, RIFLEMAN COOPER WAS TAKEN  PRISONER AND HE TOO SPENT YEARS FIRST IN A PRISONER OF WAR CAMP IN HONG KONG, AND THEN IN JAPAN. HE IS ACCOMPANIED TODAY BY NINE MEMBERS OF HIS FAMILY INCLUDING TWO DAUGHTERS, AND TWO GRAND-DAUGHTERS.

CHERS ANCIENS COMBATTANTS, AU NOM DE LA COMMUNAUTÉ CANADIENNE ET DU GOUVERNEMENT DU CANADA, NOUS VOUS HONORONS POUR VOTRE COURAGE ETVOUS REMERCIONS D’AVOIR PARCOURU DES MILLIERS DE MILES ET 69 ANNÉES

POUR ÊTRE DES NÔTRES AUJOURD’HUI.

DEAR VETERANS, ON  BEHALF OF THE CANADIAN  COMMUNITY AND THE GOVERNMENT OF CANADA WE HONOUR YOU FOR YOUR COURAGE AND WE THANK YOU FOR A JOURNEY OF THOUSANDS OF MILES AND 69 YEARS TO JOIN US TODAY.

MAY I CALL UPON RIFLEMAN COOPER TO ADDRESS US THIS MORNING.

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Date Modified:
2011-03-15