FOR KING AND CANADA
Hong Kong, 1941: “Your men can win the lasting honor which will be your due.” And so they died
HERE, IN THIS DIM, cavernous room, 18 men stand quietly around a square formed by the four Formica-topped tables trimmed with chrome. From below, the main floor of Winnipeg’s War-Amps hall, come the dulled smoky sounds of men and women drinking and singing. A lady trumpet player and a lady trombone player are trying to get together on a very old tune. And upstairs, in this almost empty room, one of the speakers leaks out hollowly and faintly what is being carried over the PA system below: “Hey, everybody, old Tommy here is 80 years old today! Whaddaya wanna sing. Tommy?” A ragged cheer, and then a fumbling chorus of Sweet Peggy O’Neill.
But the men in this room are listening to Bill Ashton. His voice is a little reedy from bad sinuses, though the words come through clearly: “. . . let us pause to think reverently of those of the C Force Brigade who have given their lives for King and Canada . . .” There are more words — inspiration . . . sacrifice . . . labor — then Ashton calls out a name, “Carl Johnson,” and raps with his knuckles on the table. The silence is ponderous, and you can hear the heavy breathing of those middle-aged men as they remember a man who died only two weeks before. It is a long silence.
If they remember, what do they remember? Perhaps for these occasions each man has his own selection of images: from the few good times in the Hong Kong bars, the tragi-comic defense of the island and the eerie surrender on Christmas Day, 1941; or do they remember the long, dark, ugly sleep of imprisonment in Japanese work camps?
Fred Sadova, treasurer of the Manitoba Hong Kong Veterans Association, has his eyes on the sweep hand of the wristwatch lying on the table. He nudges the president. Bill Ashton reads:
They shall not grow old As we who are left grow old.
Age shed I not weary them Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun And in the morning,
We will remember them.
Unexpectedly, the other men repeat: “We will remember them.” Then they sit down to go about their regular business. Who is sick? Who is being visited? Who needs help? Who is dying? When and where is the next get-together being held? continued overleaf
Jk n #1 In the rain and darkness of the night of December nil ^ 18, 1941, some 7,500 Japanese troops landed almost undetected on Hong Kong’s north shore and quickly penetrated the first defenses. British Intelligence had previously reported that the Japanese troops were “poor at night work.’’
DThe next day Brigadier John Lawson, commanding officer of the Canadian troops, was surrounded in his headquarters post. He phoned the British commanding officer to tell him that he was going outside to shoot it out. After the war his widow received a letter from the Japanese officer who directed the attack. He commented on Lawson’s bravery in battle.
Ein a desperate counterattack on Ml. Butler, CSM J. R. Osborn led a group of Winnipeg Grenadiers in a bayonet charge to the top. They held the position for four hours. Only six men survived. Osborn, killed, was awarded the Victoria Cross.
F Last resistance to the Japanese attack was led by Brigadier J. H. Price of the Royal Rifles of Canada. Cut off from the main force, he retreated to the Stanley Peninsula with a mixed company of exhausted survivors. Churchill had demanded there be no surrender. But on Christmas it was all over.
With beer, ritual and dignity, the Canadian survivors of the battle for Hong Kong stubbornly continue to mark the passing of their comrades. For most of the time they have done so alone. In the years since World War II the Canadian government has acted as if it wished the Hong Kong survivors would just go away.
But perhaps this year, now that a government-appointed committee has recommended increases in veterans’ pensions, the government will finally be forced to acknowledge its debt to a handful of unremembered soldiers. For 22 years Ottawa has refused to allow the Hong Kong survivors to qualify, as a group, for 50-percent disability pensions — although most of them, after three years of beatings, disease and starvation in Japanese prison camps, never fully recovered their health.
You shouldn’t get the idea that this is the cataloguing of a list of woes by an ill-used group of servicemen. Far from
it: “I want to tell you,” said Art Lousier, ex-Grenadier, over a rye-and-ginger in a Winnipeg bar, “I’m not bitter. Maybe you’re some Commie writer trying to stir up trouble. So I want you to know that, like everyone else, I signed my name to a piece of paper to do my duty for my country and my king, as they say. And what happened, happened. I hold no rancor in my heart.”
Yes, Mr. Lousier, but the generosity is all on your side. And anyway how did it happen and why? Well, here for the first time is a step-by-step documentation of the stupidity and folly that sent 2,000 untrained and ill-equipped men to defend an island on the other side of the world that everyone — except the heads of British Army Intelligence — knew was indefensible. And if, when you have finished reading of how the government that has treated you with such miserliness and abandoned you so cavalierly in 1941, your generosity is still not outraged, then I have at the end a little anecdote for you.
The 19th-century attitudes inherent in the political and military decisions to commit Force C to Hong Kong — it was done in the best “play up and play the game, chaps” tradition — make it comparable to the Charge of the Light Brigade. “We were sold a bill of goods,” says a Force C intelligence officer, “and everybody in Ottawa knew it.”
In its monstrous inefficiency — Force C sailed from Vancouver without even its vehicles — the mounting of the expedition can be compared with the Central Intelligence Agency’s bungling in the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. “Because we were without transportation,” says Brigadier J. H. Price, who was then a colonel with the Royal Rifles, “we suffered terribly. We had to carry everything. The men had to march everywhere. As you know, Hong Kong is all mountains and valleys. Many of the men just dropped out of sheer exhaustion, and of course the Japanese came up and shot them where they lay.”
But this is getting ahead of the story. The documentation really begins with Winston Churchill. In August 1940 the British Chiefs of Staff decided Hong Kong would be “regarded as an outpost of the British Empire and held as long as possible,” although they all agreed that in a war with Japan the island could be neither reinforced nor defended. And in October of the same year, the governor of the island, Sir Geoffrey Northcote, requested that the British garrison be withdrawn “to avoid the inevitable slaughter when Japan attacks.” So with this knowledge, Winston Churchill reacted with considerable exasperation to a request in January 1941 from Britain’s Commander-in-Chief in the Far East for reinforcements for Hong Kong. On January 7, 1941, he testily replied to his Chief of Staff, General Hastings Ismay: “This is all wrong. If Japan goes to war with us there is not the slightest chance of holding Hong Kong. It is most unwise to increase the loss we shall suffer there. Intead of increasing the garrison, it ought to be reduced to a symbolic state.” Churchill, as we shall see, was apparently talked out of this reasonable position.
In August 1941, Britain’s GOC, China Command,
Lieutenant-General Sir Edward Grasett, was retired from his appointment and returned to England via Canada. While in this country the Canadian-born general held long discussions with General H. D. G. Crerar, our Chief of General Staff. Crerar later said, “Grasett told me that the addition of two or more battalions to the forces at Hong Kong would render the garrison strong enough to withstand an extensive period of siege against an attack by such forces as the Japanese could bring to bear against it.” Why Grasett continued stubbornly to insist that Hong Kong could be defended against the Japanese has remained a mystery.
Oddly enough, in the same month a Colonel Dewing of the British Intelligence staff told Canadian Army officers at the Royal Military College that Hong Kong was considered indefensible and of no prime strategic importance, and that in a war with Japan nothing more than a symbolic defense would be offered.
“I especially remember Dewing,” says Brigadier J. H. Price, “because I had a friend out there and wondered what was going to happen to him.” Price had no idea at the time that in exactly four months he would be leading a company, the butchered remnants of the island’s defenders, offering the last pocket of resistance to the Japanese on Hong Kong Island.
Within a few days of Grasett’s return to England, he had convinced the British Chiefs of Staff that the two battalions were necessary and Canada could raise them. On September 10 the COS sent a memo to Churchill recommending an approach to the Canadian government. Churchill accepted their advice with one reservation, “a further assessment be taken before the battalions sail.” On September 19 a cable was sent to Ottawa “inviting” the Canadian government to send two battalions to reinforce Hong Kong. It included Churchill’s proviso, but not his earlier misgivings.
On September 23, the War Committee accepted the British proposal in principle, subject to consultation with the Canadian Defense Minister and the Chief of Staff, General H. D. G. Crerar.
George Drew, Conservative Opposition leader at the time, charged later that the committee made the decision without even looking at a map of Hong Kong, mainly because there wasn’t one in the War Room. It should be noted at this point that Canada had no intelligence sources of its own in the Far East. The government’s reliance on the scant information cabled by British Intelligence was complete and tragic.
On September 24, General Crerar sent a memo to Acting Prime Minister C. G. Power, stating only that Canada could supply the two battalions. He did not say in the memo whether he thought it was a good or bad idea. However, on the same night, when Crerar talked with Defense Minister Colonel J. L. Ralston, who happened to be on holiday in Los Angeles, the General said, “I definitely recommend the Canadian Army should take this on.” But who in the army would take it on? / continued on page 42
continued on page 42
FOR KING AND CANADA continued from page 31
“Our men trained? What a joke! We got the odds and sods”
On September 24. the ill-fated Colonel J. K. Lawson, then the Director of Military Training, was asked to prepare a list of infantry battalions in order of their state of combat readiness. He came up with:
10 in Class A — best trained
7 in Class B — next best
9 in Class C — in need of refresher training or insufficiently trained and not recommended for operations.
On September 26, Colonel W. S. Macklin, Director of Army Staff, suggested the two battalions needed for Hong Kong come from Classes A and B. However, these crack troops had
already been earmarked for Europe, and Major-General C. F. Page, the General Officer Commanding the 4th Division, was not about to let his combat-ready men be sacrificed to the Hong Kong adventure; he angrily blocked the suggestion. So the Chief of General Staff selected from Class C the Winnipeg Grenadiers (Winni-
peg) and the Royal Rifles of Canada (Montreal), even though they had been described as unfit for operations.
In explanation of this decision, Crerar wrote to Defense Minister Ralston on September 30: “ . . . primary consideration for these units is that they be well-trained ...” He went on to point out that the Grenadiers, only a week back from garrison duties in the West Indies, and the Rifles, also just returned from the same duties in Newfoundland, would be a sound choice because their duties in these places were in many respects not unlike the task awaiting them in Hong Kong. He supported his argument with the strange assertion that it would be bad for morale to keep these units at home after their tour of “semi-overseas duty.”
Captain Wilfred Queen-Hughes of the Grenadiers is now an editorial writer for the Winnipeg Tribune. In an angry outburst in his office he told me: “Trained? What a joke! Conditions and discipline in the West Indies were ridiculous. On my training program only three or four men would show up for class instruction. The Canadian troops were breaking records on the islands for contracting venereal disease. At the time we were recalled they were weeding out the sick from the three companies. They had gone through A and half way through B company and every fifth or sixth man was found medically unfit.” It is true that the Grenadiers were 100 men under strength on their return. QueenHughes was even more vociferous on the reinforcements the battalion picked up in Canada. “We got the odds and sods, 16-year-old boys, men who had been in uniform two weeks, criminals. Literally the sweepings of the depot. Men no other command wanted and had rejected. And we had to take them because they were forced on us at 24 hours’ notice. My God! when they marched them in there was even a hunchback.
“Of course,” said Queen-Hughes, “if you quote me I'll deny I ever spoke to you.” Queen-Hughes has a right to feel angry. As the battalion transport officer, his trucks never caught up with him and he fought his only battle with commandeered Chinese laundry vans.
Brigadier Price was calmer and more straightforward: “Nobody could say we were well trained. We spent our time in guarding the port facilities and such in Newfoundland, but, really, the Germans could have had it anytime they wanted. Our equipment was antiquated and for the most part didn’t work. And there was never really any opportunity for field exercises.”
Records show that the Royal Rifles had poor firing-range facilities for training. The men had fired rifles and Bren guns. They had three-inch mortars but no ammunition. There was one two-inch mortar for instruction purposes but it also was without ammunition. Just before leaving Newfoundland. the battalion received four Thompson machine guns and one Sten gun. all without ammunition. Grenade throwing was done with two dummy grenades because there were no live ones available for training.
In the West Indies the Grenadiers had not been able to use ammunition
for rifle practice. Nobody had fired a twoor three-inch mortar because there was no ammunition. The same applied to the battalion's two antitank rifles.
In 1941 a Canadian infantry battalion was composed of a total of 807 men of all ranks, plus a reinforcement company of 156 men. So to bring both battalions up to strength before sending them to Hong Kong, 136 men were required, plus another 300 to form the two reinforcement companies.
The army claims that of these 436 men added to the two battalions, only 120 had not completed their first 16 weeks of basic training. (It was a regulation that men were not to leave Canada without this minimum period.) And that 172 had served at least 12 months. The remainder fell somewhere in between.
In Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War, Colonel C. P. Stacey writes (Vol. 1, Six Years of War, Chapter 14, page 447) with some ambiguity: “...to say that they were ‘untrained' is to give quite a wrong impression. And it must constantly be kept in mind that both Bri'ish and Canadian authorities believed that the troops were going to Hong Kong to garrison duties only.”
Stacey seems to have overlooked the directives given Force C’s commanding officer: “The reinforcement of the British Garrison in Hong Kong and to participate to the limit of your strength in the defense of the colony should the occasion arise.”
Attack was inevitable
The two battalions had been “warned" for overseas duty on October 9. On the same day Colonel Lawson. the unfortunate officer who had prepared the list of combat-ready troops, was promoted to brigadier and made the commanding officer of Force C. He was told the expedition had to be ready to leave Vancouver on the 27th. an impossibly short time to re-equip the troops and find reinforcements.
In those intervening 14 days much happened that showed clearly that an attack on Hong Kong was not only likely, it was obviously inevitable. As the intelligence officer of the Royal Rifles points out (a gentleman who wants to remain anonymous because he is now a civil servant): “During that time I had a number of talks with A. D. P. Heeney, the Under Secretary of State for External Affairs, about the changing situation. And it is clear to me that he knew, I knew, and the Canadian government knew before we left that we were going to fight a war.”
The change referred to the Japanese government. On October 16. Prince Konoye, reluctant to wage war. resigned as prime minister. On October 18 General Hideki Tojo, formerly the war minister, became prime minister. And what became known as the “war cabinet" led Japan.
Lord Halifax, British Ambassador to Washington, immediately sat down and wrote a long secret cable to his government which he also made available to the Canadian government. In it he warned of the inevitability of war with Japan, and the absurdity of
committing more men to Hong Kong. He suggested Ottawa should re-examine its policy.
In the Department of National Defense files in Ottawa there are also five other secret cables from British Intelligence. The conjecture is that (a) they contained enough information to warrant the Canadian government changing its mind about sending the two battalions to Hong Kong, or (b) that their content is such that it makes the British Intelli-
gence operation ludicrous. Either way the public won't find out until 1971 — the British government placed a 30-vear ban on releasing the cables.
Ón the night of October 27 HMS Awatea, a British transport, sailed from Vancouver with the bulk of Force C. Some 100 more men were on the escort ship HMCS Prince Robert. Altogether 1.975 officers and men left Canada. The next day 50 Grenadiers and one Royal Rifleman were found ashore. And on board the
Awatea, another 50 had been “physically constrained” from jumping ship, which means they were under arrest. “It was because the food and conditions were so bad," says Ike Friesen, an ex-Grenadier.
In a letter written on board ship on November 15. Brigadier Lawson complained bitterly: "Despite my repeated representations at National Defense Headquarters regarding the necessity for at least a portion of our transport to accompany us, none of the M.T.
had apparently arrived at Vancouver October 27, and it was therefore necessary to sail without it, though there were two holds practically empty.” Force C disembarked at Hong Kong November 16 and the Canadians entered the Alice-in-Wonderland world of Hong Kong. Lieutenant-Colonel W. J. Home, commanding officer of the Royal Rifles, wrote wonderingly of “these officers who are more British than the British. We seem to be at some peacetime festival rather than on the brink of war.”
“We thought the British were aloof at first,” says the Rifles’ sardonic intelligence officer. “Then we understood when they got around to showing us their defense. They had one of everything: one ack-ack gun, one
warship, one fighter plane, and so on.” The Canadians were dismayed. Everything they had been told had led them to believe they were assigned to a heavily fortified island.
“We realized very quickly,” says Brigadier Price, “that it was only a matter of time. At one point 1 was even refused permission to let my men dig some defensive slit trenches because they were on private properly”
Besides the Canadians, the actual military defense of Hong Kong was officially listed as: four British Army infantry battalions, some 2,000 Hong Kong civilian volunteers, two obsolete destroyers, and a few motor torpedo boats. The air power consisted of three Wildebeeste torpedo bombers with top speeds of 100 m.p.h., and two small amphibious aircraft. (The aircraft were destroyed on the ground on the first day of the battle.)
It was a looking-glass world that even the other ranks could enjoy. ‘“For 75 cents a week,” says Bert Delbridge, an ex-Grenadier, ‘‘you could have a Chinese servant wake you up. shave you while you still lay in bed, do your laundry, polish your boots and clean your rifle.”
In all there were some 10,000 troops on the island. They were armed mainly with rifles and bayonets. There was still no ammunition for the two-inch mortars, and each battalion had only 70 rounds of threc-inch mortar ammunition — enough for approximately a threeminute barrage.
Just 18 miles away on the mainland sat General Ito Takco, infantry commander of three divisions of the Japanese Imperial Army, numbering some 60.000 battle-seasoned combat troops. Takco had spent the last six years butchering his way through China.
For the Japanese supreme commander, Lieutenant-General Sakai, Hong Kong was going to be a picnic. The Japanese navy commanded the sea. and the Japanese air force was not even challenged in the skies over Hong Kong.
On December 8. after the Canadians had been on the island 22 days, Takeo attacked the first line of defense on the mainland, the so-called Gin-Drinkers Line, with 20,000 men. The line was held by two British Indian Army battalions and the Royal Scots First of Foot, about 2,000 men. In this, the opening stages of the battle, the Scots won themselves the nickname “The Fleet of Foot."
By December 11 the Japanese had
The attackers came in by night, wearing rubber-soled shoes
rolled the Indians and the Scots back to the Kowloon Peninsula. It had become a rout. Major-General C. M. Maltby, the British commanding officer, ordered the withdrawal of the three battalions to the island. Maltby broke the island up into two brigade divisions, east and west. Brigadier Lawson was put in charge of the West Brigade and set up headquarters in a bunker at Wong Nei Chong Gap (see map. page 22). Lawson had under him two British battalions and the Grenadiers, who took up positions along the coast from Aberdeen to Repulse Bay. The Royal Rifles were scattered around the east coast from the naval dockyards to the Stanley peninsula. Their brigade commander was a crusty old Indian Army officer who from the beginning, according to Brigadier Price, didn't have much control over his command.
For the next six days the Japanese softened up the island with continuous shelling, and bombing and strafing from the air. On December 17 General Sakai demanded the surrender of the island. It was summarily refused.
10.30 p.m.: invasion
On the night of the 18th, at about
10.30 p.m.. General Takeo landed his first assault wave on the island, some 7,500 men. The Far East Combined Intelligence Bureau had reported that “the night work of Japanese infantry was poor." On this night, wearing rubber-soled shoes and guided by fifth-column agents, they penetrated deep into the island, knocking out key gun positions, efficiently preparing the way for the second assault wave. On the morning of the 19th the island was in confusion. Maltby had yet to realize what a strong foothold the Japanese had gained. Communications had been destroyed and many units didn't even know the Japanese had landed.
Winnipeg Grenadier Bob Lyttle remembers: “I was with A Company, down by the Aberdeen Reservoir. Someone came over and said about 300 Japanese had landed on the island and that we had to go over and clean them out, and that it w'ould be okay because we would be back before breakfast.” Lyttle spent the next few days stumbling up mountains. “We didn’t eat for three days. Finally, we got so hungry we caught a pig and tried to cook it. It was mostly raw but we ate it.”
On December 19, the morning after the night attack. Colonel Shoji Toshishge’s men of the 237th Regiment overran Brigadier Lawson’s brigade headquarters at Wong Nei Chong Gap. Lawson got on the phone to Maltby: "They're all around us,” he said calmly. "I'm going out to shoot it out." A few minutes later he was killed outside his bunker.
Earlier on the same day. 42-yearold Company Sergeant - Major J. R. Osborn won the VC. After the battle the British had very few generous things to say about the Canadians. Maltby wrote: "The two battalions proved to be inadequately trained for
modern war ...” Which was certainly true; however, this didn't inhibit British officers from throwing groups of Canadian troops in numerous desperate counterattacks against the Japanese.
It was in a bayonet charge on Mount Butler that Osborn won his medal. B Company, already down to
one third of its strength, was being led by a 19-year-old second lieutenant. Within a few minutes of the charge the lieutenant had been cut in half by machine - gun fire and the company reduced to 65 men. Osborn drove the men on up the slope and gained the top with 30 men. They held it for four and a half hours against re-
peated Japanese counterattacks, until Osborn and his men, now down to six, could not throw the grenades back faster than the Japanese threw them in. In one final gesture Osborn threw himself on an exploding grenade to protect his men. For some strange reason the six survivors who surrendered were not immediately bayoneted by the Japanese, who at that point were not interested in taking prisoners. After the war Colonel Tanaka Rvosa-
continued on page 48
FOR KING AND CANADA continued
“I’ll kill them all...” Then he died
hura, regimental commander, was hanged for the atrocities his men committed.
Art Munn, a medical corpsman with B Company of the Grenadiers, was working in the makeshift hospital at Peak Mansions when an advance group of five Japanese entered the building and immediately began bayonetting the wounded. Half an hour later the Japanese company commander arrived. The medical officer in charge. Major John Crawford, now Deputy Minister of Health, immediately complained to the Japanese officer and pointed out the five men. "The Japanese officer had his own five men shot right there. Then he turned to us and said that it was an example of what would happen to us if we disobeyed his orders.”
Not all the Canadian officers behaved so well. A major of the Winnipeg Grenadiers barricaded himself with several bottles of liquor in a pillbox near the Aberdeen Reservoir. "1 finally had to go and get the son-ofa-bitch out at the point of my bayonet,” says Fred Sadova of C Company. "I dunno why he’d want to stay in there anyway. You could put a .303 round through those things. They were built by a German contractor before the war.”
On December 21 Brigadier Price was attempting to hold his position with a company of men above the Stanley Peninsula. He had received word that a Japanese armored column
was coming down the road. “I told my RSM. Leslie Shore, to take the two antitank rifles up ahead and let the Japanese have it as soon as they came around the bend. ‘Excuse me, sir,’ he said, ‘but I've never fired one before.' I had to laugh. I told him that I'd fired one round at Camp Borden and 1 would show him how it worked.”
A few minutes later, Brigadier Price, who was a World War I veteran, asked his mortar detachment to lay down a barrage on some Japanese machine-gun positions across the valley. Lieutenant Don Ross replied, "I've never seen a mortar fired, sir, but I'll do my best.”
“Under the circumstances,” says Price, “he did a damned good job.”
By December 21 the defense of the island had been reduced to pockets of confused fighting. There was no communication. Groups of exhausted Canadian troops wandered lost and leaderless around the mountains. Their officers were killed or wounded.
Art Lousier was a raw recruit with headquarters company of the Grenadiers. He'd had seven weeks basic training. “I'd never fired a .303, never seen a rifle range, and I had never seen a grenade until 1 saw a Japanese one come spiraling in on me. Lieutenant Davies had to tell me to get down.”
Davies was doing the advanced spotting for the mortar detachment. His runner was killed so he came
back and got Lousier. He sent Lousier back with a message to advance the mortar range 50 yards. “I had delivered the message and gone back to our observation post. I said, ‘Is that all right, sir?’ He turned to look at me and at that instant he was shot through the head. 1 went down to tell Lieutenant Hooper. He said. ‘I’ll kill every one of them,’ then he got it in the chest.”
It was on this day that Churchill sent his famous message to the governor of Hong Kong: “There must . . . be no thought of surrender. Every part of the island must be fought for and the enemy resisted with the utmost stubbornness. The enemy should be compelled to expend the utmost life and equipment. There must be vigorous fighting in the inner defenses and, if need be. from house to house. Every day that you maintain your resistance you help the Allied cause all over the world, and by prolonged resistance, you and your men can win the lasting honor which we arc sure will be your due.” It is the last phrase that makes the Hong Kong veterans smile.
By Christmas Day it was all over. The Japanese had cut the island in half. Brigadier Price's small force was cut off at the Stanley Peninsula. The main force in Aberdeen had only six mobile guns left with 60 rounds per gun. General Maltby decided it was “useless slaughter” to continue, and surrendered.
But for the Canadians who survived it was still far from over. If they had been ill-prepared for battle, they were even less prepared for the
terrible years of imprisonment ahead. But that is another story, to be pieced together and told another time.
Canadian losses in the battle were: killed in action. 23 officers and 267 men. Wounded. 28 officers, 465 men. In the prisoner-of-war camps four officers died and so did 260 other ranks. Another four men were shot without trial. Of the 1.975 who left Vancouver on the HMS Awatea and HMCS Prince Robert, 558 never
came back. And of the 1.417 who did. more than 300 have died from diseases they contracted as prisoners of war.
There are two footnotes to the Canadian participation of the Hong Kong battle.
In 1942 Sir Lyman Duff presided over a secret royal commission hearing on the affair. The brief he presented has accurately been described as a whitewash. But there is one phrase that haunts me.
The counsel had asked LieutenantGeneral A. G. L. McNaughton. one of the witnesses, if he didn't think that the addition of so many new and untrained men would have a detrimental effect on the abilities of the battalions. McNaughton replied: “I personally wouldn't have given it one anxiety, subject to the condition that I knew the men. and that I did not have a lot of rotters put on my hands ...”
The second footnote is a brief chronicling of the Canadian government's miserliness toward the Hong Kong veterans. Tn 1946 the survivors applied for Pacific Campaign pay. The Department of National Defense said it could not recognize the three and a half years spent in prison camps and that the men would be paid only from the time the act was passed in the House — six months before the end of the war. Accordingly, each man who applied received $50.
That same year many men were having trouble getting into Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals. Often they were very sick men but they were told, “It's all in your head,” and accused of malingering. The simple truth is that many doctors were quite ignorant of the multiple tropical diseases the men were suffering from. Consequently, the first branch of the HKVA was formed in Toronto and the survivors started trying to help themselves.
Tn 1947 the HKVA discovered Canada was holding $15 million in assets seized from the Japanese and Germans. They also learned that the United States government was using the assets it had seized to pay war claims to U.S. servicemen and civilians who had been forced to work during imprisonment. The U.S. paid claims at the rate of $1.50 per day for slave labor, plus an additional one dollar per day for maltreatment.
After years of wrangling. Ottawa finally agreed in 1951 to pay the survivors just a dollar per day, and each man received a cheque for $1,300. Tn 1959 the Conservative government upped this to another 50 cents per day. “There's still another eight million dollars in the War Claims fund nobody has accounted for,” says Jack Stroud, president of the Toronto HKVA.
By this time many of the men were on partial disability pensions ranging from 15 to 48 percent. Those who were totally disabled, such as the blind, were of course on full pension. (The Hong Kong survivors had 25 percent more blind and deaf than any other group of Canadian veterans). But 48 percent was the sticking point with the Ottawa bureaucracy. Because, you see, if you died holding an under48-percent disability pension, the government did not have to pay your
widow a war pension of $200 a month.
In 1964 Dr. J. H. Richardson, Director of the Canada Pension Commission. launched a two-year survey of the medical, financial and sociol®gical problems of war veterans. There were 100 Hong Kong men in the group under examination and the study showed that they suffered in those three areas more than any of the others. As a result, most of the pensions in the 33 to 47 percent group were boosted up to 50. However, there
are still 447 men below 48 percent.
This year the Woods Report on the restructuring of pensions strongly recommends all the Hong Kong men be awarded 50 percent disability pensions. which for a man with a wife and two children means $199 per month. But the HKVA members are doubtful it will happen. They have already heard rumors that the Pensions Committee will water down the Woods proposals.
Oh yes. Mr. Lousier, the anecdote.
When Maclean's began researching this article we started at the historical section of the Department of National Defense. There, in an interview with researcher Phillip Forsyth-Smith, Colonel D. J. Goodspeed said. “If you get around to talking to surviving veterans of the Hong Kong battle, you must appreciate that all these men are a little balmy after their experience in the P.O.W. camps. Therefore, don't put too much stock in what they have to say." ★