Hong Kong was under British control till 1941, when the Battle of Hong Kong was waged against Japan. Initially, the British were unconcerned with Japan’s invasion of China and the mistreatment of the Chinese people. A major concern of the British government was the growing number of refugees coming from China. To combat an invasion by Japan, the British government enlisted the help of two other countries under their rule, British India, and Canada.
Canadian Forces in the Battle of Hong Kong 1941
The Canadian forces were sent in as reinforcements. The Canadian reinforcements were formed from two battalions, the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles of Canada. The two battalions were recommended by General Chief of Staff, Harry Crear2. On December 7th, the Japanese 38th Division attacked Hong Kong, a mere six hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
With the invasion underway the British, Canadian, and Indian soldiers encountered difficulties. The first issue was the language barrier between the Indian and Canadian soldiers. Another complication was that Japanese soldiers had previous battle experience, while the Canadian soldiers were new to war. Furthermore, the Japanese soldiers were familiar with hill fighting, while the Canadian soldiers were inexperienced. Additionally, the Canadian regiments could not differentiate between the Chinese and Japanese soldiers3.
For two weeks, under the command of Brigadier C. Wallis, Canadian troops attempted to stem Japanese advance. As a result, Canadian troops were short of water and without proper transportation. Even though the British, Canadian and Indian soldiers fought brilliantly, Hong Kong was surrendered to Japan. The remaining British, Canadian, and Indian soldiers were now prisoners of war.
In the aftermath, civilians, and soldiers were subjected to the brutality of the Japanese army. As a result, hundreds of Canadian soldiers died from starvation and illness within POW camps. After the war, a committee was formed in Ottawa to investigate Canada’s involvement in Hong Kong. Commissioner Chief Justice Lyman Duff pardoned the Cabinet, and the Department of National Defense, ignorant of any evidence. An outside analysts concluded that with sufficient training, proper equipment, and staff, Canadian forces would not have been able to defeat the Japanese.
In closing, 554 Canadians died in Hong Kong and in the camps. The soldiers are buried amongst the Sai Wan Bay Memorial, the Stanley Military Cemetery both in Hong Kong. A remaining 107 Canadians, mostly POWs are buried at the British Commonwealth Cemetery in Japan.