Veterans gather to unveil Hong Kong Memorial Wall
Published Saturday, August 15, 2009 6:01PM EDT
A monument for the nearly 2,000 Canadians who helped defend Hong Kong against a massive Japanese invasion in 1941 -- and later faced abysmal conditions as prisoners of war -- was officially unveiled in Ottawa on Saturday.
About 25 of the approximately 90 surviving veterans attended a ceremony of remembrance at the Hong Kong Memorial Wall, located at the corner of Sussex Drive and King Edward Avenue.
Saturday marked the 64th anniversary of VJ-Day, which saw the Second World War end with Japan's surrender to Allied forces.
Officials unveiled a granite wall etched with the 1,976 names of every Canadian who fought in the battle. Among those attending the ceremony was International Trade Minister Stockwell Day, whose grandfather was captured.
"These veterans have sort of felt like the forgotten heroes of the Second World War," he told CTV News Channel. "The Battle of Hong Kong, until today, really hasn't been memorialized.
Day's grandfather survived his imprisonment and was taken back to Canada, but died shortly afterwards in hospital.
"Seeing some of the veterans who survived the four years in Prisoner of War camps, hearing about that -- it was a very direct linkage, a very strong bond with men whom I have never met and who knew my grandfather," said Day.
Troops were starved, tortured in captivity
The Canadian servicemen sailed to Hong Kong from Vancouver in October 1941 to help a small British garrison defend a prized colonial possession against terrible odds. The 17-day December battle in left Japan in possession of the colony on Christmas Day.
The battle claimed 290 Canadian lives and wounded 493 others. For the survivors, though, the nightmare was just beginning.
The troops and two nursing sisters were taken prisoner. They faced four years of captivity under horrifying conditions that included torture, hunger, and forced labour in northern Japan.
Another 267 Canadians died as prisoners of war, meaning more than one-quarter of the Hong Kong contingent perished in Asia.
"The newspaper headlines concentrated on the big events of the day, whereas our little war, as I've been calling it, took the back pages," said Phil Doddridge, a veteran and former prisoner of war.
In total, more than 10,000 Canadians served in the Pacific theatre on land, in the air, and at sea during the Second World War.
The memorial's cost doubled to $300,000 after the National Capital Commission requested changes to match the design to Rideau Hall, the Prime Minister's residence, and other nearby heritage buildings.
That left the Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association seeking additional private donations to complete the project.
Saturday's dedication included a performance by the Hong Kong Children's Symphony Orchestra.
A Sunday service of remembrance is also scheduled for Christ Church Cathedral on Queen Street.
With a report from CTV.ca