Sunday, 11 November 2012

Lest We Forget

 Prime Minster Stephen Harper at Sai Wan Bay War Cemetery
Instead of marking Remembrance Day in Ottawa, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper attended a ceremony in Hong Kong's Sai Wan Bay War Cemetery with his wife Laureen.

He was there to remember the 283 Canadians who died defending Hong Kong against the Japanese 71 years ago.

"By their deaths, they made possible the freedom we enjoy, the democracy by which we govern ourselves and the justice under which we live," he said. "These are the flowers that flourish upon their graves."

There were 1,975 Canadian soldiers sent to the then British colony, only three weeks before the Japanese attacked on December 8, 1941, a day after they bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Not only did the not have enough time to prepare, but the Canadian soldiers were completely outnumbered, but managed to hold off the Japanese for 17 days and then finally surrendered on Christmas Day, 1941. By then 290 Canadian soldiers died in battle, 493 wounded.

The surviving Canadian and British soldiers were made prisoners of war and treated in horrific circumstances.

"It's hell in a basket," recalled 91-year old Ken Pifher who flew in from Grimsby, Ontario for the ceremony.

"Just hell. The basic situation was starvation. They would not feed us properly. And also the slaps and kicks. And diphtheria in the camp."

They were held prisoners for three years until the Japanese finally surrendered on August 15, 1945, days after nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

When World War II ended, another 267 POWs died.

Pifher has since returned to Hong Kong five times to visit the cemetery. "There's a lot of history, and a lot of my boys, the friends that are here," he said.

Harper said that Remembrance Day ceremonies here and in Canada are a "solemn reminder of dear ones lost."

"It must call all Canadians to look beyond our sorrow," he said. "It asks us to honour in our lives, at all times, what our forebears won by their deaths and to protect and preserve the peace they left to us. There is no more that we can do for them than this."

But Harper there is more you can do for them.

The Canadian government is under fire for not doing enough for veterans, not just ones like Pifher, but those who have returned from Afghanistan who have numerous physical and psychological issues that must be addressed with funding.

There's also The Last Post Fund that helps veterans who need financial aid in paying for the costs of a burial or headstone, except that two-thirds of the applications are rejected, due to a series of stringent requirements, including that annual income must be less than $12,010.

Many are calling for these requirements to be loosened so that more destitute veterans can have a decent burial, because if an application is accepted, the government contributes $3,600 towards the average $10,000 it costs for a funeral; Canadian funeral directors often subsidize the difference.

So how about it Harper? How about showing more respect for those who have defended and continue to defend our freedoms?

It is the least we can do.

2 comments:

  1. FYI, there's a memorial plaque to the Canadian soldiers who fought in Hong Kong during the second world war on the part of the Hong Kong and Wilson Trails that is a few minutes hike up Jardine's Lookout from near Parkview.

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  2. Yes I should really go see the plaque and the war cemetery!!!

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