Sunday, 25 December 2011

Belated Apology 70 Years Later

A view of Central and Admiralty
Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Hong Kong.

In the early 1920s the British knew the Japanese were a threat but by 1938 the latter had occupied then Canton (now Guangzhou). The Brits thought Hong Kong would be hard to defend and decided to work on other new defenses.

It wasn't until September 1941 did the Brits reassure Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek that they would genuinely defend its colony and accepted an offer from the Canadian government for two infantry battalions and a brigade headquarters, some 1,975 people.

C Force, as it was known, arrived on November 16, but not long after Hong Kong was attacked on December 8, 1941, eight hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Brits and the Canadians were no match for the Japanese, who swiftly took out Kai Tai Airport and various strategic areas in the city including reservoirs.

On the morning of December 25, the Japanese tortured and killed a number of injured soldiers in a field hospital at St Stephen's College along with medical staff.

By the afternoon of Christmas Day, it was clear resistance was futile and the Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Mark Aitchison Young surrendered in person at the Japanese headquarters in the third floor of the Peninsula Hotel; the day became known as "Black Christmas".

The occupation of Hong Kong lasted until August 1945, six days after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

There are many horrific stories of how prisoners were treated by the Japanese; women were raped while men were tortured or summarily executed.

About 1,600 Canadians captured in battle, 267 of them died in Japanese prisoner of war camps from torture or starved and died in captivity.

And now 70 years later Japan has offered its "heartfelt apology" for its systematic mistreatment of Canadian prisoners who were captured in Hong Kong during World War II.

Earlier this month Canadian Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney said Toshiyuki Kato, Japan's parliamentary vice-minister for foreign affairs, apologized in Tokyo to Canadian veterans in a private meeting.

"This important gesture is a crucial step in ongoing reconciliation and a significant milestone in the lives of all prisoners of war," Blaney said in a statement. "It acknowledges their suffering while honouring their sacrifices and courage."

The delegation also visited the graves of Canadian soldiers at the British Commonwealth Cemetery in Yokohama.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in a statement that the apology would help in healing the "terrible pain and heavy burden of the Second World War." He added it would allow both countries to move forward.

Veterans probably didn't think they would have to wait seven decades for an apology, but better late than never.

May we never forget those Canadians who sacrificed their lives for Hong Kong and the British Commonwealth.

They have helped make Hong Kong what it is today.

1 comment:

  1. Hi there --

    Don't know if you know but there's a special exhibition on at the HK Museum of Coastal Defence entitled "To the Last Man: Canadian Troops in the Battle of Hong Kong":-