On behalf of my leader, Andrea Horwath, and the NDP caucus, I’m honoured to stand today and speak to the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Hong Kong.
Not a month ago, we marked Remembrance Day. Every town in this great province was marked in the last century by war. Few communities were spared the loss of a son or daughter. Most lost several; some lost many more.
Hong Kong was the first of Canada’s battles in the Pacific theatre. It would not be the last. The Canadians who defended Hong Kong came mostly from small towns in Manitoba and Quebec, but some were from Ontario.
One of the veterans of Hong Kong is here today. As my colleague just before me mentioned, I would like to recognize and honour Frederick Arthur Cooper. Frederick served with the Royal Rifles of Canada, which stood alongside the Winnipeg Grenadiers in the defence of Hong Kong. Thank you for being with us today, Frederick.
Today, we honour and commemorate the living and the dead from that battle. For many, today is not just a day of honour. It is a day of profoundly mixed feelings: a day of honour, yes, but also of mourning, of deep humility and of grief for lost loved ones and fallen comrades.
In the fall of 1941, Canada sent two infantry battalions to reinforce Hong Kong against a possible war with Japan. Hong Kong was isolated from other British outposts and almost impossible to defend from a Japanese offensive.
The assault on Hong Kong began on the same day Pearl Harbour was attacked. Truly, it was a date that will live in infamy. A small garrison of 14,000 soldiers, mostly British, Canadian, Indian and Chinese, faced on onslaught from 52,000 Japanese troops. They were outnumbered four to one. There were no Allied reinforcements; there was no relief. There was no prospect of escape, yet they refused Japanese requests to surrender. Only when their position was overrun did they lay down their arms—if they did at all—before the formal surrender on December 25.
The victors of the battle were brutal in the aftermath. Imperial Japan treated its prisoners of war atrociously. It paid no heed to human rights or to the Geneva Conventions. Those who were there know, and I don’t have to say any more.
The defence of Hong Kong was desperate. It was bloody. But it was also courageous. Against impossible odds, the Canadians and Allied troops held out for almost three weeks—incredible.
The Canadian soldiers who so valiantly defended Hong Kong were all volunteers: 290 were killed in the battle; almost 500 were wounded; 267 later died in captivity as prisoners of war. Many of those brave volunteers are buried today in Hong Kong at the Sai Wan Bay War Cemetery or the Stanley Military Cemetery. Still others who survived the battle, but not the war, lie in Japan in the Yokohama British Commonwealth War Cemetery.
Those volunteers—our veterans—made great sacrifices for Canada and for our freedom, but it’s hard for any of us today to appreciate just how high the price of liberty was. More than 47,000 Canadian men and women never returned home from the Second World War.
My friend Peter Kormos once said that it’s old women and men who declare war; it’s young women and men who fight them. And they were so young, the men and women in Hong Kong. Today, we remember each and every one of them. We remember those who never returned from this expedition to Hong Kong; we remember those who did return also.
Time takes a toll on all of us, including our veterans, but those who still stand with us stand proud. As the memory of those terrible wars fades into the mist, it is more important than ever that we remind our young people and future generations of the immense sacrifices of those times. Never forget, so that never again.
John F. Kennedy, a veteran himself, said, “No man who witnessed the tragedies of the last war, no man who can imagine the unimaginable possibilities of the next war, can advocate war out of irritability or frustration or impatience.” We honour the men and women of Hong Kong in our prudence, in our commitment to peace, in our hand of friendship to every one of our brothers and sisters. At the same time, we honour them in our resolve to defend what was won at such great cost: the promise of freedom, opportunity, equality and dignity for every Canadian.
Those of us in this place have a special responsibility to honour all our veterans of all ages, to treat them with the dignity and respect they have earned. Our veterans should never live their senior years in hunger or want. We owe our veterans a sacred trust—a trust we may never break, on pain of our own eternal dishonour. Their bravery and their sacrifices offered each of us the opportunity to speak here today. Speaker, lest we forget.