Lt.-Gov. Philip Lee and Premier Greg Selinger laid wreaths today at a ceremony at Sai Wan War Cemetery in Hong Kong to honour Manitobans who fought in the ill-fated defence of the British colony in WW II.
The Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Quebec-based Royal Rifles of Canada were sent to Hong Kong in late 1941 to defend the then British colony from a possible attack from the Japanese. Both battalions had limited training and had prepared mainly for non-combat duty.
War with Japan was not considered imminent at the time, but that changed with the Japanese surprise attack Dec. 7, 1941 on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbour. The Japanese next attacked Hong Kong and swiftly overwhelmed the Canadian lines. The captured Canadians spent the rest of the war in prisoner of war camps.
"Despite being sent to the other side of the world unprepared for what they would encounter, the Winnipeg Grenadiers fought valiantly in defence of the freedoms all Canadians enjoy today," Selinger said in a statement. "Standing on the ground where so many brave Manitobans made the ultimate sacrifice is a truly humbling experience. To all the Hong Kong war veterans who are still with us today, and to the families of all those who fought and died, thank you on behalf of all Manitobans. We will never forget."
Approximately 290 Canadians were killed in defence of Hong Kong and 267 more died as prisoners of war in the years that followed. Of the 1,975 Canadians who went to Hong Kong, more than 1,050 were either killed or wounded.
Lee was born in Hong Kong in May 1944, shortly before the end of the war.
"I grew up two blocks from the place where many Manitoba prisoners of war were held for years under horrendous conditions," Lee said."My mother would tell me stories of the atrocities and hardship endured by the Canadian soldiers who fought so bravely to defend our freedom. The sacrifices they made in the name of peace and justice will always be solemnly remembered by the people of Hong Kong."
Lee and Selinger are in Hong Kong with Manitoba business leaders taking part in a Council of the Federation trade mission to China. The 10-day trip ends today.