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Plaza honours seven Battle of Hong Kong veterans from Arden Avenue

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George Peterson, the last surviving member of the group of seven local Arden Avenue war veterans from the Battle of Hong Kong, sits in one of the seven chairs of honour at the new Jules Mager Park in St. Vital where a special ribbon cutting ceremony was held Saturday morning.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

George Peterson, the last surviving member of the group of seven local Arden Avenue war veterans from the Battle of Hong Kong, sits in one of the seven chairs of honour at the new Jules Mager Park in St. Vital where a special ribbon cutting ceremony was held Saturday morning. Photo Store

George Peterson of Arden Avenue survived the Battle of Hong Kong, four years in enemy hands.

 On Saturday, at age 93, he unveiled the Arden Seven Commemorative Plaza on behalf of his friends and comrades.

The plaza, located at Jules Mager Park in St. Vital, features seven specially designed chairs to honour each of the men who became known as the Arden Seven.

The group includes Peterson, his twin brother Morris, Fred Abrahams, brothers Alfred, Edward and Harry Shayler and Bill Lancaster — who all grew up on the same Winnipeg street and then fought side-by-side in the vicious 1941 battle during the Second World War that claimed the lives of 290 Canadians and wounded 493.

"This memorial plaza beautifully honours the sacrifices and enduring spirits of George, Morris, Fred, Bill, Harry, Alfred and Edward," Mayor Sam Katz said Saturday.

"It is also significant because it helps to ensure that we all remember that more than 70 years ago, seven young men from Arden Avenue Winnipeg fought for the rights, freedoms and democracy that we all enjoy today."

George Peterson is the only surviving member of the Arden Seven who was among 1977 Canadian volunteers who were part of "C" Force. The Arden Seven arrived in Hong Kong the morning of Nov. 16, 1941, were under attack by Dec. 8 and began a four-year odyssey as prisoners of war on Christmas Day when orders came to surrender to the Japanese following 17 days of fierce fighting.

"I've never considered myself as a hero. I don't think my brother or any of my five friends did either but we did do our duty," George Peterson said, as the plaza was officially opened with family, friends and dignitaries assembled in the park below blue skies surrounded by trees and the songs of birds.

"To have a thing like this, in our honour, is absolutely tremendous. I am sure my brother and my five friends are looking down today and they're saying, 'Well done.'"

The plaza also includes plaques telling the stories of the Arden Seven.

The Battle of Hong Kong was one of the first Pacific battles of the Second World War.

Christine Melnick, the MLA for Riel, came up with the idea for the memorial and worked with city councillor Brian Mayes (St. Vital) as well as Bob Holliday, president of the St. Vital Historical Society, to complete the project.

The survivors of the Battle of Hong Kong, which included each of the Arden Seven spent the remainder of the war — 44 months — as prisoners living in horrific conditions which caused the deaths of 264 soldiers.

You can read George Peterson's personal account of the Battle of Hong Kong here.

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Saturday, July 12, 2014 at 8:08 PM CDT: Corrects typos, minor edits.

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