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Plaza honours Hong Kong veterans

Arden Seven fought in battle

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George Peterson sits in one of the seven chairs honouring the Arden Seven, young men from St. Vital who fought in the Battle of Hong Kong and were prisoners of the Japanese during the Second World War.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

George Peterson sits in one of the seven chairs honouring the Arden Seven, young men from St. Vital who fought in the Battle of Hong Kong and were prisoners of the Japanese during the Second World War. Photo Store

George Peterson of Arden Avenue survived the Battle of Hong Kong and 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 at River Road and St. Michael Road, features seven specially-designed chairs to honour each of the men who became known as the Arden Seven.

Peterson, his twin brother Morris, Fred Abrahams, brothers Alfred, Edward and Harry Shayler, and Bill Lancaster grew up on the same Winnipeg street and then fought side-by-side in the vicious 1941 Battle of Hong Kong 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.

"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 in 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 were among 1,977 Canadian volunteers and 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," 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.' "

Two of George Peterson's daughters, Pat Burtney and Alison Griffith, said it was a special day for their dad and their whole family as the memories of their mom, Margaret, who died in 2012, and their oldest sister, Nancy, who died in 2010, were with them.

"I'm very pleased that people are being educated about this, because we didn't learn about this in school and Dad couldn't talk about it to us," Griffith said.

"Our dad is part of history. Having this park to memorialize that is just incredible."

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

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.

The survivors of the battle, who included each of the Arden Seven, spent the remainder of the war -- 44 months -- as prisoners living in horrific conditions, which led to the death of 264 soldiers.

"It's very touching to have a memorial like this, and the tranquility of being in here is just tremendous. I appreciate everyone who has attended here today," Peterson said. "We will never be forgotten. A lot of people, when I tell them I was a prisoner of war in Hong Kong, they didn't know Canadians had fought in Hong Kong in the first place. With our Hong Kong Veterans Association now, we're trying to get the story into the schools. Just to realize that war never settles anything. Everybody loses in a war."

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 13, 2014 A3

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