An East St. Paul resident is working hard to recognize the sacrifice Canadian soldiers made at the Battle of Hong Kong.
Dennis Bell’s father, William, served with the Winnipeg Grenadiers in Hong Kong, but was captured by Japanese forces in December 1941, and was rescued by American troops in September 1945. The nearly four years of brutal captivity experienced by captured Grenadiers and other members of the C-Force (the Canadian contingent in the South Pacific) was the longest endured by any Canadian soldiers during the war.
Bell said those who fought valiantly, making some Japanese soldiers think they were fighting a force several times larger than it was, weren’t given proper recognition upon their return.
"They were ignored for so many years. The government didn’t realize what they had gone through," Bell said, noting his father suffered from skin cancer and other ailments after returning from Asia. "They fought for over 50 years to receive proper compensation."
Now, Bell is hoping to help tell the stories of his father, who passed away on his 96th birthday on March 12, and his fellow soldiers. He is serving as the chairman for the Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association (HKVCA) National Convention, based at the Ramada Viscount Gort Hotel from Aug. 15 to 18. At least six veterans are expected to attend. The HKVCA was formed in 1993 as the numbers of the Hong Kong Veterans Association began to dwindle.
The weekend will feature a reception at Government House hosted by Lieutenant Governor Philip S. Lee, and a memorial service at Bardal Funeral Home’s reception centre. Bell was particularly proud to get the reception with Lee to happen, as a Lieutenant Governor has not hosted a reception during the convention. However, the Governor General has hosted a reception for the veterans at Rideau Hall when the convention was based in Ottawa.
Bell also noted Neil Bardal Sr., the grandfather of current Bardal’s owner Erik Bardal, was a captain in the Winnipeg Grenadiers.
In addition to fighting for benefits, Canadian soldiers longed for an apology from Japan for atrocities suffered during the war. Windsor Park veteran George Peterson went to Japan last year with two other veterans to hear the formal apology.
Peterson recalled that there was over three weeks from the time the American forces started dropping food for the prisoners and when they were released. When the prisoners did get out, many had gained at least 30 pounds.
"I had put on 68 pounds and looked the picture of health," Peterson said. "This is why people couldn’t believe what we had been through for four years."
HKVCA president Carol Hadley said the organization’s big initial push was to get a memorial in Ottawa, which it accomplished four years ago. Now, the organization is hoping to get information about the veteran experience in Hong Kong into classrooms.
Hadley recalled her father, Borge Agerbak, was reluctant to talk about his war experiences, but opened up later in life. She first learned of his service when she was in Grade 10, but didn’t receive much more information until her children were the same age.
"I heard more about his experiences when my boys were in high school and taking Canadian history," she said. "I’d be preparing a meal in the kitchen listening to them talking, the boys would be inquiring with questions.
"It was really, really hard for the men to talk, and some of them still can’t talk about it, but as they got older, they realized the importance for history. This is how we’re going to learn."
Another initiative the organization hopes to bring forward is to place markers on the graves of those who served. Hadley said the organization is working to determine how many are without.