December 16, 2019

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City councillors want Mitsubishi to apologize to veterans for forced labour

Company says there's no evidence Canadian POWs were forced to work in its mines in WWII, but Winnipeg veteran says he was there

George Peterson, the last surviving member of the group of seven local Arden Avenue war veterans from the Battle of Hong Kong.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

George Peterson, the last surviving member of the group of seven local Arden Avenue war veterans from the Battle of Hong Kong.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/10/2015 (1536 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A pair of Winnipeg city councillors are trying to secure an apology for a group of Canadian war veterans who were forced to work in a Japanese coal mine run by Mitsubishi after they were taken prisoners following the fall of Hong Kong.

Couns. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) and Scott Gillingham (St. James-Brooklands-Weston) are bringing a motion to a Monday meeting of the downtown development, heritage and riverbank management committee, requesting Mitsubishi extend an apology to Canadian POWs who were forced to work in the company’s coal mines during the Second World War.

Mayes said Mitsubishi Material Corp issued an apology in July to veterans from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Netherlands but Canadian POWs were not included in the apology because Mitsubishi said it did not have any evidence Canadian POWs worked there.

The Japanese industrial giant should have asked George Peterson, the Windsor Park resident who spent 16 months working in a Mitsubishi coal mine after he was taken prisoner following the fall of Hong Kong.

"We worked 10 to 12 hours a day, sometimes longer," Peterson, 94, said. "We had a quota of 16 tonnes a day and we were underground until there were 16 tonnes in coal cars going up to the top."

Peterson said while he was held prisoner there, a Mitsubishi official regularly visited the mine, which was located about 120 kilometres north of Tokyo.

Peterson said he is surprised that there are no records that Canadian POWs worked in one of the company’s mines, adding he is grateful that Mayes and Gillingham are pursuing the matter.

Mayes said he believes that more formal efforts to have Mitsubishi extend the apology to Canadian POWs has hit a wall, adding he hopes that council will support the motion and forward it to the company.

The motion asks Mitsubishi to accept the statements of the Canadian POWs as proof of their forced labour at its coal mine and extend the apology to them.

Peterson is the last surviving member of the Arden Seven – seven young men from Arden Avenue who volunteered to fight in the Battle of Hong Kong in 1941. The city unveiled a plaza commemorating the seven men at a St. Vital park a year ago.

The seven men served in the Winnipeg Grenadiers. The plaza includes commemorative plaques detailing their story.

Mayes, who is chairman of the civic committee, said the issue is appropriate because of its heritage connection.

Mayes said Mitsubishi should be acknowledged for issuing the apology in the first place but added it’s not complete until the Canadian veterans are included.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

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