Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/8/2009 (4553 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In a lush and beautiful park in the middle of Hong Kong's central business district, there's a monument to John Osborn, the Winnipeg Grenadier from St. Vital who won the Victoria Cross during fighting for the island in 1941. There's also an Osborn Barracks in Kowloon on the Chinese mainland, now occupied by the Chinese People's Liberation Army, as well as a plaque near the site where he died after jumping on a grenade to protect his young soldiers. Sprinkled across the island, there are numerous other plaques and memorials in honour of the Grenadiers and other Canadians involved in the conflict. Over in Europe, the honours for Canadians are even more ubiquitous.
In some respects, it only makes sense that the countries where the fighting occurred and the bodies are buried have the deepest memories and sense of gratitude. It is sometimes hard for Canadian veterans, however, to observe how people in other countries are more knowledgeable than Canadians about their sacrifices. No other group has suffered this pain more than those who fought for Hong Kong during 18 days of desperate battle in 1941.
Their war did not end with their liberation from Japanese prison camps in 1945. The stories of the brutality they endured were not believed, so the men stopped talking about them. Their demands for health benefits were also denied until late in life. Their demand for recognition was also ignored, as was their request for an apology from the Japanese, which they needed to validate their experiences. Over time, many of these injustices were rectified, but still there was a feeling that they were forgotten. Their children suffered also because their hero-fathers were damaged men with too many demons and too many sleepless nights. For them, the war went on.
There are only 80 veterans living of the 2,000 who sailed for Hong Kong, but they will finally get the true national respect they have been seeking all their lives. On Aug. 15 in Ottawa, a unique monument will be unveiled at a prestigious location off Sussex Drive, on land owned by the National Capital Commission and reserved for memorials of Canadian significance.
Marie LeMay, CEO of the National Capital Commission, says the land was made available after a panel of experts determined that the Hong Kong story was nationally significant. "Our job is to bring Canadian values to the capital and to provide a window on our country, our history and our values," she said. (It would be nice, as an aside, if the commission did more to bring school children to Ottawa, much the way the Canadian Museum for Human Rights intends to bring Canadians to Winnipeg.)
The monument will be unique in the country because it will be the only one to include the names of the living and the dead, all 2,000 soldiers who served in Hong Kong. It's also somewhat rare in Canada to build a monument that focuses on just two battalions and their support units, the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles of Canada.
It's being built with $300,000 in private donations -- although the Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association still needs more help -- another rarity because most war memorials are funded by governments or community groups.
Many Hong Kong veterans never got over their sense of shame for their defeat (some call it a surrender, not a defeat) in battle, but the unveiling hopefully will give them a renewed sense of pride in themselves and their country. With luck, it will also mean that their war is finally over.