Hong Kong vets remembered in the Interlake

Private James Phillip Gard and Cpl. Cyril Angus Stodgell, both of whom were raised in Fisher Branch, Man. and fought in the Battle of Hong Kong in December 1941, were honoured in a ceremony inside Ukrainian Hall in Fisher Branch on April 17, 2019. (Photo submitted by Carol Hadley)

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A veterans’ organization, whose mission is to educate Canadians on a historic battle in the Second World War, has done so by unveiling a series of plaques in various communities across the Interlake over the past few months.

The Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association, which also informs Canadians about the impacts of the battle on the soldiers and its families, has installed plaques commemorating the Battle of Hong Kong across Canada, including the Interlake. They are currently located at Royal Canadian Legion branches in Ashern (No. 57), Lundar (No. 185), St. Laurent (No. 250) and Selkirk (No. 42), as well as the Ukrainian Hall in Fisher Branch and both the Veterans Memorial Sports Complex and the Quarry Park Heritage Arts Centre in Stonewall. The Eriksdale RCL Branch No. 140 will be the latest to install its own Hong Kong plaque on Remembrance Day Nov. 11.

“Most of the Legions/ANAF knew about the Battle of Hong Kong connection, as in some cases family members of our veterans had and still lived in the area and placed wreaths in the memorial services,” Carol Hadley, Prairie director of the HKVCA, wrote in an email to The Interlake Spectator. “The Legions/communities were pleased to have us come and present them with a plaque for their membership in recognition of the sacrifice that was made. These plaques are also a great education tool for the younger generation to know what their family members did.”

In October 1941, both the Royal Rifles of Canada and the Winnipeg Grenadiers were ordered to be stationed in Hong Kong for service in the Pacific despite minimal combat training. Just hours after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they invaded Hong Kong and C Force became the first Canadian soldiers engaged in a battle during the war.

After 18 days of fighting, Canadian, British, French and Indian forces surrendered to the Japanese. Out of 1,975 Canadians who served in Hong Kong, 290 were killed in the battle and 493 were wounded. Another 264 Canadians died while in prisoner-of-war camps, some imprisoned for four years.

The soldiers who fought in Hong Kong and later returned home, including those from the Interlake, often did not talk about their experiences.

“In many cases when we explain this history, the (soldier’s) family is able to understand the changes in the veteran and understand why in many cases the had difficulty returning to civilian life,” Hadley explained.

By the end of the year, there will be 61 plaques in commemoration of the battle across Canada with 21 in Manitoba alone. Hadley also stated that they may visit more communities in the future.

“There are several communities yet that had a large number of men volunteer in the Winnipeg Grenadiers that haven’t contacted us,” she said.

For more information on the HKVCA and the Battle of Hong Kong, visit: hkvca.ca.

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