Churchill’s mes­sage

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

About a week into the bat­tle, the Hong Kong de­fend­ers com­posed of the Cana­di­ans, lo­cal troops, Bri­tish and In­dian units, re­ceived a mes­sage from Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill:

“Do ev­ery­thing you can to buy time, but never sur­ren­der. Do not give up the is­land. Fight with the Chi­nese as long as you can, and harm the Ja­panese army as much as you can.”

But the Ja­panese mil­i­tary force was too great. On Christ­mas Day af­ter 17 days of fight­ing, the Cana­di­ans were de­feated, and the Bri­tish gover­nor of Hong Kong or­dered them to sur­ren­der.

“We never put our hands in the air to the Ja­panese, and never laid down arms un­til or­dered to do so,” said Mac­Donell. “The Royal Ri­fles never quit dur­ing the bat­tle in Hong Kong or in those ghastly prison camps in the fol­low­ing years.”

The fight­ing in Hong Kong ended with im­mense Cana­dian ca­su­al­ties: 290 killed and 493 wounded.

McDonell and his Cana­dian com­rades would spend al­most four years in Ja­panese prison camps in Hong Kong and Ja­pan.

The POWs were sent to a camp called Sham Shui Po on the is­land. The worse the prison con­di­tions got, the more de­ter­mined the men of the Royal Ri­fles be­came to not crack, said MacDon­nell.

Dur­ing their time at that camp, mem­bers of a Chi­nese anti-Ja­panese guer­rilla force planned to at­tack the Ja­panese and res­cue all the pris­on­ers and take them into China.

“But dis­as­ter struck. The Ja­panese dis­cov­ered the plot and these young of­fi­cers were tor­tured and ex­e­cuted,” Mac­Donell said.

Af­ter a year or so of cap­tiv­ity in Hong Kong, the Cana­dian pris­on­ers were sent to a camp at Kawasaki, a sub­urb of Yoko­hama, Ja­pan. They worked as slave la­bor in Ja­pan’s largest ship­yard, which built freighters and naval ves­sels.

De­spite hav­ing to en­dure ter­ri­ble con­di­tions, the pris­on­ers found ways to sabotage the Ja­panese ship­build­ing ef­fort.

Two of them were young Cana­di­ans from Toronto, Staff Sergeant Char­lie Clark and Pri­vate Stan­ley Cameron, who worked at a Nip­pon Kokan ship­yard, Ja­pan’s largest ship­yard.

They started a fire un­der the yard’s blue­print fac­tory where wooden forms were pat­terned. It was timed to oc­cur at night when the pris­on­ers were back at their camp, about two miles away.

“Burn­ing the blue­prints and pat­terns that came from them meant there was no way you could build a ship or do any­thing in that ship­yard,’’ Mac­Donell said.

“They did it in ut­ter se­crecy; they told no one. But they pulled it off and even saved their own lives by do­ing so un­de­tected. This tells the spirit of the Cana­di­ans who even af­ter they were af­ter pris­on­ers, de­cided to never give up, never ac­cept the Ja­panese and to keep fight­ing.”

Long af­ter, when Mac­Donell met Clark and con­grat­u­lated him for his ac­tions, he said Clark smiled and said, “It went rather well, didn’t it?”

The Cana­dian POWS were moved to a camp in north­ern Ja­pan un­til freed in 1945 when Ja­pan sur­ren­dered. But be­fore be­ing freed, the pris­on­ers feared they would be killed by their cap­tives.

One Ja­panese or­der said, “Do not al­low the es­cape of a sin­gle one — an­ni­hi­late them all and have no trace.”

On Septem­ber 15, 1945, Amer­i­can forces picked up the Cana­di­ans at a nearby port.

Look­ing back at the Bat­tle of Hong Kong, Mac­Donell said: “Too lit­tle has been said about the Chi­nese vol­un­teers who fought with us. And who went to prison camps with us. They were ex­tremely brave, and we were very proud that we were as­so­ci­ated with them. And they suf­fered very heavy ca­su­al­ties too.”

He said the Bat­tle of Hong Kong “is not about how the Cana­di­ans were de­feated. It’s about how they fought and how they be­haved against im­pos­si­ble odds. And it’s about the met­tle they showed when it was ap­par­ent that there was no hope and there was no pos­si­bil­ity of a suc­cess­ful out­come. They never sur­ren­dered and they fought like tigers.”

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