From Almonte Gazette

From Almonte Gazette, 1968 - Received from Fran & Don Cooper - [email protected]

The Horror of Hong Kong

          By Hal B. Kirkland

            In the "25 Years Ago" column of the Jan. 11, 1968, issue of the Gazette there appeared this item: “The 244th casualty list of the Canadian army, issued Jan. 9. contained the names of 57 Canadian soldiers who fought at Hong Kong and have been reported killed or missing in action. Included in the list is Staff Sergeant George Jackman who served at staff headquarters at Hong Kong.”

          This news item, was taken from the Gazette of Jan. 14, 1943. George Jackman was killed before Christmas Day in 1941. Therefore the Jackmans must have waited twelve long months before receiving official confirmation that their son had been killed in action. It seems incredible now. But that is the way it was with the Japanese. They didn't care.

          On an afternoon in October 1941, a smart young N.C.O. in the Canadian Army stepped up to the wicket in the Almonte Post Office and called a cheery "hello." The clerks in the office dropped their work and congregated at the wicket to greet this special young soldier. It was a couple of years since he had worked with them in the office during the Christmas holidays and he was a favorite. His name was George Jackman.

          He told us that he had dropped in to say “Good-by” as he had been posted overseas; where, he did not say, but he was leaving the next day. He was in gay spirits and the Postmaster and his clerks were happy to see him again. After he had worked in the Post Office he had left Almonte with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Allan Jackman, who had moved to Ottawa, and had joined the permanent forces shortly before the outbreak of war and was now Staff-Sergeant George Jackman of the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps.

          About a week later, on Oct. 27th, the “Awatea” and naval escort H.M.C.S. “Prince Robert” sailed from Vancouver carrying 1973 Canadian officers and soldiers for “garrison duty” in the Crown Colony of Hong Kong. The contingent comprised two battalions, the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles (from Quebec City), a signal section and some H.Q. personnel. George Jackman, was with them.

        There was no war in the Pacific at that time: Japan was only a hypothetical enemy. In the official History of the Second World War, Colonel Stacey writes “It will be noted that neither in Ottawa nor in London (from which Ottawa derived most of its intelligence on such matters) was there at this this time any apprehension of immediate war in the Pacific.” Churchill was against sending these troops to Hong Kong in the forlorn hope that it might deter a Japanese attack. It is too bad that he did not have his way. The Canadian troops on the ''Awatea" arrived in Hong Kong on November 16, 1941.

          Three weeks later, on Sunday, Dec. 7th. the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Many will remember that Sunday. How can those who heard him ever forget the late President Roosevelt's radio address to the Nation when, with dramatic deliberation, he uttered these words, “This is a day which will live in infamy.”

          At 8 o’clock the next morning, December 8, 48 Japanese planes hurtled from the skies and mercilessly bombed Hong Kong. In five minutes they had destroyed all of the R.A.F. machines based on the Colony - all five of them. This was the beginning of one of the most disastrous battles of the Second World War, and certainly the sorriest episode for Canada in that war. Seventeen and a half days later - on Christmas Day - the Colony was surrendered to Japan after a desperate losing battle against a vastly superior enemy. A sombre Christmas Day for the British , Canadian and Indian battalions at Hong Kong. Of the 1, 973 Canadians who went to Hong Kong 557 never returned. 290 were killed or died of wounds and 267 died during the next 44 months in prison camps of malnutrition, diphtheria and torture. Those who did come back to Canada were shockingly emaciated and sick.

          1941 seems a long time ago. And we forget. Besides, we were more concerned about Hitler than we were about Tojo, and Hong Kong was a strange exotic place far far away. In 1941 the lush island of Hong Kong was prosperous and secure and everything was serene - until December.

          It did not take the Japanese long to get there. Until December 18 they fought in the “New Territories” and Kowloon peninsula on the mainland, clearing the way to the island of Hong Kong.  At 10 p.m. on the 18th, a dark rainy night, the crack troops of Japan crossed the channel and, screaming their “Banzais,” swarmed over the 29 square mile Island. It became a pit of indescribable savagery. The little men of Col. Soji’s 230th Regiment took no prisoners.

          The next day, the 19th, was a day of unrelieved disaster for our troops on the mountainous little Island. They were greatly outnumbered. They didn't have a chance. General Maltby who commanded the combined forces - 6 battalions, 2 British, 2 Indian and 2 Canadian - referred to Hong Kong as “a hostage to fortune.” His troops would have had less refined expressions.

          On that day Brigadier John K. Lawson, the Commander of the Canadians, was killed. Alone in his office he made a last telephone call to General Maltby. He announced calmly, "They're all around us. I'm going out to shoot it out.” - He then smashed the telephone switchboard and went outside - a revolver in each hand. When his body was found, six days later, there were eight Japanese lying around him. Both his revolvers were empty.

          George Jackman was killed on that day too. Considering that they did not find Brigadier Lawson's body for six days, it is understandable that this writer has had difficulty getting information about George Jackman during those last fateful days. He can, only quote from a letter received from a medical officer who was in Hong Kong. After explaining enquiries he had made without finding out much he concluded:

          “He was killed at the battle of The Ridge on 19 December, 1941.”

          The Ridge was a pretty messy affair, and there seem to, be no survivors of it who actually saw Jackman killed. As a matter of fact, there are not many Canadian survivors of any kind of that particular battle. The Canadians who took part in it established a fine reputation for gallantry, and we must assume that Jackman contributed his full share to that reputation.

          "I am sorry not to be able to give you more information."

          We in Almonte who knew George have no doubt whatever that he would have contributed his full share, and more. But it is hard for us to be told now by those whose business it is to study war that it was a mistake to send the two Canadian battalions to Hong Kong. But that is hindsight . . . and hindsight is always easy.

          Staff-Sergeant George Jackman was born, played and went to school in Almonte and was the only Almonte boy in Hong Kong. Now his body lies in a far-off foreign land. We cannot help remembering Rupert Brooke’s poem, The Soldier.

          The fall of Hong Kong brought sadness in two other homes in Almonte. Rifleman Norman Smith, and Rifleman Lloyd Reid were with the Royal Rifles at Hong Kong. Norman Smith was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Smith of Clayton Village and a brother of Mrs. Arnold Craig of Almonte. Lloyd Reid was a brother of Mrs. Joseph Phillips of Almonte. Both were prisoners-of-war: both died in prison camp in Japan.

          Mr. and Mrs. Smith of Clayton were notified through the International Red Cross, Geneva, that their son had died February 9th, 1943, in a Tokyo camp and that the cause of death was beriberi. Mrs. Phillips heard from her brother only once during the two years he was a prisoner - in June 1942. He said he was fine, which was probably not the whole truth, because eighteen months later he was dead. The Geneva Convention meant nothing to the Japanese.

          As far as this writer knows there is one survivor of Hong Kong living in Almonte or vicinity. Mr. J. H. Hand, who moved to Almonte since the war and now lives on Union St. was also with the Royal Rifles. He endured those dreadful months in a Japanese prison camp with the inevitable consequences - after a few months his weight dropped from 150 to 82 lbs. But he was fortunate: he came back.  The law Col. G. M. Billings, who taught in the Almonte High School was also a veteran of Hong Kong.

          Norman Smith and Lloyd  Reid would have spent that sombre Christmas Day in Hong Kong.  It was a day of misery for the Royal Rifles and a day of cruelty by the Japanese. At 3 o’clock in the afternoon of Christmas Day General Maltby went to Government House and told the Governor of the Colony, Sir Mark Young that further resistance was useless.

          Early that Christmas evening Sir Mark Young surrendered the Crown Colony without condition to Lt. Gen. Sakai, Commander of the Japanese 23rd Army.

          And so ended the horror of Hong Kong, in despair and defeat, just two months after Staff-Sergenat George Jackman had shaken hands with the Post Office staff in Almonte and there was no fear of war in the Pacific.

Posted: 23 February, 2006.