By Woodard, Dale on August 14, 2020.
Kathie Carlson will never forget her father’s contributions in the Second World War.
The Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association and the Royal Canadian Legion, General Stewart Branch #4 Lethbridge, will honour the 75th anniversary of VJ Day and the liberation of the veterans in the Battle of Hong Kong on Aug. 15, 1945 in a ceremony to take place at the City of Lethbridge Cenotaph Saturday at 11 a.m.
For Carlson, it’s not only a chance to honour her father – Lt. Leonard Corrigan, a prisoner of war in Hong Kong for nearly four years – but to also ensure the plight of the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles in Hong Kong isn’t forgotten.
A total of 1,975 Canadian soldiers from the Winnipeg Grenadiers and Royal Rifles arrived in Hong Kong without their supplies and equipment on Nov. 17, 1941 to join the British and East Indian soldiers and Hong Kong volunteers to form a 14,000-man garrison.
On Dec. 8, 1941 – simultaneously with the attack on Pearl Harbor – 50,000 Japanese soldiers invaded from mainland China and in a battle that raged on for 17 days, nearly 300 Canadians were killed before the allies were forced to surrender on Dec. 25 and taken as prisoners of war for almost four years.
“It’s extremely important we always remember the sacrifices these men made,” said Carlson. “Almost 2,000 young folks, some of them 16 – my dad was 30 and had two kids and a wife at home – all rallied to that call and were taken to Winnipeg and down East and became the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles. They left in October of 1941 and arrived in Hong Kong not even knowing where they were going on Nov. 17, 1941.”
As a non-combative group, the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles weren’t meant to fight.
“The idea was they were there to support the British, the Scottish and the East Indians and Hong Kong volunteers against the possibility of an invasion from Japan,” said Carlson. “Unfortunately, on Pearl Harbor Day – Dec. 7 and Dec. 8 with the international dateline – Pearl Harbor was invaded at the same time Hong Kong was invaded. They fought for 17 days in the mountains of Hong Kong. Near the end they were out of food, water, ammunition and exhausted. On Dec. 25 they were told they had to surrender.”
Through nearly four years of harsh captivity, Carlson said her father remained optimistic.
“If you read his diary, he tried to keep the momentum up with them and tried to figure out things to do, just trying to survive. There were a lot of health issues, massive diseases. It was pretty terrible, but they did their best and when they got back they were just silent.”
Glenn Miller, co-chair of Lethbridge Legion public relations, said many know about Canada’s contribution in Europe in the Second World War, but the Far East is lesser known.
“This is one way to help educate Canadians,” he said. “It is important that even in these COVID times that we still promote remembrance. This small act of remembrance is vital to remember those who paid the sacrifice in World War II and even those today who are serving abroad. Their service and contribution is important for the privileges of us living in Canada today.”
The Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles were the first to be engaged in the Second World War in the Pacific and were also the last soldiers to be liberated.
“Because they were the first ones in the Pacific, you don’t hear about that so much,” said Carlson, whose father originally hailed from Swift Current. “They were sent on a sort of odd mission and they did their very best. Some of them were learning how to shoot a gun on the ship going over. The fact that about 1,400 survived and 550 either died in camp or were killed in the battles, (that) they got back is amazing. But when they got back, they just got off the train, were dropped off all across Canada at their various locations and that was it. There wasn’t a ceremony though they thought there might be. They always felt a little bit hurt about that and a lot of people felt they had surrendered, so that was a terrible thing. But they didn’t have a choice. They served their country well, and my role is to always never forget and always acknowledge that my father and many others were really put in a terrible situation, survived it and we have to honour them.”
Miller asked those attending Saturday’s ceremony to arrive no later than 10:50 a.m.
“Under the COVID remembrance parameters with Alberta Health Services, we are following their guidelines,” he said. “Right now, up to 100 people are allowed outdoors. So with social distancing we should be able to achieve that in that environment.”
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