“It’s important for us to keep alive the memory of those who sacrificed and the sacrifice they made was in the name of peace. To defend against aggression and I think that’s a continuing process.” Canadian Consul-General Mr Jeff Nankivell commemorates those who served in the Battle of Hong Kong in the 73rd annual Canadian Commemorative Ceremony.
The 2020 Canadian Commemorative Ceremony, an annual memorial for the Canadian soldiers who served in the Battle of Hong Kong, went as scheduled on Sunday despite Hong Kong’s current struggle with the fourth wave of COVID-19.
In a trilingual opening speech, Canadian Consul-General Mr Jeff Nankivell paid respects to those who served in the war:
“We remember the 1,975 Canadian soldiers, joint local and allied forces for fighting courageously against overwhelming odds for seventeen and a half days in December 1941,” Mr Nankivell said.
“We also remember the near four years of hardship, mistreatment, disease, malnutrition, [and] watching their friends die beside them, endured by our Canadian soldiers and their allied comrades in the prisoner of war camps.”
He also made reference to the death of Mr Peter Choi who, at the time of his passing in August, was one of only two surviving veterans from the Battle of Hong Kong.
“Peter was a highly respected ex-serviceman who contributed immensely to veterans in Hong Kong and kept alive this very important chapter in the history of Hong Kong and Canada,” Mr Nankivell shared.
He continued to say in Cantonese, “He was a good friend of Canada’s and over the past four years has been my personal friend.”
Choi had attended the ceremony over the past few years, and was invited up to the podium by Mr Nankivell himself.
The final veteran, gunner MR Ng Sai Ming passed shortly after Mr Choi on 31 October.
Following Mr Nankivell’s speech, a representative from the Consulate-General of Canada offered a prayer of remembrance:
“May we be inspired by their gifts of self and honour their memories by the continuing pursuit of democracy, whether by freedom, the right and justice for all … Beyond all, let us always be peacemakers for the world today.”
The battle against COVID-19 has meant that only twenty people, including staff and media, were permitted to physically attend the ceremony which normally attracts hundreds. Traditionally filled with pomp and circumstance; beginning with a procession and followed by speeches, performances and a ceremonial laying of wreaths, this year’s reduced ceremony saw wreaths laid in advance with a piper and bugle player who stood alone.
“I’m still glad we got to hold it, even though it had to be cut down. That way, we can say the ceremony has been continuous since post war,” said consulate worker Ms Edwina Wong.
Despite this year’s being the smallest gathering in the memorial’s over seventy year history, for the first time, the event was live streamed through the Consulate-General’s official Facebook page where about five hundred people tuned in.
“Hopefully by this time next year, it would be possible to have large gatherings outdoors like this,” said Mr Nankivell.
“But one thing we’ve learned is that we can also stream it live via Facebook and I think we will continue to do that to reach an even wider audience.”
The Battle of Hong Kong was one of the first battles in the Pacific Theatre, beginning mere hours after the bombing of Pearl Harbour on 8 December, 1941 (7 December in Hawaiian time).
Almost two thousand Canadian soldiers served in Hong Kong. Company Sergeant-Major John Robert Osborn, a Canadian, is the only recipient of the Victoria Cross from the battle. A statue of Osborn is on display in Hong Kong Park, he is also commemorated in Canada where he gives the name of Osborn Road in Brantford, Ontario.
The Battle of Hong Kong was the first battle seen by Canadian troops. The long occupation of Hong Kong by Imperial Japan meant that Canadians posted in Hong Kong were also the last to be liberated.
As a British Crown Colony, Hong Kong was defended by soldiers from across the commonwealth including Britain, Canada, India, and Pakistan. Soldiers from the local defence corp known as ‘The Volunteers’ served as well.
“In the cemetery here, we have soldiers from many nations … And everybody worked together,” Mr Nankivell told Harbour Times when asked about what humanity can learn from their sacrifices as we face unprecedented duress amidst the pandemic.
“They weren’t thinking about themselves or their own countries, they were working together to resist aggression and fighting for peace … That’s a lesson we need to learn for today.”
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