|Canadian Infantry, Hong Kong.|
In a Tokyo ceremony held on December 7, 2011 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Hong Kong, Japan apologized to the Canadian war veterans who suffered horrendous treatment in prisoner of war camps during WWII.
The ceremony was to pay tribute to the nearly 2,000 Canadian military personnel who helped defend Hong Kong during a massive invasion. Hundreds of Canadian soldiers were killed or wounded during the campaign. The survivors became P.o.W.'s for nearly three-and-a-half years until the war ended.
Japan's parliamentary vice-minister for foreign affairs Kato Toshiyuki (surname first) apologized for the mistreatment of those soldiers who survived the battle and spent years toiling in labor camps.
Despite the apology, Canadians were still not satisfied.
"This was not a political apology. This was an expression from the Japanese people to the Canadian prisoners of war," states Derrill Henderson of the Hong Kong Veteran's Association.
He was one of three veterans who traveled to Japan to accept the apology. No Canadian officials were allowed into the meeting.
But, Henderson stresses the apology was to all Canadian prisoners of war and not just those who fought in Hong Kong.
The declaration, delivered to an audience that included Canada's Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney, also missed the mark for one of its intended targets.
Phil Doddridge, who spent nearly four years between two prisoner of war camps, says the apology would never have come about without political pressure from Canada and doesn't have the ring of truth.
"The apology is a little bit hollow. I'm not sure how sincere it is," says the 89-year-old Doddridge from his home in New Richmond, Quebec, Canada. "I'm sure that if they hadn't been badgered about it, they wouldn't have done it. Although I appreciate all the work that's gone into this, I've been able to get along without it for 70 years. I could have done without it."
A spokesman for Veterans Affairs Canada said efforts to seek an apology from Japan had been under way for some time, but did not provide further details.
Doddridge says the apology would have been more meaningful in the years after the war when veterans were still healing from the physical and psychological abuse they suffered.
|Canadian soldier graves, Hong Kong.|
Claire Hachey, whose father survived labor camps, agrees that the apology was too long in coming. Dean Hachey lived 33 years after returning from Hong Kong and would have had to survive 33 more to hear the Japanese government take responsibility, she notes.
Still, she says she believes he would have joined the rest of his family in welcoming the apology and forgiving the past.
"I don't think that we can hold the people today accountable for what happened 70 years ago," she says. "A lot of them are not even taught what happened 70 years ago, probably because of shame... I do not feel anything bad towards the Japanese."
Blaney characterized the apology as an attempt to move forward in the present without ignoring the atrocities of the past.
"This important gesture is a crucial step in ongoing reconciliation and a significant milestone in the lives of all prisoners of war," he said in a statement. "It acknowledges their suffering while honouring their sacrifices and courage."
Sheila Forsyth who lost her father to the war says: "Finally there is an admission that there were some things done that were not quite right when the men were in incarceration."
"If you had seen the faces of the veterans in that room it (the apology) was not too late; they actually closed a chapter in their lives," says Henderson. "I'm sure those veterans walked out of the room feeling they had won the battle."
In the small crowd were people like Hope Harris, a toddler who laid a wreath down for her great grandfather who died in battle, and Ted Terry who lost his father who lasted less than a year in the prison camp.
"My dad died in Hong Kong. He was the paymaster of the Winnipeg Grenadiers and he was captured along with all the other soldiers that were there and two nursing sisters," says Terry.
Now, after years of feeling like forgotten heroes the Canadian veterans have the Battle of Hong Kong memorial wall, which was erected in Canada's capital of Ottawa at the corner of Sussex Drive and King Edward Avenue in 2009, and now the long-awaited apology.
Some 1,975 Canadian troops were hastily sent to reinforce Allied troops defending Hong Kong, a British colony on China’s southern coast, as Japanese forces massed near the border in 1941. The Canadians were from the Royal Rifles of Canada and the Winnipeg Grenadiers, and within weeks of their arrival Japan entered the Second World War.
The Battle of Hong Kong began December 8, 1941, and lasted until Christmas Day. The Allies surrendered after almost 18 days of fighting in which 290 Canadians were killed and 493 wounded.
Those who survived were held prisoner until Japan’s surrender in 1945. Aside from the battle casualties, another 267 captured men died in prison camps where they were subjected to what Canada calls 'deliberate and systematic mistreatment at the hands of their captors.'
The Canadian prisoners of war were 'forced into backbreaking labor in construction sites, mines, shipyards and foundries, and were frequently beaten and starved.'
Many of the PoWs who survived and returned to Canada suffered serious disabilities as a result of their experiences in Hong Kong, and many died prematurely, Veterans Affairs said.
In all, more than 550 soldiers who sailed from Vancouver to Hong Kong in October of 1941 never returned home.
Files by Andrew Joseph