On 27 October 1941, the Canadian government dispatched the Quebec-based Royal Rifles of Canada and the Winnipeg Grenadiers to Hong Kong aboard the ship Awatea. Their orders included the mandate to defend Hong Kong "should the occasion arise." Both battalions, however, were poorly equipped and had been officially classified as "insufficiently trained." Moreover, they had recently returned from garrison duty: the Royal Rifles had been stationed in Newfoundland and the Winnipeg Grenadiers in the West Indies.

On 16 November, the two Canadian battalions joined the British garrison stationed in Hong Kong. For many of the soldiers, the instruction they received in Hong Kong marked their first formal weapons training. As 8 December dawned, planes of the Japanese army suddenly attacked the Hong Kong barracks and airfield as a prelude to a major assault by ground forces. Hurriedly committed to the defence of the colony, the Canadians were now deployed to engage the combat-hardened Japanese troops.

Despite rudimentary training, the Canadians furiously defended their positions. The Japanese army had planned to take Hong Kong in five days, yet the Allied garrison held on for nearly three weeks. Nonetheless, the Canadians suffered horrible losses. Completely encircled, two companies (approximately 160 men) of the Royal Rifles died in the fighting. On Christmas Day, the Allied troops surrendered to the Japanese. The survivors were subjected to harsh treatment: indeed, the Japanese shipped 1,184 of the Canadian prisoners to Japan as forced labour. Some 557 Canadians would die in the appalling conditions of the Japanese prison camps.

 

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