CBC Digital Archives CBC butterfly logo

CBC Archives has a new look: Please go to cbc.ca/archives to access the new site.

The page you are looking at will not be updated.

Canadians captured in Hong Kong receive compensation

The Story

It was a horrendous mistake that turned into an atrocity. In November 1941, almost 2,000 poorly-trained Canadian troops were sent to reinforce British defenders in the colony of Hong Kong. They arrived just in time to be overwhelmed by invading Japanese forces. Those that were not killed were held in Japanese prison camps, starved and abused for 44 months. Tales of their captivity are horrific. The Canadian prisoners were physically abused and forced into heavy labour in Japanese mines and shipyards. After they were liberated by U.S. troops in 1945, the frail and shaken veterans had great difficulty fitting in back at home. They spent decades seeking redress from the Japanese and Canadian governments. Today their prayers are answered: the Canadian government announces a compensation package of up to $24,000 each on "humanitarian grounds."

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Dec. 11, 1998
Guest(s): Lloyd Axworthy, Roger Cyr, Fred Mifflin, John Stroud
Host: Alison Smith
Reporter: Ron Charles
Duration: 2:38

Did You know?

• 1,975 soldiers of the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles of Canada were sent to Hong Kong in 1941.

• The Japanese attacked Hong Kong just hours after their attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941; 290 Canadians were killed, 493 wounded.

• When they were released, the Canadian captives were emaciated and many were physically and mentally impaired.

• Two Nursing Sisters, Kay Christie and May Waters were also captured. They were released relatively unharmed as part of a 1943 prisoner exchange program. They are Canada's only female prisoners of war.

• In 1986 the War Amps turned to the United Nations Sub-Committee on Human Rights to seek redress from Japan.

• The federal government did not support that request because they felt the matter had been settled in the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1952 (Japan paid each Canadian captive $1,344.)

• Veterans of Hong Kong received standard veteran's benefits through the Canadian government, but no additional compensation for their labour and suffering.

• Canada's reluctance to approach the government of Japan was particularly troublesome to veterans of Hong Kong because the Canadian government was in the middle of negotiating redress for Japanese Canadians who had been sent to internment camps during the war. Many felt betrayed that Japanese-Canadians would be compensated while Canadian soldiers forced to labour in Japan would receive nothing.

• In 1998 the Canadian government unilaterally compensated veterans of Hong Kong to the tune of $24,000 for each of the 350 veterans and 400 widows still alive at the time. The veterans were satisfied with the amount, but upset that the money had to come from Canadian taxpayers instead of the Japanese government.

• Canada's first Victoria Cross of the Second World War was awarded posthumously to Sgt.-Maj. John Osborn, who threw himself on a Japanese grenade in Hong Kong.

• The Dickin Medal for Bravery, sometimes called the animal version of the Victoria Cross, was awarded to a dog named "Sgt. Gander", killed trying to remove a Japanese grenade.


Continuing the Fight: Canada's Veterans more