'I did my duty, that was all,' says veteran as coin unveiled to honour the Battle of Hong Kong
'I am a survivor,' 96-year-old veteran from Winnipeg says at unveiling of $20 coin
Two veterans of the Battle of Hong Kong, both in their 90s, joined the Royal Canadian Mint in unveiling a new commemorative coin marking the 75th anniversary of the battle.
George Peterson of Winnipeg and Ralph McLean of Calgary were on hand as the Mint launched the new $20 silver coin at the Manitoba Legislative Building on Thursday morning.
The coin pays tribute to the soldiers of the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles of Canada who fought to defend Hong Kong from Japanese invasion during the Second World War.
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"I never, ever thought of myself as a hero. I did my duty, that was all. And I was as afraid, as scared as everybody else was at times," Peterson told the audience.
Peterson, 96, is one of two Battle of Hong Kong veterans in Winnipeg and a former Mint employee. McLean, 94, travelled from Calgary to Winnipeg for the event.
The Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles were part of C Force, the Canadian military contingent of 1,975 soldiers that was sent to Hong Kong in November 1941.
By the time Hong Kong was surrendered to Japan the following month, 290 Canadian soldiers were killed and many others were sent to prison camps in Hong Kong, mainland China and Japan.
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Prisoners in the camps were forced to work as slaves while being beaten, malnourished and mistreated for several years.
"When Emperor Hirohito finally accepted the unconditional surrender of his forces, 1,420 of us were left to return home," said Peterson, who added that two nurses were also released.
"There are only 18 of us surviving today," he said. "I intend to be the last one to go."
In 2011, the Japanese government formally apologized for its treatment of the Canadian prisoners of war.
The commemorative coin has a limited run of 10,000 and sells for $89.95 from the Mint.