It was in defence of Hong Kong in 1941 that Canadian soldiers were first committed to battle during the Second World War.
Inadequately trained, improperly armed, and numerically overwhelmed, they fought with what they had the most of, courage. Sacrificed through political and military ignorance, they were forced to endure torture, forced labour of the cruelest kind, inadequate food, and shortage of medical supplies for more than three and a half years, leaving many of those that did survive captivity to suffer physical and emotional problems that lasted throughout their lives. Canadian history has perhaps not been kind or reflective of the true events that befell the Hong Kong regiments. It is fitting that their fight and sacrifice should be brought to significant prominence by the regiment’s mascot, Gander, who, sixty years after this dreadful time, was awarded the Dickin Medal, the “animals’ Victoria Cross’.
Gander and some of his soldiers
As tension in the Pacific grew, the vulnerability of the outpost of Hong Kong, then a British colony, became more and more apparent. It was recognized that in the event of a war with Japan, Hong Kong could be taken over and must be held as long as possible. This decision was reversed late in 1941 when it was argued that the situation in Asia had altered, that the defences in Malaya had been improved, and that Japan was showing a certain weakness in her attitude towards the United States and Great Britain. The reinforcement of Hong Kong would, it was believed, serve as a deterrent to hostile action by Japan, and would also have an important moral effect throughout the Far East by reassuring the Chinese of the intention to hold the colony. Accordingly, Canada was asked to provide one or two battalions for the purpose.