Port Colborne remembers The Battle of Hong Kong

Lori Atkinson Smith, the Ontario representative for the Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association presented a plaque to honour two Port Colborne residents and others that fought in The Battle of Hong Kong to Royal Canadian Legion Br. 56 president Irene Leslie.

Less than a day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on Dec. 7, 1941, Canadian troops became involved in a major battle, one of the first battles of the Pacific War.

On December 8, 1941, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong, an attack that was in violation against international law as they had not yet declared war against the British Empire.

British, Indian and Canadian units defended the garrison in Hong Kong, within a week, they had to abandon the mainland, less than two weeks later the colony surrendered.

Of the regiments involved, over 2,000 soldiers from the Royal Rifles of Canada and the Winnipeg Grenadiers were involved in the battle. Two of the soldiers from the Royal Rifles of Canada were from Port Colborne, Nicholas Stepanchuk (Dec. 22/1917 – Dec. 3/1987) and Arthur Randall (July 23/1920 – April 1981). Both men survived what is now called “The Battle of Hong Kong” or “The Fall of Hong Kong.” They were both taken prisoner by the Japenese and endured unimaginable horrors and hardship until they were liberated in 1945.

On Friday July 7 the Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association presented a plaque to Branch 56 of the Royal Canadian Legion in Port Colborne to honour both men and all men who fought and fell in The Battle of Hong Kong and those that were taken as prisoners of war. The families of both men were in attendance at the ceremony.

“This is to honour two men from Port Colborne who fought for our freedom,” Branch 56 second vice president Bob Saracino said. “The sacrifices they made and many others made for our freedom should never be forgotten.”

One of the problems identified by the Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association is that people don’t really know much about the role played by Canadian soldiers in the Battle of the Pacific.

“This is a very important event that is often overshadowed by the events in Europe,” Niagara Centre MP Vance Badawey said. “Canadians in small towns are rediscovering our history, events like this remind us of the importance of our history.”

Welland MPP Cindy Forster spoke on a personal note about a member of her own family who was in the Battle of the Pacific.

“I had an uncle that was in the Battle of the Pacific, though, not at the Battle of Hong Kong,” Forster said. “He was taken prisoner by the Japanese and withstood unimaginable horror in a POW camp.”

“My family members said that upon his return he was never quite the same,” she said. “The impact never leaves them.”

“That’s why this event is important today, to remind veterans, those of the past and those serving today, that we will never forget them,” she said.

Port Colborne Mayor John Maloney noted that “We need to remember all sacrifices made by the citizens of Port Colborne. This plaque will be in a place for many people to see and remember.”

Township of Wainfleet Mayor April Jeffs talked about the Canadian spirit.

“This memorial should remind ourselves that when it comes up protecting peace and human rights, Canadians will not hesitate to put themselves in harm’s way to protect those values,” she said.

Lori Atkinson Smith, the Ontario representative for the Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association there is an importance for this ceremony and others like it. Her father and two uncles were in the Battle of Hong Kong, they were with the Winnipeg Grenadiers. Her father and one uncle survived, one is buried over there.

“It’s an important battle in the history of Canada that isn’t taught in schools in Canada,” she said. “Only high schools in B.C. and New Brunswick have it in their curriculum.”

“So, we are trying to get the word out there,” she said, noting that most school curriculums focus on the war in Europe.

Branch 56 president Irene Leslie remarked “I am so very happy that we have received this plaque. It will be displayed in the Legion and anyone is welcome to come see it.”

The future plans of spreading the memory of the Battle of Hong Kong by the branch could include the plaque being shown locally.

“We want to show it to the local cadets that we support,” Leslie said. “We really want them to learn about the sacrifices made by Port Colborne people in the past to help them remember in the future.”



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