Hong Kong Photo: Remembering the fallen

(Last Updated On: January 24, 2010)
Sai Wan War Cemetary, Chai Wan, Hong Kong

Caught up in my own little reality, I forgot that November 11 was Remembrance Day in Canada. The day commemorates the end of The Great War, and is used to remember Canada’s men and women that died serving their country in times of war or as part of peacekeeping operations. At 11 am, two minutes of silence are observed to commemorate those that made the ultimate sacrifice.

When I was a reporter I spent time with veterans, at the cenotaphs as they remembered their fallen comrades. Listening to The Last Post played on the bagpipes while standing under overcast skies on a cold November morning has the power to gut you. It’s haunting and visceral: Melodic sorrow that cuts right to the bone.

I was perusing the images of Randall J. van der Woning, who has has photographically documented many of the Hong Kong battlefields of World War II. On seeing his work, I realized I had forgotten Remembrance Day, something I once told myself I would never do.

Two hundred and ninety Canadians, ill-equipped and trained, their ranks marred with illness, died in December 1942, attempting to defend Hong Kong from the Japanese (a further 254 died while PoWs). The Battle of Hong Kong saw the first Canadians to fight and die in World War II. Most are buried the Sai Wan War Cemetery in Chai Wan, on Hong Kong Island.

The quote on the monument is from Ecclesiasticus: Their name liveth for evermore. Their names still live – the Sai Wan War Cemetery isn’t a place many people visit, but the visitors book lists a name or two for each day. Visitors have to be determined, the cemetery is up a twisted mountain road, accessible by minibus or foot (if you are a semi-crazy former journalist.)

As long as there are visitors, as long as someone remembers, Their name liveth for evermore.

7 thoughts on “Hong Kong Photo: Remembering the fallen

  1. I agree…I like the framing of that picture.

    Thanks also for explaining a part of this memorial day instead of only recognizing it. It’s nice to not only know that last month marked Canada’s Remembrance Day (I didn’t know this), but also the story of those men in Hong Kong.

  2. Yes well done better late than never. Since you travel Stevo there is a cemetery and a very interesting Museum at the end of the long march for the prisoners. The location of course is at the end of the bridge that was featured in the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai. The curator is an Australian who has spent many years of his vacation time following the trek these prisoners made and digging in the garbage dumps where they camped along the way. He has assembled rooms full of artifacts which he has on display. The cemetery which is across the road also contains 3 Canadians, if I remember correctly, most very very young. I am sorry the name of the place is not coming to mind but it is widely known. It is north or north east of Bangkok, about 2 hours by car.

  3. Corina: Thanks.

    Josh: Thank you for your comments. The soldiers involved in the Battle of Hong Kong created quite a scandal back in Canada in the 40s. They were sent at the request of the British, who were trying to placate Chiang Kai-shek. The Brits had no intention of defending Hong Kong long-term, and thought it disposable, similar to the Victorian attitude that gained Hong Kong by hooking a populace on opium.

    Shawn: All hugs gratefully accepted.

    Robin: Many thanks.

    Dug: I missed that when I was in Thailand last year. A must-see on my next visit. When I’m in England in a month I look forward to seeing some of the war cemeteries and may cross the channel to visit Vimy Ridge.

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