The Bravest People I Have Ever Met

It is the custom for enemies to attempt to diminish the other side by any means possible in order to paint them as, despicable, hateful, less than human cowardly creatures, and so easier to face on the battlefield and to kill. This has been done since men threw stones at each other. It was done in Hong Kong, it is still done today.

Brigadier John Masters, DSO, OBE, said of the Japanese:

"They are the bravest people I have ever met. In any armies, any one of them, nearly every Japanese would have had a Congressional Medal or a Victoria Cross. It is the fashion to dismiss their courage as fanaticism, but that only begs the question. They believed in something and they were willing to die for it, for the smallest detail that would help achieve it. What else is bravery?

They pressed home the attack when no other troops in the world have done so, when all hope of success was gone, except that it never really is, for who can know what the enemy has suffered, what is his state of mind? The Japanese simply came on, using all their skill and rage, until they were stopped by death. In defense they held their ground with furious tenacity that never faltered. They had to be killed, company by company, squad by squad, man by man, to the last. By 1944 the number of Japanese captured unwounded, in all theatres of war, probably did not total one hundred. For the rest, they wrote beautiful little poems in their diaries and practiced bayonet work on their prisoners. Frugal, bestial, barbarous and brave, artistic and brutal, they were the dushmen, (the enemy), and we now set about, in all seriousness, the task of killing everyone of them."

These were the kind of men the Canadians faced on the morning of December 18th, 1941. Arthur G. Penny, author of the "Royal Rifles of Canada, a Short History", published in 1962 for the l00th Anniversary of the Regiment said of Brigadier John Masters words, "This evidence, as conclusive as it is comprehensive, surely justifies me in stating--as I do without hesitation--that no troops in the 20th century--and certainly none in World War II--have been tested more terribly, more searchingly than were the Canadians at Hong Kong: men brave, intelligent, if you will, but all unused to combat and fighting within an area to which they were complete strangers. Nor have any other troops met such a test with greater credit to their country, to their military traditions and to themselves."

These words will no doubt be challenged by anyone who fought, or was held captive by the Japanese Imperial Army anywhere in the world. Anyone held by them was subjected to the most terrible acts of inhumanity, made all the more horrible by the callous indifference of those who tortured, mutilated, and killed helpless people. The prisoners of the battle for Hong Kong do not have an exclusive claim to the horrors of Japanese internment, but that in no way diminishes their suffering.

Kowloon, 1945 - Photo Courtesy of Bill Lake

December 8th, 1941

At about 01:00 hrs the grave-yard shift on duty at "D" Coy H.Q were listening to a battery radio as they worked. Suddenly the regular program was interrupted by a voice brittle with urgency. Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese. The men huddled around the radio waiting for more news while the word spread like wildfire around the island. The Japanese had attacked the United States. What was to happen to Hong Kong?

December 8th, 1941, dawned bright and clear. The sun rising from its bed behind the mountains promised the day would be a hot one. Waking about 06:30 hrs the men of "D" Coy, Royal Rifles of Canada, went about their business as usual: wake up, tidy up, wash, brush hair and teeth, dress and go to breakfast. Then, go to the Orders Board to see if there were any new orders for the day. Those who had assignments went to do whatever duties they had been assigned -- just another day, but the tension in the air was electric. Something was bound to happen, but when?

Lt. Angus A. MacMillan had been standing outside "D" Coy HQ when he heard the distant sound of approaching aircraft. "Just in time" he thought. The long awaited reinforcement aircraft were arriving just in the nick of time. The aircraft turned out to be Japanese!

Thirty-six Japanese bombers streaked across the blue sky at tree-top level and plastered Hong Kong's Kai Tac Airport, Kowloon and surrounding area with bombs. The runway of Kai Tac was pock-marked with craters. The raid destroyed 1 Wildebeest which was set ablaze. There was nothing left of it but its load of bombs sitting, red-hot, on the runway.. In 5 short minutes the Japanese owned the air. General Maltby grounded the remaining 2 Wildebeest. They would take to the air only if a target such as a Japanese capitol ship should appear.

The air was thick with smoke that hung over both Hong Kong and Kowloon. The smell of cordite filled nostrils and burned the eyes. Fires burned everywhere. There was an ache in the hearts and bellies of the shocked troops. This was not supposed to happen.

Sham Shui Po Camp was bombed when it was being evacuated and two men of the Royal Canadian Signal Corps became the first Canadian infantry wounded in WWII.

The Japanese bombers made another pass dropping leaflets demanding the immediate surrender of the New Territories and Hong Kong. Then they flew away. The time was 08:00 hrs., Monday, December 8, 1941. The Battle of Hong Kong had begun. It was a very hot day.

The Mainland

From the time the very first bomb dropped Maltby knew he had big problems. Wallis was on the mainland with only three battalions to protect almost 16 kilometers of mostly unfinished defensive positions. Some of the Royal Scots were ill with malaria, but worse ... Maltby had based the defense plan on faulty intelligence. There were far more than 5,000 "poorly trained, poorly equipped scrawny little Japanese" on the mainland. There was the entire 23rd. Japanese Imperial Army, under the Supreme Command of Lt. Gen. Sakai, and these Japanese soldiers knew how to fight. At 08:00 hrs, as the bombs rained down on the defenders, units of the Japanese 23rd. crossed the Sham Chun Shan river and like a tidal wave rushed eastwards towards the Allied Forces.




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