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- Dark Side of the Sun -

George Palmer's Journey From Prince Edward Island to
Hong Kong and the Omine Camp in WWII

His Story
    Chronology     Capt. Wilson Interview     Dr. Gingras Interview
The Royal Rifles of Canada, who had been stationed in Newfoundland, and the Winnipeg Grenadiers, who had recently been stationed in Jamaica, were the battalions chosen for duty in Hong Kong in 1941.  They left Vancouver, under the command of Brigadier J.K. Lawson, on October 27, 1941 in the S.S. Awatea which was escorted by HMCS Prince Robert.  There were 96 officers and 1,877 other ranks on these two ships.  A third ship called the Don Jose carried 212 vehicles for the Canadian forces.  This ship never made it to Hong Kong - it reached as far as Manila when the war in the Pacific commenced.  The U.S. was given approval to use the Canadian equipment for the defence of the Philippines.

The Awatea reached Hong Kong on November 16th after brief stops in Hawaii and Manila.  The Hong Kong Colony consisted of the island itself and the mainland areas of Kowloon and the 'New Territories'.  The whole colony was very mountainous with a total area of about 1,060 square kilometres. 

Major-General C.M. Maltby had, under his command, including the Canadians, a total force of about 14,000, including naval and airforce personnel and many non-combatants.  This included: the Royal Rifles of Canada, the Winnipeg Grenadiers, two coast regiments, one anti-aircraft regiment of the Royal Artillery, a regiment of the Hong Kong and Singapore Royal Artillery, two engineer companies, one battalion of British infantry (the 2nd Battalion, Royal Scots), one British machine-gun battalion (the 1st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment), and two Indian infantry battalions (the 5/7 Rajput Regiment and the 2/14 Punjab Regiment).  The Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps included units of artillery, infantry and other arms. 

The mainland Brigade was under Brigadier C. Wallis and was composed of the Royal Scots, two Indian battalions, and the Canadian signal section.  The Island Brigade was under Brigadier Lawson and it consisted of the two Canadian battalions and the Middlesex Regiment.  His headquarters were set up at Wong Nei Gap in the middle of the island.

The Allies had no significant air or naval defence.  The Kai Tak RAF base in Hong Kong had only five planes: two Walrus amphibians and three Vickers Vildebeeste torpedo bombers.  As well, they only had one destroyer (Thracian), several gunboats, and a flotilla of motor torpedo boats at their disposal.

It was no surprise to the Hong Kong defenders when the Japanese attacked on December 8, 1941.  They had practiced their daily drills during the weeks prior to the invasion and all battalions were in position.  The problem was that the Allies were greatly outnumbered by a battle-hardened, fully mechanized enemy. 

The Japanese opened up their offensive by moving their troops across the frontier of the New Territories and by an air attack on the Kai Tak airport.  All the RAF aircraft were either damaged or destroyed very quickly.  Within a few days, the Japanese forces overran the Gin Drinkers' Line and on the 11th, General Maltby ordered all mainland troops to withdraw to the island.  D Company of the Winnipeg Grenadiers covered the Royal Scots' withdrawal down the Kowloon Peninsula and the Indian units followed until they (and most of their heavy equipment) were safely across the strait.

On December 13th, the Japanese demand for surrender was brusquely rejected.  Meanwhile, the island forces were reorganized into an East and West Brigade. (
Click here for map of troop movements and battles)  The dividing lines for these Brigades ran just east of the central north-south road across the island.  The West Brigade, under Brigadier Lawson, consisted of the Royal Scots, the Winnipeg Grenadiers, the 2/14 Punjab, and the Canadian signallers.  The East Brigade, under Brigadier Wallis, consisted of the Royal Rifles of Canada and the 5/7 Rajput.  The Middlesex were under Fortress Headquarters.  Brigadier Wallis re-established his headquarters at Tai Tam Gap.

The East Brigade

The invasion of Hong Kong island came on December 18th.  The enemy crossed at the narrowest part called Lye Mun Passage.  Once across, they fanned out to the east and west and advanced up the valleys leading to high ground.  The Royal Rifles were the first Canadian troops to fight the invasion force.

By the 19th, the Japanese had reached as far as Wong Nei Chong and Tai Tam Gaps, and the East and West Brigades became separated when the Japanese reached the sea at Repulse Bay.  The enemy was now dug in on the hills from Mount Parker to Jardine's Lookout.  Despite many attempts by the East Brigade to drive the enemy out of the area, they were unable to dislodge the Japanese from the surrounding hill positions and were forced to withdraw.  The Japanese, with reinforcements, continued with their attacks and the Allies' reserves were slowly becoming depleted.  Throughout the battles on the island, the Allies counterattacked on many occasions and regained lost ground, only to lose it again to a tenacious and well-supplied enemy.  On the evening of the 23rd, orders were given for a general withdrawal to Stanley Peninsula.

The West Brigade

Two Platoons engaged the Japanese at Jardine's Lookout and Mount Butler.  There were many attacks and counterattacks around these areas.  The Japanese approached and surrounded the West Brigade Headquarters before Brigadier Lawson and his men had a chance for withdrawal to a new location.  On December 19th, Brigadier Lawson reported to Fortress Headquarters that he was going outside to 'fight it out' with the enemy who were firing into the shelter at pointblank range.  He died in the ensuing battle.  After Lawson's death, and that of Colonel Hennessy (next in seniority), West Brigade was without a commander until Colonel H.B. Rose of the Hong Kong Defence Corps was appointed on December 20th.

While inflicting severe casualties on the Japanese, the Grenadiers managed to hold on to the main north-south road across the island and their positions near Wong Nei Chong Gap until December 22nd when their ammunition, food, and water were exhausted.

They also managed to maintain the line from Victoria Harbour to the south shore until the night of December 22-23 when they were forced back by the Japanese.  The line was then redrawn along Mount Cameron on the left sector and Bennet's Hill on the right.  On December 24th, the Japanese breached the left sector and Bennet's Hill was next.  Despite Allied counterattacks, the Canadians were overrun.  General Maltby advised the Governor to surrender.  It was over on December 25th after 17 and a half days of hellish fighting.

After it was all said and done, 23 Canadian officers and 267 other ranks were killed, and 28 officers and 465 other ranks wounded.  The Japanese kept the Canadians in camps in Hong Kong until early 1943 where another 4 officers and 125 other ranks died.  In early 1943, one officer and 1,183 other ranks were sent to Japan where a further 135 men died.  These prisoners were incorporated into Japan's forced labour programs under horrible conditions.  They were liberated and returned to Canada in late 1945.  More than 550 (28%) Canadians out of about 1,975 who fought in Hong Kong never returned to Canada.

Source:  Condensed and summarized by Michael Palmer from the writings of Patricia Giesler: Canadians In Hong Kong, Veterans Affairs Canada)
(Note:  I have intentionally refrained from getting into the complexities of any specific and in-depth battle facts)