Plaques hailing heroism of soldiers who defended HK fading away

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 May, 2010, 12:00am

Hundreds of Canadian soldiers died in the defence of Hong Kong in December 1941 and in prisoner-of-war camps afterwards. To mark their bravery and sacrifice, three plaques were erected in 2005 by the Consulate General of Canada and the Hong Kong government at sites where battles occurred.

The problem, five years on, is that they are difficult to read.

'These soldiers sacrificed their lives and it's important that we should honour their memory,' says Martin Heyes, who takes tourists on tours around Hong Kong showing where the battles were fought. 'Not only are the plaques impossible to read, the concrete [plinths] which they stand on are also covered in moss at two sites. It's appalling that they should have been allowed to become a mess. They need to be cleaned and the inscription needs to be engraved more deeply.'

Who is responsible for maintaining the plaques remains a ambiguous. Two of the three plaques are installed at sites managed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD). One is at Lawson's Bunker in Wong Nai Chung Gap Road and is part of a war trail. Another is situated outside the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence. The third, in part dedicated to the memory of John Osborn, the only soldier here to receive the British Commonwealth's highest military decoration, the Victoria Cross, is situated at Jardine's Lookout.

An LCSD spokeswoman insisted that a recent check of the plaques under its jurisdiction, had shown that they were in good condition and that there had been no deterioration in the writing. The one at Lawson's Bunker, she said, was inspected by the Antiquities and Monuments Office. Museum staff were responsible for the maintenance of the one at the museum in Shau Kei Wan, she said. However, the consulate was responsible for maintenance of the plaque at Jardine's Lookout.

Meanwhile, a consulate spokeswoman said they were aware of Heyes' complaints.

'In response to earlier correspondence with Mr Heyes, officials from the consulate general visited and evaluated the plaques in 2009.We appreciate that they may be difficult to read. The consulate general ... will continue to consider how these plaques could be made easier to read in consultation with Veteran's Affairs Canada and the Hong Kong Government,' she said.

Two of the three plaques are located on the Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail, a historical walk developed by the Hong Kong Tourism Board with the assistance of war historians Tony Banham and Ko Tim-keung in 2005 to commemorate the heroes of the second world war.

Banham said: 'I attended the dedication of these plaques, and even then - Hong Kong's climate being what it is - we knew that they wouldn't last forever. But it is certainly disappointing that they have decayed so fast.'

The one at Lawson's Bunker marks the bravery of the Brigade Headquarters Canadian 'C' Force and their brigadier, John Lawson, who on the morning of December 19, 1941, found himself and his men increasingly surrounded in a bunker dug into the hillside. He refused to withdraw and in his last words over a telephone to his commanding officer, he said he was 'going outside to fight it out'.

The one at the museum is dedicated to the Royal Rifles of Canada, including 'C' company and their commander, Major Wells Bishop, for their actions on the night of December 18, 1941, when the Japanese army reached Hong Kong island.

The plaque at Jardine's Lookout commemorates all members of the Winnipeg Grenadiers, including Sergeant Major Osborn. After throwing several grenades back that the Japanese had thrown at the Canadians, there was one grenade Osborn knew he did not have time to retrieve. So he warned his comrades and threw himself on it.