Cowardice claim puts veterans on the attack

LOCAL World War II veterans yesterday attacked a newly-released report alleging some Canadian soldiers who fought in the Battle of Hongkong were drunken cowards.

Describing the accusation as shocking and shameful, the veterans said the British wartime commander in Hongkong, Major General Christopher Maltby, did not have first hand knowledge of how the Canadians fared in battle and claimed he wrote the report to deflect personal criticism.

They also pointed out it was a Canadian who received the only Victoria Cross to be awarded after the Battle of Hongkong. Warrant Officer John Robert Osborn of the Winnipeg Grenadiers won the medal posthumously after saving his comrades by throwing himself on to a Japanese grenade during fighting at Mount Butler.

The controversial report - written by General Maltby a year after the December 1941 Japanese invasion of Hongkong - was recently released by the Public Records Office in London.

It claims many Canadian soldiers refused to leave the bar of the Repulse Bay Hotel, where they were ''drinking all over the place'', to defend the territory against the Japanese.

General Maltby also charged that when finally forced on to the battlefield, officers from the Royal Rifles of Canada wanted to surrender to the Japanese rather than fight.


But a former machine gunner with the Hongkong Volunteer Defence Corps, Mr Terry Leonard, said yesterday the charges against the Canadians were ''a great dishonour to the men who fought as well as anyone else''.

Mr Leonard said although he did not serve alongside Canadian troops he saw them battle the Japanese from his vantage point near Wong Nai Chung Gap where he was positioned from December 19 to 22, 1941.

''I was in a pill box looking up to the Canadians in bunkers along Stubbs Road and I could see them engaging the Japanese,'' he said.

''I think what has been published is a big shame because they were not running away.'' After the fall of Hongkong, Mr Leonard was interned with Canadian soldiers in prison camps first in Shamshuipo and later in Nagoya, Japan.


''Neither their behaviour nor any rumours in the camps suggested they were anything but good and honourable men,'' he said.

Veterans' rights campaigner and spokesman for the National Association of Far East PoW Clubs, Mr Jack Edwards, suggested the Canadians were scapegoats in General Maltby's efforts to lay the blame for the fall of Hongkong on someone else.


''It's a typical bug-out. He decided to write the report to show he did his best on the matter,'' he said.

He noted that General Maltby had little contact with Canadian troops before or after the Battle of Hongkong.

During the fighting, he commanded the British from an underground bunker near the present Pacific Place. After the territory fell, General Maltby was transferred to a PoW camp in Taiwan while most Canadians were interned in Shamshuipo.


General Maltby wrote the report after an informal inquiry in the PoW camp where he was held along with other senior officers.

The author of Second To None, a history of the Hongkong Volunteers, Mr Phillip Bruce, said in 10 years of research into Hongkong's military history, he had never come across allegations of widespread cowardice among Canadian troops.

''I have interviewed hundreds of people here and in the UK and no one has ever mentioned anything like this,'' he said.


But, he said the Canadians were ill-prepared for battle and individual acts of cowardice were not unlikely, as the troops were poorly trained and badly equipped.