On the morning of 8 December 1941, the forces of the Empire of Japan attacked the British Crown colony of Hong Kong.

Despite stiff resistance from the Hong Kong garrison – composed of British, Canadian, Indian and local troops – the garrison was forced to surrender on Christmas Day.

The Consulate General of Canada in Hong Kong organised a commemorative ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the battle on 4 December (pictured right) at the CWGC Sai Wan War Cemetery, attended by 600 people.

On 8 December 1941, eight hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces launched an invasion of the British colony of Hong Kong. Defending the territory were some 12,000 British, Indian Army and locally-raised troops, as well as two battalions of newly-arrived Canadian Infantry. Outnumbered, and with their air support destroyed, Commonwealth forces were quickly driven back. By 12 December, they had been forced to retreat from the mainland to Hong Kong island.

Japanese aircraft and artillery bombarded the island, before an amphibious infantry assault was launched on the night of 18 December. Over the following days and nights, a fierce battle raged throughout the streets, woodlands and hillsides of Hong Kong. Increasingly exhausted, and running low on ammunition and supplies, Commonwealth troops fought on, but with little chance of escape or relief they were forced to surrender on the morning of Christmas Day: 25 December 1941.

During the battle, Commonwealth forces suffered some 4,200 wounded, missing or dead, while most of the survivors were taken prisoner of war. Today, at cemeteries and memorials around Hong Kong the CWGC commemorates over 5,800 Commonwealth servicemen and women of the Second World War, of whom nearly 600 remain unidentified. Some 1,500 of those commemorated died during the battle of Hong Kong in December 1941.

The CWGC commemorates 6,500 casualties of the two world wars, at more than 20 separate locations in Hong Kong. The vast majority of graves can be found in two war cemeteries situated at Sai Wan and Stanley.

 

cwgc Sai Wan War Cemetery

CWGC Sai Wan War Cemetery, in the north-east of Hong Kong Island, is the largest CWGC cemetery in Hong Kong.

The cemetery contains more than 1,500 Second World War and 12 First World War graves. The majority of those buried here were killed during the Battle of Hong Kong, or died later as prisoners of war during the Japanese occupation.

At the entrance to the cemetery stands the Sai Wan Memorial. This bears the names of more than 2,000 casualties of the Second World War who died in Hong Kong and whose places of burial are unknown. Additional panels on the Sai Wan Memorial commemorate 144 Second World War casualties whose remains were cremated in accordance with their faith, along with 72 casualties of both wars whose graves in mainland China could not be maintained. Both the cemetery and memorial were designed by Colin St Clair Oakes.

cwgc Stanley Military Cemetery

There are almost 600 Commonwealth Second World War burials in CWGC Stanley Military Cemetery, situated in the southern part of Hong Kong Island, on the Tai Tam Peninsula.

During the Japanese occupation, Stanley’s jail and village were used as prisoner of war and internment camps. The cemetery, which had been unused since the 1860s, was reopened for burials from the camp. Three First World War graves are also located here.

The CWGC Hong Kong Memorial is located within the cemetery. This was built and unveiled by the CWGC in 2006 – replacing a previous memorial in the form of a granite arch that was erected at the main entrance to the Botanical Gardens on the East side of Victoria.

The memorial commemorates Chinese casualties who served and died with the Commonwealth forces in both world wars.

 

WATCH: Unveiling of the CWGC Sai Wan War Cemetery, Hong Kong

 

Behind every headstone in a CWGC cemetery is a personal story waiting to be told:-

 
 
 

Captain Douglas Ford GC & Colonel Lanceray Newnham GC Mc

These men buried in Stanley Military Cemetery were awarded the George Cross for their bravery while prisoners of war.

The following details are given in the London Gazette of April 18th, 1946: Capt. Douglas Ford (left), together with Lt. Col. Lanceray Newnham, M.C. (right), Middlesex Regiment, were executed by the Japanese whilst prisoners of war for their parts in successfully contacting secret agents and organising escapes and other disruptions. They were arrested along with others and subjected to torture and starvation and sentenced to death in the hope of making them talk. They remained silent and were eventually executed. Both were posthumously awarded the George Cross for their bravery.


SERGEANT MAJOR JOHN ROBERT OSBORN

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Company Sergeant Major John Robert Osborn VC is commemorated on Column 25 of the CWGC Sai Wan Memorial at the entrance to the cemetery. He was awarded the Victoria Cross – the highest Commonwealth award for bravery – during the defence of Hong Kong.

Brigadier John K. Lawson

Brigadier John K. Lawson is the highest ranking officer to be killed during the defence of Hong Kong. He served in the First World War, where he was awarded a medal for bravery.


Captain Mateen Ahmed Ansari GC

He was awarded the George Cross for his bravery while a prisoner of war. The following details are given in the London Gazette of 18 March, 1946: "Awarded the George Cross for most conspicuous gallantry in carrying out hazardous work in a very brave manner." Capt. Ansari, serving in Hong Kong, became a prisoner of the Japanese when they invaded the Island in December 1941. The whole weight of the Japanese attack fell on the Rajputs who suffered severely, losing most of their officers. For a time Capt. Ansari was treated reasonably well until it became know he was related to the ruler of a great Indian State, whereupon they tried to persuade him to renounce his allegiance to the British and assist them in their efforts to spread subversion amongst the Indian ranks in their prison camps. When he refused they resorted to force, and in May 1942 he was thrown into Stanley Jail where he remained until September of that year. Owing to starvation, brutality, including alleged mutilation, he became unable to walk. When Capt. Ansari was eventually returned to the Indian Other Ranks camp he not only continued to proclaim his allegiance to the British but even started an organisation to assist prisoners to escape. In May 1943 he was again thrown into Stanley Jail where he was starved and tortured for a further five months. He was then sentenced to death with over thirty other British, Indian and Chinese, and they were all executed by beheading on 20th October 1943.


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