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.