'Walk worthy' of nation’s war dead, Harper urges Canadians
Published Sunday, November 11, 2012 7:20AM EST
Last Updated Sunday, November 11, 2012 3:13PM EST
Thousands of kilometres from home, Prime Minister Stephen Harper paused at the tail-end of his Asian trade mission Sunday to pay his respects to Canada’s fallen soldiers.
Harper and his wife Laureen stopped by Sai Wan War Cemetery in Hong Kong, a military cemetery and final resting place for 283 Canadians who died during the Second World War.
In a prepared statement, Harper urged an audience at the cemetery to preserve the stories of Canada’s war dead and “walk worthy of the lives that they laid down for us.”
“There is no more that we can do for them than this and there is nothing less that we should attempt,” he said, speaking on a grassy hill overlooking Hong Kong.
Many of the soldiers buried at Sai Wan died in 1941, when Canada sent more than 1,900 troops to Hong Kong to defend against invading Japanese forces. The Canadians, from the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles of Canada, soon found themselves outnumbered and overwhelmed.
The two sides fought for just over 17 days before the British colonial officials surrendered to the Japanese. Approximately 290 Canadians were killed during the clash, which has come to be known as the Battle of Hong Kong.
Veteran Ken Pifher, who was present at Sai Wan War Cemetery on Sunday, was one of many allied soldiers thrown into a POW camp after the battle.
Speaking to CTV News, the 91-year-old recalled how he and other prisoners of war went without food and were subject to abuse at the hands of their Japanese captors.
“Just hell. It was hell,” he said.
Unlike many of his comrades, Pifher survived the ordeal and witnessed liberation in 1945. He is one of approximately 50 Battle of Hong Kong veterans still alive today.
Bradley Davies, a father who brought his children to Sai Wan, is part of a younger generation that has vowed to keep the sacrifices of his ancestors at the forefront of his memory.
Davies said he has tried to explain the Battle of Hong Kong to his young children in basic terms.
“Today we broached the topic of death and that there are people buried here who tried their very best to keep this city safe,” he said.
Prime Minister Harper first visited Sai Wan War Cemetery three years ago. A hall marking the entrance to the graveyard contains the names of more than 2,000 soldiers that died in the Battle of Hong Kong.
With a report from CTV National News’ Roger Smith and files from The Canadian Press