The Minute Book
Saturday, 10 August 2013

The Royal Canadian Regiment and Hong Kong
Topic: The RCR

The second volume of regimental history published by The Royal Canadian Regiment summarizes the events at Hong Kong in 1941 as follows:


Christmas [1940] was replete with all good cheer but not all happiness. That ever-present bearer of good tidings, Padre Wilkes, was in hospital, suffering from the effects of an accident which fortunately turned out to be less serious than of first report. But far across the world the news was bad; on Christmas Day, after a spirited but hopeless resistance, Hongkong surrendered. In addition to two brigades of British, Indian and local volunteer units, the garrison included two Canadian battalions—The Royal Rifles of Canada and the Winnipeg Grenadiers. The former unit was under command of Lt.-Col. W. J. Home, MC, of The Regiment and the force had crossed the Pacific under command of Brigadier J. K. Lawson, also of The Regiment and lately Director of Military Training. On arrival at Hongkong the Canadian commander was placed in charge of one of the two defensive fronts; as he had an Indian battalion under him, it was necessary to re-gazette him as of British establishment; he retained command herefore as a subaltern of the Gloucestershire Regiment. On December 19th, after desperate fighting around his Headquarters, he sent his last message: "Am going outside to fight it out." His body was found and given honourable burial by the enemy. - The Royal Canadian Regiment, Volume Two, 1933-1966, By G.R. Stevens, OBE, LLD, 1967

In following such widespread members of the regimental family of we find an RCR connection to Hong Kong in 1941, where two of the senior officers at that battle were Royal Canadians.

Badges of "C" Force displyed at The Royal Canadian Regiment Museum.


The tragic outcome of the Battle of Hong Long is known to many Canadians, the following is taken from the Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) description of the battle of Hong Kong:

In the Second World War, Canadian soldiers first engaged in battle while defending the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong against a Japanese attack in December 1941.

In October 1941, the Royal Rifles of Canada and the Winnipeg Grenadiers were ordered to prepare for service in the Pacific. From a national perspective, the choice of battalions was ideal. The Royal Rifles were a bilingual unit from the Quebec City area and, together with the Winnipeg Grenadiers, both battalions represented eastern and western regions of Canada. Command of the Canadian force was assigned to Brigadier J.K. Lawson … a "Permanent Force" officer and had been serving as Director of Military Training in Ottawa. The Canadian contingent was comprised of 1,975 soldiers …

Approximately 290 Canadian soldiers were killed in battle and, while in captivity, approximately 264 more died as POWs, for a total death toll of 554. In addition, almost 500 Canadians were wounded. Of the 1,975 Canadians who went to Hong Kong, more than 1,050 were either killed or wounded. This was a casualty rate of more than 50%, arguably one of the highest casualty rates of any Canadian theatre of action in the Second World War.

Brigadier John Kelburne Lawson

Although the VAC page notes that Brigadier Lawson was a "Permanent Force" officer, if leaves out the fact that Lawson was an officer of The Royal Canadian Regiment. Joining The RCR in 1923 from the Royal Canadian Machine Gun Brigade, Lawson had previous service in the First World War with the Canadian Machine Gun Corps, being awarded two Mentions in Despatches. With the Permanent Force, Lawson gained extensive staff experience in England and Canada through the 1920s and 1930s.

William James Home, M.C.

William Home had also served before Hong Kong in The Royal Canadian Regiment, being attached to the Regiment on 1 Apr 1915 and gazetted as a Permanent Force officer in December that same year. He joined the overseas battalion in Jun 1916, serving throughout the remainder of the war and returned to regimental duty in Canada during the inter-war years. He was awarded the Military Cross in 1919, the citation reading as follows:


Lt. (A./Capt.) William James Home, Royal Can. R., Nova Scotia R. - For. conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in command of a company during operations commencing 26th August, 1918. When almost, surrounded by an enemy counter-attack he dashed forward at the head of a party, shooting four enemy himself, causing considerable casualties and checking, their attack. His courage and initiative saved an awkward situation.

In 1936, Home took command of "C" Company, The Royal Canadian Regiment, at Wolseley Barracks, London, Ontario. He was promoted to Major in 1938. By 1940, he was serving in a staff appointment at Valcartier when he was selected to command the 1st Battalion of the Royal Rifles of Canada. The history of the Royal Rifles states that he was, at the age of 43, "one of the youngest Commanding Officers in the Empire Forces," at that time.

On 8 July 1940, the Royal Rifles of Canada (Quebec City) and the 7/XIth Hussars (Richmond) received authorization to mobilize as the 1st Battalion of the Royal Rifles of Canada. The first Commanding Officer was Lt. Colonel William James Home, M.C., E.D. The unit arrived in Hong Kong on 16 November 1941. On 8 December, Japanese forces attacked the British colony. Following ten days of continuous air and artillery bombardment, Japanese troops landed on the island during the night of 18-19 December. Despite a heroic battle to defend the island, the garrison surrendered on 25 December 1941. During the fighting, Lieutenant-Colonel W.J. Home, the commanding officer of the Royal Rifles, became the senior Canadian officer after the death of Brigadier Lawson.

All regiments will have connections to places far removed from the path that the units of the regiment have taken through history. In discovering and remembering those of our regiments who have gone to far corners of the world with other units, we find that the span of a regiment's stories, which make up its full history, might intersect with events not normally associated with our own regiment. As much as many regimental histories appear to speak of the subject regiment in isolation with a single timeline to follow, the truth is much more complex, much more interesting, and it is built from the shared stories that we have with every other regiment in our army to one degree or another.

Pro Patria

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT

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