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Remembering the Brave

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--November 15, 2012.

How appropriate that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife spent Remembrance Day at the Sai Wan War Cemetery in Hong Kong to pay homage to those men who fought valiantly to defend this city from the Japanese invaders. The cemetery is the final resting place for 283 Canadians who died during the Second World War.

larger_bill_macwhirter.jpgThose who fought in this battle were for the most part from the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles of Canada. The battle, which would last 17 days before the surrender, would come to be referred to as the Battle of Hong Kong where more than 2,000 soldiers died.

Those who did not die on the battlefield were sent to POW camps. Of those men who would return to their homes after the war many, if not all, suffered the effects of their mistreatment by the Japanese, physical and psychological. No truer words can be spoken than “War is Hell, which in fact is how some of these men, years after their ordeal, would refer to this experience, and justifiably so, especially after listening to stories of the men who survived imprisonment.

Did they suffer from their wounds encountered in the battle? – Yes. Were they fed properly? – No. Were they physically abused? – Yes. Were they made to work long hours in terrible conditions? – Yes. Did many suffer and die of dysentery? –Yes. Did they suffer from the constant presence of lice? – Yes. If not hell it was close to it. This encounter, it would seem, brought out the best and worst in mankind – the brutality of one and the courageous spirit of survival in others.

I am proud of these men and feel fortunate that I have had the opportunity to talk to some of them who were interred in these camps and have them relate some of their stories. Years ago, as a young boy travelling on the Gaspé train, my mother and I met one of the train personnel who was one of the prisoners. He related to us that after the war he suffered from an ailment called Beriberi, which is a nervous system ailment caused by a thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency in the diet. I have forgotten his name but I haven’t forgotten his courage and I believe it was my first introduction to this particular part of World War Two. I would also meet Quentin Mulrooney on the train and learn more about this particular saga of the Great War. In later years I would meet David Miller of Wakeham, Paul Dallain of New Carlisle, Bill MacWhirter, presently of Gaspé, and Raymond Quirion of Percé. They would tell stories of indignities suffered and deprivation endured. Stories no one should have to relate.

Thank you brave men and women for your service and sacrifices in this war and in other wars. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts and may no other Canadian soldiers have to pay these sacrifices in the service of their country and humanity.

On a less sombre note, Philip Toone (MP for Gaspé), on behalf of the Governor General of Canada, recently presented Bill MacWhirter with the 60th Jubilee Anniversary Medal for service rendered to his country, at the Gaspé Legion Medal Ceremony. Congratulations, Bill and thank you.

Jim Caputo
Heritage Gaspé