6 December 2009
Thank you Consul General Steidle for your kind introduction. Permanent Secretary Yau, Deputy Commissioner Gao, Lieutenant Governor Lee, Canadian Ministers of the Crown, Day and Ritz. Minister Day’s own grandfather was a veteran of the Battle of Hong Kong, and ultimately gave his life for it.
Greetings also to several Members of the Parliament of Canada joining us today:
The Honourable Michael Chong, Alice Wong, Andrew Saxton, Daryl Kramp, Bob Dechert and John Weston. Distinguished guests, honoured veterans.
Sixty-four years ago the deadliest conflict in human history came to an end. Over sixty million people perished in the global war against fascism. In Canada, names like Ortona, the Scheldt and Juno Beach have become synonymous with heroism and self-sacrifice of the highest order.
But it was here in Hong Kong where our soldiers fought one of their earliest, bloodiest battles. In November 1941, two Canadian battalions arrived to aid in the defence of the then British Crown Colony.
From the west, came the Winnipeg Grenadiers, a regiment that had distinguished itself during the Battle of Vimy Ridge and the Capture of Avion. In a matter of weeks, these men would engage in some of the fiercest combat of the Second World War. With few supplies and no backup, they valiantly resisted the Japanese assault. Refusing to give in, the Canadians fought until they could fight no more. They fearlessly faced the overwhelming onslaught, and tenaciously defended their positions until the end.
By Christmas Day, nearly three hundred were dead. And those left standing were subjected to a fate arguably worse in the prison camps. There are hundreds of stories of heroism and perseverance displayed by Canadians
during that harrowing December and in the years that followed.
Today, I wish to share one of them with you. On December 19, 1941, John Osborn of the Winnipeg Grenadiers was part of a small group that captured Mount Butler and held it against furious counterattacks for three hours until,
owing to the enemy’s superior numbers, the position became untenable.
Osborn single-handedly engaged the enemy while his fellow fighters fell back. Running the gauntlet of machine gun fire, he directed stragglers to his company’s new position. With the advance of the Japanese came a hail of grenades. Osborn chased down the deadly devices and furiously threw them back.
Eventually, one landed too far afield to grab in time. Realizing disaster was imminent, he shouted a warning to his fellow Grenadiers. Pushing a sergeant out of harm’s way, he charged forth. With only seconds to spare, he flung himself onto the grenade.
Forty-two year old Company Sergeant-Major John Robert Osborn was killed instantly. By sacrificing his life on that December afternoon, he saved those
of at least seven of his comrades. For his bravery, he was awarded the Victoria Cross, the first Canadian so honoured in the Second World War. Osborn, to quote his citation, was "an inspiring example to all throughout the defence … in his death he displayed the highest quality of heroism and self-sacrifice."
Ladies and gentlemen, we are all forever indebted to John Osborn and the hundreds of thousands of other Canadians who fought in Asia, Europe and North Africa, and to those who supported the war effort back home.
Today, as we acknowledge this debt to the Hong Kong veterans who served and sacrificed for our country, we are also reminded of the gratitude we owe to those who continue to defend our values in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world.
Ladies and gentlemen, ours is a country that has always stood up when the cause has been just. A country that has never flinched in a fight no matter how fierce the foe. And a country that has never wavered in its defence of freedom,
democracy and justice.
It is the men and women of the Canadian Forces who defend our way of life, and keep our country the True North Strong and Free. We owe our peace and prosperity to those who wear, and have worn, the maple leaf so valiantly.
Let us never forget.