Last Saturday’s 75th anniversary of V-J Day was extra special to Pearl MacPherson and her family.
The 90-year-old Ladner resident visited the Memorial Park cenotaph where she placed a wreath in the memory of her late husband Don, a Japanese war prisoner for 40 months. Members of the Royal Canadian Legion Ladner branch were also on hand for the ceremony.
MacPherson was among 2,000 Canadian soldiers involved in the Battle of Hong Kong. It lasted for 17 days before the Allied troops were captured on Christmas Day in 1941. MacPherson wasn’t a free man until Japan’s official Second World War surrender after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 15, 1945. Even then, the prisoners waited for another month to be rescued by train after food and medical supplies were dropped by parachute from American war planes.
“Winston Churchill told Prime Minster Mackenzie King at the time if they sent troops to Hong Kong they would be captured or killed. They knew they would be unable to rescue them,” Pearl recalled. “Of the 2,000 Canadians that went 1,500 of them came home with 250 dying in the initial battle and the other in 250 prison camps.
“My husband was from a small farming community in Manitoba. There was six of them went and he was the only one who came back. His brother in-law was killed right beside him in a trench from shrapnel.”
MacPherson was held at war camps in Hong Kong and Japan. He worked much of the time slaving in a nickel mine and lived off mainly a diet of only rice. The lack of proper nutrition resulted in the loss of much of his sight and a lasting heart condition. When he finally came home at the age of 25, his work opportunities were limited. He eventually found his way to Vancouver and it was a trip back to Manitoba for a family wedding where he met his future wife. Pearl moved to the West Coast three months later.
Today there about seven surviving members of the Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association. MacPherson passed away back in 2005 at 85 but, like others, his family is continuing the organization’s mandate of educating others on the role of Canadian soldiers in the Battle of Hong Kong and the effects of the internment on both the soldiers and their families.
COVID-19 scrapped a V-J Day celebration in Ottawa. Instead families were asked to recognize the day in their own special way.
MacPherson’s daughter recently wrote a letter to Premier John Horgan to remind him it’s Victory Over Japan Day that actually signifies the end of the Second World War, not Victory in Europe Day that celebrated its 75th anniversary back in May.
“A lot of people don’t even know about (the Battle of Hong Kong),” explained Sandy Brain. “History can’t repeat itself. Politicians shouldn’t be able to make military decisions. It can impact the lives of so many.”