Dozens of Lethbridge-and-area residents gathered at the local cenotaph on Saturday morning at 11 a.m. to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Victory over Japan Day, also known as VJ Day.
In 1941, nearly 2,000 inexperienced Canadian soldiers embarked overseas to defend the British Colony of Hong Kong from a Japanese invasion.
Joined by 12,000 British, East Indian, and Hong Kong volunteers, they were greatly outnumbered by 50,000 Japanese soldiers when the invasion commenced on December 8th.
After battling for 17 consecutive days, the British surrendered and the survivors were taken as Prisoners of War (POW).
Kathie Carlson, a member of the Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association, says her father was 30 years old when he fought in the Battle of Hong Kong, making him older than most of the soldiers.
“He was quite a leader,” Carlson said. “He was someone who knew that they had to cope; they didn’t know when they were ever going to get out.”
That day came on August 15th, 1945, when the Japanese surrendered following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They were the first Canadian soldiers to engage in the Second World War in the Pacific, and the last to return home.
Today, only five veterans from VJ Day are still alive, and Lethbridge Legion members want to ensure that legacy continues.
“In a short period of time, that chapter of Canadian military will be history,” said Glenn Miller with Last Post Fund. “We won’t have the vets anymore, so it’s important to remember, educate, and preserve their sacrifices.”
Khiara Gurney, whose great-grandfather served in WWII, says commemorative events for veterans are often more meaningful to the older population, but the younger generations should still be thoroughly educated on the history of Canada’s military.
“I think more can definitely be done,” she said. “It does make such an impact for young people to be a part of this.”
The event was organized through a joint effort from the Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association and the Lethbridge Legion, and included speeches from several members from the federal and provincial governments, and members of the Blackfoot Tribe.