Sai Wan Military Cemetery

Sai Wan Military Cemetery

Posted: Sep 16, 2021 | Updated: Sep 12, 2023

Hours after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7th 1941, marking the USA's entry into World War 2, the Japanese Empire invaded the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong. The invasion was expected and military intelligence noticed the Japanese activity over the border and military units were put on high readiness. That said, the colony was still at peace and peacetime activities don't stop with the threats brewing not far away.

With British and Empire forces stretched fighting Germany in Europe and North Africa, the military forces were understrength but even if more troops had been available, Japan would have just increased the size of its forces as the taking of Hong Kong was a key element of their strategy to control Asia.

If's for that reason that the defence of Hong Kong was always seen as doomed and Tony Banham's book "Not the Slightest Chance, The Defence of Hong Kong 1941", is aptly named. I would recommend this book to anyone who is fascinated by the short but brutal battle for Hong Kong.

The Losses

The 14,000 strong garrison was a mix of British, Indian, Canadian, local volunteers, and troops also borrowed from other parts of the Empire, as well as other nationalities. In the 18 day battle exact losses are hard to establish as some of those at the time of counting and who were listed as missing or killed, eventually turned up. However, estimates of those killed due to the fighting or missing range from approximately 1,500 and 2,200. In his book, Banham can individually account for 1,560. Japanese losses range from 675 to a more credible 2,000.

Sai Wan War Cemetery has 1,528 burials, of which 444 are only known unto God. Smaller numbers of war dead are buried at other sites across Hong Kong. Stanley Military Cemetery holds a significant number, plus members of the garrison and their families from as far back as 1841, though total numbers are far smaller than at Sai Wan.

Interesting, Japanese brutality towards prisoners resulted in approximately 20% of those being recorded as killed as being killed shortly after capture. Inhumane conditions and maltreatment saw many prisoners die in the weeks, months and years that followed.

Most notably, on 1st October 1942, 1,816 prisoners captured after the battle were on a transport ship to be delivered somewhere for use as slave labour. The ship was torpedoed by a US submarine and many prisoners were kept locked below deck as the ship sank. Some escaped but were gunned down by Japanese troops. In total, 828 prisoners died.

Sai Wan War Cemetery

Construction was in 1946 and holds mainly the soldiers from the Hong Kong garrison. Originally in a sparsely populated area with clear views down to the harbour, ironically at the point where the Japanese crossed to invade Hong Kong island, the view is now blocked by high rises.


The Highlights

  1. Pay your respects and walk along the lines of graves and read the names of real people, whose name meant something to someone, and take in the young age of people who still had so much to give.
  2. Honour the nations that made up the British Empire and the immense contribution and sacrifice by the soldiers from Canada and undivided India.

Posted: Jul 28, 2013 | Updated: Sep 13, 2023

People, not numbers

A tendency when talking about battles and wars is to stress the names of the units involved, the great sweeping moves, the actions, and inevitably the losses suffered. What we sometimes gloss over though is that these aren't numbers; these are people. Often young people, pushed into playing a part in the great events that they little control over.

As a keen amateur student of the Battle of Hong Kong, and someone who references Tony Banham's excellent book "Not the Slightest Chance, The Defence of Hong Kong 1941" (2003) like it's a bible, I wanted to see the final resting place of the troops involved in the 18 day battle for Hong Kong. Some of the troops were very green, the Canadians only having arrived in Hong Kong a matter of weeks before war started. Many were young and thrust into combat against a battle hardened enemy.

How many actually realised that they were fighting to delay the Japanese and not fighting to win? Official communiques from the time put a very positive spin on events even as a quarter of Hong Kong island is overrun in as a little as a day and only 10 days after pouring across the Hong Kong border as Japan launched its Pacific conquest.

I wandered the cemetery not looking for any particular grave, but just to see the names and agaes of people who for whom anonymous families were left devastated all those years ago and for a great number of years after. I'm always struck by the young age of many of the soldiers and wonder how they felt and what I was doing at that age. What probably started off as feeling like a great adventure just a few weeks earlier, certainly for the Canadians, soon turned into a mortal struggle.

Read the headstones and the personal story I've written for each where possible.

1) Sai Wan Military Cemetery
2) Sai Wan Military Cemetery
3) Sai Wan Military Cemetery 2013 and 1951
4) The Royal Scots - Private J. Macleod, Private T.M. Mitchell
5) Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Force - Lieutenant D.J.N. Anderson
6) Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Force - Private J.J. Hoffman
7) Royal Engineers and Royal Navy - G.W. Roberts, C. Austin
8) 7th Rajput Regiment - Captain H.R. Newton
9) The Middlesex Regiment - Private R.A. Deamer
10) Hong Kong Singapore Royal Artillery - Lieutenant Colonel J.C.L Yale

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