Japan apology for war imprisonment doesn’t impress N.L. veteran
Jack Ford — File photo
Japan has apologized for the harsh mistreatment of Canadian prisoners of war after the disastrous Battle of Hong Kong in the Second World War.
However, for one Newfoundlander who was imprisoned in Japan during the war, the apology isn’t worth much.
“Apologies don’t mean a thing. There’s no money in apologies and you can’t eat ’em,” said John Ford, who spent three and a half years in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp.
“At my stage in the game, there’s not a thing they can do for me.
“They were requested to do it years ago, and they refused point- blank. They wouldn’t acknowledge it.”
Toshiyuki Kato, Japan’s parliamentary vice-minister for foreign affairs, delivered the apology in Tokyo Thursday — the 70th anniversary of Japan’s invasion of Hong Kong in 1941.
Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney led a delegation of Canadian veterans to Japan for the apology and a commemorative ceremony.
“This important gesture is a crucial step in ongoing reconciliation and a significant milestone in the lives of all prisoners of war,” Blaney said in a statement.
“It acknowledges their suffering while honouring their sacrifices and courage.
“Today’s apology will help in healing as our two great countries move forward.”
Some 1,975 Canadian troops were hastily sent to reinforce Allied troops defending Hong Kong, a British colony on China’s southern coast, as Japanese forces massed near the border in 1941. The Canadians were from the Royal Rifles of Canada and the Winnipeg Grenadiers, and within weeks of their arrival they became the first Canadian military contingent to fight in the Second World War.
The Battle of Hong Kong began Dec. 8, 1941, and lasted until Christmas Day. The Allies surrendered after almost 18 days of brutal fighting in which 290 Canadians were killed and 493 wounded.
Those who survived were held prisoner in Hong Kong and Japan until Japan’s surrender on Aug. 15, 1945. Aside from the battle casualties, another 267 captured men died in prison camps where they were subjected to what Canada calls “deliberate and systematic mistreatment at the hands of their captors.”
According to the news release from Veteran Affairs Canada, the Canadian prisoners of war were “forced into backbreaking labour in construction sites, mines, shipyards and foundries, and were frequently beaten and starved.”
Ford questioned why the apology was only for prisoners who were captured in Hong Kong. Ford was in Singapore when it fell to the Japanese.
He was held for a time in the camp in Nagasaki, not far from where the United States dropped one of its atomic bombs.
“Conditions in every prison camp were very similar, there wasn’t a great lot of difference, starvation and beatings and everything like that,” he said. “The conditions in the camps were pretty rough.”