‘Apologies don’t mean a thing’

James McLeod and The Canadian Press
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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.”




Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: Veterans Affairs, Royal Rifles of Canada

Geographic location: Japan, Hong Kong, Tokyo China Canada Singapore Nagasaki United States

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Recent comments

    December 11, 2011 - 14:27


  • Ted
    December 09, 2011 - 15:44

    Mr Ford is right. Japanese Canadians were interned during the war and ended up getting a big pay out years ago, even some that were not born until after the war. Canadian POW's, on the other hand, were starved, overworked, and tortured. The wounded in Hong Kong were bayonetted in their hospital beds. Seventy years later their government says"Oops, sorry", and that is supposed to suffice? Lets see the Japanese gov't pay reparations to the survivors and their families, just like the Canadian Taxpayer had to!

  • Daniel O'Connell
    December 09, 2011 - 15:35

    Now if only the British Protestant would apologize to Irish Catholics for granting them no religious or civil rights in their occupied homeland and the entire empire, including Newfoundland, from the time of Henry VIII (and before) until the early 1800s. The British Protestants were cruel masters that tortured, killed, jailed, and brunt belonging of Catholics just for praying. The British Protestants did not allow Catholics to own land, hunt, settle in Newfoundland, vote, work in a decent job. The British Protestants are still not perfect as Catholics are not allowed to marry monarchy for example. Google “Penal Laws” and “Catholic Emancipation.”

  • Fred from Brigus
    December 09, 2011 - 13:57

    My dear friend and neighbor just died at the age of 92 years. She her husband and her best friend as Dutch civilians were also held as POWS and were forced into slave labor spending 3-1/2 years in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp She bore 3 children during her internment .It was during her internment that she turned from being a Christan to an Atheists when her best friends only child died from the harsh conditions. She could not understand how God could be so cruel to take a only child and let her 3 children live. She went to the grave never receiving an apology or compensation... She never forgave the Japanese.

  • Bygones
    December 09, 2011 - 13:09

    I dont understand the logic of late. Apologizing for something so far removed is really a waste. Especially during a point of history where we as Canadians took homes from Asians out west out of fear of them informing the Japanese or are spies. War is Hell, and what happened was terrible, but reopening wounds mean nothing. we as a people expect so much and feel apologizing for some long removed mis-deed makes it better. And who are we to judge, we have done it many times over as Canadians, as have the british, Australians, Germans, etc. Let the history stay in our minds as to never repeat it, but never expect an "i'm sorry, our bad".

  • Kim
    December 09, 2011 - 12:42

    Shame on Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney for even attending this "commemorative ceremony". Who is the apology benefiting? Japan's conscience? Certainly not those who were held captive. And shame on him for taking veterans with him to parade in this "show". Unless Mr. Kato could look into the eyes of each and every person affected, including wives and children and parents left behind, all other apologies are meaningless. Any why now? An anniversary date is always good for some publicity.

  • seaanoairborne
    December 09, 2011 - 11:45

    Thank you trooper Ford for keeping all of us safe from the Barbarians!And thank you for my freedom and that of my kids and grand kids.I hope you live a long life!They're not making men like you and the thousands of others who gave everything so that we all can live in peace and freedom today. PAX VOBISCUM!!

  • Bernie
    December 09, 2011 - 09:55

    Nice gesture, but apologies after such a long time does not serve any purpose. Some things are better left as they are. The world would stop spinning if everyone apologized for every wrong act, or what is perceived as wrongful acts.

  • Robert
    December 09, 2011 - 09:17

    I was born in 1953 just outside the shadows of the 2nd World War but surely felt the coolness of that shadow. All my uncles and my grandfather served so I grew up with the 'stories'. It would seem to me that an apology after 70 years does little more than cause those who suffered to relive that time again and that is cruel. I often ponder why the two countries that started these wars emerged better off then those who were asked to defend freedom. Even as I watch the financial issues in Europe I marvel that what Germany could not accomplish by war is now being accomplished by making loans that they know these countries cannot pay back. Not much has changed and Mr. Ford knows this better then most of us!

  • Harvey
    December 09, 2011 - 08:27

    Who is the apology for? Certainly not for those who suffered indescribable torture!! Most are long time gone!!! Why an apology after 70 years? God Bless, Mr. Ford!!!

    • Don
      December 10, 2011 - 06:30

      The apology is 70 years to late and meaningless. The Japanese should have done this in 1945 when it may have meant something to those who suffered so much as POW's. I agree with Mt. Ford, a real hero.

  • Geneva Convention
    December 09, 2011 - 08:25

    Our heroes gave so much. We never forget what happened.