Selecting the Troops

The Royal Rifles of Canada from Quebec City were under the command of Lt. Col. William James Home. The Winnipeg Grenadiers were under the command of Lt. Col. J.L.R. Sutcliffe. Both selected Battalions were placed under the unified command of recently promoted Canadian Brigadier J.K. Lawson of Ottawa, Ontario, who, by odd coincidence, had been assigned the task of writing the combat fitness reports on various units in the Canadian Army. He had judged both the Royal Rifles and the Grenadiers as unfit. Now ... he was their Commanding Officer.

It has been said that The Royal Rifles of Canada and the Winnipeg Grenadiers lacked training and equipment. However the Royal Rifles had almost one full year of duty under their web belts during which they trained constantly. The 212 vehicles they had been assigned were placed aboard a freighter called the Don Jose which left Vancouver  a few days after the troops and was to follow them to Hong Kong.

John K. Lawson


The ship was diverted to Manila after Pearl Harbor was attacked and the equipment was used by the Americans in the defense of the Philippines. There was no way to replace them and any new equipment issued was destined for Europe where there was a war already underway. The Canadians were definitely short of equipment and supplies.

Basic Training

The Royal Rifles of Canada and the Winnipeg Grenadiers had been trained in the use of the basic standard issue weapons available to the infantry at that time. Because of the nature of their posting, the Royal Rifles perhaps had a slight edge in training. Infantry training means getting to know your basic weapon inside and out. Soldiers took them apart, put them together again until it could be done blindfolded. Shooting their weapons was another story. Shooting live ammunition was ... expensive.

No soldier in any army came out of basic training with a guarantee stamped on his forehead saying, "Under any battle conditions, even in the face of savage enemy fire, this soldier shall perform according to Military Specifications defining skills, and courage, and determination as outlined in K.R. Army, Section 007, or double the cost of training cheerfully refunded." It didn't happen then, and it doesn't happen now.

A soldier was taught, "must know, should know, and could know". He must know how to use, how to maintain, and how to make minor repairs to his basic weapon, his rifle. He should know about other weapons he would probably have to use: Bren guns, grenades, etc. He could know about weapons he might come in contact with, Lewis guns, Vickers guns, or mortars. Not every soldier in a platoon had to know everything about every weapon the company might have in its inventory.

"Your rifle is your best friend. Take care of it and it will take care of you." This credo was drilled into every soldier's head. In truth...not a lot more was required. Modern techniques of infantry were developed during and after WWII. The most important thing taught was the need for absolute discipline. When bullets fired in anger begin to fly over a man's head and he stays to do the job, he is a soldier. Before that, he is just a guy in uniform. When the bullets began to crack overhead in Hong Kong, the Canadians showed they had discipline in abundance. In that regard they were the equal of any troops in the garrison. The Canadians went to Hong Kong short of just about everything ...except courage. They went to defend a position of dubious military value, but an undeniable financial gold mine, against impossible odds.

Brigadier F.T. Atkinson, who was a Major during the Battle of Hong Kong said about the training: "I doubt if any battalions left Canada with better trained officers than we had." About courage he said: "We fought just as well as any British soldier."

The Officers

In the words of Rifleman John Beebe of "D" Company, Royal Rifles of Canada, No.18 Platoon: "I don't mind telling you right now, in the face of those stories about how badly trained, ill-equipped Canadian soldiers who were supposed to have been at Hong Kong, as far as our outfit went, that was a lot of nonsense. We had a tough fighting outfit, well led, and well trained. The training started in Sussex, and it kept right up."

The Royal Rifles of Canada amalgamated several militia units to create a viable force. The Commanding Officer of the Regiment was Lt. Colonel William James Home, M.C., E.D. a veteran of WWl who had been with the 8th Royal Rifles in 1913 and had served with the Royal Canadian Regiment, Canada's senior unit of the line from 1915 to 1940. The Second in Command Lt. Colonel J.H. Price, an Artillery officer who had volunteered to take a cut in rank to Major to become a Company Commander in the RR of C. A total of 385 officers and men had left other units to form the new Regiment.

They came from Gaspé, the Eastern Townships, Northern Ontario, and the maritime Provinces, 16 from Iles de la Madeleine. Only 5 of them returned, a huge loss to a small community. Lt. Col. Tom MacCauly, D.C.M., E.D. had been with the Commanding Officer of the Sherbrooke 7/11 Hussars. He, too, took a rank reduction to become CO of "B" Company, RR of C Company. Lt. Col. C.A. Young, M.C., E.D., also a veteran of WWl, took on the job of "A"
Company Commander after a voluntary reduction in rank. "C" Company was under the command of Major W.A. Bishop, D.S.O., E.D. was awarded his D.S.O. during the Japanese invasion effective use of his troops, and personal bravery.. Major Parker, the youngest Company Commander, had been with the Royal Rifles, first as a Lieutenant and rising through the ranks to become CO of "D" Company. These experienced officers built an effective unit with discipline as its foundation, and courage as its cornerstone.




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Books on the Battle of Hong Kong