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Hong Kong Plaque Unveiled

By Adam Riley Oct 31, 2022 | 2:45 PM

Darlene Axent-Gilmore with a plaque honouring the sacrifices of those who fought in Hong Kong, including her father, William.

Members of Thunder Bay’s veterans community gathered at the Port Arthur Legion Branch #5 Sunday, to unveil a plaque commemorating the Canadian soldiers who fought in Hong Kong.

On December 8th 1941, 2,000 members of the Royal Rifles of Canada and the Winnipeg Grenadiers, along with 10 thousand other Commonwealth soldiers, faced off against a force of 50,000 Japanese soldiers in defence of Hong Kong, which at the time was still a British colony.

Though outnumbered four-to-one the garrison held out for 17 grueling days of fighting, with 300 Canadians being killed in the process. But they were overwhelmed and on December 25th the British Governor of Hong Kong surrendered. Among those captured was Darlene Axent-Gilmore’s father, William Axent with the Winnipeg Grenadiers.

“I think he was 20, and had no idea what he was in for. There was no training basically they were sent over there to fight, but as young men they didn’t really know what that meant. (They) were only there for a couple of weeks before they surrendered and then spent the next four years and eight months as a Prisoner of War.”

During that time, Axent, along with the other POWs was subjected to brutal and inhuman conditions, which caused the deaths of another 300 Canadian soldiers in those POW camps. “They were starved, they were beaten, there was slave labour”, says Axent-Gilmore of the conditions POWs endured, “then those that came back, they never really got over it.”

She recounts her father never spoke about what happened. “The only time he would ever talk a little bit about it is when some of his comrades were together, but even then it was very, very little that he would talk about. So I never really knew a lot about what happened, I knew he would never eat rice for the rest of his life.”

After the war Axent became the Chief Bar Steward at the Port Arthur Legion Branch #5 before passing away in the 1980’s.

Axent-Gilmore was first approached by the Hong Kong Veterans Association based out of Winnipeg to have a plaque displayed in Thunder Bay, she then brought it to the Executive Committee for Port Arthur Legion Branch #5, which 2nd Vice President George Romick says there was no hesitation to move forward on their end. “We thought it was a good idea, and set up the date and time, and had a good number of family members come out to witness the unveiling of the plaque.”

He adds the event was well timed as Remembrance Day is just over a week away, with the local poppy campaign ramping up. There will be several ceremonies across the city for residents to participate in this year according to Romick. Including at Waverly Park, Fort William Gardens, Mount McKay and the Slovak Legion in the East End.



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