Japanese Release Canadian POW’s
Three months after Victory in Europe the Second World War finally concluded when the Japanese surrendered to the United States on August 15, 1945. However, the war had yet to end for the fifteen hundred Canadian soldiers held in Japanese Prisoner of War camps. Veteran George MacDonell recalled that the Japanese army was furious about the surrender and that the malnourished Canadian POWs found themselves surrounded by hostile Japanese troops. Fierce beatings were common. It was another month before MacDonell’s camp was liberated by American troops.
MacDonell and most of the other Canadian POWs had been held in Japanese custody since Hong Kong was captured by the Japanese on December 25, 1941. The two Canadian units sent to Hong Kong—The Royal Rifles of Canada and the Winnipeg Grenadiers—were not expected to see any action and had not received any frontline training. Nonetheless, they held off the Japanese invasion for seventeen days before the British governor of Hong Kong ordered them to surrender. The Canadians spent the next three and a half years as forced labourers.
However, the actions of two young Canadian POWs prove that the inhumane conditions the Canadians were forced to endure were not enough to break their spirits. Staff Sergeant Clark and Private Cameron continued to fight the Japanese from inside the camps. Clark and Cameron destroyed the blueprint factory at the shipyard where they were working so that the one of Japan’s most vital war industries was rendered ineffective. So ingenious was their design that their planned devastating fire started after all POWs had left the area. In addition, no one was charged with the building’s destruction.
To listen to MacDonell tell his story and recount the shipyard fire, please visit
The Memory Project.
Canadian veteran describes going to war at 17, being captured and regaining his freedom (Global News Video)
Main photo: Liberated Canadian POWs receiving new clothing. Yokohama, Japan, 1945 (Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada /PA-114876).