Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Visit to the Memorial Wall

I spent August 15th  - that important date for Hong Kong veterans and families among others – with Gerry Gerrard and his grandson Brian.  We were in Ottawa for Gerry’s first look at the “C” Force Memorial Wall and a visit to the War Museum.  It was great to see Gerry there, looking very distinguished with his medals proudly on display.

Looking at the R.C.C.S. panel, you can’t help but be struck by the number of crosses beside names in the small group of thirty-three.  Nine didn’t make it back to Canada – a ratio of almost one out of three. 

Dispatch Riders Bob Damant and Ernie Thomas, and Operators Hank Greenberg and Charlie Sharp were killed in action.  Operators Bud Fairley and Jim Horvath died of wounds received during the battle. Operators John Little, Tom Redhead and Wes White succumbed to illness while prisoners in Hong Kong.

Thomas (from Vancouver), Damant (Montreal), Greenberg (Roblin, Man.) and Sharp (Victoria) died on the same day, December 19.  Gerry Gerrard described to me what happened with Thomas: “...then we were at Wong Nei Chong Gap – we were there for a while.  I don’t know where some of the guys were, I was dispatching guys out and sending them different places...Ernie Thomas was killed there....(Capt.) Billings told me, he says send a dispatch rider down to the front line and so I asked for a volunteer, which I didn’t get.  I can remember now, I got some straws and cut a short one and said OK pick out, and Ernie was the one that picked out...and that’s the last we saw of him.” He had just turned 25 on December 2nd.  Bob Damant was 21, Hank Greenberg was 22 and Charlie Sharp was 26.

Gerry was also at Wanchai Gap where the other three were killed by an artillery shell that hit the house on Coombe Road where the Signallers had set up their radio. He had just walked in when the shell hit.  The blast knocked him down but he was able to walk out covered in dust and debris and help with the injured.  Signalman Rolly D’Amours was also there: “I crossed the room on the north side and was just coming into the room on the south side when a 9.2 shell crashed through the north wall and exploded right in the middle of the sleeping men.  The blast threw me forward and my head slammed into a wall so hard that it broke the straps inside of my steel helmet, and gave me a terrible headache.  I tried to go through the room on the north side to get medical help, but the dust was so thick and the screams of the dying men so horrible that is was like going through hell.” (Roland D’Amours Autobiography, courtesy of Pierre D’Amours)

Both Bud Fairley (from Merritt, BC) and Jim Horvath (Winnipeg) were wounded during the attack and would later die of their injuries. They were both 22 years old.  In his personal notebook, my uncle, Don Penny, recorded Brigade Headquarters casualties.

As noted on the second page, John Little (Terrace, BC), Wes White (Abbotsford, BC) and Tom Redhead (Victoria) all died while in Bowen Road Hospital in Hong Kong. Little’s case of dysentery never got better and he died on June 5, 1942.  He was only 20 years old.  In August, a diphtheria epidemic raged through the camp.  Many succumbed, including White (who was 22) on September 25, and Redhead (26) five days later. 
Here are the faces of those nine young men with the crosses beside their names.
Bob Damant

Bud Fairley

Hank Greenberg

Jim Horvath

John Little

Tom Redhead

Charlie Sharp

Ernie Thomas

Wes White

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Ted Kurluk's Engraved Mess Tin

                                                        Signalman Ted Kurluk, R.C.C.S.

Had an interesting visit with Dan Kurluk, his wife and son. Dan’s brother, Ted, was with the Signal Corps in Hong Kong.  He was eventually sent to Japan, spending Christmas, 1943 onboard a ship bound for Narumi POW camp.  The family shared some stories, photos and other memorabilia with me. 

Ted was quite an artist.  On his aluminum mess tin (which interestingly appears to be an item that originally belonged to one of the British soldiers at Hong Kong – see below) he engraved pictures, words and images, reflecting his experiences in Hong Kong and Japan.

The side with the handle attached has the name of a company located in Birmingham stamped on it with the date, 1939. Also present is the British Broad Arrow, a mark signifying that the item belonged to the British government, a practice going back centuries.  After the battle of Hong Kong when the Canadians were gathered in the camps at North Point and Shamshuipo, most of them had virtually none of their kit with them.  So everyone scrounged around to find whatever utensils they could.  They might refurbish an old pot or if they were lucky they might find a discarded mess tin or other useful container left by a departing soldier or casualty.  Ted was fortunate to have a good aluminum utensil in his possession and obviously kept it with him for the duration of the war.  It’s a fine piece and one the family can cherish, not only for what it says about Ted as an artist, but also for the stories of his experiences it records.

Thanks to Dan Kurluk and his family for their permission to include the photos on my blog.