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What is the only known memorial that includes the specific name of an animal alongside names of the fallen and those who have served in a battle?

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Located on the banks of the Rideau River in Ottawa, Ontario, is a six-metre granite-sheathed memorial wall, etched with the names of all those Canadians who were part of the defence forces in Hong Kong when the Japanese army invaded the then British colony from Mainland China during the Second World War. Among the Canadian contingent in the Battle of Hong Kong was a dog named 'Gander' who was the mascot of the Royal Rifles of Canada who went along with them to reinforce the Hong Kong outpost. As shown in the photograph, the memorial is topped by stylized depictions of the four mountains of the Island of Hong Kong, where the Canadians fought heroically from 8 December 1941 until the colony surrendered to Japanese forces on Christmas Day 1941. The 18-day battle saw the first Canadian troops in action as a ground force unit in the Second World War. Of the 1,976 soldiers who began the Battle of Hong Kong, 290 were killed in action and 493 others were wounded. Those who survived – the troops and two nursing sisters – were taken prisoner and faced forty-four months of captivity under horrifying conditions that included torture, hunger, and forced labour in northern Japan. This resulted in another 267 Canadians who died as prisoners of war, meaning more than one-quarter of the Hong Kong contingent perished in Asia.

In 2007, the Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association (HKVCA) launched a fundraising campaign to build a memorial to recognize and commemorate the sacrifice made by the 1,975 members of 'C' Force in the Battle of Hong Kong. The Defence of Hong Kong memorial wall was dedicated two year later, on 15 August 2009 (Victory over Japan Day or simply V-J Day) in the presence of about 25 of the approximately 90 surviving veterans at that time. On one side of the memorial are inscribed the names of 961 members of the Royal Rifles of Canada, and on the other, those of the 911 Winnipeg Grenadiers. The more than 100 from brigade headquarters – signallers, clerks, doctors, dentists, nurses and chaplains – are commemorated on the end pieces. Moreover, when the HKVCA built the memorial wall, the survivors insisted that the Newfoundland dog's name 'Gander' be included among them. It is worth noting that in August 2000, Gander became the first animal in 50 years to be awarded the Dickin Medal – recognized as the animals' Victoria Cross – for his exploits during the Battle of Lye Mun on Hong Kong Island in December 1941. "In a final act of bravery the war dog was killed in action gathering a grenade." There are two observations to be made from this. First, the organization responsible for managing the Dickin Medal reflected after fifty years of not having awarded the medallion and decided that recognition and commemoration of such brave animals in war remains a worthwhile endeavour. Second, this is the only known memorial that includes the specific name of an animal alongside names of the fallen and those who have served in a battle. It is remarkable that the surviving veterans felt so strongly – 68 years after receiving their marching orders – to inscribe their mascot's name on this granite monument. It should be noted that Gander’s medal was later gifted by the Hong Kong Veterans Association of Canada to the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario.

On this day, 15 August 2022, we commemorate the 77th anniversary of the Victory over Japan Day, which saw the end of the Second World War in the Far East and the 13th anniversary of the dedication of the Defence of Hong Kong memorial wall in Ottawa.

André M. Levesque

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