Osborn of Hong Kong…

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This is what they say about John Osborn.

Canada’s role in World War II stretched beyond the battlefields of Europe.

Canadian troops fought on land, in the air and on the seas in France, the Netherlands, Italy, North Africa and Hong Kong.

It was in Hong Kong that Warrant Officer John Osborn, the Company Sergeant-Major, sacrificed his own life to save the lives of others.


In 1940, the British regarded their crown colony of Hong Kong as expendable in the event of war with Japan.

Yet as Japanese troops began to attack in 1941, the Canadian government agreed to send the Royal Rifles of Canada and the Winnipeg Grenadiers, although they were declared officially unfit for action. In spite of this, the troops fought valiantly in defence of Hong Kong.

During the morning of 19 December, a company of the Grenadiers led by Osborn became divided during an attack on Mount Butler.

Osborn led part of the company to capture the hill. Outnumbered, they managed to hold it for three hours but were forced to withdraw.

Osborn and a small group covered the retreat and when their turn came to fall back, Osborn single-handedly engaged the enemy, coming under heavy enemy fire as he assisted his men to rejoin the company.

In the afternoon, cut off from the battalion, the company was surrounded by the enemy. Several enemy grenades were thrown towards them, which the soldiers picked up and threw back. Suddenly, a grenade landed in a position where it was impossible to return it in time.

To protect his troops, Osborn threw himself on the grenade, and was killed instantly.

Of 1975 Canadians who were sent to Hong Kong, 557 were killed or died in prison camps.

Political pressure at home forced the Canadian government to appoint a royal commission (The Duff commission) to investigate the circumstances of Canada’s involvement in this area of WWII.

For his act of bravery, Osborn was posthumously awarded Hong Kong’s only Victoria Cross.

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9 thoughts on “Osborn of Hong Kong…

  1. More needs to be written of what happened to those Canadians who served at Hong Kong. They are all gone now, I feel sure, but their children must still be around. Perhaps they could relay the memories of their fathers. I don’t know if it is true, but I’ve been told that some of the Canadian troops arrive less than a week before the Japanese attack.

      1. Years ago, I ran into someone in Spokane, Washington — a relocated Canadian — who told me that her father had been captured by the Japanese at Hong Kong. I thought that she told me that he had only been there a week when the Japanese Army attacked. In any event, there is another story there, at Hong Kong in 1941, that needs to be shared.

  2. THE CANADIANS AT HONG KONG, 16 NOV-7 DEC 41

    45. The voyage to Hong Kong was devoid of major incident. In spite of the crowded conditions aboard the Awatea a programme of training was carried out that was considered to be beneficial to all. Lectures were given on such topics as “Health in the Tropics”, “Hong Kong, People and Customs”, and “The Japanese Army” (Report of “C” Force Headquarters and Details, p. 3). There was instruction in the handling of the Bren Light Machine Gun, Thompson Sub Machine Gun and 2″ Mortar. Particular attention was paid to the training of the new reinforcements. The T.S.M.G. and the Mortar were indeed much of a novelty to the majority of the personnel of both infantry battalions. “Up to the time of sailing the Rifles (R.R.C.) had one 2″ Mortar while the Unit was stationed in St. John’s, Newfoundland, but this only for a short time. As for the Winnipeg Grenadiers, the first time any member of the Unit saw this weapon was on board ship” (“C” Force Report, p. 6).1 Brigade details worked on their respective duties checking stores, maintaining paybooks and performing various clerical tasks (“C” Force H.Q. Report, p.2).

    46. After approximately three weeks at sea the Canadian Expeditionary Force arrived at Hong Kong on 16 Nov 41 (Hqs 20-2-20, Tel CA3, ORINOCO to Defensor,

  3. War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

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