Two Terrace residents travelled to Hong Kong Island this fall to pay tribute to a fallen soldier who was born and raised here.
Among the 1,528 grave sites at Hong Kong’s Sai Wan Bay War Cemetery is that of John Little, nephew of Terrace’s founder George Little and brother to 86-year-old Terrace resident Grace Warner.
Ric Bennett and Glen Olver of Terrace visited Little’s grave in mid-October, planting two Canadian flags at his grave and performing a Royal Canadian Legion tribute in his memory.
Having driven past the John Little Memorial Falls 35 km west of Terrace along Hwy16 many times, Olver said making the trip was meaningful to him.
“To be able to go back and actually see where he rests, it’s quite something,” he said.
Bennett, also a long-time Terrace resident and military-history enthusiast, agrees.
“We’re lucky to be Canadian,” he said, adding the lives of those who fought for this country were traded for freedom today.
But times were different then. Grace Warner remembers her brother John as a strong, kind young man who was good to his parents.
“He milked cows while he was still going to school,” Warner said. “One milking went to one family and one came to our house and we were seven kids. Depression days.”
At 19, Little joined the army while working in Prince Rupert, stopping by his Terrace home for a brief visit before heading to train as a signalman, a military communications job, in Nova Scotia.
On Oct. 27, 1941, Little was one of 1,975 Canadians to board a boat to Hong Kong from Vancouver — soon to be one of the first Canadian ground troops to fight in the Second World War.
Stationed with the Winnipeg Grenadiers, the battalion and the Royal Rifles of Canada were given the job of defending Hong Kong.
Long before the ship sailed, the prospect of defending Hong Kong against a Japanese attack seemed in doubt.
Debate swirled within British military and political circles as to the importance of Hong Kong, whether it could be defended and even if troops there should be reinforced.
An official policy of not sending reinforcements was reversed in late 1941 under the theory that this would give pause to Japanese attack plans.
Many Canadian troops sent weren’t heavily armed and were not fully trained.
Little, along with 554 other Canadians who fought in the Battle of Hong Kong alongside him, never did return home.
On December 8, 1941, Japanese forces attacked the Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong and by Dec. 11, the Winnipeg Grenadiers would become the first Canadian battalion to fight in the Second World War. After barely two weeks, Canadian and other British and British Empire forces surrendered.
“It was Christmas Day,” said Warner. “I remember that we were all at the table at Christmas and at that time we didn’t have a radio, and our uncle (George Little) came down from their house, walked down the street to our house, to tell us that Hong Kong had fallen.”
At the time, Warner remembers hearing her brother was wounded.
Later, word about his capture travelled home, as did news after Little’s death.
“When mom got the word, it was June that he had died in a prison camp,” said Warner.
Records show Little died of dysentery on June 4, 1942.
“He just went too soon,” said Warner, adding she is touched that Bennett and Olver visited her brother’s grave.
“I think it was a lovely thing that Ric Bennett did,” she said.
Bennett plans to share photos of his trip with Warner and family.