80th Anniversary of the Fall of Hong Kong: A New Brunswick Soldier’s Story

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New Brunswicker Fred Pollock was angry with his new assignment in the fall of 1941.

Norton’s man had been in the military for a year and his closest thing to going overseas was when the unit was stationed in Gander, Nfld. Labrador.

And his last job, guarding the coast of Saint John Harbor, not far from his hometown, was not what he had in mind when he signed up.

But when his unit, the Royal Rifles of Canada, received tropical gear and boarded a train for the west coast, Pollock, 24, realized he was on his way to the Pacific and the British colony of Hong Kong.

“I’ve been told he’s complaining about being sent where the action isn’t,” his nephew Bill Pollock said in an interview from his Edmonton home. “But he learned the reverse was true.”

Fred Pollock in uniform. Pollock was upset to head for the Pacific, as he thought he was missing a chance to fight. (The Pollock family / veterans.gc.ca)

Thomas and Ethel Pollock had three sons – Lawson, Fred and Clifford – and they had all helped run the family farm.

Clifford and Fred both loved music and often played guitar at local dances. The brothers also loved to play hockey.

Her younger sister Viola described Fred as a player and willing to spend time with her, despite a 13-year age difference.

Lawson, the eldest, joined the RCAF in 1937 as a mechanic.

The other two followed their brother into military service when war broke out.

The youngest, Clifford, enlisted on September 4, 1939, just days after Germany invaded Poland and almost a week before Canada declared war. He joined a medical unit attached to the Carleton and York Regiment of New Brunswick.

Fred enlisted in October 1940 and was placed with the Royal Rifles of Canada from Quebec.

From the East Coast to the Far East

When Pollock’s Regiment arrived in Hong Kong on November 16, along with the Winnipeg Grenadiers, some 2,000 Canadian troops joined forces with the British, India, Singapore and Hong Kong.

The addition of the Canadians brought the Hong Kong garrison to about 14,000 people. Most had no combat experience.

Britain hoped troops would deter Japan, then at war with China, from attacking the large but vulnerable colony.

They did not do it. On December 8, 1941, one day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, nearly 30,000 veteran Japanese soldiers invaded the colony.

Pollock joined C Company of the Royal Rifles of Canada. Here is the company on its way to Hong Kong in November 1941. (Library and Archives Canada / PA-166999)

The soldiers positioned to delay the Japanese advance in the peninsula, which was to last three weeks, succeeded just four days before retreating to Hong Kong Island. A week later, the Japanese invade the island.

Pollock, in Company C of the Royal Rifles, was embroiled in heavy fighting during the week as the Japanese pushed on the island, including a final position on the heights of Fort Stanley, but the battle was hopeless .

On Christmas Day 1941, the garrison surrendered.

Missing

In the days following the surrender, Ethel Pollock wrote a letter to the military seeking information on her son.

But the army had no answer for her.

The International Red Cross was still collecting details of the 10,000 Allied soldiers taken prisoner by Japan.

A letter from the military to Pollock’s mother, confirming that her son was not one of the prisoners of war in the Japanese prison camps. It is dated almost a year after the fall of Hong Kong. (The Pollock family / veterans.gc.ca)

Almost a year later, in a letter dated December 5, 1942, Lieutenant-Colonel. FW Clarke brought bad news.

“The official next of kin of all known prisoners of war have now been officially informed, and I very much regret that the name of your son, who has not been heard from since the fall of Hong Kong, is not included. them, ”Clarke wrote.

“It was brutal for her,” Bill Pollock said.

He said his uncle suffered from a health problem as a child, something that intrigued the doctors, and the only thing that seemed to help him was when Ethel held him and l ‘rocked.

“So I think Uncle Fred was a bit special to her,” he said.

A heartbreaking letter from Ethel Pollock to the military seeking the possessions of her youngest son Clifford Pollock after his death in Italy in late 1943. She also took the opportunity to ask once again if there had been a word about Fred Pollock. (veterans.gc.ca)

“A cruel war”

“Surely it has been a cruel war for us. “

That’s a line in one of many letters that Ethel Pollock would write to the military, this one to Colonel Ralston.

But although she asked where Fred was, that letter from June 1944 was an attempt to retrieve the belongings of her youngest son Clifford.

On December 31, 1943, a new tragedy had befallen the Pollock family.

Clifford Pollock, Fred’s younger brother, was killed in Italy in December 1943. He is buried in Moro River War Cemetery in Italy. (The Pollock family / veterans.gc.ca)

During the Battle of Ortona in central Italy, Clifford Pollock ventured out into the open to try and heal the wounds of a fallen soldier.

He was shot and killed by a sniper bullet.

“He must have left a lot of stuff in English when he went over there,” Ethel wrote, “like family photos, his skates… him through everything, all those years his comfort.

Could you trace it and send it to me. … I’m sorry for taking so much of your time, but it’s really damaging my health. “

The loss of a mother

Bill Pollock has said he believes Clifford’s guitar has finally been returned to the family. He believed he had been found in Scotland, where the unit had trained before landing in Italy.

But receiving the instrument did little to ease her grandmother’s pain.

On July 17, 1945, nearly three and a half years after the fall of Hong Kong, the military changed Fred Pollock’s official status from missing in action to presumed killed in action, and issued a death certificate.

The death certificate issued by the military in July 1945, about three and a half years after Fred Pollock was reported missing in action in Hong Kong. (veterans.gc.ca)

He said Pollock died “on or about” December 21, 1941.

The loss of two sons had taken a heavy toll on Ethel.

“Grandmother Pollock died in 1947 (aged 54),” said Bill Pollock, “the doctor said it was truly a broken heart.”

Ethel Pollock died in 1947 at the age of 54. His grandson, Bill Pollock, said the deaths of his two sons had taken a heavy toll on him. (Hong Kong Veterans Memorial Association)

Consequences

During the fight for Hong Kong, 290 Canadian soldiers died on the battlefield.

Other New Brunswickers with the Royal Rifles of Canada listed as victims include John McKay of Nash Creek, Morton George Clinton Thompson of Glen Levit, Edgar Doucet of West Bathurst, Valmont Lebel of Campbellton, John Richard Long of Tide Head and Murray Timothy Mahoney of Sussex.

Many are listed on the Sai Wan Memorial in Hong Kong, dedicated to Commonwealth soldiers who died defending the city.

The Sai Wan Memorial in Hong Kong lists members of the Royal Rifles of Canada who died in action in the city’s defense. Fred Pollock’s name can be found in the right column. (veterans.gc.ca)

Another 260 would perish in the brutal conditions of Japanese POW camps, enduring starvation, forced labor and torture.

There is now a Canadian park and memorial on the site of the former Sham Shui Po barracks, which the Japanese used to house prisoners of war.


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