Osborn of Hong Kong
FROM THE Heritage Minutes COLLECTION
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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 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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