Tag Archives: Christmas

December 25th – Hong Kong surrendered to the Japanese

The Hong Kong Memorial Wall located in Ottawa, Ontario, to honour the Canadian troops that fought to defend Hong Kong during the Second World War. On one side are the names of soldiers from the Royal Rifles of Canada, and on the other side, the soldiers of the Winnipeg Grenadiers.

The Hong Kong Memorial Wall located in Ottawa, Ontario, to honour the Canadian troops that fought to defend Hong Kong during the Second World War. On one side are the names of soldiers from the Royal Rifles of Canada, and on the other side, the soldiers of the Winnipeg Grenadiers.

On this day in 1941, the British crown colony of Hong Kong fell to Japanese forces. After seventeen and a half intense days of fighting by Canadian, British, and Indian troops and exhausting their ammunition, food and water, the Governor of Hong Kong surrounded the colony to the Japanese on Christmas Day.

Believing that Hong Kong would be unable to hold upon a Japanese attack, Winston Churchill and the British government had pulled out most of the British forces from the colony. A token British force was left in Hong Kong, and to reinforce the Allied garrison, the Canadian government was called upon to supply men. In the Autumn of 1941, two Canadian battalions (almost 2000 men in total) were sent over to Hong Kong from Vancouver, the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles of Canada. Both units had little training or combat experience, yet within a short span of time, would soon find they were thrown into the heat of battle.

The Japanese invasion of Hong Kong began on the same day as the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7th, 1941. Japanese troops swept down from the Chinese mainland and into Hong Kong territory. Japanese forces moved quickly through the New Territories and Kowloon (the portions of Hong Kong on the Chinese mainland), forcing Allied troops to retreat to across the bay and onto Hong Kong Island. Allied troops were simply outnumbered (14000 troops to 52000 troops) and outgunned, and on Christmas Day, 1941, the Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Mark Aitchison Young, surrendered the crown colony to the Japanese at the Peninsula Hong Kong hotel. This day has since been known in Hong Kong as “Black Christmas”.

Hong Kong would remain occupied by the Japanese until August 30th, 1945, where the populace endured horrendous treatment by their Japanese rulers. Canadian, British, and other Commonwealth POWs were sent to northern Japan and kept in Hong Kong, where they were worked literally to death in labour camps and submitted to cruel treatment by the Japanese captors. The Allied dead from Hong Kong, including Canadian troops, are mainly interred at the Sai Wan Military Cemetery and Stanley Military Cemetery. Of the 1975 Canadians who sailed from Vancouver in the autumn of 1941, more than 550 would never make it back home.

Though the Canadian involvement on the Second World War in Europe (e.g. the Battle of the Atlantic, Dieppe, Italy, D-Day, the Netherlands), few know of Canada’s involvement in Hong Kong. In fact, the first Canadian ground soldier killed during the Second World War was at Hong Kong. The first Victoria Cross (the highest military decoration to Commonwealth troops) given to a Canadian during the Second World War was awarded to John Robert Osborn of the Winnipeg Grenadiers. Upon seeing a Japanese grenade roll into the bunker where Osborn and his fellow men were, Osborn jumped on the grenade, covering it with his helmet, sacrificing himself and saving the lives of 10 other Canadian soldiers in the bunker. Military service animals were not exempt either from receiving medals. Gander, a Newfie, was posthumously awarded the Dickin Medal, the “animals’ Victoria Cross” in 2000. Gander, assigned with the Royal Rifles of Canada, received the Dickin Medal for taking a Japanese grenade thrown at his soldiers and running with it towards the enemy, dying in the explosion but saving the lives of his fellow Canadian.

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December 24th – Christmas Truce on the Western Front begins

A football (soccer) game played between British (from Chester) and German soldiers (from Saxony), 1914. Supposedly the  final score was 3-2 for Germany.

A football (soccer) game played between British (from Chester) and German soldiers (from Saxony), Christmas 1914. Supposedly the final score was 3-2 for Germany.

On this day in 1914, the guns fell silent in certain sections of the Western Front, on the eve of Christmas. German and Allied soldiers put down their weapons and met in no-man’s land to collect the dead, exchange gifts and mingle with their fellow brothers-in-arms.

No official truce existed between the Germans and the Allies during the holiday season, however spontaneous truces broke out throughout the Western Front. One should note that a truce was not observed everywhere, as some sections of the front continued to fight through Christmas. The first reported truce occurred near the Belgian town of Ypres, where German troops lit up Christmas trees with candles and started singing Christmas carols (no doubt O Tannenbaum and Stille Nacht were in the repertoire). Hearing the Germans singing from across no-man’s land, British troops began singing themselves. Soon enough, both German and British soldiers emerged from their trenches and met in no-man’s land, exchanging gifts such as food, cigarettes and liquor. The lull in the fighting also gave the chance for both sides to collect the dead and hold burial services, sometimes jointly between the Germans and Allies. This unofficial ceasefire occurred throughout the Western Front and lasted through Christmas night, and in some cases, till New Year’s Day. Truces of this nature were also seen between the French and the Germans, and between the Austrians and Russians.

Future Christmas truces rarely happened after 1914. Military leaders were largely aghast at the demonstration of fraternization and camaraderie exhibited between the two sides during the 1914 Christmas truce, and officially discouraged future holiday truces. Consequently, artillery bombardments were ordered throughout Christmas Eve to ensure a ceasefire did not occur. Troop units were also rotated through the front to avoid units from becoming too acquainted with the enemy. Nevertheless, in 1914 the First World War failed to get in the way of troops on both sides from putting down their weapons, even if only for a day, to express their Christmas spirit.

One of the more famous stories from the Christmas truce of 1914 were the impromptu football (soccer) matches that broke out. A well-known account of a football match is that between the Cheshire Regiment and a Saxon Regiment, after a British soldier pulled out a leather ball from the trenches and began kicking it around. Germans joined along with the British soldiers, and using helmets as goal posts, a game started (final score was apparently 3-2 for the Germans). In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War next year, football organizations from both nations have began organizing to re-enact these football matches at the battlefields of France and Belgium next year.

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December 9th – “A Charlie Brown Christmas” airs for the first time

The Peanuts gang all together for A Charlie Brown Christmas

The Peanuts gang all together for A Charlie Brown Christmas

On this day in 1965, the holiday classic A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired on television on CBS. Since 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas has aired during every Christmas season, 48 years running.

The production of A Charlie Brown Christmas was done with a limited budget, resulting in (apparently) a choppy animation style and poorly mixed sound. In one scene where Schroeder stops playing the piano, all the children continue dancing awkwardly for a couple of seconds. Bill Melendez, the producer of A Charlie Brown Christmas, wished to correct this issue, however this idea was vetoed by Charles Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts. The voice overs for the characters were performed by children who had little experience with voice work. In fact, the child that voiced Sally was so young that she was cued “line by line” throughout recording!

Despite these faults with this TV special, A Charlie Brown Christmas came to be a critical and commercial success. Almost 50% of televisions in the United States were tuned to the first broadcast of A Charlie Brown Christmas on December 9th, 1965. A Charlie Brown Christmas would go on to win an Emmy Award and a Peabody Award. The success of A Charlie Brown Christmas would spawn further holiday-themed Peanuts TV specials, including: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966), A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973), I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown (2003), and many more.


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