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Pub Date: Oct. 17th, 1980
Publisher: Doubleday

In 1941 the British had held Hong Kong for a hundred years and it was called ""the Gibraltar of the Orient."" Even so, Churchill and others thought it indefensible and were reluctant to ""waste"" first-rate troops in its defense. So the Royal Rifles of Canada and the Winnipeg Grenadiers were secretly dispatched to the colony--the worst-trained, raggedy-ass misfits bearing arms in Canada. In short, expendables. This is the story of how these expendables sustained the siege of Hong Kong from December 8, 1941 to Christmas Day, a period of resistance nearly double that envisioned by the Japanese. From interviews with the survivors, Ferguson presents eyewitness reports of the fighting. There were 12,000 British troops holding the area, but ""malaria, venereal disease, and Hong Kong's fairyland atmosphere had softened the core of all the units,"" according to Major General Maltby, commander Of the Hong Kong garrison. All the garrison's big guns were trained outward to repel invasion by sea, but the 60,000-man enemy strike force descended in mobile semi-guerrilla fashion from the mainland border with China. A rumor that Chiang Kai-shek had massed 60,000 troops to bring in against the Japanese proved false. Kowloon, on the mainland, fell. The battle on Hong Kong island itself became a block-by-block British retreat--punctuated, one quiet Sunday morning, by the haunting voice of Vera Lynn singing ""We'll Meet Again"": a musical propaganda broadcast by the Japanese. Chinese shopowners tried to ignore the noise of battle and keep up business as usual. And despite the ferocious Canadian resistance, despite the rape, murder, and massacre that accompanied the Japanese, when the captured British were transferred from Hong Kong, ""crowds gathered on Kowloon streets, jeering, spitting, and throwing rocks at the 'foreign devils' who had risked their lives defending them."" Some memorably ghastly highpoints, but mostly a straightforward account, steadily interesting and ironic.