John K. Lawson

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Brigadier John Kelburne Lawson (27 December 1887 – 19 December 1941) was the senior Canadian officer and commander of the West Brigade during the Battle of Hong Kong. He was the most senior officer to be killed in action during the battle and the highest ranking Canadian soldier killed in action in World War II.

Early career[edit]

Lawson was born in Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire in 1887. He immigrated to Edmonton in 1914 where he worked as a clerk for the Hudson's Bay Company. He enlisted in the Canadian Army upon the outbreak of the First World War. He joined the 9th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and variously worked at the 1st Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade and at Corps Headquarters. Although he is often incorrectly attributed a Military Cross for actions at the Battle of Passchendale or the Battle of the Somme, he did receive two Mentioned in Despatches and a Croix de Guerre. Lawson joined as a Private in 1914, and rose to the rank of Warrant Officer First Class before commissioning. He held the rank of Captain at the end of the war.[1]

Lawson joined the Permanent Force during the interwar years. He held various positions in Calgary, Kingston, Toronto, and Ottawa. He completed staff college in Quetta in 1923-1924, and was posted to the War Office in London, England in 1930.

When World War II broke out, he was Director of Military Training in Ottawa, and was given the command of the Royal Rifles of Canada and The Winnipeg Grenadiers and the other Canadian support units who arrived in Hong Kong on 16 November 1941 as reinforcements for the British garrison there.

Battle of Hong Kong[edit]

The headstone of Brigadier J.K. Lawson.

After the forces defending Kowloon were withdrawn to the island of Hong Kong on 11 December 1941 General Maltby organized the defence of the island into two brigades, west and east. Lawson was placed in charge of the west brigade, which included the Winnipeg Grenadiers, the Royal Scots, the Punjab Regiment (India) and the Canadian Signallers. The Japanese landed on Hong Kong island on 18 December 1941 with the intent to split the defenders in two. After fierce fighting, Japanese forces surrounded Lawson's HQ at around 10 a.m. on 19 December. Lawson radioed his commanders that he was going to "fight it out" and left his pillbox with a pistol in each hand, and was killed in the ensuing fight.[2]

When the Japanese arrived and found his body, they gave him a proper burial nearby as a respect due to his courage while facing his enemy (i.e. the Japanese). However, he was reburied at the Sai Wan War Cemetery after the war. The original headstone was destroyed and a memorial plate was erected by the Canadian Government at the site in 2005.

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