John K. Lawson
|John Kelburne Lawson|
|Born||27 December 1886
Hull, England, U.K.
|Died||19 December 1941
Hong Kong, British Empire
|Buried||Sai Wan War Cemetery, Chai Wan|
|Years of service||1914–1941|
|Commands held||C Force|
|Awards||Croix de guerre|
Brigadier John Kelburne Lawson (27 December 1886 – 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 the Second World War.
Lawson was born in Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire. He migrated 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 Passchendaele 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.
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 the Second World War 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
After the forces defending Kowloon were withdrawn to the island of Hong Kong on 11 December 1941 General Christopher Maltby organized the defence of the island into two brigades, west and east.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 headquarters at around 10 a.m. on 19 December. Lawson radioed his commanders that he was "going outside to fight it out" and left his pillbox with a pistol in each hand, and was killed in the ensuing fight.
When the Japanese arrived and found his body, they gave him a military burial nearby out of respect for his courage. A chaplain was allowed to remove Lawson's silver identification disc bracelet and held on to it through four years as a Japanese prisoner of war before returning it to Lawson's family in Canada. Lawson 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.
- Smith, Craig S. (23 December 2016). "A Doomed Battle for Hong Kong, With Only Medals Left 75 Years Later". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
- Wentzell, Tyler (April 2011). "Brigadier J.K. Lawson and Command of 'C' Force at Hong Kong" (pdf). Canadian Military History. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
- "The Battle of Hong Kong". Canada at War. Retrieved 2 February 2015.