RCMP Pipes & Drums in Hong Kong
December 1-6, 2016
Credit: Darryl Lim, Drum Sergeant, RCMP Pipes & Drums,National Division
Standing atop the long flight of steps at Sai Wan War Cemetery with the Hong Kong skyline as a backdrop, the pipe band stood to attention. More than 600 people gathered below waiting for the solemn ceremony to begin. On the command “Pipes & Drums, Slow…March”, we began our descent down 100 meters steps playing The Green Hills of Tyrol and The Battles O’er. On reaching the bottom, the tune changed to the The Maple Leaf Forever as we led the dignitaries and veterans to the Cenotaph.
The principal purpose of this trip was to honour the sacrifices of Canadian soldiers who gallantly fought and died defending Hong Kong from invading Japanese forces in December 1941. Of the 1,975 soldiers deployed from the Royal Rifles of Canada and the Winnipeg Grenadiers, 290 were killed in battle, 264 died as POWs, and almost 500 were wounded. Assessed at over 50%, this was one of the highest casualty rates of any Canadian theatre of operation during the Second World War.
The RCMP Pipes & Drums (National Division) traveled to Hong Kong at the invitation of the Canadian Consul-General. Our participation at the Sai Wan ceremony was an historic first. Never in its 75-year history has the RCMP had the privilege of playing The Lament and The Last Post. Piper Iain Tait and Trumpeter Charles Armstrong did the honours.
Our small four-man contingent was billeted at the Hong Kong Police College Officers’ Quarters in Aberdeen. The hospitality from our hosts at the Hong Kong Police College and Pipe Band was outstanding.
Our 5-day itinerary was packed. There was little time for sightseeing! While the Sai Wan ceremony was the main event, we also performed at five other venues. Our first engagement was a Passing Out Parade for an intake of police constables and officers whose flawless foot drill would make any drill instructor proud.
One of the highlights was performing alongside the St. John’s Cathedral Brass Band in a fundraising concert that raised $2,857 Cdn for the Royal Canadian Legion in Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Volunteers’ Regimental Association. This was a sold-out success that surprised the organizers given that 90% of the audience was local Hong Kong citizens who came to watch the RCMP Pipes & Drums! We were rewarded with a standing ovation at the end of the concert.
We also performed with the Hong Kong Police Pipe Band and Silver Band at a local stadium, with Piper Iain Tait giving solo performances of Amazing Grace and Highland Cathedral. We also had the pleasure of visiting students at the Canadian International School of Hong Kong. In addition to playing our music we demonstrated how our instruments worked, explain the significance of our uniform, and answered questions from the packed auditorium. Our final event was at a reception to honour the veterans, hosted by the Vancouver-based Chinese-Canadian Military Museum Society. The venue was a former WWII bunker and ammunition depot that has been converted into a wine cellar.
All in all, the RCMP ‘brand’ was well represented and received. The citizens of Hong Kong along with our Canadian expats were enthusiastic fans of the Red Serge! The Canadian Consulate staff was grateful for our presence and we’re pleased to report that there are discussions afoot to deploy a larger contingent on a future occasion.