THUNDER BAY – “All Canada joins in warmest Christmas greetings and good wishes to you”, that is the message former Prime Minister MacKenzie King sent to Canadian soldiers in 1943. Across Canada there are military families who have members of their families who are not home for the holidays. There are 1600 Canadian Forces members who are deployed around the world this year.
To offer a bit of history; A Christmas card sent in 1943 by Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King to a Canadian prisoner of war is on display this holiday season at the Canadian War Museum, a poignant reminder of the service and sacrifice of Canada’s veterans and a symbol of a nation’s gratitude and remembrance.
The recipient was Arthur Kenneth Pifher from Paris, Ontario, who was captured at the battle of Hong Kong in 1941 and held for four years in Japanese prison camps. The card bears King’s signature and the words “All Canada joins in Warmest Christmas Greetings and good wishes to you.” Mr. Pifher kept the card for 69 years before presenting it as a memento to Prime Minister Stephen Harper at a Remembrance Day ceremony both men attended in Hong Kong onNovember 11, 2012. The card was then donated to the War Museum.
[pullquote] This simple Christmas greeting recalls a nation at war, a young soldier’s suffering far from home, and the forms of personal and national remembrance [/pullquote]
“This simple Christmas greeting recalls a nation at war, a young soldier’s suffering far from home, and the forms of personal and national remembrance,” said James Whitham, Director General of the Canadian War Museum. “We are grateful that Mr. Ken Pifher preserved this important artifact for so many years and we are pleased to add it to our National Collection.”
Ken Pifher was 19 years old when he enlisted in August 1940. The next year, he was among the 1,975 Canadian troops sent to Hong Kong to defend the British colony. A large and battle-hardened Japanese force invaded onDecember 8, 1941, and the colony fell after 17 days of intense fighting. Rifleman Ken Pifher of the Royal Canadian Rifles was among those captured and sent to prison camps in Hong Kong and China. By the war’s end, nearly 300 of his Canadian comrades had died in captivity from malnutrition, disease, overwork and brutality.
During the Second World War, Prime Minister King on behalf of all Canadians sent Christmas greetings to prisoners of war. Rifleman Pifher was one of the few Hong Kong prisoners to actually receive a card. It became a treasured keepsake.
In November 2012, Mr. Pifher, 91, took the card to Hong Kong for a Remembrance Day ceremony at the Sai Wan Cemetery, final resting place for 283 Canadians who died during the battle for Hong Kong. Prime Minister Harper spoke at the ceremony. Mr. Pifher then presented the Prime Minister with the card along with this written message:
Sixty nine years ago, while a captive POW in Sham Shui Po prison camp, I received this card for Christmas. Please accept this as a memento of today’s Remembrance Ceremony.
The card and Ken Pifher’s message to the Prime Minister will be on display at the War Museum until January 6, 2013.
Canadian Armed Forces Overseas
Operation Santa Claus, made possible through private and corporate donations, can trace its roots back to 1991, when a group of military spouses from Montréal sent Christmas packages to their loved ones serving on peacekeeping missions. Operation Santa Claus is managed by Canadian Forces Personnel and Family Support Services.
In continuing with the holiday spirit, 14 Afghan interpreters and their families who assisted the Canadian military during the Afghanistan conflict and currently live in the Ottawa region, recently received a holiday package from caring CF members as an act of thanks for their service to our country. The packages’ contents varied depending on the need of each family or individual and included a variety of high quality goods and gift cards. Major contributors included Sobey’s, Mid East Food Centre, Giant Tiger, Metro, Energizer, Girl Guides of Canada, the City of Ottawa and the Royal Canadian Legion.
“These Afghan interpreters have provided invaluable assistance in Canada’s efforts to support our troops in their efforts to help the people of Afghanistan,”” continued The Honourable Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence. ““I would like to thank all the generous donors for contributing to this gesture of kindness to these unsung heroes and their families.”