December 7th, 1941: Canada First to Declare War

December 7th, 1941: Canada First to Declare War

At War on the 7th

Apro­pos Decem­ber 7th, my friend Randy Bar­ber (Ontario) writes: “Recent­ly, I pur­chased sev­en copies of a World War II Cana­di­an Army news­pa­per called Kha­ki. I have a think to tell you about the 7th, from read­ing papers and the let­ters to the edi­tor  from 1944:
In a ques­tion to the edi­tor about which coun­try first declared war on Japan after the bomb­ing of Pearl Har­bor, the answer was, not the Unit­ed States or Great Britain (which declared war on Decem­ber 8th). It was Cana­da, which declared war on Decem­ber 7th. Thus endeth your his­to­ry les­son for today.
Not quite. Offi­cial­ly, Cana­da declared on the 8th—the same day as the U.S. and Great Britain. How­ev­er, Prime Min­is­ter Macken­zie King and the Cana­di­an Cab­i­net decid­ed to declare war on the 7th. So, Cana­da act­ed first.
Four hours after Pearl Har­bor (in equiv­a­lent time), Japan attacked Hong Kong.  “Cana­da had its own rea­sons to declare war,” writes John Fer­gu­son. “The Hong Kong gar­ri­son of 14,000 includ­ed 2000 Cana­di­ans. The colony sur­ren­dered on Christ­mas Day after a hor­ri­ble, bloody bat­tle that includ­ed hand-to-hand fight­ing. There were 10,000 casu­al­ties, includ­ing 6000 Japan­ese. The Japan­ese had an over­whelm­ing force of 52,000. so in the end they won a bat­tle of attri­tion. The Cana­di­ans took 700 casu­al­ties, includ­ing 300 killed. Many more died lat­er in Japan­ese prison camps.”

Meanwhile, in England…

Win­ston S. Churchill: Rec­ol­lec­tion. The Churchill Doc­u­ments, vol. 16, The Ever-Widen­ing War, 1941 (Hills­dale Col­lege Press, 2011):

It was Sun­day evening, Decem­ber 7th, 1941…. I turned on my small wire­less set short­ly after the nine o’clock news had start­ed. There were a num­ber of items about the fight­ing on the Russ­ian front and on the British front in Libya, at the end of which some few sen­tences were spo­ken regard­ing an attack by the Japan­ese on Amer­i­can ship­ping at Hawaii, and also Japan­ese attacks on British ves­sels in the Dutch East Indies….

I did not per­son­al­ly sus­tain any direct impres­sion, but Averell [Har­ri­man] said there was some­thing about the Japan­ese attack­ing the Amer­i­cans, and, in spite of being tired and rest­ing, we all sat up. By now the but­ler, Sawyers, who had heard what had passed, came into the room, say­ing, “It’s quite true. We heard it our­selves out­side. The Japan­ese have attacked the Americans.”There was a silence.

At the Man­sion House lun­cheon on Novem­ber 11, I had said that if Japan attacked the Unit­ed States a British dec­la­ra­tion of war would fol­low “with­in the hour.” I got up from the table and walked through the hall to the office, which was always at work. I asked for a call to the Pres­i­dent…. In two or three min­utes Mr. Roo­sevelt came through. “Mr. Pres­i­dent, what’s this about Japan?” “It’s quite true,” he replied. “They have attacked us at Pearl Har­bor. We are all in the same boat now….” We then went back into the hall and tried to adjust our thoughts to the supreme world event which had occurred, which was of so star­tling a nature as to make even those who were near the cen­tre gasp.

Another version

The Cana­di­an con­tin­gent arrives to rein­force the defend­ers of Hong Kong, Sep­tem­ber 1941. (Wiki­me­dia Commons)

John Gilbert Winant, U.S. Ambas­sador to the Court of St. James’s: Rec­ol­lec­tion.  The Churchill Doc­u­ments, vol. 16, The Ever-Widen­ing War, 1941 (Hills­dale Col­lege Press, 2011):

We looked at one anoth­er incred­u­lous­ly. Then Churchill jumped to his feet and start­ed for the door with the announce­ment, “We shall declare war on Japan.” There is noth­ing half-heart­ed or unpos­i­tive about Churchill—certainly not when he is on the move. With­out cer­e­mo­ny I too left the table and fol­lowed him out of the room.

“Good God,” I said, “you can’t declare war on a radio announcement.”

He stopped and looked at me half-seri­ous­ly, half-quizzi­cal­ly, and then said qui­et­ly, “What shall I do?”

The ques­tion was asked not because he need­ed me to tell him what to do, but as a cour­tesy to the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the coun­try attacked. I said, “I will call up the Pres­i­dent by tele­phone and ask him what the facts are.” And he added, “And I shall talk with him too.” We got through to the White House in a few min­utes and the Pres­i­dent told me very sim­ply the sto­ry of the attack—so trag­ic in itself and yet the final mis­take that was to end the pow­er of the Axis. He could not, how­ev­er, over the open transat­lantic tele­phone, tell the extent of the crush­ing loss­es sus­tained by the fleet, or the heavy casu­al­ties. I said I had a friend with me who want­ed to speak to him. I said, “You will know who it is, as soon as you hear his voice.”

A small salute to the coura­geous Cana­di­ans, who pre­ced­ed Britain and Amer­i­ca into war. In the Sec­ond World War from the begin­ning, Cana­da stood by her allies to the end.

One thought on “December 7th, 1941: Canada First to Declare War

  1. Maybe also inter­est­ing to know Richard, that we , the Dutch were lib­er­at­ed first by the Cana­di­ans. Their troops entered Hol­land first in May, 1945.

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