The Hong Kong POW Association and Royal Hong Kong Regiment Association held a memorial service on Sunday to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Hong Kong’s liberation from Japanese occupation.

More than 100 people attended the solemn wreath-laying ceremony at City Hall Memorial Garden to pay their respects to Hong Kong’s defenders.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was not in attendance.

Liberation Day ceremony at City Hall.

Leung, together with Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang and newly appointed ministers Clement Cheung and Lau Kong-wah, attended the graduation ceremony on Saturday for a 13-day “Military Experience Camp” organized by the People’s Liberation Army for 120 local students.

In his speech, Leung said he “looks forward to [more Hong Kong youth] experiencing how the PLA safeguards Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability,” according to Now TV.

Canadian Consul-General James Ian Burchett, British Consul General Caroline Wilson and Indian Consul General Prashant Agrawal all participated in the WWII memorial, along with Under Secretary for Home Affairs Florence Hui.

Liberation Day was celebrated on the last Monday of August from 1945 to 1997. The public holiday was marked with a ceremony at the Cenotaph to mourn the thousands of British, Canadian, Indian and Hong Kong soldiers who died defending the city.

Peter Choi speaking to local media. Photo: TVB.

Peter Choi, chairman of the WWII Veterans Association, was critical of both young Hongkongers and the SAR government for overlooking their sacrifices and contribution to Hong Kong history.

Since the handover, “young people have absolutely no respect for us old guys,” Choi told reporters. “Now many old soldiers have their mobility restricted and need to use wheelchairs. I’ve asked Leung Chun-ying [about this] but he’s never responded. There’s no one to take care of us.”

1945 liberation of Hong Kong. Photo: Wikicommons.

Hong Kong’s bitter wartime experience was a pivotal moment in the colony’s history—and one that affected the government as well as the governed.

When pre-war governor Sir Mark Young returned to Government House after several years at a Japanese internment camp, he brought the ambitious Young Plan with him: a roadmap to a fully elected LegCo that promised a higher degree of democracy than any subsequent proposal has since.

After Mao’s Communists took the mainland in 1949, however, the plan was shelved due to fears of outside interference as Hong Kong quickly became a battleground for Communist Party and Kuomintang supporters.

From July 1, 1997, Liberation Day ceased to be a public holiday. Hongkongers got a new day off to celebrate International Labour Day on May 1 instead.

Although Liberation Day was no longer a public holiday, it retained a place on the official calendar until August this year, when holidays to mark V-J Day and the Nanking Massacre were introduced to the local calendar.

Ryan Ho Kilpatrick

Ryan Ho Kilpatrick is an award-winning journalist and scholar from Hong Kong who has reported on the city’s politics, protests, and policing for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, TIME, The Guardian, The Independent, and others