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Pvt. Nicholas Pastuck

Nicholas Pastuck, Private
1st Battalion, Winnipeg Grenadiers, “C” Force Division

Nicholas Pastuck was a brave young man who enlisted into the army at the age of 22. By October 20th 1941 he was transferred directly to the Winnipeg Grenadiers. 7 days later Nicholas embarked from Vancouver, British Columbia and headed overseas to Hong Kong. Here he fought hard and proud for his country, even though the numbers were well against him and his fellow soldiers. On Christmas day, December 25th, 1941 Nicholas Pastuck was reported as a Prisoner of War after the surrender of the allied forces at the battle of Hong Kong.

Nicholas (Nick) Pastuck was born on November 19th, 1918, in Rainy River, Ontario. Nick lived in Sleeman, Ontario with his father Anthony and his mother Dora. He came from a family of 10, in which he had three sisters: Mrs. G Heskins of Fort Frances, Katherine Pastuck of Fort Frances, and E.L Pastuck who was in the Royal Canadian Air Force (Women’s Division) and who lived in Toronto. He also had four brothers: Peter Pastuck of Sleeman, John Pastuck of Sleeman, Michael Pastuck of Sleeman and Private Pastuck who was also in the military and lived in Brockville.

He spoke 2 languages which included English and Ukrainian. Nick only attended school until grade 3. Before enlistment Nick worked as a farm laborer at the family homestead in Sleeman, Ontario.

Nicholas Pastuck enlisted June 9th1941 in Fort Frances, Ontario. He became a member of the 1st battalion of the Winnipeg Grenadiers in the “C” Force division of the Canadian military. Nick started out his war journey as a member of the Royal Winnipeg Rifleman Wing, where he was then attached as reinforcement to the 102nd Canadian Army Training Center for all purposes, located in Fort William.

After nearly 2 months of training he was taken on service to the A-15 training center located back in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

On October 14th, 1941 Nick was granted a 5 day embarkation leave to go back to Sleeman for one last visit with his family before he had to see action in the war. After returning from his embarkation leave, Nick was transferred directly to the Winnipeg Grenadiers. Seven days later Nick found himself on Sailing List 968 “C” Force heading from Vancouver, British Columbia to Hong Kong. On November 16th 1941, Nick disembarked in Hong Kong at 0900 hours.

On December 8th 1941, the Japenese troops attacked Hong Kong, shortly after 8 am. This was only 8 hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. British, Canadian and Indian forces, commanded by Major-General Maltby supported by the Hong Kong Volunteer Defense Forces, resisted the Japanese invasion by the 38th division, commanded by Lieutenant General Sakai Takashi, but were outnumbered three to one (Japanese: 52,000 / Allied: 14,000).

Major-General Maltby organized the defense of the island, splitting it between an East Brigade and a West Brigade. The Winnipeg Grenadiers were part of the West Brigade. On December 15 the Japanese began bombing the island’s north shore. On December 13 and 17 the Japanese demanded surrender, however the allied forces rejected. The next day the Japanese forces crossed the harbour and landed on the island’s North East. The allied forces suffered light casualties, even while no effective command was to be made until the next morning. Over the night, approximately 20 allied gunners had been killed at the SAI Wan Battery after they surrendered.

On the morning of December 25th, Japanese soldiers entered the British field hospital at St. Stephen’s College. At the hospital, the Japanese soldiers brutally killed and tortured 60 injured soldiers, as well as the medical staff. Later that afternoon on the 25th of December, it apparent aware that further resistance would be useless. British colonial officials, headed by the Governor of Hong Kong Sir Mark Aitchison Young, surrendered at the Japanese headquarters located at the Peninsula Hong Kong Hotel. This became the first time in which a British Crown Colony surrendered to an invading force. This battle lasted about 17 days. iii After the allied colony surrendered, the cruelty continued. Nicholas Pastuck became a prisoner of war at the Sham Shui Po camp in Hong Kong. The camp was Canada’s original camp when they arrived in Hong Kong for war, but later was turned into a prisoner of war camp. For over 3 years, the Canadian prisoners of war were imprisoned in Hong Kong and Japan in the foulest conditions, as well as having to endure brutal treatment and almost being starved. In the filthy, primitive prisoner of war quarters many prisoners would work 12 hour days in mines or on the docks in the cold, surviving often on only rations of 800 calories a day. Many did not survive. In all, over 550 of the 1,975 Canadians who sailed from Vancouver to Hong Kong in October of 1941 never returned, Nicholas Pastuck was one who did not return.

Nicholas Pastuck died in 1942 in Bowen Road Hospital Hong Kong while a prisoner of war. Nick’s cause of death was diagnosed as Diphtheria. This is a serious, infectious disease that produces a toxin (poison) and an inflammation of the membrane lining the throat, nose, trachea, and other tissues. The other cause of his death was internal hemorrhage which is also referred to as internal bleeding; bleeding that occurs internally in the body.

Mrs. Dora Pastuck received a wire at Sleeman on Monday notifying her of the death of their son, Nick. The wire reads:
“Regret that H41790 Pte. Nick Pastuck officially reported by the Tokyo through International Red Cross, Geneva, to have died of illness while prisoner of war in Hong Kong. Cause of death, Diphtheria. Date of death not taken. Further information follows when received.”

Nicholas died on September 26th, 1942, at the age of 23. Nick was first buried at Bowen Road Hospital Cemetery in Hong Kong, but was then reburied in Sai Wan Military Cemetery, grave 2, row E, plot 8, which is also in Hong Kong. Nick was reburied here because it was a Canadian war veteran cemetery. Nicholas Pastuck is one of 280 servicemen from Canada buried in this cemetery.

Nicholas Pastuck received four medals. These medals include the 1939-1945 Star, which is a Second World War medal. He also received the Pacific Star which is a campaign medal of the British Commonwealth. He was also rewarded a War Medal, which is given to any brother who served in the armed forces between 1939 to 1945. Lastly he received a Canadian Volunteer Service Medal with clasp which is given to a person any rank, who had voluntarily served on active service and honorably completed 18 months total service from September 3rd, 1939 to March 1st 1947. The clasp has a maple leaf at its center and was awarded to someone who served for 60 days service outside Canada.

Mr. Anthony Pastuck (Nick’s Father) was entitled to Nicholas’s medals. Nick’s memorial cross was presented to his mother Mrs. Dora Pastuck.

Nicholas Pastuck was a brave young man, who unfortunately passed away while a prisoner of war, after fighting so very proudly for his country.

By Matt Anderson