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Victoria Chinese Canadian Veterans Association
Veteran fighters for Canada and Chinese Canadian Citizenship
Despite restrictions against their participation in the Canadian armed forces, Chinese Canadians volunteered to serve in both the First and Second World Wars. Service in the armed forces was associated with full citizenship rights, as Chinese Canadians hoped that by going to war, they could achieve the vote. These rights were not granted until after the Second World War, when Canada repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act and extended the vote to Chinese Canadians in 1947.
Chinese labour force at the William Head Quarantine Station, on the way to France, 28 March 1918 (Royal BC Museum, BC Archives, C-09581).
During the First World War (1914-1918), Chinese residents helped support the Canadian war effort by purchasing bonds and enlisting for service. However, British Columbia, the province of residence of most Chinese Canadians, did not accept volunteers of Chinese origin into the military, meaning that they had to sign up in other provinces. No clear figure exists for the number of Chinese Canadians who served in the First World War – some historians suggest that up to 300 individuals may have volunteered. After the northern government of China joined the First World War in 1917 in support of the Western allies, Chinese labourers were transported across Canada to the battlegrounds in Europe.
Eighty-four thousand members of the Chinese Labour Corps crossed Canada en route to France where they laid tracks for railways, repaired roads, loaded cargo, and cleaned up the battlefields. In 1919, when nearly fifty thousand of these workers travelled home, their railway carriages were sealed so that they would not escape and try to settle in Canada. While waiting to be shipped across the Pacific, the men were held at the quarantine station at William Head, southwest of Victoria. Shortly after the war, 515 naturalized and Canadian-born Chinese, in addition to 200 white British Columbians, petitioned for Chinese Canadians to have the right to vote. Nevertheless, the Dominion Elections Act of 1920 confirmed that Asians would not be granted the franchise in Canada at that time, while the Immigration Act of 1923 excluded further Chinese immigration to Canada.
These two photographs show army camps attended by Victor E. Wong. At the top is Camp Shilo, Manitoba, where Wong received basic training in the fall of 1944. The bottom photo shows a British camp in Poona, India in 1945 where Wong and others were trained for guerrilla warfare under Southeast Asia Command, headed by Lord Mountbatten (Photo courtesy of Victor Eric Wong).
The invasion of Manchuria by the Japanese in September 1931 prompted attempts by overseas Chinese to protect China from Japanese incursions. Chiang Kai-shek, head of the Nationalist Government, preferred to pacify the Chinese Communist Party to the south, before repelling the Japanese. The position of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA) in Victoria was that China should unite against the Japanese. Early in October 1931, the CCBA held a mass meeting and formed the Yuduoli Huaqiao Ju-Ri Jiuguohui, known in English as the Chinese National Salvation Bureau, which raised funds for the Chinese army and promoted a boycott of Japanese goods in Canada. By July 1937, Nationalists and Communists in China had united to fight the Japanese. Chinese Canadians purchased bonds in support of China, organized fund raising campaigns to purchase planes and ambulances, and lobbied the Canadian government to stop selling arms to Japan. In 1939, the CCBA organized the “One Bowl of Rice” campaign to raise funds for refugees.
Victor E. Wong in his army uniform before departing overseas from Vancouver, BC (Photo courtesy of Victor Eric Wong).
This photo shows Victor E. Wong’s Soldier’s Service and Paybook, issued to him in September 1944 (Image courtesy of Victor Eric Wong).
About 600 Chinese Canadians volunteered for the armed forces during the Second World War. At first, Chinese Canadians were not welcomed in certain branches of the armed forces, nor were they called up for active duty. As volunteering was associated with citizenship, some Chinese Canadians were hesitant about fighting for Canada without the vote, while others saw it as a means of achieving full citizenship. Politicians, such as BC Premier Duff Pattullo, were also wary of calling up Chinese residents because military service would give them a justification for the franchise, something the government was not ready to share with all Canadians. The National Resources Mobilization Act (NRMA) of 1940 enabled the federal government to call up Canadians, not including Chinese Canadians, for home defence. When the NRMA was amended in 1942, this allowed conscripts to be sent overseas and again Chinese Canadians were not asked to serve. They could enlist in the army but they were barred from joining the Royal Canadian Air Force until October 1942 and from the Royal Canadian Navy until March 1943. It was not until 1944, when the British War Office wanted Chinese Canadians to work in Special Operations in Southeast Asia and the Southwest Pacific, that the NRMA was amended to call up Chinese Canadians.
This photo of Victor E. Wong (left) and friend Poon Wong (right) was taken in an army hut in India in 1945 (Photo courtesy of Victor Eric Wong).
Willy Chong, Dake Yip, George Mar, and an unknown man, likely at the British camp in India (Photo courtesy of Victor Eric Wong).
This photo shows a group of Chinese Canadian soldiers specially selected for British Special Operations Executive, trained to carry out sabotage behind Japanese lines. This photo shows a group of Chinese Canadian soldiers in Australia in 1944. In the back row, from left to right, are Douglas Jung, Jim Shiu, Norm Wong, Hank Wong, Louey King. In the front row, left to right: John Bong, Ed Chow, Roy Chan, Wing Wong (in front), Norm Low, Roger Cheng, Tom Lock, Vincent Yeung, Ray Lowe (City of Victoria Archives, M00617).
This certificate, issued 6 June 1946, entitled Victor E. Wong to wear War Service Badge “General Service Class” when he returned from overseas (Image courtesy of Victor Eric Wong).
Eventually, Chinese Canadians served overseas in the Army, Navy, and Air Force. They were particularly in demand by the British War Office for their language skills and their perceived ability to blend in behind enemy lines in Japanese-controlled territory in China and Southeast Asia. Victor Eric Wong (interviewed here by Dr. Zhongping Chen), was trained in India for one of these covert operations. His group was about to undertake the dangerous mission of dropping into Burma by parachute to organize guerrilla warfare, when the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan and ended the war. Roy Chan, also born in Victoria, trained with other Chinese Canadian men at what is now Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park in BC in the summer of 1944 for a mission in China. When that mission was cancelled, Chan volunteered to be part of a five-man team of Chinese Canadians who parachuted behind enemy lines into Borneo. They recruited local tribesman to help liberate a Japanese prisoner of war camp.
Founding members of the Chinese Veterans’ Association on Pandora Street on 11 November 1967. From left to right: Harry Fong, Dick Lam, Harden Lee, Walter Der, Paul Chan, Victor E. Wong, Roy Chan, Ira Chan and Bill Lowe. John Yuen is missing from the photograph (Photo courtesy of Victor Eric Wong).
Victor Eric Wong’s military service medals, including the Burma Star (left), the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal (centre), and the India Service Medal (right) (Photo by Charles Yang, June 2011).
Following the service of Chinese Canadians on behalf of Canada and Britain during the Second World War, the Canadian Government started to make changes to discriminatory legislation. The Exclusion Act was repealed on 14 May 1947. Initially, however, immigration was limited in that only Chinese residents who were Canadian citizens could sponsor their wives or unmarried children under eighteen. Chinese Canadian veterans lobbied the government to have the same citizenship rights as other Canadians, such as the vote and the right to enter the professions. In 1947, Chinese Canadians received the federal franchise, and in 1949, the right to vote in provincial and municipal elections.
Veterans in the Remembrance Day Parade, 11 November 1972. Victor E. Wong is wearing a trench coat and sunglasses on the right (Photo courtesy of Victor Eric Wong).
When veterans returned to Canada, they challenged restrictions that Chinese Canadians had faced prior to the war. Gordon Quan and Andrew Wong grew up in Victoria and after serving in the Armed Forces, Quan became the mechanical foreman for the City of Victoria (previously, public works would not hire Chinese Canadians) and Wong successfully challenged the policy that Asians could not swim at the Crystal Pool. Douglas Jung, a veteran who was also born in Victoria, studied law at UBC and became a lawyer, a profession that was not previously open to Chinese Canadians. In 1957, Jung became the first Chinese Canadian elected as a Member of Parliament.
Born in Victoria in 1924, Douglas Jung volunteered for service during the Second World War and trained with the British Special Operations Executive to carry out secret operations behind Japanese lines. When Jung returned to Canada he studied law at UBC and became a lawyer. In 1957, he became the first Chinese-Canadian elected as a Member of Parliament. In recognition of his public service, Jung received the Order of British Columbia and the Order of Canada (Chinese Canadian Veterans’ Association, photo courtesy of Robert Amos).
Members of the Victoria Chinese Canadian Veterans Association at a reunion in 2005 (Victoria Chinese Canadian Veterans’ Association, photo courtesy of Robert Amos).
The Victoria Chinese Canadian Veterans Association was founded in 1967. Members of this association participate in Victoria Day parades and take part in Remembrance Day ceremonies. Veterans also give talks at schools so that children will understand the involvement of Chinese Canadians in the allied war effort and the role that servicemen and women played in achieving equal rights in Canada. More information about Chinese Canadians in the Armed Forces can be found in Marjorie Wong, The Dragon and the Maple Leaf: Chinese Canadians in World War II, the Chinese Canadian Military Museum Society website, (http://www.ccmms.ca/), and other sources listed below.
By Jenny Clayton
Amos, Robert and Kileasa Wong. Inside Chinatown: Ancient Culture in a New World. Victoria: TouchWood Editions, 2009.
“Chinese-Canadians in World War II (1939-1945).” Chinese-Canadian Genealogy, Vancouver Public Library. http://www.vpl.ca/ccg/WWII.html (accessed 13 February 2013).
Chinese Canadian Military Museum Society. http://www.ccmms.ca/ (accessed 25 February 2013).
“Chinese Canadian Veterans of WWII.” The Memory Project, by the Historica Dominion Institute.
http://www.thememoryproject.com/focus-on/7:chinese-canadian-veterans-of-... (accessed 5 March 2013).
“Heroes Remember – Canadian Chinese Veterans.” Veterans Affairs Canada. http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/collections/hr_cdnchinese (accessed 25 February 2013).
“In Memory of Roy S.T. Chan, M.M. (Canadian Army).”
http://www.metrotown.info/canada-victoria/obituaries-memories/roy-chan/i... (accessed 25 February 2013).
Lai, David Chuenyan. Chinese Community Leadership: Case Study of Victoria in Canada. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co., 2010.
Madokoro, Laura. “‘Slotting’ Chinese Families and Refugees, 1947-1967.” Canadian Historical Review 93, no. 1 (March 2012): 25-56.
Pope, Danielle. “Remember Us.” Monday Magazine, 2 November 2011 (updated 20 December 2011), http://www.mondaymag.com/news/135927658.html (accessed 25 February 2013).
Roy, Patricia. Triumph of Citizenship: The Japanese and Chinese in Canada, 1941-67. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2007.
Wickberg, Edgar, ed. From China to Canada: A History of the Chinese Communities in Canada (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1982).
Wong, Marjorie. The Dragon and the Maple Leaf: Chinese Canadians in World War II. London, Ontario: Pirie Publishing, 1994.
Lee, Carol F. “The Road to Enfranchisement: Chinese and Japanese in British Columbia.” BC Studies 30 (Summer 1976): 44-76.
Rowe, Allan. “‘The Mysterious Oriental Mind’: Ethnic Surveillance and the Chinese in Canada During the Great War.” Canadian Ethnic Studies 36 no. 1 (2004): 48-70.
Roy, Patricia E. “The Soldiers Canada Didn’t Want: Her Chinese and Japanese Citizens.” Canadian Historical Review 59 no. 3 (September 1978): 341-358.
Uechi, Jenny. “On Remembrance Day, Chinese Canadians recall struggle for citizenship and equality.” Vancouver Observer, 12 November 2012.
http://www.vancouverobserver.com/world/canada/remembrance-day-chinese-ca... (accessed 25 February 2013).
Walker, James W. St. G. “Race and Recruitment in World War I: Enlistment of Visible Minorities in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.” Canadian Historical Review 70, no. 1 (March 1989): 1-26.
Wong, Christina. “Unsung Heroes: Chinese Canadians in W.W. II.” Documentary video, 1998, 27 min.
Wong, Larry. “The Canadian Chinese Exclusion Act and the Veterans Who Overcame It.” Chinese America: History & Perspectives (1995): 219-221.