Victor Eric Wong was a member of Force 136, the Far East branch of the Special Operations Executive, during the Second World War. He conducted espionage and sabotage in Japanese-occupied Burma (now Myanmar). Listen and read Wong’s testimony of overcoming discrimination during enlistment and how he contributed to getting Chinese Canadians the franchise in 1947.
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(Courtesy of The Memory Project/Victor Eric Wong)
"“Why should you go when you’re not even a Canadian?” So we all decided in our town hall meetings that the best way to do is to go and sign up and go and come back and lobby for the franchise. This is exactly what we did."
At that time, I guess they treated us very well. I never felt segregated in a sense because all my friends are mostly occidentals, and I have a very special friend that was very close to me named Darryl Anderson, and we used to play in the park all the time, a bit of golf and play soccer and stuff like that, you know, and watch baseball games and so on. But I did feel some discrimination because my friend, Darryl, can go swimming at the Crystal Pool and I couldn’t go. And even in theatres, we were segregated going to the movies, we were sent upstairs, instead of being on the main ground level. And that’s the only, when I was young, that’s the only type of discrimination I felt.
Japan also entered the war by bombing Pearl Harbor on December the 7th 1941, I believe it is. And the war went on, and Japan soon occupied all of the British and occupied all their Asian territories. By 1944, they held all those territories, and the British wired Canada and says, where can we find Chinese people that can know English, and everything that is needed to help with the guerilla warfare? You know, where else, in Canada. As soon as we turn 18, they issued us a letter and says, “You’re recruited to join.” So they sent letters to about 8,000 maybe approximately letters to, to have us enlist. And it was compulsory. So we had town hall meetings. And we decided, they says, although we’re not Canadians and we’re not, we’re British subjects, there’s two factions. One wanted to go and one say, “Why should you go when you’re not even a Canadian?” So we all decided in our town hall meetings that the best way to do is to go and sign up and go and come back and lobby for the franchise. This is exactly what we did. And 99 percent of us joined general service, which means to go overseas. And if you hold defense of your, we were named Zombies. So a lot of the French Canadians in Canada were Zombies because they didn’t want to go overseas, but 99 percent of the Chinese, the Canadian Chinese said, okay, we’ll go and come back and get our franchise. Which we did.
I know a lot of the Victoria [British Columbia] people that joined, several had tried to join and were turn away. Especially when they wanted to be in the navy. The navy said that only occidental only. Exactly like the British follow, which was, they didn’t allow anybody other than whites to join the navy. And the air force was the same, they wouldn’t allow them to be pilots. But they can be gunners. And they don’t want too many to join either. And when everybody wanted to join the army, they just, as I said, Pattullo [Thomas Dufferin "Duff" Pattullo, 22nd Premier of British Columbia] told them you can’t volunteer. So as I said, only when Japan occupied all the territories over the Far East, then the British wanted us to join and in volume, like follow the French system in Europe, being what they call Force 136 espionage work and organized guerilla warfare. And this is exactly what the British wanted in the Far East. So we were actually loaned to the British. We were under Lord Mountbatten and we were known as an SOE, which is Special Operations Executive, or SEAC, which is Southeast Asia Combat.
We had a group of ten in different areas of training, same type of training with demolition. There’s communication, intelligence, language, engineer for showing how to build bridge. Also, to demolish them, the Japanese ones, and the purpose was to organize the guerilla warfare and we were to drop into a designated area in Burma with friendly people already known that we were to be dropped in that area.
For the Chinese Canadians, we want our people to know that we went to war and returned and won two wars, which is the war over the enemy, which is over Japan, Germany and Italy and freedom for Europe and for China, freedom, because Japan surrendered. We were quite happy about that. And then the second thing, the most important thing, is that we came back and we lobbied the government, and in 1946, when we got discharged, by the end of 1946, parliament passed the law saying that we can be a Canadian citizen, but it didn’t became official until January the 1st, 1947. Which I’m very proud of. And then who else would be more proud than David Lam, to thank us, the Lieutenant Governor of B.C., to thank us for what we did for him, so that he can also be Canadian, and he was so proud that Canada had this opportunity that the Chinese did for us.
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