In March, 1945, a group of Chinese men travelled to London, England. It was the penultimate stop on their way to Poona, India. They had enlisted in the top-secret South East Asia Command (SEAC), known in India as “Force 136,” and had completed basic training at Shilo, Manitoba. From Manitoba they boarded trains for the eastern seaboard, to be shipped east.
In London they stopped along the way to take a few pictures.
In this post, I’d like to share with you a couple of days in the life of five men, among them my uncle Dick Yip.
Who were they?
From Marjorie Wong’s book The dragon and the maple leaf, we can find these men as:
- Pte. Dake Wing “Dick” Yip, K. 7853, RCA/CIC, India
- Pte. Willie Chong, K. 7722, CIC, India
- [updated July 2, 2019] LCdr [formerly Spr] Herbie T.A. Lim, K. 7487, RCE India
- Pte. Leonard Richard Lee, K. 7916, CIC India
- Bud Quon [unknown]
- “CIC” = Canadian Infantry Corps
- “RCA” = Royal Canadian Artillery
- “RCE” = Royal Canadian Engineers
What was Force 136?
If you don’t know the story of Force 136, you may wish to check out my post The James Bonds of Chinatown: meet Force 136.
What was going on in these photos?
No genealogical puzzle is solved by one person working by herself. Before I go any further, I want to thank Val Erde for her insights. Let me share with you here what I learned from her.
In these photos, Dick, Willie, Herbie, Bud, and Leonard are seen on Wimpole Street, at Trafalgar Square, and on Cavendish Street. In the first 4 photos, they are in their dress uniforms, while in the 5th photo, they are wearing their full military gear. My guess is that the first 4 were taken on one day, while the 5th was taken on another.
In reviewing the photos, Val pointed out that Trafalgar Square, where you can see the lions at the base of Nelson’s column, and the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, is “… at the end of the street known as Whitehall in which is the building which in your uncle’s military days was the old War Office building. So, it’s likely that they went to the War Office first for briefing, then wandered off to sightsee before setting off.”
The photo inscriptions
Dick treasured his time in London. He took the time to inscribe each of these photos. See his captions below.
The men get ready to go
In this photo we see Dick, Willie, Herbie, Leonard and Bud wearing all their gear and posing for a photo near their billet. Dick wrote, “On the move again,” and so I will guess this was the last photo taken in London. Their next stop would be Poona (Puna), India.
Next week – a big surprise
I love the last picture. The five stand right in the street, with a couple of soldiers walking by, looking on. They are so young, handsome and brave. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be there, snapping the shutter? Well, I have a suprise for you. I’m delighted to tell you that Val Erde of Colouring the Past has chosen this shot to colour, and her work is incredible. It literally brought tears to my eyes. Visit next week when we have the big reveal. [Edit: here’s the link.]
Dick identified “Bud Quon” in his photos. There are 8 possible Quan/Quon names in Marjorie’s book. Is this Sgm Chong Loy Quan, Pte. Juy Kong Quan, Pte. Robert Allen Quan, Albert Quon, Lt./Cpl. Diamond Quon, Herbert Quon, Lyman Quon or someone else? Do you know?
[Updated 27 Apr 2020] – Thank you to reader C. Lee, who kindly went through her family photos to rule out the possibilities of both Pte. Robert Allen Quan and Lt./Cpl. Diamond Quon.
I’ve had a flood of new information this past weekend – thanks to everyone for your contributions. I have updated Herbie Lim’s rank to LCdr.
Since posting The James Bonds of Chinatown, I have been immersed in conversations with many people with connections to the Chinese Canadians in WWII and Force 136. It’s been a wonderful time of learning. By no means is the below an exhaustive list of the sites and people I’ve connected with in the past few months, but special mention must be made of:
Behind the lines – SOE and the clandestine war. Facebook closed group.
Clement, Catherine. (2019, Jun) Personal communications with Catherine Clement, currently the curator of Chinatown through a wide lens: the lost photos of Yucho Chow, and formerly curator of the Chinese Canadian Military Museum.
Canadian military photos lost and found. Facebook public group, available here.
Erde, Val. (ongoing) Personal communications with Val. She is a hugely talented artist based in England who brings old photos to fresh new life. She’s also a fantastic researcher. Check out her site Colouring the Past.
Stevens, Colin. (Oct 2018 to present) Personal communications with Colin Stevens. He is an absolute font of knowledge and runs a private military museum. See his website Captain Stevens.
Wong, China Blue. (2019, Jan) Personal communications with the daughter of Gordon Patrick Wong, Force 136 veteran. Catch her site China Blue Art.
Wong, Marjorie. The dragon and the maple leaf: Chinese Canadians in World War II. (1994) Toronto, ON: Pirie Publishing.
Wong, Todd. (2019, Jan) Personal communications with the grand-nephew of Leonard Lee, who is mentioned in this piece. Todd is also related to Victor Wong, another F136 vet. Catch Todd’s site GungHaggis.
Wong, Valerie. (2019, Jan) Personal communications with the daughter of Ted Wong, Force 136 veteran.
Yee, Gerry (Jan 2019 to present) Personal communications with the nephew of Robert W.J. Lee, Force 136 veteran.
Yip, Yvette and familly. (ongoing) Personal communications.