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Force 136 goes to London and takes some holiday snaps – a pictorial story of WWII

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]

Definitions

  • “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.

Dick in London Mar 1945 VE00754A
“Corner of Cavendish and Wimpole. London England. Across the street from where we stayed. March 1945. Leonard Lee, Dake Yip, Bud Quon.” Photo of Dick Wing Yip (standing), Leonard Lee (kneeling, left) and Bud Quon (kneeling right). London, UK. Mar 1945. © 2019. Past Presence. All rights reserved.
Dick in London Mar 1945 VE00750A
“Trafalgar Square. London England. March 1945” Photo of Dick Wing Yip at Trafalgar Square with the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields seen in the left background. London, UK, Mar 1945. © 2019. Past Presence. All rights reserved.
Dick in London Mar 1945 VE00752A
“The four musketeers! Don’t we look sharp in our G.I. zoot-cut? London. March 1945” [Photo is stamped “Unit Censor T89] Photo of Bud Quon, Willie Chong, Herbie Lim, and Dick Yip at Trafalgar Square, London, UK. Mar 1945. © 2019. Past Presence. All rights reserved.
Dick in London Mar 1945 VE00748A
“Trafalgar Square. London England. March 1945” Photo of Dick Wing Yip in front of one of the four bronze lions sculpted by Edward Landseer, which mark the four corners around Nelson’s Column, Trafalgar Square, London UK. Mar 1945. © 2019. Past Presence. All rights reserved.

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.

Dick in London Mar 1945 VE00746A
“On the move again! Just before we left London. Cor. Wimpole and Cavendish Street. Marybrough District. Near Regent Park, City Centre.” [Photo is stamped “Unit Censor T89] Pictured from top left are Dick Yip, Willie Chong, Herbie Lim, (front row from left) Leonard Lee, Bud Quon. Marylebone, West London, UK. Mar 1945. © 2019. Past Presence. All rights reserved.

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.]

Postscript

Dick identified “Bun 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?

Updates

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.

Resources

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.

14 thoughts on “Force 136 goes to London and takes some holiday snaps – a pictorial story of WWII

  1. Please consider black and white for your compositions… The grey on white is harder to read for my aging 75+ eyes. Especially when read it on my small screen cellphone. Thanks. // Gord Hines

    1. Gord – I will. It might require a total site redesign but I will check into it. Thanks for asking.

  2. Linda Yip… Thank you for a wonderful article. And for the supplementary info on other online resources.

    1. No, thank YOU, VAl. I feel this post would have been much the lesser without your contribution. I can’t wait to post the Big Reveal!

  3. Interesting reading! My dad, his two brothers, and their brother-in-law all served the American armed forces during WWII. I remember seeing old home movies of men marching off wearing the same sort of cuffed, calf-length trousers.
    Tell me, what is the reference K. and four numbers? Is that a military notation? (You know, if I see it, I have to have an explanation!)

    1. Well! Your question is an excellent one, and I’m not sure I have the right answer. It appears that the letter K in these instances stands for the BC Regiment (although the numbers don’t correspond). My guess is that the anomaly has to do with the status of the Chinese in Canada in 1945 – they were not considered citizens, yet were fighting for Canada. I found a site with the military letters: http://laughton.ca/military/second-world-war-wwii/wwii-service-numbers/.

  4. By the way, as the same photo is doing the rounds of various sites to do with these men (including your uncle) I’d assume that the photo was sent to all their families. So… maybe you could track down more that way?

    1. At some future point, it’s in my mind to do a blog post on the names of Force 136. I have a growing collection of information about the Force generally, but far less about its members. The Chinese Canadian Military Museum has been a good resource with its 64 profiles, Dick among them. I think what I’d like to do is research into the gaps. How many were there? Whose profiles are scant or missing? The answers might be in the records at Kew. We shall see!

      1. Sounds good. Let’s hope that there’s nothing that is still relevant to anyone these days to do with their missions. My mind boggles at what could come out about what they did or had to do.

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