The Recruitment of Chinese Canadians for Force 136, 1944-45

Chinese Canadian Soldiers who Served with the SEAC Awaiting Repatriation to Canada.jpg

Force 136 Canadians Awaiting Repatriation in November 1945. Credit: Sgt. Karen M. Hermiston / Library and Archives Canada / Canada. Dept. of National Defence fonds / PA-211880

In 1944-45, British officers recruited approximately 150 Chinese Canadian soldiers for “special duties” in the Pacific Theatre. They were particularly interested in men who were “young, fit, and willing to do work of an operational nature” (CDBS00681). The recruits were destined for Force 136, the “Far Eastern” branch of the Special Operations Executive. The logic was that Chinese Canadians’ backgrounds and language skills made them ideally suited to espionage, sabotage, and subversion operations behind enemy lines.

The records in this briefing book shed light on the interview, selection, and training of recruits from Army camps across Canada (Chilliwack, Wetaskiwin, Red Deer, Maple Creek, Shilo, Peterborough, and Barriefield) in 1944-45. The recruiters were Majors F.W. Kendall and H.J. Legg of the SOE, and Legg’s Canadian interpreters, Privates Q.Q. Mah and Harry Con (CDBS00689CDBS00534). The so-called “Kendall group” were the first to leave Canada after commando training. Australia was only supposed to be a transit stop en route to occupied China. But the Kendall group’s planned mission to train and support Chinese guerillas, Operation Oblivion, was cancelled in 1945.

The remainder of the Chinese Canadian recruits were sent to India, and a handful took part in operations in Southeast Asia before the end of the war. The documents provide glimpses of their lives and experiences overseas. They touch on soldiers’ marriages to Australians (CDBS00779), and their requests for Canadian beer, cigarettes, and sports equipment. They also sought and received familiar Chinese language publications from Victoria and Vancouver through the Royal Canadian Air Force in Bombay (CDBS00795 & CDBS00797). 

These soldiers did not have the right to vote or join certain professions in Canada but volunteered for extremely hazardous wartime service. Many of their enlistments were bound up in the pursuit of full citizenship rights. Others were personally invested in the war with Japan. One volunteer with an “intense desire…to fight the Japanese” had three orphaned younger siblings living under Japanese occupation in Hong Kong (CDBS00809).

Despite diseases, accidents, and combat wounds, all the Canadian Force 136 recruits survived the war.

The Recruitment of Chinese Canadians for Force 136, 1944-45