When Gordon Quan signed up to put his life on the line in the Second World War, it was for a country that considered him a second-class citizen, without even the right to vote.
It didn’t stop the now-95 year old from volunteering to be a part of a dangerous commando unit known as Force 136, made up of 150 Canadians of Chinese descent, many from British Columbia, meant to train resistance fighters behind Japanese lines.
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“What we do is a suicide squad — that’s how we were trained, right? For that purpose,” Quan told Global News from Victoria on Wednesday.
Force 136 was a part of the British Special Operations Executive, which had conducted similar missions behind Nazi lines in continental Europe.
For this mission, recruiters wanted soldiers with an Asian background who could potentially pass for locals while deployed.
“I think they all lied to get in the Armed Forces, he could have been as young as 16 when he got in,” Quan’s son Richard said.
“They were told, ‘Oh yeah, if you join up and fight for the country, when you come back you might be able to vote, you might get citizenship’ … That was part of the selling point, but there was no guarantee, no guarantee at all.”
Quan was given extensive training, eventually becoming a demolitions expert. He shipped out and trained abroad, at one point contracting malaria.
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But just days before he was to drop behind enemy lines in Southeast Asia, world history intervened and the Japanese surrendered.
“They would go to England for training, then they would go to Burma, the life was I guess exciting for a young man, but at the same time I guess they didn’t know what was going to happen because they were being trained to be parachuted behind enemy lines,” Richard said.
“Luckily the war ended, so he was never parachuted out, because I don’t know if they had an exit strategy.”
On Remembrance Day, now one of the last living members of Force 136, Quan said he is always reminded of how fortunate he was to make it home.
“Look at life, how lucky we are (to) come back alive, than the ones that didn’t come back alive,” he said.
“Looking back … if it wasn’t that they dropped that A-bomb, I don’t think we’d be here today.”
Despite their contribution to the war effort, it would still be two years before Chinese-Canadians were recognized with the right to vote and Canada stopped banning Chinese immigrants.
“They used that situation to ask for more rights,” Quan said. “They were able to come back and be recognized as Canadian in 1947.”
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