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Chinese-Canadian Genealogy   Tags: chinese, genealogy, history  

Resources for Canadians of Chinese origin who wish to learn more about their personal connection to Chinese-Canadian history.
Last Updated: Jun 12, 2017 URL: http://guides.vpl.ca/ccg Print Guide RSS Updates

Military Records Print Page
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Military Records

Canadian military records are a very useful source of genealogical information, but in the case of Chinese-Canadians, relatively few records are available. This is due both to the small numbers of Chinese people compared to the overall population and in some cases to discrimination, which somtimes created obstacles for Chinese-Canadians who wanted to enlist.

Nonetheless, people of Chinese origin - both naturalized and born in Canada - volunteered to serve in both World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1944).

The The Memory Project is a nationwide bilingual project aimed at capturing the stories of Canada's participation in various conflicts. Veterans and their families can share their memories through oral interviews and digitized artefacts and memorabilia.

Chinese-Canadians in World War I (1914-1918)

At the beginning of the First World War in 1914, recruiting for the Canadian army was done on a voluntary basis. Despite the head tax and other forms of discrimination, people of Chinese origin - both naturalized and born in Canada - offered to serve in the War. In British Columbia, however, such recruits were refused, making it necessary for them to travel to other provinces in order to enlist.

By 1917 voluntary enlistment had proved insufficient to raise enough troops to meet Canada's contribution, and the Military Service Act of August 1917 brought in conscription. However, "Orientals" were not conscripted.

The number of Chinese-Canadian volunteers who served in the First World War is unknown, but it was very small. According to some sources about 300 served, but it has been suggested that this number is inflated. In any case, even 300 would be a tiny proportion of the total strength of the Canadian Expeditionary Force of 616, 636 officers and men.

James Morton, author of In the Sea of Sterile Mountains: The Chinese in British Columbia, was told by Victoria Cross winner General George Pearkes that a platoon comprising mainly Chinese-Canadians in the 52nd Battalion (New Ontario Battalion) fought at Ypres in 1917. However, it seems likely that Gen. Pearkes had mistakenly identified Japanese troops as "Chinese." Roy Ito's We Went to War: The Story of the Japanese Canadians Who Served During the First and Second World Wars (1984) lists several dozen Japanese volunteers of the 52nd Battalion (Appendix Three) and no names of apparent Chinese origin are listed on The 52nd (New Ontario) Battalion, CEF website.

Those of Chinese origin who are known to have volunteered included Frederick Lee and Wee Hong Louie (enlisted in Kamloops), William Thomas Louie (Calgary), Tung On Hong (Sudbury), and Victor Fong (Quebec).

A few Chinese nationals also ended up in Canada as a result of the war. The government of China declared war on Germany and Austria in 1917 and 50,000 coolie labourers were recruited into the Chinese Labour Corps, to work behind the lines in France. They crossed Canada in sealed railway cars, on their way to Europe, and were returned through Canada after the war ended. They were quarantined at William Head on Vancouver Island while awaiting their ship to Asia. In March 1919 rioting occurred and about 2000 broke out. Most were apprehended and returned, but an unknown number slipped away into Victoria's Chinatown.

For more information on the participation of Chinese-Canadians in World War I, see:


FINDING THE RECORDS

At Library and Archives Canada

  • Library and Archives Canada hold military personnel files from the First World War. Although some of the information is available online, it is also possible to apply for an individual's full personnel file. For full details see the First World War page.

Online

Although, as noted above, very few individuals of Chinese origin served in the First World War, a small number of individuals did volunteer, and in some cases, lost their lives. Information relating to these individuals is included in the following sources:

  • Soldiers of the First World War (1914-1918) (Library and Archives Canada)
    This database is derived from individual Attestation Papers and Enlistment Forms associated with those who volunteered for the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Those wishing to join up were questioned at the place of enlistment and Attestation Paper forms were completed accordingly. The database is searchable by name and regimental number. It provides links to digitized, printable images of the original Papers, which contain a great deal of useful information including: address, birthplace, name and address of next-of-kin, date of birth, and marital status.

  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission
    The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website includes a searchable electronic list of 1.7 million men and women who died during World War I and World War II, and the 23,000 cemeteries, memorials and other locations worldwide where they are commemorated. Details about each individual include name, nationality, rank, regiment, date of death, service number, grave/memorial reference, and cemetery.

  • The Books of Remembrance... First World War (Veterans Affairs Canada)
    First in a series of seven books containing the names, ranks and units of Canadians who fought in wars and died either during or after them. The books are kept in the Memorial Chamber at the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. This website provides access to digitized images of the books' pages. The Books of Remembrance... First World War is organized by year, so to locate an individual, it is necessary to know the year in which he or she died.

  • Honour Roll (The Chinese Canadian Military Museum)
    An Honour Roll listing the names of Chinese-Canadians who served in the two world wars and who died during or after the wars.

Chinese-Canadians in World War II (1939-1945)

The number of Chinese-Canadians who fought in the Second World War is difficult to estimate, but numbered in the hundreds.

Although Chinese-Canadians were usually able to voluntarily enlist in the Canadian Army in any of the provinces, they were barred (on racial grounds) from enlisting in the Royal Canadian Air Force until October 1942. They were similarly unable to join the Royal Canadian Navy until March 1943.

While the Canadian Army during World War II was initially comprised only of volunteers, the National Resources Mobilization Act of 1940 (NRMA) allowed the Canadian government to requisition the property and services of Canadians for home defence. This did not apply to Chinese Canadians.

In 1942, the NRMA was amended to permit the sending of conscripts overseas, in addition to regular volunteer forces. Again, Chinese Canadians were excluded from the call-up, although there were exceptions in a few cases where local mobilization boards were unaware of the ban on compulsory military service for Chinese, which had never been publicly announced.

In 1944, Ottawa received a request from the British War Office for Chinese Canadians to work for its Special Operations Executive in Southeast Asia and the Southwest Pacific. Because not enough Chinese had voluntarily enlisted to meet the need, Chinese Canadians were finally called up under the NRMA in 1944.

The active role played by Chinese-Canadians in the Second World War and their unique contribution in Southeast Asia and Southwest Pacific theatres is described in detail in The Dragon and the Maple Leaf: Chinese Canadians in World War II by Marjorie Wong.


FINDING THE RECORDS

At the Vancouver Public Library

The Dragon and the Maple Leaf: Chinese Canadians in World War II
Wong, Marjorie
940.5404 W87d

  • The Appendix (pp. 232-246) comprises a partial list of the names of Chinese Canadians who served with Canadian and Allies Forces during the Second World War.

At Library and Archives Canada

Military personnel files relating to individuals who served in World War II are held by Library and Archives Canada. The files include documentation about enlistment, discharge, military units served with, and may also include other documents concerning medical history, medals awarded, personal evaluation reports and dental charts.

Access to these files is restricted for privacy reasons. In the case of a person who is still living, files will only be released with the person's written consent. In the case of individuals who have been deceased for less than 20 years, limited information may be released to the immediate family. After 20 years, there are no restrictions.

Further details, including information on how to apply, is available on the How to Obtain Copies of Military Service Files page on Library and Archives Canada website.

Online

  • Honour Roll (The Chinese Canadian Military Museum)
    An Honour Roll listing the names of Chinese-Canadians who served in the two world wars and who died during or after the wars.

  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission
    The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website includes a searchable electronic list of 1.7 million men and women who died during World War I and World War II, and the 23,000 cemeteries, memorials and other locations worldwide where they are commemorated. Details about each individual include name, nationality, rank, regiment, date of death, service number, grave/memorial reference, and cemetery.

  • Historical Chinese-Language Materials in British Columbia
    The HCLMBC electronic inventory includes photographs and information relating to Chinese-Canadians in World War II from the Chinese Canadian Military Museum collection. Go to the Catalogue Search page and search by Holding Location, entering Chinese Canadian military museum as keywords.

  • The Books of Remembrance... The Second World War (Veterans Affairs Canada)
    Second in a series of seven books containing the names, ranks and units of Canadians who fought in wars and died either during or after them. The books are kept in the Memorial Chamber at the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. This website provides access to digitized images of the books' pages. The Seven Books of Remembrance - Second World War is organized by year, so to locate an individual, it is necessary to know the year in which he or she died.

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