Secret Chinese soldiers

Giant monkeys in the jungle are what Ronald Lee remembers most about his Second World War "adventure" in Burma as part of a dangerous and secret British-led operation.

"They'd come and steal your food!" he says laughing. "We had to shoot them for meat, for food."

At 98, the dapper Vancouver-born resident with a gleaming smile says little about the hardships his unit of eight commandos faced far from their home on Canada's West Coast.

Greg Lee fills in parts of the story he heard as a teenager, the ones his father now chooses to bury.

"They weren't fed well because the British didn't treat them as first-class soldiers. Dad said it was like they forgot them."

Lee was in his early 20s when he tried to enlist in the army to fight for his country. He was shown the door.

"When I wanted to enter the army in Canada I was refused. At that time they did not take any Chinese-Canadians in the armed forces. We were second-class citizens. We were not allowed to go to university or take special training. We were only allowed to work in grocery stores, restaurants, things like that."

In 1944, Lee was accepted into Force 136, and many of its members from Canada were Chinese-Canadians recruited in British Columbia for deployment in Southeast Asia, including Burma, now called Myanmar, to support resistance fighters against the Japanese.

About 150 Chinese-Canadians were provided basic training in B.C.'s Okanagan region and then split into units of about eight members each. He is among four who are still alive.

"When we were down there training we never thought of coming back home because we knew once we went into Burma either we surrender or the Japanese would take us prisoner or we'd be dead," says Lee, who trained as a radio operator.

The story of that successful mission and Canada's racist policies is told in "Force 136: Chinese-Canadian Heroes," a mini-documentary available online on the Storyhive YouTube channel and on Telus Optik TV.

A photo of recruits who completed basic training in the Okanagan, including a bespectacled Lee, is featured prominently in his living room.

"We were told we wouldn't let them take us alive. If we were captured, we had to take our cyanide pills."

Everyone in his unit returned home after their mission ended in the summer of 1945 when Japan surrendered.

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