Harden Lee was born in Vancouver on March 16, 1924. He was just a kid — barely in his 20s and working in his sister’s grocery store — when he responded to a letter from the Canadian Army asking him to report for duty.
Lee was first assigned to basic training in Chilliwack, B.C.. There he joined a number of other young Chinese-Canadian men who are getting ready to do a very special assignment:loaned to the British Army, dropped behind Japanese lines, and seek out and assist local resistance movements. In other words, become commando soldiers in Force 136 and be assigned to South East Asia.
It did not take long for Lee to realize he had signed up for a dangerous mission. Some said it would be a suicide mission given the ferocious reputation of the Japanese Army.
Many of the young Chinese Canadian men trained in Chilliwack were shipped to India. However, for some reason, Lee was selected to join a group already training in Australia. This original group, who were the first recruits of Force 136, were known as the Operation Oblivion men or the “Kendall men” (the name of the British Major who recruited them). Before Lee left for the continent “down under,” he and his fellow recruits spent a few glorious days in San Francisco where they captured some fun moments on a streetcar.
Lee took a ship across the Pacific and continued his intensive, commando-style training on Fraser Island, off the east coast of Australia. Part of that training focused on surviving in the jungle and living off of whatever plants, animals or insects they came across.
Lee’s daughter clearly remembers her father talking about experimenting with new food sources. “To be sure we could survive in the jungle without any support, he learned to eat raw grubs and other insects. They also gave my father a book on jungle plants so he knew what was edible … and what could make him sick or kill him.”
The many photos Lee’s family shared with our museum suggests he and his friends had a good time. Certainly there was lots of tough training, but also lighter moments playing tennis, going to the cinema, buying souvenirs, mugging for the camera, etc.
Sadly, Harden Lee left this world on May 26, 2002. Fortunately, for our museum, Lee never threw anything out. We thank Harden Lee’s family for loaning us photos and precious artifacts to help tell the Force 136 story.