Robert W. J. Lee

Robert Wah Jew Lee (K.7836) was born February 10, 1923. Born into a large family, he was the sixth of eight children born to Woo Sze and Lee Hock Chow in Victoria, B. C.

Not long after his birth, the family moved to Vancouver. And that’s where Lee tried to enlist in the Army once the Second World War broke out. It also happened to be the city in which most Chinese Canadians were initially rejected for military service and told they would never be called up because of their race.

Robert Lee in Maple Creek, Alberta

Robert Lee in basic training at Maple Creek, Alberta

We are not sure what Lee did while he waited around, but by 1943/44, British Intelligence started to recruit Chinese Canadians to do a special, dangerous assignment in Southeast Asia. Robert was one of almost 150 men who were secretly seconded to British Intelligence and trained in commando warfare and jungle survival.

Robert WJ Lee

Robert WJ Lee

Lee became a member of Force 136, a group whose mission was to be dropped in behind Japanese lines to find and train local resistance fighters. From there, Force 136 men were to assist the guerrilla fighters and help with sabotage of Japanese equipment and supplies, and espionage. They were essentially considered special ops agents for British Intelligence.

Robert WJ Lee in India, 1945

Robert WJ Lee in India, 1945

Fortunately for Lee, Japan surrendered before he was to be sent into the jungle on an operation. Lee along with many other Force 136 men, were put on a ship and sent the long way home – first to England and then on to Halifax, and finally on a train bound for Vancouver.

Force 136 men in England awaiting repatriation to Canada

Force 136 men in England awaiting repatriation to Canada. Robert Lee is first row, second from the left.

Safely back home, Lee worked as a garment cutter for Drapeshire Clothes Ltd, a Vancouver-based company.

He fell in love Margaret Jean Gee, who was also a veteran and who eventually became the first Chinese Canadian female lawyer in British Columbia. They never married but lived together, something highly unusual … even scandalous … at that time. They were a fashionable couple; dressed in the best and latest styles and smoking cigarettes in long, elegant holders.

Like many veterans, Lee never discussed his war service or special training with his family. But several photos show a young man with a serious face who wore his uniform proudly.

Robert passed away just before Christmas — December 20, 1992.  Margaret died a few years later, in July 1995.