Friday, November 7, 2014

Photohunt: A war hero and a private citizen


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Roger Kee Cheng
Born 16 May 1915
Captain RK Cheng Portrait.jpg
Service/branchRoyal Canadian Corps of Signals

Chan Kee Seng
born 1882 died 1976

My Ah Kung (Grand father Kee Seng) used to tell me about the war stories from the 1880’s. He told me that the Japanese used to have an army camp in Upper Lanang Road by Tai Kuon School not far from our house. It was probably five minutes walk. He recalled the time when the Allies landed soldiers from Kapit by parachute and the allies enlisted the locals and they swept aside the Japanese all the way down to Sibu. The leader of the Allied troops was an American Chinese Captain Fong. The Ibans called him Capitan Jina (Chinaman) The Allies used to strafe the local school by plane to scare the Japanese. He also told me when he and the clans in China had to fight the bandits attacking the village. He said we were landlords in China and very wealthy. He proudly said that our family had 2 big silos to store the grains. My Ah Kung and I shared a bed and he tells me his stories every night when we go to sleep. Mother put an end to that when she told him that I was still a school boy and needed my sleep!***Charles

I heard that he was Canadian Chinese Captain. He was big boy and with a bit of exaggeration he became a towering Chinaman and bigger than any white soldiers. He could be Canadian Chinese! Ah Kung said that in those days all persons of authority were Europeans and never a Chinese. The Chinese has to kow tow to Europeans. This Chinese captain commanded a company of white soldiers (about 100 soldiers to a Company). Ah Kung said whenever the Chinese captain gave orders to the white soldiers the white soldiers will stand to attention and give a big "da bag! (salute) and scream " yes captain sir!" That was why the locals were very impressed and the Ibans called him Capitan Jina! The Chinese would clap hands when they see the white soldiers take orders from this Chinaman! Fancy white people give a "da bag" to a china man! So this man must be very very powerful! I believed that from that time the Ibans started to give the Jina (Chinese) more respect! ****Joseph

Father's story: Ah Kung and others were surprised to hear from the Ibans of a Tuan Cina. Tuan, "Sir" was only meant for the white man. To the Iban: Cina, Chinese then were only farmers, and lowly coolies whom they encountered on the boats. So this Canadian Captain of Chinese origin was really a somebody being called a Tuan. So Ah Kung was so proud to be associated with the Sir. In jubilation, Ah Kung and his fellow villagers of Kwong Tung ba rushed to Tai Kuon School to welcome the arrival of their Canadian Chinaman Captain. They wanted to witness the triumphant victory of the Allies led by their own tall Cina captain over the shameful defeat of the short abominable bespectacled Japanese. The Chinese spat “Phui!!!” in disgust and shouted curses and “Bangsai go do a shit.” The onlookers including the Ibans cheered vigorously. There were peals or claps of thunder, but these didn’t come from the sky.  They came from ripple after ripple of applause as the Japanese surrendered their rifles, long swords, scabbards and short knives. The villagers sneered and jeered. They said they were told that a Japanese soldier never gave up his weapon, unless he admitted defeat, a Japanese soldier would rather die than surrender. Ah Kung and his friends were like blood hounds waiting to watch the Japanese commit Seppuku or hara-kiri. One couldn’t blame them for their jingoistic euphoria, after all these Japanese were men from hell. But these were cowards, they didn’t commit Seppuku to the disappointment of the spectators.  Instead they chose to become PoWs***Henry

The above three narration of the same event were by my three brothers told to them by my Grand Father Kee Seng or by my Father Hiu Fei. I don’t remember hearing this story. Either the older men felt it was fitting only for the boys to hear stories of world or the impact was greater on the boys. They idol worship this bigger than life Cina officer. Captain Fong was probably quite big, my husband is 5 ‘11”. He towers over many white men. Look at Yao Min who plays for NBA, we do have big China man. He is 7’5” or 2.26 meter and his weight is 296 lbs. or 134.3 kg. Capitan Jina Fong is either a Hakka or a Cantonese because it was mostly the Cantonese who went to Canada.***Ann

Ah Kung’s heros, the Chinese captains were documented, not a figment of Ah Kung’s imagination.  How his name became Fong is anyone’s guess. In New Zealand, when the early Chinese landed in the country, they gave their name to the clerk who registered it as their surname. A friend’s ancestor became Lawgun, Law means old, and very often the Chinese refered each other as old Mr. so and so as a sign or respect, and his surname name was Gun. The white man registered his name to be Lawgun and my friend is  Lawgun.

The Japanese gradually withdraw from Kapit down the river, the head-hunters continued to spread terror among the debilitated enemy. It was into this situation that 29-year-old Roger Cheng and four other Chinese-Canadians, Jimmy Shiu, Norman Lowe, Roy Chan and Lewis King, were flown in on August 6, 1945. Cheng was the first Chinese-Canadian to become an officer in the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals, a rare accomplishment in those days. He was an electrical engineering graduate from McGill University and spoke fluent Cantonese, making him a natural to head this team. Upon arrival, the group joined a small British team which was gathering information on the movements of the Japanese as well as about conditions in prison camps in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, where about 25,000 British prisoners of war were being held.

The day after the team landed, the Americans dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Although Japan surrendered, many isolated Japanese units refused to accept defeat and the war dragged on for months. The team's major accomplishment was assisting in transferring many emaciated prisoners to Australia before returning home themselves.

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