Chinese people have faced a long history of intense discrimination, racism, and hatred in Canada. Despite this, Chinese Canadians played a vital role in Canada’s war effort during the Second World War. Chinese communities held massive fund-raising events to purchase war bonds – purchasing some ten million dollars worth of Victory Bonds – and many tried to enlist to fight. Chinese applicants were denied on basis of ethnicity until as late as 1943. Many politicians, including then Prime Minister Mackenzie King, feared giving Chinese Canadians the opportunity to serve would lead to Chinese Canadians gaining the franchise (right to vote). However, the losses suffered by Canadian forces would eventually pressure the military to reduce or eliminate discriminatory enlistment practices against minority groups.
William Lore, having been denied thrice already, was among the first to enlist when he became eligible. In January 1943, five months before the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) officially allowed racialized soldiers, Vice Admiral Percy Nelles, the RCN Chief of Staff, personally requested that Lore be accepted by the RCN. Lore became the first officer of Chinese descent to serve in any of the Royal Navies of the British Commonwealth.
A second-generation Chinese Canadian, Lore was born February 28, 1909, in Victoria, BC. Due to his heritage, Lore was denied rights and opportunities enjoyed by other Canadians. His admittance to McGill university to study engineering broke major racial barriers of the time. Unfortunately, Lore was unable to finish the program due to financial reasons once the Great Depression struck. He returned to BC and worked for a Chinese Newspaper in Vancouver. The Department of Transport hired Lore as a wireless operator in 1939, making him the first Chinese Canadian to enter the civil service.
In June 1943, following graduation from the officer’s training course, Lore was posted to the Operational Intelligence Centre at the Canadian Naval Services in Ottawa. He would be transferred to England to work with the Combined Services Radio Intelligence Unit in 1944. His experience working as a wireless operator, plus his fluency in Cantonese and expertise in intelligence made Lore a key asset for the Allied Forces. Lore was assigned to the South East Asia Command under Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten and served in a top-secret jungle camp in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), where he helped plan major sea and air attacks on Japanese held territories in the region.
Following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 and the Soviet invasion of Manchuria (i.e., current day northeast China), the Japanese government engaged in negotiations for an official surrender. Lore was stationed with the British fleet under Rear Admiral Sir Cecil Harcourt which sailed into Hong Kong Harbour on August 30. In recognition of the extraordinary service of Canadian soldiers in defending Hong Kong against overwhelming odds during the Battle of Hong Kong, Harcourt chose Lore as the first Allied officer to step ashore. Leading a part of Royal Marines, Lore liberated Canadian, British and Hong Kongese prisoners held at the infamous Sham Shui Po prisoner of war camp. Lore recalled the experience years later:
“I went into the first building I came to, and it was very dark. There were about 40 men in there, Canadians, sitting at tables and so forth. I said, ‘Hi you guys, don’t you want to see a Canadian?’
Then they ran forward and saw my cap badge. Those men were really skeletons. You could see their bones through the skin.”
Lore remained on loan with the RN until 1946. During the Korean War, Lore’s service would see him return to Hong Kong, where he worked in intelligence. In 1957, Lore settled in Hong Kong, working as an insurance agent. At the age of 51, Lore earned a law degree from Oxford University and established his practice in Hong Kong in 1962. William Lore passed in September 2012, in Hong Kong, at the age of 103.
Additional Information & Further Reading:
The Louie Brothers – Two Chinese Canadian brothers who served in WW1, despite being exempt from conscription at the time due to racist governmental policies.
Peggy Lee – A Chinese Canadian women who served in an all-Chinese St John’s Ambulance Corps unit during the Second World War.
Main photo: A portrait of William Lore. (Credit: Chinese Canadian Military Museum Society)
Butts, Edward. 2019. “William Lore.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Accessed July 2023. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/william-lore.
Government of Canada. 2023. “Chinese Canadian sailor liberated POWs in Hong Kong.” The Maple Leaf. Accessed July 2023. https://www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/maple-leaf/rcn/2023/07/chinese-canadian-sailor-liberated-pows-in-hong-kong.html.