Mary Ko Bong

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Mary Ko Bong joined the Canadian Women's Army Corps and served as an instrument mechanic. « View Transcript

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Larry Wong (Interviewer)

Growing up in a devout Christian family in Victoria, Mary attended a segregated school for the Chinese. Her family was one of the few where all off the siblings joined the army, but plucky Mary was first in line. During the war, you had your brothers and you joining the army about the same time?

Mary Ko Bong (Interviewee)

Yes, I... yes, yes. Actually I joined, I... I registered before John did.

Larry

Oh you were the first then.

Mary

(laughs) Yeah. I think I gave the sales office his vote. Yeah I was, somebody let the cat out of the bag. I wasn't telling them 'til I was... was going, you know.

Larry

So you joined the army in Vancouver.

Mary

No, in Victoria.

Larry

Oh in Victoria.

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Mary

Yes.

Larry

I see. Okay. Did they readily accept you because you were Chinese?

Mary

Not until after the... what... don't know what they call it in those days, discrimination I guess. They... they weren't accepting any visible minorities up until '42 I guess... '43.

Larry

Okay and what trade did you learn in the army?

Mary

I learned to be a instrument mechanic.

Larry

And what exactly was that?

Mary

It dealt with optics and things like that so I was in the binoculars and compasses.

Larry

But you were trained elsewhere for that weren't you?

Mary

We... we trained in Hamilton at Barrie Field. We learned it from scratch sort of. We had to learn how... how to run a machine.

Larry

What kind of machines were they?

Mary

... And we had to learn how to run a lathe because we had to make, if there were screws and different parts missing that we were able to make that, we learned how to make them. Binoculars weren't so that difficult.

Larry

So that was a very specialized field then?

Mary

It was quite, yes, quite a specialized field. In fact, there were just only two groups that took the course. It lasted for about six months, and they had representatives from every province, so there were about 30 girls each time; but out of 30 I think in each group, there were about only five that graduated.

Larry

You mean there were only women in this particular field?

Mary

Yes in this, yes. There were boys there but they put the girls in I guess in two groups. So it was very ... what... intense? And if you didn't know anything about mechanics or tools or things like that, it was quite some difficult thing to swallow. So they dropped off and the few that graduated, and of course there were there were also these specialized people that... In each group that was strange that each group that had two that were masters, had got their masters in ... mathematics. So in our group we had two, and the first group had two, and they worked on the range finders, and that was their secret instrument.

Larry

So Mary, I understand you did entertainment in the Canadian army.

Mary

I had studied singing and dancing, so I had classical training in both areas, and jazz.

Larry

Did you have a large following of fans?

Mary

(laughs)) No, no, no. That was a little bit out of you know, the usual. So... but probably most of the time I sort of surprised them.

Did you Know?

Did you know that all of Mary's siblings' names reflected her family's Christian faith? Her siblings were all named after Apostles.

Copyright to Produce

Copyright / Permission to Reproduce

Interviewee: Mary Ko Bong

Duration: 4:51

Date modified: