Alex Louie

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18 year old Alex Louie toiled in a BC pulp mill before he volunteered for active service and was trained in India to parachute behind enemy lines as part of British Army initiatives. « View Transcript

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Ramona Mar (Interviewer)

In the 1930's there were no dreams of a better life for Alex Louie. Alex was ensnared in 2 worlds. His teen years were spent unhappily in a BC pulp mill.

Alex Louie (Interviewee)

It's very bleak, I don't know I don't know how to describe it but the times were such a disappointment, you don't know your future; you don't know what's going to happen tomorrow ...

You can't dream, there's nothing you can do. You have no money, you have no education and if you do have education you can't find a job. A lot of people finish highn school, people finish university here, they can't get jobs, you know some of my friends you know. So, so we worked there until I got drafted into the army.

Ramona

Alex, what did you think when you received that draft notice to go to war?

Alex

When you're 18 you're still wet behind the ears you know so, We just follow, actually we just follow what the older people do. . I just found a herd, I was too young then to know much; I don't know about politics. ...

A lot of people think volunteer is just you volunteer to go in, but it wasn't. Volunteer, the word volunteer means that you could either go active which you, which they can send you anywhere, or you can stay as a home guard; you stay home. If you volunteer for active service, we get an emblem on our sleeve which shows with the word "G" in it and shows, and we don't want to wear the uniform without this. ...

... And we all felt the same way because if you're going to wear a uniform, you might as well let the people know, especially the white people. You've got to let them know that you know we're, hey we're gung-ho, we're in there, right?

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Ramona

How did you feel when you put on that uniform for the first time?

Alex

Oh I tell you it was uh, it was something that I just, wearing it is pretty hard to describe it. When you're being discriminated and then when you wear a uniform you've, I, and you felt equal. You felt, you know, you felt equal, hey nobody better than I am now anymore right?

Ramona

Alex was sent for basic training in Westaskwin, Alberta. By the time he'd finished, the Japanese occupation of SE Asia meant that Chinese-Canadian participation was actually being sought after . Alex found himself on a mission that took him to India. The goal was to go behind enemy lines in the Asian theatre with the British Force 136.

Alex

They needed people like us be able to, that were bilingual, uh and we can arrange for guerrillas. Our job is to either go by submarine or we got parachuted behind enemy line. We were trained to be demolition uh people and morse code, we're supposed to contact one another you know so that they'd know where we are. And we're supposed to while the British attack in the front we were, we were engaging with the guerillas. So so when the Japanese retreated, you know, they can't retreat because we got the guerilla under our under our instructions.

Ramona

The training time in India must have been one of intense anxiety and almost fear for you, and then at the same time you also had a good time because you were with your buddies!

Alex

I was anxious, oh no I was anxious, I was. Well actually you don't know any better; you go anyway, you go with the group right? But my 2 uncles parachuted when I went in there, and uh there were 2 good friend of mine, uh Poon Wong and Larry Wong and his brother Ted ...

... Anyway when I when I got in there, got into, the first person I meet was my good friend Poon; uh he died since. He says, "What are you doing here?" He said, quot;The war may not end for another 5 years". I said "Holy Mackerel, I didn't realize that". And then believe it or not then I went back, I start praying; I'm not a religious person. I'm not, I have no religion really, but I think people do pray I guess when they're in trouble or they think they're in trouble.

Ramona

So you never had to do any battle, you never had to parachute into enemy territory because the war ended before you were supposed to go?

Alex

I think we consider ourself either lucky or what whatever it was. Uh if they would have drafted, if we were Canadians and we were drafted earlier there'd be a lot of casualties; a lot of us wouldn't have come back. As a result as only a couple dozen, maybe two, three of dozens that went to the front; not that many of us.

Ramona

As it turned out, the war for Alex, was a bit of an equalizer. Back in post-war Vancouver, Alex would eventually become a successful restaurant nightclub operator, opening Chinatown's first smorgas board, a venture that would have been unthought of in his pulp mill days. A natural impresario, Alex regularly brought home acts from Los Angeles and Las Vegas to his Marco Polo Theatre Restaurant. The days of grinding poverty, discrimination and war are long behind him and for Alex Louie, life is ... rosy.

Alex

I just can't think of a better life now; I mean I'm I'm contented and see all my grandchildren grow up. I don't I don't think, I don't think any anybody's life can be more happy than my life now. I'm very very contented and happy here.

Did you Know?

Did you know that before the war Alex Louie never dared dream of life in Canada without poverty and racism?

Copyright to Produce

Copyright / Permission to Reproduce

Interviewee: Alex Louie

Duration: 6:16

Date modified: