Cedric Mah

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Since Chinese-Canadians were denied the right to enlist with the RCAF at the outbreak of war, fliers like Cedric Mah - who went on to become one of Canada's pioneering bush pilots - become a flying instructor with the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. « View Transcript

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Ramona Mar (Interviewer)

Some children dream the loftiest of thoughts and others are lucky to see those dreams come true. Since he was a young boy of three in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Cedric Mah dreamed of being a pilot.

Cedric Mah (Interviewee)

One day there I heard this funny noise in the skies, so I went racing outside and I looked up and I seen this object in the sky. And I waved at it and I'll be darned if a hand with a white glove didn't come out and wave back. So I said some day I want to be in a thing like that up there.

Ramona

Today, Cedric Mah is one of Canada's living aviation heroes. He and his brother Al, both went on to adventures in the sky that are legendary. The 8th of 11 children, Cedric kept his focus on the skies and when war broke out, he made a bee-line to the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Cedric

Ah, at those times, be before that in 1940 I checked in with the Air Force. They weren't training any Oriental as pilots and I wanted to be a pilot. So it wasn't til July of 1942 did they lift that, but by that time I had my license so I wanted to fly, I didn't want to go back through the training again, eh. So that's how I wound up flying in the Air Training Programme.

Ramona

While Canada's Air Force wrangled with how to keep Chinese-Canadians OUT of its ranks, Cedric headed to California and Texas where, like his older brother, he got his flying credentials. When he returned, the only way he could slip into the cockpit of a Canadian plane was as an instructor, first in Winnipeg and then at the No. 2 Air Observer School in Edmonton. It wasn't until 1943, that Cedric was asked to use his skills in the war but NOT in a Canadian uniform. Preceded by his brother Al, Cedric signed up with CNAC, the China National Aviation Corporation, a division of Pan American Airways. Cedric was to be a "Humpty Dumpty", braving the most dangerous terrain to fly supplies over the infamous HUMP thru the Himalayan mountains from Burma to China.

Cedric, when you applied to Pan American Airways and then you were going to work for CNAC, did you know how dangerous the mission was going to be?

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Cedric

Yes, I did. (How did you know about that?) Because everybody was talking about that, about the flying the Himalayas, and about that time one of the pilots um had hit a sixteen thousand foot mountain and after a couple months he had finally walked out. And ah so we read it in the papers and everything else like that so we know the attrition rate for flying the Hump was similar as to the Eighth Air Force flying in daylight raids over Germany so ...

Ramona

Yet you were still willing to take on that kind of work?

Cedric

Well (why?) there was a war going on. Everybody was doing their bit so you had to do your bit.

Ramona

The flight from Assam, India, to Kunming, China, took pilots anywhere from 3-4 hours in their DC-3's. Cedric made 337 flights over the Hump, his brother Al, made 420. Among the supplies the brothers flew to the Chinese Nationalists were millions of dollars in Chinese cash, printed in America. One of those flights was particularly memorable.

Cedric

So towards the end of the war we had 22 planeloads of gold, DC3 planeloads of gold to fly over there, but we had good weather there. So about three weeks later I was flying a C-46 loaded with greenbacks and we had difficulty going over the higher route, this route you had to get up to about 22,000 feet to clear the mountains on that route. And we were cruising around 18,000 feet and we'd be icing up heavily so we tried to climb and ah before we hit 22,000 feet one engine had quit, the landing gear had fallen down and the wings were all iced up and that's when we had to throw 52 bales of greenbacks overboard of which we kept four, just in case we crashed into the mountain and could walk out, we could use it either to start a fire to keep warm or maybe we could buy our way out.

Ramona

So you dumped this load and no one has ever found it?

Cedric

No one has ever found it that we know of yet, but ah I guess in ten thousand years, when the glacier reaches the valley floor maybe it'll spill out at the end there.

Ramona

Needless to say, Cedric was investigated thoroughly after the incident. The happy ending is that pilot and crew landed safely. You might think that such brushes with death would send a pilot home at war's end, but Cedric opted to stay on in Asia, partly because some of his family members were stranded in China and he wanted to find them. After the Japanese surrendered, Ced found himself transporting supplies and personnel for the Chinese Nationalists as they battled the Communists.

Cedric, through all this, flying over the Hump, flying for the Nationalists, what were your own personal convictions about what was happening in China?

Cedric

Well, I think at that time you had to stay neutral because you could see all the excesses and corruption going on that um. You noticed that the Communists ah were saying that we'll run a better government, but you soon know that ah, once whoever gets in power, they will do what they want to do. So we kind of figured that eventually I would like to get back to Canada because my heart is in the open air and the fresh country; I'd like to go see the rest of Canada.

Ramona

Cedric would see more than his share of his beloved open and fresh Canada. He went on to become one of this country's most noted bush pilots, flying both in the arctic and the British Columbia coast. He has many harrowing adventures to tell of his post-war times and has received as many accolades and awards for them. However, it wasn't until 1997 that Al and Cedric Mah received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the highest American air award, for their services during the Second World War.

Today, Cedric Mah leads an active life in Edmonton, volunteering, writing and enjoying whizzing around in the cockpit of his car, complete with working aviation instruments saved from the war.

Ced, would you make the same choices if you could live your life all over again?

Cedric

Yes, I would, because who in their wildest dreams would imagine that they could do what they wanted to do and to do it their entire life until sixty-five?

My life's philosophy? Think what you want to do and do it.

Did you Know?

Cedric was a "Humpty Dumpty", braving the most dangerous terrain to fly supplies over the infamous HUMP thru the Himalayan mountains from Burma to China. Cedric made 337 flights over the Hump, his brother Al, made 420.

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Interviewee: Cedric Mah

Duration: 7:51

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