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Daniel Lee

Daniel Lee, one of three brothers to join the war effort, worked as an aircraft mechanic and went on to a career of dedicated community service in Canada. « View Transcript

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Ramona Mar (Interviewer)

In many ways, Daniel Lee is the same energetic and determined 22- year-old who enlisted with the RCAF in 1942. Indeed, in his mid-eighties, Corporal Lee still fits into the uniform he was issued so many years ago. Being issued that uniform however, took plenty of drive on Dan's part. The son of a watchmaker and the 11th of 14 children, Dan was raised partly by his grandfather, the Reverend Chan Yu Tan, a pioneering Methodist missionary in British Columbia. Armed with a high school education and his grandfather's teachings, Dan tried to sign up for the air force in 1940, only to be turned down.

Daniel Lee (Interviewee)

I didn't know at that time. the reason why was because it was under the King's rules and regulations it's. that is from Britain that no Orientals and can, or coloured, can join the navy or the air force, but you can, you are able to join the army because we were classified as aliens at that time because of the 1923, the Chinese Immigration Act.


Undeterred by a regulation he didn't know about, Dan took the train to Toronto to enroll in an aircraft mechanics course at Central Technical. When he graduated in 1942, he went back to the recruiting office. By then, the RCAF was ready to accept Chinese-Canadians and Dan was finally in.


They post me to... Rockcliffe when they. when they started the 168 Heavy Transport Squadron. That was in... 1943. At that time, the. the allies shipping suffered a lot of... losses (clears throat) due to the U-boats. They were sinking our shipping, and the morale was. was falling over in Europe because there was no mail from home. So our squadron was quickly formed to counteract that.


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While his Squadron would deliver precious mail to Canadian troops, Dan's job was to look after the engines of the 168-Heavy Transport Squadron. He would do the same from Bigginhill, England from 1943 to the end of the war in Europe.


It's just, well, there was quite a lot of. a lot of work you have to do and. One thing we used to, when you get your hands so, so, so dirty when you're working, the only thing you can - clean the engines and everything. We have to use. gasoline. And lots of time, you know it's very hard on the hands because they don't give you any protective gear at all. And now when I'm older now I can find. I can, it come. the effects come after.


Back home in Canada, Dan joined everyone else in adjusting to a post-war world, but there were not enough jobs for air mechanics, and Dan turned to the family grocery business in Toronto, eventually marrying and raising a family. Since retiring to Vancouver, Dan has been a relentless community activist. As a member of Pacific Unit 280 of the Army Navy and Air Force, he represented his unit in Ottawa in 1994, when for the first time Chinese-Canadians were invited to participate in National Remembrance Day Services. He's also travelled to China and Holland, most recently attending the 60th Anniversary of the Liberation of Holland.


The people in Holland, is so grateful for what the Canadians did for them. So. and they treat the Canadians like they're one of their own. And in Holland you can see more Canadian flags shown than, than anywhere in Canada. And it gives you the some. in some way it hits your heart right away.

There was a Canadian war cemetery. There was a young lady. She said, "Oh, I say, oh you people keep all those graves so nice." She said, "They teach us at school when I was," she said, "When I was five years old, and... what the Canadians did for them.


As part of his commitment to community, Dan annually organizes the poppy campaign in Vancouver. It's not surprising he's a top-seller.

For his community efforts Dan has received many honours, but none higher than the Award of Merit from Dominion Command in 2004. It's a fitting tribute to the grandson who evidently learned his values and strong faith in community from his Methodist Church pioneer, Grandfather Chan.


To be a good citizen you got to start at home. Otherwise, a nation is just like a family. Everybody got to be happy at home otherwise the nation would be in trouble.

Did you Know?

Did you know that Daniel Lee, in his mid-eighties, is one of British Columbia's top sellers during the annual poppy campaign?

Copyright to Produce

Copyright / Permission to Reproduce

Interviewee: Daniel Lee

Duration: 6:41

Date modified: