George Shintani – fighting for acceptance
George Shintani, the son of Tazo Shintani (Miyazaki) and Sueno (nee Ayabe, Fukuoka), was born in Vancouver on December 8, 1925.
Interned with his family in Sandon, he left the Kootenay internment camp on his 18th birthday and headed to Toronto. While working at a Canadian Tire Store he was approached by an Army Captain and urged to enlist in the Canadian Army.
As George told the Nikkei Voice in a 2005 interview, “One of the questions the Recruiting Officer asked me was what my religion was, and I replied ‘Buddhist.’ He said ‘We can’t have Buddhists in our army; would you mind if I put you down as United?’ and I said ‘OK.’ I didn’t enlist in the army to fight for my religious rights.”
Following Japan’s surrender, George was sent to Southeast Asia. He served in parts of Malaysia and Siam but spent most of his time in Singapore where he was assigned to a War Crimes unit with Sgt. Frank Haley, interrogating prisoners accused of war crimes. Some of the notable cases involved the atrocities committed on the Burma-Siam railway.
On returning to Canada he was discharged on July 16, 1947.
As an interesting side note, George’s mother prayed that both he and her other son by her previous marriage, who was in the Japanese Army, would both return safely. Both did.
On joining the army
In 1944 I was working at Canadian Tire in Toronto and my manager said there was an army officer who wanted to speak to me. The officer asked if I would be willing to join the Canadian army because they needed soldiers who could speak Japanese. I said yes right away. My friend had already left for the army. At that time, my father and mom were still in the evacuation centre in Sandon, BC. I had left because I felt I could get a job in Toronto. I told my family that I had already enlisted and my dad was supportive of this decision. He said, “I am Japanese but you are Canadian and I understand.”
I joined because I felt it was a good way to prove I was loyal and a Canadian. I wanted to be accepted as a Canadian citizen.
In Singapore, when I was working in the war crimes unit, a Japanese prisoner who was a high ranking officer was allowed to go before a firing squad instead of going to the gallows, because it was considered to be more honourable for a soldier to die by firing squad. The prisoner was lined up against the prison wall and there were ten guys in the firing squad. For some reason, they all missed killing him, shooting him in the arm instead. The officer in charge was then supposed to shoot him. The officer pulled the trigger but nothing happened. He must have pulled the trigger about six times before it finally went off.
After we finished basic training in Brantford Ontario, they sent us to the Japanese Language School to improve our language skills. We were in school along with Caucasian people who also were also recruited to work in Intelligence. At the school, Judy LaMarsh was sitting in front of me. She had pigtails and I dipped one in the inkwell. She was very mad and chased me to the living quarters and I ran in the men’s shower room where she followed me right in. She shouted, “Shintani, I will get you!” Later on we became good friends and after the war we had her over for dinner at our home in Ottawa. (Judy LaMarsh, was a Canadian politician, lawyer, author and broadcaster. In 1963, she was only the second woman to ever serve as a federal Cabinet Minister and she was awarded the Order of Canada.)
On facing racism in the army
The Singapore swimming club was very posh and the British soldiers got to use it one day a week. One day I was sitting around the pool when I got a message that the hotel manager wanted to speak with me. He said that I could not use the pool because I was coloured and that set a bad example to the natives because they were not allowed to use the pool. I said, “Why not?” I was in the Canadian army attached to the British Army and defending them. He said I could stay for the day but I said no way and left. I went back on the city bus and reported this incident to my commanding officer and he was really upset but said there was not much he could do about it.
On serving in the Army
I enjoyed the Army because it proved I was a Canadian. I did not see active service but worked in intelligence as an interrogator.
On the importance of the cenotaph
It is very important to fix the cenotaph because it shows we fought in the Canadian army and it displays our loyalty to Canada.