Remembrance Day 2015
Tom, Roger and George! All very Canadian names! And all very Canadian! (Why are these guys so COOL?)
The image of Bill McPhee, administration officer, Tom, George and Roger at the S-20 language School in Ambleside has a funny story behind it. The three had attended a CJOR Town meeting on the air in the King’s uniform, on the topic of “What about our Japanese Canadians?” When asked what race they were from, Tom said ‘Japanese race, sir!’ But he also went on to defend his comments in the New Canadian, which hit the News Herald the next day. The S-20 was a secret operation, and the three were reprimanded by the Colonel McKenzie. Since the war was over, it was not a security breach, but a political hot potato.
Tom Shoyama from Kamloops joined the UBC Students club in 1935, meeting the president Roger Obata from Prince Rupert. The Nisei intellectuals at the time were challenging the concept of the ‘Japanese problem’ in BC, and Tom helped Rigenda Sumida write his thesis “The Japanese in BC” in 1935. The Masters thesis analyzed the many problems facing Japanese Canadians in their quest for full citizenship. Out of this group of intellectuals and these discussions, the JC Citizen’s League was formed and sent a delegation to Ottawa for the franchise in 1936. Roger Obata was nominated to go, but he preferred to keep to his studies. Next, a newspaper The New Canadian – the Voice of the Second Generation was birthed in 1938, and Tom became the Voice in 1939. As the editor, Tom had much influence. He espoused democracy and civil liberties, he was adamant that Japanese Canadians be treated as equal citizens, and be given all opportunities afforded to other Canadians. In the same year, Britain & Canada declared war with Germany and the boys drafted a letter to McKenzie King pledging loyalty and offering to enlist. Nisei attempted to enlist but were turned away without even a medical.
Tom kept up the fight, calling the War Services Board, Minister of Justice, Registrar of Military Draft, all to no avail. In 1940, Assistant RCMP Commissioner FJ Mead stated that “the present situation in Vancouver being carried on by Alderman Halford Wilson is provocative and in times such as these, downright dangerous if it is allowed to go on unchecked.” And so the Cabinet War Committee struck a special committee to investigate the ‘Oriental problem’ in BC, specifically asking “Should Japanese and Chinese youths in BC be called up for military training?” On Jan 7, 1941, the Prime Minister entered the report into the records of the House of Commons, that “Canadians of Japanese race should not be given military training and should not be enlisted generally in the Armed Forces of Canada.” And that “both for purposes of civil security and in order to deprive persons hostile to the Japanese of a constant and effective ground for complaint, there should be a re-registration of the Japanese population in BC.” Tom recommended that the community cooperate with the RCMP in getting registered, in spite of bitter, angry feelings of yet again being discriminated against.
Meanwhile, in spite of being denied enlistment, Shigeo Elliot (Tony) Kato enlisted in Victoria, after two years of trying to get into the Forestry Corps, and being rejected once in Duncan. He became the first Nisei to enlist in BC in September 1941. He served in Scotland, was an instructor at the S-20 Japanese Language school in West Vancouver, then in the British Intelligence Corps as Warrant Officer assigned to the Far East, took part in the surrender in Singapore, served in Burma, Malaya, and Siam until discharge in 1946. Others had enlisted across Canada since 1939, but out of 33 enlisting in the Army, only three enlisted in BC before 1941, one of these men was discharged when it was discovered that he was Japanese, and the other due to medical reasons.
After Pearl Harbor was bombed, 49 Nisei who were active in the Canadian Officer Training Corps at UBC were struck off strength and ordered to turn in their uniforms. Cadet Hajime Kagetsu, president of the JC Student’s club was shocked. Shoyama wrote “the editor of this paper is ashamed of the institution which once commanded all his honour and respect.” In the 1941-42 academic year, there were 72 JC students enrolled at UBC, they too were encouraged to leave the university. And the New Canadian moved to Kaslo, as the Japanese Canadian community was forcibly broken up and spread across Canada.
By the end of 1944, about 7,500 had moved out of BC, 3,000 to southern Ontario. When JC arrived in Toronto, Roger Obata headed up the new JC Committee for Democracy, who’s top priority was enlistment, and second priority to stop deportation. Roger along with George Tanaka and Eiji Yatabe on the JCCD executive enlisted as soon as they were able, convinced they must do their part as Canadian citizens.
This year we are acknowledging the 70th year of the cessation of hostilities of WWII in August 1945 and at the same time acknowledging the determination of these men who went off to fight for Canada. The greatest number of Nisei enlisted in early 1945 after the Canadian Government succumbed to pressure by Australia and Britain for Canadians to do their bit in providing Intelligence for the War effort. They called for enlisting men who could read, speak, translate, and interrogate Japanese soldiers who had committed war crimes. George, Roger and Eiji Yatabe were in the group of 30 men destined for Australia on April 25, 1945. George’s mother Kane, represented the Issei, and spoke at the bon voyage, wishing the Nisei soldiers well and sympathizing with mothers who were sending sons off to fight a war with the Japan, the country of mothers’ birth. Tom enlisted in a later group, lobbying to represent Canada, not Britain as soldiers, which Canada finally agreed to. A total of 125 enlisted into the Pacific conflict, 50 serving overseas.
Tom, Roger and George were true voices of the second generation. After discharge in 1946, they continued to fight for democracy and the civil liberties. George Tanaka, executive secretary for NJCCA, fought for the War Measures Act to end, the franchise be given to JC in 1948, and served the community for 40 years until his tragic death in 1982. Roger Obata worked with the Bird Commission investigating property losses, was the National Chairman for the Centennial Celebrations in 1977 and was on the NAJC strategy committee in the fight for redress in 1988. Tom entered politics and contributed to National Health Care with Tommy Douglas, influenced the Liberal Government, and was ever present to support the grassroots JC organizations over the years.
This year at the Reception in the Pavilion, come and hear Susan Yatabe speak, daughter of Eiji Yatabe (S-20 Nisei Vet), neice of Min Yatabe (S-20 Nisei Vet), and granddaughter of Saburo Shinobu (assisted acquiring the 1931 Franchise for First World War Veterans).
Lest we forget!