Frederick Lee, killed in action, 21 Aug 1917
His name is etched at the Vimy Ridge Memorial for fallen Canadian soldiers. But records show him on a list of 1877 dead soldiers from the Battle of Hill 70, located 15 kilometres away. This was a “forgotten battle” of WW1, the Great War that saw millions perish, in terrible conditions. One established empire at battle with an emerging empire somehow inspired men from all
corners of the world to fight it out in this relatively tiny area of Europe. New automated guns, new artillery and new chemicals effectively killed some 17 million people here.
One hundred years later, the Great War is better known as World War 1. It is recorded in history books now … and of course, in Wikipedia. Horrible, tragic, senseless, terrible. It all happened. It’s over. Move on. Don’t talk about it. Your great grandfather who survived didn’t want to talkabout it. Why should we?
But he was Chinese?
But this Frederick Lee name, etched beside Anglophone Lees who also perished, has recorded next of kin with Chinese names. If this dead soldier named Frederick Lee was Chinese, how did he end up here. He has no grave. His body never found. And until now, forgotten.
A forgotten soldier of the forgotten Battle of Hill 70
By WW1 accounts, only 1877 British Empire soldiers dying at Hill 70 – all Canadians, would not make headline news. It was a first battle commanded by a Canadian General, Arthur Currie. And it was a tremendous victory that impaired 5 German Divisions, killing some 20,000 to 40,000 enemy in 5 days. The Canadians took Hill 70, and never relinquished it. But the British ran the press back then, and the brilliance and significance of that victory was not heralded. Some say it was forgotten.
The French knew its significance and set aside the site for Canada. Bodies remain buried there, and continue to be found when excavations occur. Last month, the remains of another soldier in Canadian uniform was found. Could this be the lost Frederick Lee?
We had studied his attestation paper. Next of kin, a brother in Chase BC. Parents with Chinese names. He’s a farmer from Kamloops. He’s young. Only 21 years old. A volunteer. That’s all. No photo. A young man from Kamloops British Columbia who travelled all the way to France where he met his demise. This journey of one man’s life … how did it happen? Why did it
Why would an ethnic Chinese volunteer to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force, when the Canadian governments of that time, were enacting laws that racially segregated the Chinese from regular Canadian life?
To learn about this man who died at Hill 70, we go to where he was born, in Kamloops BC. And a fascinating story of Canadian history began to unfold.
Copyright Jack Gin 2018