Chinese World War I soldier to be honoured in France and Kamloops

By Vanessa Ybarra
June 22, 2017 - 6:30pm

KAMLOOPS — More than 200 Chinese soldiers were part of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces in World War I and they weren't even Canadian citizens.

One of those soldiers has remained relatively anonymous until now.

Kamloops resident Frederick Lee was only 20 years old when he signed up to fight for Canada in World War I.

He didn't have the right to vote, but it wasn't enough to stop the young man from going to battle.

100 years later Lee's bravery is finally being recognized at the Battle of Hill 70 Memorial site in France, as well as here in Kamloops.

A gazebo is planned to be built at the Kamloops Chinese Cemetary in memory of Kamloops Resident Frederick Lee.

The Chinese man's life and legacy is one that until a few months ago remained largely unknown.

"I was shocked that a young Chinese boy, born to Chinese parents in Kamloops, would volunteer in the first world war" said Jack Gin, Spokesperson for the Hill 70 Memorial.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Hill 70 where Canadian troops overtook the hill from the Germans within hours.

"The Canadians took it with ingenuity in mind," said Gin. "They had McGill engineers plan the attack."

A monument honouring the approximetly nine-thousand soldiers who lost their lives in the battle is set to be unveiled at the site in France.

It was while undergoing research for the monument that volunteers discovered a Chinese man from Kamloops was among those who fought in the 1917 battle.

"The First World War, that was a long time ago, at a time when if you were Chinese you weren't considered a citizen, and you certainly weren't allowed to vote," said Gin."

Still, the then 20 year old signed on to represent Canada.

"I'm of Chinese heritage myself," said Gin. "At the time when Frederick Lee was born, he was born here and if someone were to ask him what country he identified with, it would've been Canada. Why would he have said anything else? So when young men were called to war I believe he was like any other Canadian kid, and he might've followed his buddies."

Lee died during the Battle of Hill 70 at the age of 21.

While his name has been on display at the Kamloops cenotaph for years, Dr. Dali Li says it's important to have an individual monument as a reminder of the Chinese role in World War I.

"It symbolized the contribution that our ancestors made in the past. Besides the railway, we also know there are Chinese Canadians who fought in the wars to help the allied forces," said Dr.Li "We really appreciate Jack's effort in discovery this history in Kamloops. It means a lot to the local Chinese community."

Along with the Kamloops gazebo, a memorial walk at the Battle of Hill 70 is being named in honour of Lee.

Still, even after exhaustive research, little remains known of the Kamloops man.

The hope is the future memorial site will trigger memories and hopefully answer more questions. 

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