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Courage and Service

Diana Giese

Australian Chinese Ex-Services National Reunion, Sydney, 1999

Jack Goon (third from left) from 1940 served in the Army Signal Corps, the RAAF in Melbourne and Sydney, the Dutch East Indies and Borneo and, from 1946, with the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces in Japan. On return to Australia, he worked as an Intelligence lieutenant specialising in Asian affairs. His mates are Indonesian, seconded to the RAAF in 1941-42.
(Courtesy Jack Goon)

George Fong, an engineering student at Melbourne University and a talented jazz musician, joined the RAAF in 1942. He was mustered as an airman pilot, commissioned in 1943, and sent to Britain. He was transferred to the Middle East in 1944, and his plane was lost at sea out of Palestine in 1945.
(Courtesy Peter Liefman)

Eunice Leong (top left) worked from 1940 as a wireless operator for the Army in Melbourne, Sydney and Alice Springs, and as a signals instructor at Bonegilla. Her sister Valda worked as a radar plotter with the WAAAF, and her brother Max went with the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces to Japan after the War. Their family, the Chinns, were active in raising money for the War effort, including War in China.
(Courtesy Eunice Leong)

 

The Courage and Service project built on the communal memory of those who, in February 1997, formed the Australian Chinese Ex-Services National Reunion, under the Foundation Presidency of Bo Liu. Material was collected and interviews conducted in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Darwin, Perth, Cairns, Townsville, Ingham, Innisfail and Atherton. Diana Giese co-ordinated the project, which led to a book, an exhibition and an archive, supported by Kaylene Poon in Western Australia, Warren Lee Long in north Queensland and Chinese Australian communities country-wide.
 

Courage and Service, extracts

‘19 February 1942
In Darwin, the unthinkable was happening. Nearly 200 Japanese planes had taken off from aircraft carriers in the Timor Sea and land bases further north.  Riley Yuen Wing was a boy of sixteen in his family’s garden, opposite the civil aerodrome at Parap.  He watched the  planes arrive. "They bombed the Wharf, they bombed the RAAF Base, and then they came across and we saw the oil smoke from the tankers in the Harbour…The whole Harbour was on fire"… RAAF personnel lived just opposite his home, and "there must also have been huts with explosives stored in them, because they came over and put the bombs right on those…It was like Chinese New Year."

Tom Cheong
Thomas Cheong with RAAF medals.

Although he had suffered Japanese bombing in China, Ray Chin, by then working in his grandfather’s shop in Darwin, was unprepared for the scale of this raid. "It gave me the shock of my life. Everybody stopped breakfast and started crawling into the slit trenches." He watched from a tree behind the Church of England until the bombs "got a bit close, and the shrapnel hit me, so I had to crawl into a hole. I saw them hit the Neptuna in the Harbour alongside the Wharf, loaded with ammunition and mines. Sergeant McNab, the policeman, was wheeling his pushbike around warning everybody: 'Get out of town—the ships are going to explode any time.' By the time I got to the middle of town, the ship did explode. It was like little matchsticks."

Tom Cheong was at his job in the Public Works Department, less than a kilometre away from the Wharf and some huge oil tanks. He heard the sirens and ran out. At first he thought the planes overhead were the Americans returning—then they saw the bombs falling.  Mr Cheong took shelter in a stormwater canal with another man.  When shrapnel from one of the oil tankers burning in the Harbour started to land nearby, he fled… 

Courage and Service
Herbert Wong and his brother Choo Wong.

Herbert Wong was in the thick of the bombing at the RAAF Base. He had been doing a job for the Public Works Department in his new truck, which had cost him 400 pounds. "There was no warning at all. Just a chap came out and fired a pistol. I could see five planes just above the ground, very low. Then the Airforce personnel in the Officers’ Mess came out and said: 'Looks like there’s an air raid. You men better get under cover.'"

Mr Wong sheltered in a slit trench with a workmate. "After they dropped their bombs, they came down and they machine-gunned us. Where I was, behind the Officers’ Mess, they’d built a little sandbag there, and inside was a machine gun. A person came up. He just had his pants on—no shirt. He just jumped into this machine gun. And as this plane, after bombing, circled around to have a look at us, he opened fire: put-put-put-put. Didn’t hit it. As the plane came very low, I could see the pilot’s face watching us."

Courage and Service
Tom Cheong with his bike.

When the bombing died down, Tom Cheong went back to where he was living, out of Chinatown. His sixteen-year-old cousin, Horace Lee, arrived in search of his father and brother. By bike, they ventured back into an eerily empty Chinatown. Only Australian and American military police were around. They drove up and told them to leave. Up until then, "we didn’t have directions of any kind. We didn’t know what to do…we thought at first that the Japanese were going to land paratroopers to take over Darwin."

Bombing of Darwin interviews for the Courage and Service project were with eye-witnesses Riley Yuen Wing, who later joined up; Ray Chin, who went on to work in aircraft maintenance for the RAAF; Tom Cheong, who became a Wireless Air Gunner with the RAAF, flying in Catalinas out of north Australia and  making bombing raids around New Guinea; and Herbert Wong,  who joined the Army and served in Darwin.
(Pictures courtesy Tom Cheong and Joyce Cheong Chin)
 

After five anxious hours searching for their relatives, the boys came across some friends, Mitchell and William Lee, leaving Darwin in their truck. They hitched a lift on the back to Adelaide River—and found the other Lees already there: "they must have moved pretty quickly"…

"Most probably we shouldn’t have left Darwin." Businesses and homes like Mr Cheong’s uncle’s were left as they stood, unlocked and unprotected, "money in the till": "we didn’t take a thing with us"…

Courage and Service

Truck in front of Wing Hing Cheong, Cavenagh St.

At the RAAF Base, Herbert Wong remembers: "There was no All Clear. The planes, after they’d dropped their bombs, disappeared. Then this chap came out and fired his pistol again and said, 'It’s All Clear.' So we got out of the trench.  I looked to where my truck had been standing.  It wasn’t blown away.  But it had disappeared.

"I left my key in there because I was working.  I never saw it again." ’

Courage and Service

Major General Darryl Low Choy, Diana Giese, Eunice Leong and Gilbert Jan at the opening of the Courage and Service exhibition at the Golden Dragon Museum in Bendigo.

 

‘Major General Darryl Low Choy is the highest ranking person of Chinese background in today’s forces. He is Assistant Chief of the Defence Force, Reserves, across all the services… His forebears arrived on the Palmer River in the goldrush days… At the beginning of World War II, his father, Charles, tried to join the Airforce. He was a qualified pilot, a member of the Innisfail Aero Club. He and his brother were both rejected. They tried again in Cairns, and once more in Townsville—and were again unsuccessful. Finally, in 1944, in Melbourne his uncle was accepted into the RAAF. "He says my father gave up in disgust." '...

‘What sort of values are today’s Reserves representing? "There is still that desire to serve the country, to put something back into the community." If people’s image of community varies, the local to the global, "we still have an allegiance to country".  What Reserves training provides is "a whole raft of life skills: how to better understand yourself and your capabilities, how to be part of a team. The Australian Defence Force is the largest training organisation in the country."…

"If you want a true egalitarian component of our society, the armed forces would have to be it," he says. "I’m living proof that if you want to give it a go, if you’re prepared to put in the effort, there are really no barriers. There are endless opportunities." ’

(From interview with Major General Darryl Low Choy, November 1998, for the Courage and Service project)

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