Commando Bay - Force 136
British Security Coordination
Chinese Canadian Special Training School
As STS 103 (Camp X) was drawing to a close in the spring of 1944, a smaller sister camp of equal importance was being established in the Okanagan Valley to train Chinese Canadian agents for Operation Oblivion. Modelled on the Camp X experience, this top secret tented training facility, aptly referred to as Commando Bay, was the first step in an overall strategy to recruit more Chinese for special missions in South East Asia.
Force 136 (first group)
On March 24th 1944, the Canadian government informed Pacific Command that the British government would be setting up a special training school and that it would be operated by British Security Coordination (BSC) to train agents for Force 136 and Operation Oblivion.
The Camp would operate for no more than three (3) months and would train a maximum of fifteen (15) students. The candidates (all Chinese Canadians) would be selected by the BSC in cooperation with Canadian Military Intelligence.
Major General Pearkes of Pacific Command appointed Col Hugh Allan as his liaison officer to work with the new school. Francis Woodley Kendall, a Canadian mining engineer who had worked in China and in Hong Kong for MI6 (British Secret Intelligence Service) and then the Special Operations Executive (SOE), was chosen as the Camp’s Commander.
Major Hugh John Legg from SOE was selected to provide instruction in wireless radio operation, and Andy McClure and Jack Clayton, two instructors from Camp X, were brought in to instruct in demolitions, unarmed combat, silent kill and small arms.
The cost of all equipment and materials would be born by Tommy Drew-Brook of the BSC. Security vetting of potential recruits would be the domain of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The new Camp would be patterned after Special Training School STS 103 (Camp X) which was in the process of closing down.
A suitable location for the camp was chosen in the Okanagan Valley approximately ten miles north of Penticton, British Columbia.
As the camp was isolated, military engineers constructed a substantial jetty into the lake, and a cabin cruiser was rented to ferry staff and students into town for provisions. Like STS 103, the camp was considered a restricted area and was afforded protection by Military District 11.
Upon the arrival of the first group of students, tents were erected for accommodation and equipment, and a cookhouse was set up. The cookhouse and stores were located on the shore, but the living quarters were located about three hundred metres up a steep bank overlooking the lake. Running up and down the bank several times a day combined with icy swims in the mornings soon whipped the students into top shape. Training was continuous seven days a week from May to September. Students learned wireless operation, small arms, demolition, unarmed combat, silent kill, sabotage and boat work (folboat exercises and attaching limpet mines to vessels).
Students were also taught survival techniques, propaganda, photography, and ambush planning and execution. Toward the end of their training program, the students were sent out on practice raids against military and industrial installations (ie, a pulp and paper mill at Powell River, the Yorke Island battery, and the ferry terminal at Victoria Harbour).
Training came to a close in mid September, the Camp was returned to its original state, and all accounts were discharged by the BSC. Prior to receiving their embarkation orders for Australia, it was determined that unlike STS 103, where agents were required to sign on with the SOE, Chinese Canadian agents were allowed to retain their Canadian identity and would only be on loan to the British.
Upon their arrival in Australia, the Chinese Canadians received further training at Fraser Island in parachute jumping, swimming and stamina while awaiting mission instructions. However, other priorities quickly overtook Operation Oblivion and the Chinese Canadians were reconstituted as an insertion team. While the team was patiently waiting for a submarine to transport them behind enemy lines, the Japanese military capitulated (September 9th, 1945).
Force 136 (second group)
Armed with a demand from the British War Office for more Chinese recruits, Major Legg returned to Canada, and by January 26th 1945 he had recruited a second group of 136 Chinese Canadians for duties with the SOE in South East Asia. Once the group had been assembled and briefed, they were shipped to Britain and on to India where they received extensive agent training at the SOE Training Centre at Kharakvasla near Poona India.
Of those who ended up in the Far East, many served out the war in India, Ceylon and Australia while others were dropped in behind enemy lines with E Groups (Escape and Evasion) or were inserted into Malaya and Borneo with Force 136 as interpreters and coders. Both guerrilla groups armed and trained by Force 136 teams and regular armed troops in Operation Zipper were to combine to bring about the Japanese defeat in Malaya.
Following the Japanese surrender, many Chinese Canadians returned to Canada on the Monarch of Bermuda.
STS 103 was one of approximately 60 SOE schools scattered around the world but the only one in North America. Commando Bay, while not a numbered special training school, was in many ways an extension of STS 103. The Camp was designated by the British War Office, managed by the BSC and run by the SOE in conjunction with the Canadian Military. Like STS 103, all the training at Commando Bay took place at the same location and like STS 103 the tented camp was built for one purpose, to train SOE agents for missions behind enemy lines.
Operation Oblivion was the code name for an SOE operation whereby members of Force 136 would be dropped behind enemy lines to arm and train anti-Japanese forces in China with the objectives of a) attacking Japanese communications, b) performing industrial and shipping sabotage in Hong Kong, c) arming Chinese junks to direct aerial attacks on ships, d) photographing landing places and beach underwater defences, e) acting as a fifth column, f) performing coast watching duties and g) carrying on anti-Japanese propaganda activity.
Forward by Major H.J Legg MBE MC
In 1942/43 the tentacles of the Japanese offensive had reached out to Singapore, Burma, Borneo and the Indonesian Archipelago, and the Allies were faced with the daunting task of regaining the initiative. Special Operations Executive, which was meeting with much success in infiltrating enemy territory in France, weighed up the chances of embarking on similar operations behind Japanese lines in the Far East. There was, however, one mountainous obstacle. France was a European country, close to Britain, with pre-war contacts whose cooperation was assured if they could be contacted by British agents who could pass muster in a country where they could pass for look-alikes. But the Far East was a different proposition. The comparatively few European residents there were nearly all in Japanese prison camps in an area where any infiltrating Europeans would stand out like a sore thumb and quickly be added to the quota of prisoners. The indigenous inhabitants of the occupied territories were an unknown quantity, and to establish contacts and build up a resistance organization would clearly be a difficult and labourious operation which certainly could not be done easily by Europeans.
There was a glimmer of light, however. Throughout the entire area there was a widespread sprinkling of ethnic Chinese who were long established residents. If some of these could be contacted, it might be possible to make a start - but the infiltrators would have to be Chinese, and where could they be found?
The salvation was the Chinese Canadians resident in British Columbia, but even here it was a case of starting from scratch as Government policy did not favour the enlistment of Chinese Canadians in the armed forces. How pressure from the British Government led to a change of the policy is a long story, but eventually the policy was changed in 1944, Chinese Canadians were recruited into the Army, and the way was clear for the SOE to seek volunteers to engage in clandestine operations in Japanese-held territory.
It was with much satisfaction that I found myself selected to train the original group of thirteen in wireless at the secret training camp in the foothills of the Okanagan Valley, as two decades earlier I had been resident in China and Japan and had acquired a deep respect for the basic qualities of the Chinese character. The question asked was, would the Chinese Canadians have retained these qualities which we so much admired despite the conflicting pressures of life in a European-type milieu?
The answer was clear within the first month of life in the camp and it was, “Yes, only more so”. But there was one imponderable which still had to be resolved. It may be very well to have strength of character, but can that be translated into practical application? The task ahead of the trainees was to be infiltrated into enemy-held territory where there would be nobody to turn to for advice, support or even the means of subsistence. They would need to be resourceful and self-reliant, with the capacity for organization and leadership of the indigenous population of the land in which they found themselves - a tall order for young men with experience only of life in sophisticated cities.
When the camp was struck four months later, there were no more imponderables. They had given full promise of living up to the high standards which would be required of them. The proof lies in the fact that, of the five infiltrated into Borneo, four were awarded the Military Medal, nine from Force 136 in India were competent interpreter-instructors in Malaya, and a tenth a wireless operator with the Escape and Evasion Group in Singapore.
The particular small group with which we started was not unique. As we have seen, there were many more Chinese Canadians who went on active service, and from the reports received, their achievements were of equally high order. Their service in two World Wars is eminently worthy of the present recording, and I am grateful for having been given this opportunity of paying tribute to comrades who merit the admiration of all who place value on the finer qualities of mankind.
Wimborne, Dorset, England
31st October 1991
The land surrounding the Bay is now a heritage site (Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park), and on September 1988 a bronze plaque was erected in honour of the thirteen Chinese Canadian agents of Force 136 who trained there.
A Link to visit for more information - Okanagan Military Museum
Major General Pearkes
Francis Woodley Kendall
Colonel Hugh Allan
Major Hugh John Legg
Andy McClure - Demolitions Instructor
Force 136 Volunteers train in Lake Okanagan in amphibious infiltration techniques
Willie Chong at Camp X