MASUMI MIT­SUI AND TOKUTARO IWAMOTO

The Globe and Mail Metro (Ontario Edition) - - NEWS -

Adiminu­tive waiter and labourer, Masumi Mit­sui was among the many Cana­di­ans of Ja­panese ori­gin who ached to join the war ef­fort. The 29year-old son of an Im­pe­rial Ja­panese Navy of­fi­cer, he had once hoped to fol­low in his fa­ther’s foot­steps. But he failed the en­trance exam in his home coun­try, and so, em­i­grated to Canada. In 1916, his mil­i­tary dreams were bol­stered by a broad ea­ger­ness on the part of Ja­panese Cana­di­ans to prove their pa­tri­o­tism in an era when they could not even vote. Sim­ply of­fer­ing to en­list was an up­hill bat­tle: Turned away in Van­cou­ver, many headed to Al­berta, where re­cruiters were more open-minded.

Once in France, the Ja­panese-Cana­di­ans faced ad­di­tional bur­dens. Some of­fi­cers be­lieved them to be lazy and un­trust­wor­thy. But the men fought hard.

“The bat­tle has been fierce,” Pri­vate Mit­sui wrote in a 1917 let­ter sent home in the wake of the bat­tle of Vimy Ridge and of a fol­low-up oper­a­tion in nearby Ar­leux, where he suf­fered a wounded fin­ger after a bul­let struck his ri­fle’s bay­o­net. “I am glad to re­port that the Ja­panese Cana­di­ans have a good name as sol­diers,” he said in the let­ter, later trans­lated by the Ja­panese Cana­dian au­thor Roy Ito.

Four months later, in Au­gust, the Ja­panese Cana­di­ans would dis­tin­guish them­selves even fur­ther at the Bat­tle of Hill 70, most no­tably dur­ing an as­sault on a for­ti­fied quarry known as the Chalk Pit. Pri­vate Tokutaro Iwamoto, a car­pen­ter from Cal­gary, was praised in the 10th Bat­tal­ion’s di­ary for his “re­mark­able keen­ness and fear­less­ness,” at­tack­ing sev­eral Ger­man dugouts by him­self and cap­tur­ing 20 pris­on­ers. Pte. Mit­sui, mean­while, sal­vaged one of his bat­tal­ion’s Lewis ma­chine guns after its crew be­came ca­su­al­ties and, to quote the unit’s di­ary, “put the gun into ac­tion, caus­ing the en­emy many ca­su­al­ties. He af­ter­wards did ex­cel­lent work in mop­ping up and as­sist­ing the wounded.”

He was pro­moted to sergeant and both he and Pte. Iwamoto were awarded the newly cre­ated British Mil­i­tary Medal for brav­ery.

The fol­low­ing year, Pte. Iwamoto was killed in ac­tion, on Sept. 2, dur­ing the fi­nal of­fen­sive of the war. Later that month, an­other com­rade, Cor­po­ral Joe Ki­makuchi Oura, a B.C. fish­er­man, was killed by ma­chine-gun fire – a ca­su­alty that, even amid the re­lent­less car­nage, hit Sgt. Mit­sui hard. “Since his death I have been very de­pressed,” he wrote. “Of the orig­i­nal vol­un­teers, 16 have been killed; 17 have been wounded or be­come ill and re­turned to Canada. Five or six are in hos­pi­tal in Eng­land. There are only seven left.”

After re­turn­ing to B.C., he cam­paigned for Ja­panese Cana­dian vet­er­ans to get the right to vote, which they did not gain un­til 1931. Still, dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, his farm was con­fis­cated and, like thou­sands of other Ja­panese Cana­di­ans, he was in­terned. The fam­ily even­tu­ally moved to Hamil­ton.

“He did not dis­cuss any­thing about the war,” says his grand­son David. How­ever, ev­ery Nov. 11, his grand­fa­ther would put on his uni­form and medals at home, to hon­our the mem­ory of his com­rades.

NIKKEI NA­TIONAL MU­SEUM PHO­TOS

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.