By Tim Collins
When the royal couple arrive in Victoria on Saturday they will be welcomed at Government House by an honour guard made up of a group of Canadian veterans chosen by the Canadian Legion to represent the patriotism and service of the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces.
One of the men who will be meeting the royal couple is Gordon Quan, a 90-year-old veteran of World War II who served, not with the Canadian military, but the British.
Quan’s service to Canada is a fascinating tale of patriotism, heroism and service, but despite his bravery during World War II and his decades of subsequent service, Quan said he was very surprised when he got the call telling him that he was one of the few members of the honour guard who would actually be allowed to speak to the royal couple.
“I got the call last week and they asked me if I was physically fit enough to shake hands with her highness and speak to her,” laughed Quan. “I still drive and I go to the Veteran’s Health Centre twice a week to exercise, so of course I can shake hands. It’s all very exciting though, isn’t it?”
At the age of 18, Quan wanted to join the armed forces to fight for his country but was not immediately welcomed to the military. Though he was born in Canada, the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923 prevented him from serving or even voting in the country he called home (the law changed to allow Chinese Canadians the vote in 1947).
But Quan persisted and in 1944 he was allowed to join the forces — but only on the condition that he transfer to the British forces for service in the Pacific theatre. He was sent to England where he was trained as a demolition expert. From there he traveled to India and then Malaya where he became part of the Burma campaign.
Quan’s job was to infiltrate enemy locations and set explosives on rail lines, fuel depots and other enemy assets. The tasks were generally considered to be suicide missions, but Quan survived and returned home having been awarded the Burma Star for bravery.
But Quan’s service to his country didn’t stop with the end of the war.He served another 30 years with the militia.
Quan is still active with the Royal Canadian Legion and proudly wears his uniform at commemorative events honouring Canada’s service men and women.
Quan said he’ll be proud to meet the royals, and equally proud of the fact that, when he does, he’ll be wearing his Canadian Legion uniform, complete with the eight medals he was awarded by the military for service to his country.
“I don’t think the royal couple would really be interested in any of my story,” said Quan. “I’m not famous and I didn’t do anything special, really. I’m just going to be there to welcome them to my country, and help represent all the other Canadians who have served Canada with pride.”