Bill Chong and British Military Intelligence
Bill Chong sold all his possessions in Hong Kong, burned his Canadian passport, and set out for mainland China. As he put it: “I had seen so much of the war in Hong Kong I was full of hate … I had seen how the Japanese killed people, killed Canadians without any cause. They’d just shoot anybody they want, they’d shoot people left and right. I said, ‘I’ve got to do something about this.’ I felt like getting a gun and just going out and shooting a few Japanese [soldiers]. So I escaped to China“. He left with nothing but money, reasoning that if he was caught carrying supplies for a journey, it would probably mean his summary execution. He planned to buy food from villages en route, but those hopes were dashed when he saw a Japanese flag flying from each one. So he subsisted on raw vegetables, dug from gardens in the dead of night.
Bill had nebulous plans to join Chinese guerrillas, but he ran into a British military intelligence officer who convinced him that he would be more valuable as a clandestine agent. The Canadian military might have scorned Bill when he tried to enlist, but the British welcomed him with open arms. As a fluent speaker of both English and Chinese, Bill was ideally suited for intelligence work, so he was assigned to the Directorate of Military Intelligence, Section MI9. When volunteers were sought for hazardous work with an MI9 subunit, the British Army Aid Group (BAAG), Bill stepped forward.
BAAG was a paramilitary organization that operated in southern China, whose primary missions were to gather intelligence, and help escaped POWs make their way to safety behind Allied lines. Throughout the war, BAAG sent agents into Japanese occupied southern China and Hong, to gather intelligence and help POWs escape from Japanese clutches. The escapees were then guided to Chungking, China’s wartime capital, were they were debriefed, before rejoining the war effort.
Bill Chong was given the codename Agent 50, and sent to operate behind Japanese lines. He recalled in later years that: “[w]e didn’t have any communications; we had to use the Chinese telegraph office … Every time I’d send a message back, they wanted me to include the word 50. I’d write I was going back for my mother’s 50th birthday, I’m waiting for transportation, things like that. Then they understood it was from me. If I had some escapees, I said I had three cattle, three escapees“.
His first mission was to find out what had happened to the British consul in the Portuguese enclave of Macao, with whom contact had been lost. Macao was officially neutral, but it was teeming with Japanese, who had heavy patrols throughout the region. “I found out if you tried to go there by boat, you’d get shot … If you walked, you’d get caught. So how the heck was I going to get there? I went to a smuggler’s town, bandits, crooks, just like you see in the movies. You didn’t find a good guy there, all bad guys. I stayed in a little crummy hotel, and I began to get friendly with them.” After winning their confidence, Bill got the smugglers to sneak him into Macao, where he discovered that the consul was OK.