Adventures Behind Enemy Lines
After completing his mission in Macao and reporting back to BAAG, Bill Chong was sent on further missions. Some involved scouting and reporting back on Japanese troop movements, and others entailed helping downed Allied pilots and air crews make it to the safety of Allied lines. Equally hazardous were his missions of mercy, delivering desperately needed medicines to BAAG outposts and resistance cells behind Japanese lines. It was physically exhausting work, travelling the war torn countryside on foot, sometimes covering up to 50 miles in a single day, then sleeping on the bare ground. He wore disguises, and affected a limp as cover for the use of a walking stick: it had a hollowed out compartment, in which he secreted intelligence documents or hid medicines.
The work was also mentally exhausting. On one occasion, he and a guide were discovered hiding from a Japanese patrol. Their captors beat them bloody, then forced them to dig their own graves, and asked whether they would rather be shot or beheaded. Bill figured the jig was finally up, and asked to be shot, but the duo were spared at the last minute when the guide showed the Japanese the personal card of a retired Japanese intelligence officer, and convinced them that he was one of his agents.
On another occasion, he was swept up in a random Japanese roundup, and locked up with others in the hold of a rickety fishing boat, that was then set adrift on the ocean. He survived when somebody discovered a rotten plank, kicked it out, crawled through the hole, then opened the hatch from the outside and released the rest of the prisoners. Another close brush came when he was held by collaborationist Chinese bandits, but he convinced them to let him go in exchange for medicine for their ailing leader.
The exact number of escapees rescued by Bill Chong is unknown, and probably unknowable. However, there were many who owed their freedom, or even their lives, to Agent 50. As he put it: “According to some newspapers, I rescued 1,863 people. That is not true. I never rescued that many people. A few hundred, yes. I didn’t keep a record. Where would I keep a record? I didn’t want to be caught [with papers] saying on this day I brought so many people. Even our head office didn’t keep a record, because everybody was busy, nobody had time. I brought them back, put them on the plane, that was my job.”
In 1946, Bill Chong was decorated by Hong Kong’s governor, and became the only Chinese-Canadian ever awarded the British Empire Medal. He was asked to stay on as an agent, and he agreed. He worked for British intelligence, operating out of Hong Kong and carrying out missions into communist China, until he retired in 1976. He returned to Canada, but nobody knew of his background until somebody noticed a photo of him receiving an award from Hong Kong’s governor. He was talked into joining a veteran’s organization, and after word of his exploits spread, he became the subject of a CBC documentary. He died in 2006, at age 95.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources & Further Reading