A legacy of hope: sharing the history of Victorian Chinese Australian veterans

07 May 2021
veteran hamilton chan with daugter rosalie hiah
WWII veteran Hamilton Chan (far right) and daughter Rosalie Hiah (second from right) both contributed to the book For Honour and Country launched at the Museum of Chinese Australian History in partnership with SMCT.

When Hamilton Chan moved from Hong Kong to Melbourne with his father at the age of 13 in 1937, he could not have foreseen the impact he would have on his community through his dedicated life of service. As the call to arms came, he went to great lengths to serve his country during World War II – even forging his father’s consent to enlist as he was too young at the time.

After joining the RAAF, Hamilton maintained planes and served overseas, including on deployment to Japan towards the end of 1945.

His deep-rooted service ethic continued after the war with a career in government and private business and a long-standing commitment to community organisations.

Hamilton’s story of courage and service is not unfamiliar, but the tales of Chinese Australians who served our country are little known to the wider Australian community.

In April, we proudly partnered with the Museum of Chinese Australian History to help shine a light on stories just like Hamilton’s with the launch of For Honour and Country: Victorian Chinese Australians in World War II.

Bill Au and SMCT CEO Jane Grover
Acknowledging the need to amplify and share veterans’ stories and legacies; (from left) Chinese Australian History Board Chairperson Bill Au, SMCT CEO Jane Grover and Major General (retired) Darryl Low Choy.

Authors Edmond Chiu and Adil Soh-Lim gathered the personal stories and contributions of veterans and their families, sharing the courageous accounts of Victorian Chinese Australians in WWII and the challenges they overcame when attempting to enlist.

Many veterans and their families attended the book launch, with some also contributing photos and mementos such as uniform pieces and service certificates to display in the accompanying exhibition. At the outstanding age of 94, veteran Hamilton – still well and active in the community – contributed invaluable photos, reflections, and contacts as part of the book and proudly attended the launch with his family.

As part of the event, representatives from the Museum of Chinese Australian History, Chinese Australian History Board, SMCT, and Victorian government spoke of the importance of sharing, acknowledging, and amplifying the personal stories and legacies of our veterans. Speakers included Museum CEO Mark Wang, Board Chairperson Bill Au, Major General (retired) Darryl Low Choy, SMCT CEO Jane Grover, and the Minister for Veterans Affairs, The Honourable Shaun Leane MP.

SMCT CEO Jane Grover says many veterans served under the ideal of hope for a future for their families in the place they chose to call home; a legacy that is continued today by living relatives and veterans such as Hamilton Chan.

“This legacy of hope is particularly relevant to our current times. The past year has given us all cause to reflect on what is most important, as we look to reconnect with each other and our community with hope, empathy, and optimism,” Jane says.

Through collaboration with community partners such as the Museum of Chinese Australian History, SMCT seeks to strengthen connections and foster understanding to help our communities honour and celebrate loved ones in the way they choose.

chinese museum ceo mark wang community launch for honour and country
Chinese Museum CEO Mark Wang (right) speaks to a member of the community at the launch of For Honour and Country.

We have a long and proud history of honouring servicemen and women and upholding their legacies through dedicated spaces and events. The Australian Government Victorian Garden of Remembrance, located at Springvale Botanical Cemetery and maintained by the Office of Australia War Graves, commemorates the service of many courageous souls. Across our various sites and memorial spaces, we have close to 60 Chinese Australian veterans resting peacefully within our care. We are honoured to help share their stories so they can be remembered now and forever.

Copies of For Honour and Country: Victorian Chinese Australians in World War II are available for purchase from the Museum.

For Honour and Country: Victorian Chinese Australians in World War II
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