“Nothing here is for tears. Nothing to wail, or knock the breast. No weakness, no contempt, dispraise or blame. Nothing but well and fair and what may quiet us in a death so noble” -Soldier’s Tower, University of Toronto
The story of Captain Roland Bacon(1904-1945) is a peculiar one, and it is also a great one. He traveled across Canada for his education and to follow his passion as a missionary. Roland also traveled to a foreign continent, to the Land of the Morning Calm with his loving wife, and fell in love with it. He was reunited with the people that he loved so much in India, a faraway land from both Korea and Canada, to fight together in a war to end all wars. No one that I may cover in my stories would have met so many people, traveled so many kilometres and saw so many things than Roland. Not only can we say his relationship with Korea was written in the stars, but his story within a much bigger picture makes his experience so interesting, and worth hearing.
- The beginning of Roland’s adventure.
To fully understand the story of Mr. Roland Bacon, we must first briefly cover some Korean history during his time. So first things first, Korea was forcefully annexed by Japan in 1910, after series of unfair treaties under threat to undermine Korean sovereignty. Therefore naturally, Koreans have aggressively resisted this annexation which they felt was really unfair. In 1907 the Korean army refused to disband under the Japanese administration, and were beaten by the Japanese army after a heavy day of fighting in Seoul. In 1908, another attempt to enter Seoul was made by armed Korean fighting volunteers, augmented with the remainder of the Korean army. This attempt was also thwarted by the Japanese garrison just outside of Dongdaemoon, the eastern gate of Seoul. Remaining Korean resistance then moved to Manchuria to escape the iron fist rule of the Japanese occupation. In the meantime, Korea changed. There was a new oppressive authority, new culture, and new ways of dressing up, new ways to love and marry as well. Many Koreans lost their farming land after an apparently modern but strangely unfair land survey, and learned to live in the cities selling their labour. Some even went to Manchuria to till new land and make a new living, and some immigrated to Japan for more work. Some made their name by making films, some became well-known by submitting Korean history articles to newspapers, and some even went to college despite serious discrimination in becoming successful in this new Korea. New ways to fight the oppression emerged, too; Some Koreans inside Korea resorted to desperate measures like throwing bombs at police stations or attacking small military patrol sites and government officials. Outside Korea, they built military academies in Manchuria and taught their young men new knowledge, and more importantly, how to fight in order to prepare them for the eventual reclaiming of their homeland. They armed themselves with educated minds and new guns. With the new generation of resistance they formed an army, and called themselves the Korean Independence Army. Koreans later formed a Provisional Government of Korea as well, for that moment in the future when they would return to Korea as liberators. It was during this time of chaos, change and mobility in Korea that Mr. Roland Bacon stepped up to the stage.
So, what little details can we find about Roland Bacon? Unfortunately, there is not a lot that is known about him. From the veterans’ records of Canada, we know that Roland was born March 28, 1904 in Amherst, Nova Scotia, and that he received a teacher’s license in Saskatchewan in 1923. He also went to Mount Allison University in New Brunswick and received a certificate in Theology in 1931. Roland then received a degree at Emmanuel College, University of Toronto in 1939, with a thesis on “Man’s experience with God”. He went to Korea as a missionary in 1931, with his wife Pearl, whose parents also stayed in Korea for 40 years to do missionary work. Roland taught the boys in an academy, while contributing to the Christian community in Korea. Naturally, both Roland and his wife Pearl became very fluent in Korean and like many Canadians who visit Korea, fell in love with the country. They had the affection of their neighbors in Korea, and reciprocated their love with their own affection to Koreans not only as potential converts, but also as fellow human beings. In 1941, however, the Bacon couple left Korea in order to escape Japanese prosecution (for the British Commonwealth went to war with Japan) and re-established in India. There, Roland volunteered with the Indian Army, and served with the Allied Forces as a Second Lieutenant. By this time he wasn’t the young man who arrived in Korea as a foreigner in a foreign continent. By 1941 he already had four children and a loving wife. But while he was a fully developed man, with his own big family who was about to turn 40 and facing a whole other set of life questions to ponder about, the most peculiar part of his journey was about to begin.
- Roland meets the Korean National Army Liaison Officers
In the meantime, interesting things were brewing in China. The Provisional Government of Korea had been struggling to equip its Korean Independence Army to fight the Japanese in China during the Second World War. Despite their decisive victory against the Japanese army at Chungsan-ri in 1920, the majority of their resistance forces were shooed away by the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. Since then, Korean Provisional Government attempted to reconnect with remaining small-medium sized Korean guerrillas scattered all over China and Manchuria to create a coalition front with the Chinese army against the Japanese invasion. While their efforts to return to their height of their firepower in 1920 have been slow at best, they still managed to create a strong fighting force of very talented of Korean volunteers. These volunteers came to the attention of the British Forces in India, who were fighting the Japanese army in Burma (Today’s Myanmar) and desperately needed talents fluent in Japanese. Allied Forces were taking heavy casualties because unlike the Japanese army with captured British (and therefore English) documents, they could not interpret Japanese documents full of funny looking Chinese and Japanese characters. After much negotiation mediated by the Chinese government, nine officers were selected from the Korean Independence Army to be trained and enrolled into the service of the British Army in 1943. The issue however was that these Korean officers may have a very tough time adjusting to the more strict army life in the British Army, and to the tropical environment in India and Burma. There had been an instance in 1941 where two Korean officers who were anticipated to perform the exact same task for the Allied Forces had to go home in just a few weeks because of these difficulties. What could the British Army do to make sure that these Korean officers would feel comfortable without misunderstanding each other? The British Army chose to attach a liaison officer to help them out.
Whom would fit best to make contact and mingle with the Korean officers? Not surprisingly, Roland was selected as the liaison officer of this team due to his excellent grasp of the Korean culture and language. Roland and his six Korean officers were attached to the Indian Field Broadcasting Unit (IFBU). Here, Roland and his Korean officers were immediately assigned to psychology warfare in the front lines; they would sneak up towards the Japanese lines, often up to 50 meters, or even 20 meters in front of Japanese positions. They also dragged along a big radio with an amplifier to play Japanese music, and read grim news of the Japanese situation to persuade them to surrender. If they were not doing sneaky work at night, Koreans would interrogate Japanese prisoners and interpret Japanese documents and maps for Allied use. To the Allied Forces who could not interpret Japanese documents, Korean officers were great help to their mission. In one instance, a document captured and interpreted by Korean officers saved a British Division encircled in an area called Tiddim, providing a safe route for the British army to retreat.
Of course, these successes would have not been possible without Roland, and his chemistry with the Koreans in Burma. A British secret report on Captain (see how he is promoted to Captain from Second Lieutenant for his work!) Roland Bacon tells us that he coped very well with the Koreans who were a “handful and then some” to the Allied Forces. The same report tells us that he “showed guts and persistence”, were “quite hearty, and very much a Canadian.” This amazing teamwork however could did not last for long. In 1945, during the Battle of Mandalay, Roland’s team was under heavy machine gun fire and could not move one bit. To overcome this dangerous situation and to save his team, Roland jumped up to seek out the machine gun tottering away at him. Roland climbed up a small tree to seek out the machine gun with his binoculars. However, before he could locate the threat, he fell down from the tree with several bullet wounds across his stomach. Roland passed away 2 days later in a hospital in Monywa. He was buried in Taukkyan War Cemetery in Myanmar, and that was the abrupt end of Roland’s adventure. He was 40 years old, and was waiting for an admission to a new university to renew his education-which he received few days after his death.
Korean officers and Roland seemed to have a very strong relationship. They had fought together for 2 years since their attachment to the IFBU, and after Roland’s death, Korean officers wrote letters to Pearl, in an attempt to comfort her. They collected money from Koreans stationed in India and Burma to ease her hardship because they thought that surely life must have been hard during the war with four children and without her husband. Korean officers in India and Burma also successfully petitioned to enroll Pearl as the liaison officer. Surely they felt that someone like Pearl who was very close to Roland was very much a desirable person to work with. Pearl sustained her family working as a liaison between the British Army and Korean officers and managed a hostel for the Allied Forces in India until a safe passage to Canada and her boat home was available. Korean officers who served with Roland also saw out the end of the war in India. They flew back to Korea as soon as they could to find their country liberated from Japanese oppression, and to find a new set of issues and new questions of autonomy to be answered.
Roland is not a forgotten name in Korea. In 2002, Roland’s younger daughter Elsa Dickson was invited to participate in a formal ceremony to commemorate Roland Bacon in the National Cemetery of Seoul. In Cheonan, a picture of Roland Bacon and six Korean officers who served with Roland were dedicated to their memory, and to honor their sacrifice in the Independence Hall of Korea. His name is not forgotten in Canada as well. His name is also engraved under the Soldier’s Tower in University of Toronto, among his brothers in arms who will never be forgotten. Really, Captain Roland Bacon stands as a symbol of friendship between Koreans and Canadians, even during unbearable hardship, and facing immense odds in a great fight for freedom. What else could we say about a death so noble, and a life of great adventure?
Next Story: These Canadian missionaries in Korea… What’s up with them? (Follow the link below)
Would you like to read more about Koreans in Myanmar? Follow this link:
Would you like to read more about Canadians in Myanmar during the Second World War?
For your Tomorrow: Canadians and the Burma Campaign 1941-1945 by Robert H. Faquharson
Would you like to see Captain Roland’s records in the Veteran Affairs of Canada?