Sunday, April 24, 2011

Fong, John Kee

John raised his age so he could enlist in 1942, and served in the 7th Field Ambulance and saw active service in
New Guinea

John Kee Fong was born on 19 February 1922 in Toi Shan village, Guangzhou, China. He came to Western Australia in 1935; using the papers of one of the children of his Uncle Fong Kee. Until his death he used the listed birth date of 1925. John was raised by another uncle, Fong Henley in Broome, while Fong Kee and his family settled in Darwin. In 1942 along with other Broome residents John was evacuated following the Japanese bombing of the town.

John's mother Mary was born in Darwin.

John enlisted in the Australian Army in March 1943 and was issued the service number W53898. After training he was deployed overseas in May 1943 to New Guinea, however was assigned to the 7th Field Ambulance. John was disappointed not to be on the front line with his enlisted companions. However, there were concerns he might be mistaken for one of the enemy and shot before questions asked. After serving in Rabaul he was transferred to the 2nd Field Ambulance and moved to Fauro Island and witnessed the surrender of the Japanese there at the end of the War. John returned to Western Australia and was discharged in 1946.

Re-training was offered two years after most of his friends, but John did not take up the offer. He worked at various jobs, including a stint at the Carnarvon Whaling Station when it first opened, as a Jack of all trades. He ended up as cook and occasionally served whale steaks to the crews. He also assisted another uncle, Sydney Fong in the fruit and vegetable business in Geraldton. John moved to Sydney in 1952 where he met Winnifred (Win) Quan Mane and they married in March 1954. They settled in Perth, Western Australia in late 1954, taking over the then Chinese grocery business of Hop Hing & Co at 124 James Street, Perth. This business was established in 1902 and was located next door to the Chung Wah Association. The Association was in hiatus at that stage with only a handful of elderly men holding monthly meetings. John became the Treasurer and together with Win they became the Chinese community's unofficial care workers. The shop became a meeting place where many retired men would gather to share a drink and socialise with the couple or other Chinese customers and visitors. John would act as an interpreter for many of these people when required, either in court, in hospital or dealing with government authorities. Win typed written correspondence and collected country customers' orders for goods like clothing and shoes from Boans and Foy & Gibsons.

When the land opposite the Chung Wah Association Hall was rezoned from housing into a car park, more than twenty elderly Chinese single men living there were given short notice to move out. These seniors were devastated at leaving their long-term home with nowhere to go. John approached the social welfare, pensioners' league and other such organizations, but was unable to get any help from them. Housing was eventually found in John Street, Railway Parade and Lake Street in Perth, after months of searching to accommodate each man's independent likes and preferences. The remaining two market gardeners in York, the Lee brothers also benefitted from John & Win's help, when they became destitute. John and Win's liaison with the local police resulted in the Lee brothers' successful application for the Australian pension on compassionate grounds. When the brothers finally returned to China in the mid-1970s, they both arrived with a full set of false teeth and were able to live quite well due to the pension.

John with daughter Kaylene, September 1956

Until the mid-1960s the Fongs together with their three children visited the elderly men residing at Sunset Homes in Dalkeith. These visits provided some comfort to many who were cut off from their loved ones and who had difficulty speaking and understanding English. It also provided an opportunity for the staff to communicate with their patients. John organised funerals for many of these men, as their families were in China, or had no living family to attend to them. The last of these men under John's care was Ou Sung who arrived in Australia during the Second World War. Ou Sung passed away in 1989 and was interred in the Chinese section of Karrakatta Cemetery.

Behind the two large shop rooms of Hop Hing was a house, where many Chinese in transit would find a bed for short stays. Often country people stayed at the shop before or after receiving medical treatment. Evening meals cooked by John at the rear of the old shop often included unexpected visitors and friends. In the early days of the Colombo Plan it was also regular practice to invite home-sick Chinese students to share a home cooked meal with the family and John played Chinese chess with them. As the only Chinese grocery store at the time, with the arrival of more Chinese, the shop's range of products grew and John imported the first noodle making machine and supplied the shop and restaurants with fresh noodles, won ton and spring roll skins. He also grew commercial quantities of bean sprouts to cater for the expanding palate of the Australian restaurant patrons and the shop's customers.

Although they operated a busy grocery business, John & Win donated their time and goods for the local Baptist church and school's fetes and activities.

When the Chung Wah Association was reactivated in 1969 John was a member of the founding group, along with James Leewood, Bill Gooey, brothers Jack and Alan Poon, Ken Sue, and Roy and Edie Hoy Poy. Often John would take Chinese visitors including the Peoples' Republic of China's Navy who came to the state and the Association, around Perth. He was also a member of the Good Neighbour Council a forerunner to the Ethnic Communities Council. Later John was elected to the Council of Elders of the Chung Wah, until ill health saw him resign this position in the late 1990s.

For his contribution to his country during WWII, John was awarded the 1939/45 Star, War Medal (1939/45), Pacific Star, Australia Service Medal and the Returned from Active Service Badge. His name together with the names of his family members who also served in WWII is recorded in the Australian Chinese War Memorial in Sydney. This memorial proudly records the courage, loyalty & service of Chinese Australian veterans from the Boer War, WWI, WWII, Korea, Malaya, Vietnam to the present day Peacekeeping & Peacemaking Operations in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan.

John passed away on 23 August 2008, aged 86 years after a long illness and on 24 June 2009 Win followed on, aged 88 years.

Written by Warrant Officer David Lee JP

Royal Australian Air Force (Ret'd)

EDIT: The source states David Lee wrote the article. However that is incorrect and it was in fact Kaylene Poon, daughter of John Kee Fong who wrote the article.

Despite the risks, John regularly volunteered to go on patrol.



Article Source

Photo 1 Source
Northbridge History Project

Photo 2 Source
Northbridge History Project


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