Stories from a Hero: Kiyoji Iizuka
Private Kiyoji Iizuka was a familiar face on Powell Street both before the Second World War and after. He lived at 522 Powell Street after his tour in France with the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force, and returned there in 1969 after being interned in Greenwood.
After enlisting on August 5, 1916, Iizuka fought with the 50th Battalion. He was awarded one of 13 Military Medals won by Japanese Canadians, was wounded three times, and went back into the field of war twice. He was honorably discharged on February 7, 1919.
Here are excerpts from a taped oral history interview with Iizuka, which was digitized by the Japanese Canadian War Memorial Committee, and kindly translated by Professor Hiroko Takamura of Tokyo.
“We trained for three months in a bush where houses now stand. On rainy days we had indoor drills in the Cordova Hall, learning how to operate guns, turning left, turning right and so on. We trained all day long and completed the training in three months. When we were trained we proposed a Japanese Battalion to the government, but were refused. We took a photo in front of Cordova Hall to commemorate the effort, but we all went back to work. But only a week later, a Japanese soldier from Alberta came with a recruiter to find us. There was a newspaper article: ‘Men of all nationalities please support the Union Jack’. I went to Alberta by train to enlist.”
“I went to Halifax after training one month in Calgary. Japanese Canadians were arranged in a platoon of 70, which exceeded the usual number of 50 in Canada. We sailed on a troop ship from Halifax to Liverpool and entered the Canadian camp for a month. It was called Seaford. In December of 1916, we arrived in Le Havre, France, and marched seven miles to a base camp at the foot of a hill. There, we had ball cartridge exercises again. We were there for about two to three months. On April 10, 1917, we went into the Battle of Vimy where we lost the most soldiers. It was like a see-saw, the French forces failed seven times to win the hill, the British forces failed three times, but finally our Canadian forces of four divisions captured it. It took only two weeks.”
“I was wounded on May 5; a splinter glanced off the edge of my eye. I went to hospital in England, and was allowed 10 days' leave in London. Then I returned to Shornecliffe about 30 miles from London where there was a mixed brigade. So I went back to the front, and fought at Hill 70.”
“In December 1917, we went to Lipple in Belgium where the Canadian Forces in 1915, many of them from Vancouver, had suffered poison gas attacks from the Germans. When we got there, there were bones everywhere, the ground was covered with bones, and you could not tell which were German or which were Canadian.”
“A total of 18 divisions - French, Australian, and Canadian - delivered an all-out attack called the Battle of the Somme. We were there for two weeks but won. In 1917 the rules changed about our postings: until then we knew where we would be the next day, but since there were so many spies amongst us, the orders were not given until the day of."
“I was wounded by a splinter shell in the hand the morning of September 2, 1918 and the war was over September 29th. Armistice was signed finally on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.”
Kiyoji Iizuka died in 1979 and his ashes are buried at the oldest cemetery in Vancouver, Mountain View.