World War Two aviation legends Albert Mah and Cedric Mah were raised in Prince Rupert before finding their wings. (Steven Lemay photo)

World War Two aviation legends Albert Mah and Cedric Mah were raised in Prince Rupert before finding their wings. (Steven Lemay photo)

Remembering Northern B.C.’s Flying Tigers

The legend of World War Two pilots Albert and Cedric Mah, as told by their daughters

War was not so distant in Prince Rupert after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour in 1941.

The North Coast fishing village transformed into a strategic military base. The population of the city tripled, from approximately 7,000 to 21,000 people. Reminders from that time are reflected in the wartime homes built across the city and some military structures, such as the Barrett Fort on southern Kaien Island.

But there are memories of war heroes that exist beyond Kaien Island.

Heather Mah and Cheryll Watson remember their fathers as great bush pilots who were raised in Prince Rupert and went on to become World War II aviation legends in their own right.

Both women spoke to the Northern View to share what their fathers’ roles were in the war, and how Prince Rupert always held a special place in their heart.

“He (Cedric) did 337 flights over the Himalayas — ‘The Hump’ — and my dad (Albert) did 420. They broke some kind of a record flying non-pressurized planes,” Heather said over the phone from her home in Montreal.

The Hump was the only way to get supplies to China after the Japanese took control over sections of the country and Manchuria. Both Albert and Cedric flew supplies for Pan American Airways, a subsidiary of China National Aviation Corporation. The treacherous route, known as The Hump, was known for poor visibility, turbulence, harsh winds and it wasn’t uncommon for planes to ice up.

Wartime pilots assisting the American mission in China were known as Flying Tigers. The Mah brothers were as fierce and determined as the moniker. Their bravery came from a shared mission to help their ancestral territory where much of their family lived during both the Japanese invasion and the civil war between the Chinese Nationalist and Communist forces.

Albert died in 2005 at age 84, and Cedric died in 2011 at age 88. Their aviation accomplishments and misadventures have been well documented, but what is less known are the anecdotes from their daughters.

“When my father was little, he would get up to some mischief. When he was as young as 10-12 he would run off the top of the garage with an umbrella to try to fly. That’s what my auntie told me,” Heather said, before sharing another story about stealing her grandfather’s ice cream truck and enjoying hot dogs and french fries during a brief stint behind bars.

From China to the Hump

The Mah family moved to Canada in the late 1800s. Mah Bon Quen and his wife had one son, Mah Chung Kee, who moved to Prince Rupert in 1912 and started up the Sunrise Grocery Store.

Mah Chung Kee had nine children, two of which were Albert and Cedric. When their grandfather died in 1936, the family went back to China to bring his body to his ancestral village. Some of the family stayed, but a teenage Albert and Cedric went back to Prince Rupert to finish their schooling.

“Father and Cedric came back to Canada and at a very young age, they both got interested in aviation. My father started flying at age 16,” Heather said.

The brothers went to California to learn how to fly. They returned to Canada, and worked at the Air Observers School in Edmonton, and later Albert went to work for Quebec Airways.

“By 1943 the war had broke out and his family, sisters and his mother, were still in the village in China,” Heather said.

Eager to serve in the war and be closer to their family, they wanted to fly but the Royal Canadian Air Force had a discriminatory policy at the time that wouldn’t allow ethnic Chinese to fly with them. Instead, they signed up with Pan American Airways and flew missions over The Hump in the Himalayas.

“This was really dangerous work. They were flying through the Himalayas. There were Japanese in the air. No pressurized cabins, they used oxygen masks and had trouble with icing up,” Heather said.

Legends

There are documented stories of the brothers taking part in dangerous missions. Albert once pretended to be deaf and mute to sneak past enemy lines in China in order to smuggle his 12-year-old sister from Fei Gno, the family village where many had returned after their grandfather passed away.

They hid in a coffin on a river boat to avoid the guards, while Japanese planes bombed from above.

Near the end of the war, Cedric was flying in a Douglas DC-3 carrying millions in Chinese currency. When his plane iced up, an engine failed and he was forced to toss most of the bundles of money over to lighten the load. They landed safely, and were thoroughly investigated.

In 1945, the Japanese surrendered, but the civil war in China erupted. The brothers continued to supply the nationalists until 1949 when Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalist Chinese Army was defeated by the Mao Zedong’s Communist forces.

For their efforts, Albert and Cedric were both awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal by the U.S. Air Force in the 1990s.

RELATED: New North Coast veteran association hosting armistice ball

After the war

Cedric worked as a bush pilot based in Prince Rupert for a few years. His daughter, Cheryll, was 15 years old at the time.

“He had a great gig out of there. He did a lot of work for some lumber companies. My dad would have to fly people in from the lumber companies in to check out the inventory,” she said.

“Definitely some very sophisticated navigational flying skills were required.”

Cheryll and her brother went to visit their father twice. She remembers how the community supported him, and helped out the single dad.

Sometimes, he even took his kids on flights.

“It was amazing to watch him maneuver the plane in between the mountains,” Cheryll said.

Then they moved back to Edmonton, where Cedric continued to fly as a bush pilot in the Arctic, where he also crashed and survived.

Albert moved to Montreal, where he met Heather’s mother, but he still made trips to Prince Rupert for reunions.

In 2005, he purchased a plane ticket to the North Coast for another reunion, but he passed away before he could use it. Heather inherited the ticket and travelled to Prince Rupert for the first time.

She reunited with her relatives, the Mah family is well established in Prince Rupert, including her cousin, Pat Mah, who runs Baker Boy on Third Avenue. She also met up with her dad’s best friend’s daughter, Donna Morse-Smith, who came to visit Heather in Montreal this past summer.

It was Albert’s connection over the years to family and Ingver Leon Morse that Heather said helped form a stronger bond with Prince Rupert and her cousins.

Determined to fly, the Mah brothers, Flying Tigers, are just two of the legends who emerged from Prince Rupert who can be remembered on the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day this November 11.

RELATED: Port authority clears land surrounding WWII fort

 

shannon.lough@thenorthernview.com 

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter 

Remembrance Day

Just Posted

The Sparwood Golf Club received $1,206.12 for a lighting project as part of its wider renewal efforts. (Image contributed by Columbia Foundation of the Kootenay Rockies)
CFKR allocates over $11,000 to Elk Valley community programs

Over $50,000 was dished out between the communities of the Kootenay Rockies

RDEK is calling for nominations for their Volunteer of the Year award in all six electoral districts.
RDEK posts operating surplus as pandemic reduces costs

The RDEK has posted a operational surplus of $8 million as local… Continue reading

North Okanagan business Hytec Kohler set up a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Spallumcheen plant Friday, May 14. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
More than half of eligible adults in Interior Health vaccinated

Over 365,000 vaccine doses have been administered throughout the Interior Health region

Fernie Ghostriders head coach Jeff Wagner has committed to two more years with the team. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press
Fernie Ghostriders coach departs: Wagner moves to Coquitlam

Jeff Wagner will move to the Lower Mainland as associate coach and director of scouting with the Coquitlam Express

New Border Bruins owner Dr. Mark Szynkaruk reps team colours with his young sons and wife Tracey. Photo courtesy of the Grand Forks Border Bruins
KIJHL’s Border Bruins sold to Grand Forks doctor

The league announced the sale Friday, May 14

An avalanche near Highway 1 in Glacier National Park. Avalanche Canada will benefit from a $10 million grant from the B.C. government. (Photo by Parks Canada)
Avalanche Canada receives $10 million grant from B.C. government

Long sought-after funds to bolster organization’s important work

Vancouver Canucks’ Jake Virtanen (18) and Calgary Flames’ Josh Leivo, front right, vie for the puck as goalie Jacob Markstrom, back left, watches during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, on Saturday, February 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver Canucks forward Jake Virtanen sued over alleged sexual assault

Statement of claim says the woman, identified only by her initials, suffered physical and emotional damages

An avalanche near Highway 1 in Glacier National Park. Avalanche Canada will benefit from a $10 million grant from the B.C. government. (Photo by Parks Canada)
Avalanche Canada receives $10 million grant from B.C. government

Long sought-after funds to bolster organization’s important work

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

(Kamloops This Week)
Puppy’s home in question as BC Supreme Court considers canine clash

Justice Joel Groves granted an injunction prohibiting the sale or transfer of the dog

Kayak the humpback whale was found dead on a Haida Gwaii beach on Saturday, May 15, 2021. (Marine Education and Research Society)
Kayak the humpback whale found dead on Haida Gwaii beach

Whale was estimated to be only 18 years old

Then-finance minister Kevin Falcon presents his last B.C. budget, Feb. 21, 2012. The province was emerging from the 2009-10 recession and repaying federal incentive to cancel the harmonized sales tax. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
Political veteran Kevin Falcon set for second run at B.C. Liberal leadership

Vancouver MLA Michael Lee announces on the same day

Conservation Service Officer Kyle Bueckert holds a gold eagle that was revived from acute rodent poisoning Monday, May 12. Photo: Submitted
‘Obviously, he’s a fighter’: Golden eagle, recovered from poisoning, back in Kootenay wild

CSO Kyle Bueckert released the eagle into the wild Thursday, May 13

Most Read