The spirit of a soldier:
Mike Levy’s gallantry as a soldier was first brought to light during the Second World War
by Jack Bates,
Organization For Preservation Of Canadian Military Heritage (OPCMH)
The eldest of four siblings, Michael George Levy was born in Bombay, India in 1925 to parents George and Sophie. His father was a businessman, so the family travelled throughout Asia and the Middle East before settling down in Shanghai, China. This is where Michael, his brother Albert, and sisters Emma and Katie spent most of their childhood years. Michael attended the Shanghai Public School for Boys, joined the Boy Scouts and YMCA, and excelled in recreational boxing, roller skating, rugby, soccer and swimming.
In December 1941, the Japanese Army attacked and occupied Shanghai. As a British subject and aged 16, Michael was arrested by the Japanese and placed in the Pootung Internment Camp. In 1943 he was transferred to the Lunghua Civil Assembly Centre, the story of which is depicted in the 1987 Steven Spielberg movie Empire of the Sun.
Under cover of darkness, Michael and four British internees escaped from Lunghua camp on May 22, 1944 and set off for India. The group travelled through occupied China and successfully evaded the Japanese for nearly two months, completing a harrowing 3,200-kilometre (2,000-mile) journey on foot and by junk. The men finally reached an Allied base in Kunming in the Yunnan Province of Southwest China, where the Royal Air Force flew them “over the hump” to freedom in India. This remarkable journey was the subject of a 1992 Granada Television documentary in Great Britain titled Across the Jade Divide; it was also featured on the American television channel PBS.
Once in India, Michael was recruited by the British Army’s elite Special Operations Executive (SOE), and known under its general cover name of Force 136. With his knowledge of Chinese culture and the ability to speak the native language, he was sent to Poona and Jessore for specialized training in industrial espionage, guerilla warfare and parachuting. Now 19 years of age, Michael was given the wartime rank of captain and placed second in command of the “Galvanic Brown” Patrol Liaison Team.
On July 22, 1945, the team departed from Ceylon on an 11-hour flight in a Dakota and was dropped behind enemy lines in the Malayan jungle north of Kuala Lumpur. An earlier drop had been attempted on the 20th but the plane had to return to base due to a malfunction. It took six hours of additional flying to use up the fuel that could not be jettisoned before they could safely land. Once they were in action on the second attempt, it took the team nearly one week on foot to reach their camp near Kajang, where they met up with the Guerilla Regiment. “Galvanic Brown” operated in the Malayan jungle until after the Japanese final surrender on September 2, 1945.
In the days following, the team entered Kajang, located about 20 kilometres from Kuala Lumpur, but the Japanese stationed there refused to discuss surrender until the British Army arrived. The team engaged in diffusing hostilities between the Malayan Peoples’ Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA) and collaborators as well as maintaining control of the Japanese and warding off bandits until an Indian Army detachment arrived on September 9/10. The team then relocated to Kuala Lumpur.
Captain Mike Levy received a Mention in Despatches (MID) award for his bravery in one of Force 136’s engagements at Salak South. His commanding officer described Levy as “a young chap with previous experience in a recent escape from internment in China, full of guts and really at his happiest when Japs or Puppets were reported in the vicinity, deserves full praise when he led his men with flying colours.” The wartime exploits of Force 136 were immortalized in the Oscar-winning film Bridge on the River Kwai.
Following the war Levy was attached as an investigator to the War Crimes Tribunal in Hong Kong and Singapore. One of his duties was to proceed to Shanghai by air on July 6, 1946 for the purpose of recovering the remains of Empire soldiers interred in the Hung Jao Road Cemetery and transfer them to Hong Kong.
The following is from an article in the Singapore Free Press, published on November 20, 1947under the headline “Parachuted Into Malaya After Escape”:
The exploits of a man who escaped from a Japanese prisoner camp, trekked 1,500 miles to friendly Chinese territory, and later parachuted into Malaya on a special mission to the Malayan resistance movement, have now been revealed for the first time. Capt. Mike Levy, a 24-year-old Canadian who is leaving Singapore this week on the Empress of Scotland, broke out of the internment camp at Lung Wha, Shanghai, in May 1944 with four other men. Until they reached Kunming three months later, they were in constant danger from the Japs.
“Looking back,” said Captain Levy, “it seemed more of a thrill than a desperate adventure. I shall never forget the reception given us at Kunming by American flyers and Chinese officers, after they had really decided we were not spies. “We escaped so that we could enlist, and when we presented ourselves to the astonished military authorities in Calcutta, we were all passed “medically fit.” After gaining a commission, Captain Levy was parachuted into Malaya in July 1945 with five companions on a special mission with guerillas. He has been Movements Officer at Nee Soon Camp for the past six months and is now going on transfer to the Middle East.
Captain Mike Levy retired from the British Army in 1948 and relocated with his family from Shanghai to Vancouver, where he maintained an active connection with the military by immediately enlisting in a local militia regiment, the Irish Fusiliers of Canada.
At the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, this valiant soldier volunteered and enlisted in the newly formed Second Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and proceeded to Korea as commander of “D” Company, # 10 Platoon. During the 1951 Battle of Kapyong, while under heavy attack, Lt. Levy initiated and personally directed the artillery bombardment from his Platoon’s position on the ground onto this location for maximum effect on the charging enemy.
Following the Korean War, Lieutenant Levy married Marjoriein 1951 (with whom he had one daughter and three sons) and remained in the PPCLI, undertaking postings to Calgary, Germany, Edmonton and Esquimalt. He was promoted to Major in December 1960. Levy spent one year in Vietnam as part of the International Commission for Supervision and Control and did a tour in Cyprus as the deputy commander of Canada’s peacekeeping force.
In 1968 Levy was posted to the prestigious United States Marine Corps Command Staff College in Quantico, Virginia, then to Washington, D.C. for two years with the Canadian Defence Liaison Staff. In 1971 he moved into the Military Intelligence Directorate at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa manning the “China Desk.” In 1974 Levy retired from the CAF as a major after a distinguished 25-year career and settled back in Vancouver.
During his years of service, Levy was awarded the following awards:1939-1945 Star, Burma Star, Defence Medal, War Medal with Oak Leaf (MID), General Service Medal Malaya, Korea Medal, Volunteer Service Medal, NATO Medal, Canadian Peacekeeping Medal, United Nations Korea Medal, UNFICYP Medal, ICCS Vietnam Medal, CD with Bar, and the United States Presidential Unit Citation (Personal – Battle of Kapyong). A Grant of Arms, flag and badge were awarded to Major (ret’d) Michael George Levy in April 2004 by the Governor General of Canada. The motto on Levy’s coat of arms reads: “I HAVE PREVAILED.”
“The Spirit of a Soldier” remained intact until Mike passed away on June 4, 2007 in Vancouver, proud of his loyal comrades and his regiment, the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.