COMING TO CANADA
Masumi Mitsui was born in Tokyo on 7 October 1887. His father was a naval officer who encouraged Masumi to join the Japanese military. However, he failed the entrance examination, and later made the decision to move to Canada. In 1908 he travelled from
Fukuoka-Ken, Japan to Vancouver. Once there, he achieved fluency in English, allowing him to secure employment as a waiter at the Union Club in Victoria.
BRAVERY IN THE FIRST WORLD WAR
When the First World War broke out in 1914, Sergeant Mitsui wanted to enlist in the Canadian military to demonstrate his patriotism to Canada. After being rejected for service in Vancouver based on discriminatory recruitment practices in 1915, Mitsui
succeeded in enlisting as a private in Calgary, Alberta, on 1 September 1916. He initially joined the 192nd Battalion, transferred to the 9th Reserve Battalion upon arrival in England on 11 November 1916, and finally ended up with Calgary's 10th Battalion
at the front in France.
Private Mitsui’s first major taste of action took place during the Arras offensive in April 1917. Mitsui came through the successful seizure of Vimy Ridge unscathed, but was slightly wounded two weeks later during operations nearby. An enemy bullet struck
one of his fingers and he spent nine days in hospital recovering. In a letter home, he wrote that he just felt fortunate not to have been more badly injured.
In August 1917, the 10th Battalion assaulted the crest of Hill 70, just north of Vimy. The battle was one of the toughest and costliest of the war for the Canadian Corps. The 35-man platoon in which Private Mitsui served was decimated: only Mitsui and
four others survived. For his leadership and bravery at Hill 70 Mitsui was awarded the Military Medal. In December, Mitsui was promoted to lance corporal; after proving a competent and popular non-commissioned officer, he would continue to be promoted,
reaching the rank of sergeant in February 1919.
After the war ended in November 1918, Corporal Mitsui served in Cologne, Germany as part of the Allied occupation force. In early 1919, Mitsui wrote of feeling “very depressed” because of the casualties that his unit had suffered. In particular, the death
of his good friend and fellow Canadian of Japanese origin, Kumakichi Oura, in October 1918, impacted him deeply.
Sergeant Mitsui was discharged in Calgary on 23 April 1919. He moved to the Vancouver area, where he started a poultry farm. There he met Sugiko; they were married on 2 August 1919. The couple had four children: Harry, George, Lucy, and Amy. He became
the president of the all-Japanese Canadian Legion Branch No. 9 in 1931, where he used his position to lobby for Japanese-Canadians’ rights. The next year, the efforts of the Japanese-Canadian lobby paid off, and Japanese-Canadian veterans were granted
the right to vote.