Lieutenant Kathleen (Kay) Christie
Section N, Lot 105
Eager to go overseas at the start of World War II, Kay Christie was a registered nurse who joined the armed forces as a nursing sister with the rank of Lieutenant. In her own words: “…in mid-October, 1941, on being informed that I was slated for duty in a semi-tropical climate and that I had only five minutes to make up my mind, I threw aside my usual caution and immediately accepted this new posting. One week later to the day, on October 19, 1941, I was on board a train to Vancouver, final destination unknown.” On October 27th, Kay and one other nurse sailed, along with 1,875 male troops on board the AWATEA. Six days later, they learned that their destination was Hong Kong. They docked in Kowloon on November 16th, and two days later were on duty in the British Military Hospital. Three weeks later came the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbour and simultaneously, Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong. The three small planes that were there and the air-raid warning system were totally destroyed and, within a few days, as the shelling from the mainland began there were several direct hits on the three-storey hospital. They had to evacuate the top two floors and crowd all the patients and equipment into the ground floor area. After ten days of aerial and shelling attacks from the mainland, the Japanese troops crossed the harbour to the island and, with their superior numbers, began to overcome the various areas. Word reached the large British Military Hospital, also known as the Bowen Road Hospital, of the atrocities committed by the Japanese as they overran the small auxiliary hospitals, and they knew their fate could be the same. On Christmas morning, at a brief service, the padre relayed a message to, allegedly from Winston Churchill, to the effect that the eyes of the world were upon them and not to worry because things were going well. During the afternoon, they heard a British army officer talking about surrender, and shortly after that, a message was sent to them to report at once to the Matron’s office where they were informed officially of the surrender of Hong Kong. Things proceeded as usual in the hospital that night. The next day several Japanese officers arrived at the hospital to speak to the Commanding Officer. The hospital building and the immediate environs were declared “Prisoner-of-War Camp A” which earned for the two nurses, the dubious honour of becoming the first and only Canadian nursing sisters to be prisoners-of-war. Within a few days, a barbed wire fence went up to remind them all of that they were indeed prisoners. Shortly after that, electrified wire was added just to be sure that nobody tried to escape. Before long the food shortage was felt and the medical supplies dwindled and could never be replenished, so the nurses were no longer able to give total nursing care to the seriously wounded, the sick and the dying. After eight months there, during which time they learned to cope with hunger, deprivation and overcrowding, the Japanese moved the nurses to a civilian internment camp on Stanley Peninsula on the south side of the island. With no warning at all and with no reasons given, all female personnel were moved from the service hospitals still operating, loaded onto trucks like cattle and taken away. This of course left these hospitals without nursing care of any kind. They became part of the 2,400 men, women and children who were herded into all manner of buildings where privacy and the basic comforts of life were conspicuous by their absence. According to the Japanese authorities, the service nurses were being shown “preferential” treatment, which meant only three in one room and luxuries like one three-piece bathroom to serve all 83 of them. If they didn’t live within a few doors of this ‘luxury,’ their chances of ever getting a bath were practically non-existent. However they did learn the art of “scrounging” and making do. Life dragged on like this until the middle of 1943 when they learned that the Canadian government had negotiated to have all Canadian civilian internees from the Far East repatriated along with the group of American civilians remaining in other parts of the Far East. This was arranged by their government in an operation that was to be carried out under the auspices of the International Red Cross. As far as the Japanese were concerned, the two Canadian nurses were civilian refugees and were thus included in the group who left Stanley Camp on September 23, 1943, on the first leg of a ten-week journey home. The first four weeks of the trip was on a dreadful Japanese ship called the TEIA MARU where the conditions were even worse than at the internment camp. Built for 400 cabin passengers, there were 1,530 on board. After their arrival in Goa, four weeks later, the Swedish-American liner GRIPSHOLM arrived with 1530 Japanese internees from the U.S. who were to be exchanged for them. Several days later, the Japanese internees were put on board the TEIA MARU and the allied civilians boarded the GRIPSHOLM, which was like a touch of heaven, clean and well-loaded with good food, such a contrast to what the Japanese had forced them to endure. Exactly ten weeks after leaving Hong Kong they disembarked at New York, where it was a pleasure to note that the armed guards, this time, were American. They escorted the Canadians to a bus which took them to a special train for an overnight trip to Montreal. At the old Bonaventure station next morning they said their goodbyes and dispersed, fanning out to homes spread all across the country. They were back in Canada where they belonged and everyone had a brand new appreciation for a way of life they had previously taken for granted. Lieutenant Kathleen (Kay) Christie died on February 7, 1994 at the age of 82.