Helen Chandler, the main character in Repatriation is a fictional character whose story parallels that of two nurses who accompanied “C” Force to Hong Kong. Their journey was one of unspeakable horror and endurance that could well be compared to Louis Zamperini, the hero of the biography Unbroken
Kay Christie was from Toronto, and Anna May Waters was from Winnipeg. They both became nurses in the early thirties, and were both experienced in general nursing and contagious diseases when they joined the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps in 1940. Both accepted an assignment to ‘a semi-tropical clime’ and met on the train to Vancouver. They shipped out with the 1,975 troops, and the group was often called ‘the 1975 + 2.’
They arrived in Hong Kong on November 16, 1941, and began to serve in the British Military Hospital. On December 8th, the Japanese attacked the Hong Kong territories, and on December 25th the city surrendered. The hospital was designated a Prisoner-of-War camp and many wounded Canadians were treated there, with minimal medical supplies.
There were several outlying hospitals, and in several of these, when the Japanese overran that part of the colony, massacres and atrocities took place. Many of the nursing aides were raped, as described in Kay Christie’s account. These nursing aides were often the wives of male civilians and government officials who took the nursing jobs to avoid evacuation.
It’s unclear to me if Kay or Anna May were raped, but reading between the lines I believe at least one of them was.
After the horror came the endurance. The two nurses remained at the hospital for eight months, but were then transferred to the civilian internment camp, Camp Stanley. Though both were 2nd Lieutenants, they were treated as civilians because they were women. At Camp Stanley they were given a ‘luxury’ 9×12 room to share with two others. Hunger, disease, boredom and fear were constant companions during the next 13 months.
Since they were being treated as civilians, the two nurses were included in negotiations for repatriation of Allied civilians. It took almost two years for these negotiations to come to fruition, but in September of 1943 Kay Christie and Anna May Waters boarded a Japanese vessel, the Teia Maru for the journey with 1528 others to a neutral port.
But that, as they say, is another story.
There are two good brief summaries of the nurses’ experience, from which most of the following details are taken:
Kay Christie – Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association. The personal account on this page is the most complete and moving of the four, and is the one that inspired me to write the story.
Kay Christie – Veterans Affairs Canada Remembrance
Anna May Waters – Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Assoiciation
Anna May Waters – Veterans Affairs Canada Remembrance