Nursing Sister - Kay Christie

Robert Baker of the Quebec Regional Office sent me a tape of an interview conducted by Bill McNeil of CBC with Kay Christie back in 1992, which was used in the production "The Voice of the Pioneer". Ms. Christie was a nursing sister and lived in Toronto. She was sent to Hong Kong to work and subsequently ended up as a prisoner of war. I have taken excerpts from the taped interview and put them in story form. For many years, she could not talk about her experience. Ms. Christie passed away a few years ago.

"Kay Christie was a nursing sister from Toronto. When war broke out she wanted to serve her country but much to her regret she was posted to a Toronto hospital. She was a Commissioned Officer and received $5.00 per day. On October 1941 she received orders that she would be going overseas in two days' time. She had no idea where she was going, only that she was not to talk to anyone about it. She boarded a train in Toronto and headed west. In Winnipeg, another nursing sister came on board. They arrived in Vancouver and the two women had to report to Military Headquarters each day at 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. She figured the army thought they were going to leave and go home. Not likely. She took an oath to serve and she had no thoughts of returning home. They were told they had to go and buy all the summer clothes they could find. She said this was great fun trying to find summer clothes in October. They each managed to find one outfit. They were then posted to a troop ship the Awatea. Two nursing sisters and 1,975 men. They were always referred to as "1,975 + 2". One evening after dinner, the two women were in the lounge having a drink and one was having a cigarette. The Brigadier showed them a letter that the Assistant Matron in Chief had written to them. Basically the letter said that in the company of all those men, they should not drink or smoke in case the men got the wrong idea. She said for the three weeks on board the ship they received nothing but attention and respect from the men. The ship eventually arrived in Honolulu and at this point they were finally told they were going to Hong Kong.

Once they arrived in Hong Kong, they worked in a British Military Hospital. On December 7, three weeks after arriving in Hong Kong, Pearl Harbour was bombed and the next day their hospital was bombed. The shell went through the roof and out the back and into a brick building where many Chinese boys slept. One boy was killed. Their hospital was used as target practice - 111 direct hits on the hospital and buildings on the grounds. The air raid siren was hit by the first bomb so they had no warning until the planes were overhead. The bombing lasted 18 days and then the snipers arrived.

Auxiliary hospitals were set up around the island which were equipped with only mattresses on the floor for the patients. The hospital staff had female volunteers, most of which were mothers and their daughters. At one hospital, the Japanese soldiers came in and lined the volunteers up and took the younger ones and raped them right in front of everyone. On Christmas morning, one nursing sister and six female volunteers were sent to one of the auxiliary hospitals. It was raided by the Japanese soldiers. The two officers in charge and most of the patients were killed. All seven women were raped and four of the volunteers were murdered.

For the next eight months, they were held as prisoners of war in the hospital. In August 1942 they were taken to Stanley Interment Camp for civilians. They weren't allowed to take any items from the hospital, but they managed to take a few things. She managed to take a dressing basin and a knife, fork, and spoon, but later realized she only needed the spoon. Their food consisted of soup. No solids at all. The men that were already at the Camp hadn't shaved since January, but the day the women arrived, they were all spruced up. She was shown to her room which she was to share with two other women. The room was 9' x 12' and completely bare. Bullet holes in the windows, blood stains on the walls, and cracks in the plaster. Some of the men got them army cushions called "biscuits." They were thinner and harder than chesterfield cushions but it was better than the floor. Flying cockroaches came in through the holes in the window; they had bedbugs and large centipedes that would drop from the ceiling. Later on they got canvass cots and their trunks even arrived. The food was minimal, the guards did continuous surveillance, and the boredom was endless. Finally in September 1943, a prisoner exchange took place and Ms. Christie returned home.

After she returned home, she found that Canadians had no real idea what was going on overseas. One elderly woman asked her if she had enough to eat when she was a prisoner of war. Ms. Christie replied that some nights she couldn't get to sleep because the hunger pains were so bad. She would get up and take a small sip of their "precious" water and it would help. The elderly woman then asked her why she would drink water – why didn't she just go to the refrigerator and get herself a nice glass of cold milk.

When Ms. Christie was asked if she had been scared while she was a Prisoner of War, she replied, "There were others in the same boat – I wasn't alone."

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