Category Archives: Featured

Stranger in My Heart – Mary Monro

On 9 June 2018, Mary Monro’s moving book, Stranger in My Heart, was published. Mary spoke about the book at our Leeds workshop in March 2018. Here, Mary describes how she learned of her father’s wartime experiences, including his escape from Hong Kong, and her own journey to retrace his steps and all that it uncovered.

Stranger In My Heart by Mary Monro

 It’s the silence that gets us all started isn’t it? This is how I unlocked my Dad’s silence, 30 years after he died, and in the process how I learned much about who I am. The Dad I knew was a Shropshire farmer, horseman, watcher of the TV news. We received a letter from his old Chinese interpreter every Christmas, but he never said a word about his 25 years in the Royal Artillery or about his experiences in the Second World War.

Major Munro

Major John Monro, 1942; © Mary Monro

Battle of Hong Kong

Dad fought at the battle of Hong Kong in December 1941 and kept a diary. This gave me an eyewitness account of the battle, which I could cross-reference with official reports and the accounts of other combatants.

Imprisonment at Sham Shui Po

After the surrender on Christmas Day 1941, 5000 – 6000 Allied troops were imprisoned at Sham Shui Po Barracks on the mainland. It was clear that they were in for a rough time. They faced the awful dilemma of staying for an unknown period in terrible conditions or escaping into territory patrolled by the Japanese and inhabited by potentially hostile Chinese, where they didn’t know the country, couldn’t communicate and couldn’t hide. Senior officers in the camp were against escape and the Japanese Commandant promised that escapes would result in reprisals for those left behind. But Dad was determined to go, and it later turned out that reprisals were more than offset by the boost to morale generated by escapes.

Escape From Hong Kong

Dad travelled 1200 miles across China from Hong Kong to Chongqing, a destitute refugee in a nation of destitute refugees. It was hard to understand his escape route which seemed to be a crazy zig-zag across the map. I had to learn where the Japanese forces were; road, river and rail links; the location of British Military Missions, and so on. Chongqing, China’s wartime capital, turns out to be the preferred destination for escapers and so I was able to compare his account with those of other escapers.

escape routeMajor John Monro’s Escape Route, 1942; © Mary Monro

Plan to Liberate Hong Kong PoWs

In Chongqing Dad was made Assistant Military Attaché and remained there until the end of 1943. Searching his diary I stumbled across a barely known piece of history.

November 26th 1942: “Cooper came to lunch today. Afterwards we had a long discussion on the intelligence he required and the steps to be taken to prevent news of American Airforce movements on the Kweilin airfield leaking to the enemy. Finally Cooper, Ride and I went out onto the balcony for a long talk. As a result of this Ride and I stayed up most of the night concocting a plan”.

There is a lot of information in those 4 sentences. Col Lindsay Ride was founder of the British Army Aid Group, a humanitarian organisation set up to support PoWs in Hong Kong. Dad had a plan to evacuate all these PoWs with the help of the American Airforce. This meeting was to firm up the plan with the Americans. Col Merian Cooper was Chief of Staff to General Claire Chennault of the US Air Force, and was a pioneering aviator, movie producer and creator of King Kong.

Chennault and Cooper were forward thinkers, keen to use air power to attack Japanese supply lines in China. A co-benefit of this plan would be the liberation of the Hong Kong PoWs. But Chennault reported to General ‘Vinegar Joe’ Stilwell, a traditional infantryman who was determined to have a land-based war in Burma.

Chennault and Stilwell presented their opposing plans to Roosevelt and Churchill in May 1943. Chennault’s plan was approved but Roosevelt omitted to sign the directive and Stilwell’s buddies at the War Department ensured that the error was never corrected. Thus Chennault never received the supplies he needed. This was catastrophic for Dad’s plan and for the multitude who lost their lives in Asia as a result of the subverted strategy.

I was becoming frustrated by the written word and decided to retrace Dad’s escape route across China. But would I gain anything from visiting a country that has seen huge changes over the last 70 years?

I started in Hong Kong, touring the battlefield sites and visiting the military cemetery at Stanley. It brought my grief to the surface but it also made me feel close to Dad. I took the train to Shaoguan, where dad had stayed for 10 days writing reports about the conditions for PoWs back in Hong Kong. I continued to Guilin with its stunning Karst landscape and learned more about the conquest of the city by the Japanese. Guizhou, a haven for many of China’s ethnic minorities, is relatively undeveloped, so I felt I was seeing it through Dad’s eyes. In Chongqing I visited Stilwell’s offices, preserved with furniture intact and giving a sense of the dramas that must have unfolded in those rooms. My trip still left me wanting more.

office
Stilwell’s office in Chongqing. © Mary Monro

Research

I started writing, using Dad’s diaries, reports and letters and filling in the background however I could. I hired researchers in the UK and the USA. I found that Roosevelt’s entire presidential archive is available online for free, so I researched that from home. I studied as many books on Hong Kong and China’s war as I could find and pestered friends for any other sources they might have lurking at home.

Finding Community

Unbound is publishing my book and will bring this story to a wider audience. I felt morally bound – and keen – to try and contact the descendants of the people whom Dad mentions. Their responses were truly heartwarming and I felt an immediate sense of community. We all wanted to honour and remember our relations. We were all floundering because of the silence. But for me, the silence had broken, opening to a greater understanding of China, my father and myself.

 

WarGen – Your Help is Needed to Record Stories from WW2

WarGen

WarGen is a small team with big ambitions. Founded by Dan Snow and James Holland, WarGen is creating a crowd-sourced online repository of oral-history from the people who lived through World War 2 – and they are asking for help.

Here is the precise moment War Gen was formed in 2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vhoRgNJZXo.

Since then, more than 100 interviews have been recorded but they need more.

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If you can help, email: shane@wargen.org to help.

Exhibition: The Art of Survival

The Art of Survival

Drawings by Fred Ransome Smith, prisoner of war 11 December 2015 – 28 February 2016 – See more at:

Art of Survival

The launch of Fred Ransome Smiths Exhibition went really well and an interview he did with Channel 7 is shown below. Some of the artwork exhibited was produced when Fred was as a Lieutenant POW in camps on the Burma/Thai Railway, whilst others were drawn later from memory.

Fred was pleased with the exhibition as he was keen to get across the suffering and brutality that the POWs had to endure at the hands of the Japanese.

Fred, now 96, was a POW of the Japanese, having been captured at Singapore in February 1942 and then sent to work on the Thai-Burma Railway. During his three and half years of captivity he took the opportunity, at great personal risk, to draw incidences of the appalling treatment of his fellow POWs.

Fred joined up as a Lieutenant with the 5th Battalion, Suffolk Regiment, and despite originally being destined for the Middle East, arrived in Singapore in late January 1942, which he described as being “in a bad shape when we arrived”. Fred was born in 1919, London  and emigrated to Australia after the war where he continued his career in advertising. Following his retirement Fred lectured at La Trobe University in Bendigo, Victoria.

70TH ANNIVERSARY OF VJ DAY – Liverpool

70TH ANNIVERSARY OF VJ DAY – SATURDAY 15 AUGUST 2015

Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Merseyside (Dame Lorna Muirhead DBE) will lead on behalf of Her Majesty The Queen, a Merseyside Service of Commemoration and Celebration to mark the 70th Anniversary of VJ Day.  

This takes place on Sat 15 Aug at 1100hrs, in Liverpool Parish Church (Our Lady and St Nicholas), Chapel St, Liverpool L2 8TZ.  

Details are as follows:

·        1045hrs.     Guests seated

·        1100hrs.     Service Commences

·        1145hrs.     Service ends

·        Dress: 
        Serving Personnel:  Service Dress, Medals and Leathers (No Swords) 
        Retired Personnel:  Lounge Suit, Medals

This is potentially the last occasion in which the population in Merseyside will gather en-masse, to mark this important milestone.

Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant would like to hear from anyone connected to this history who would like to attend the Service in Liverpool to join with her in giving thanks to those who survived the ordeals of that War in the Far East, and to remember those, who fell on a foreign field and upon the high seas so far away, fighting for our liberty and democracy.

Please contact:  JJV McEvoy, Lieutenant Colonel, Clerk to the Lieutenancy of Merseyside
PO Box 144 RSA, The Capital Building Old Hall Street, Liverpool, L69 3EN
Office: 0151 224 4000, e-mail: llm@uk.rsagroup.com