Kay Christie 1911 - 1994
Kathleen (Kay) Christie was born in Little Current on Manitoulin Island. She grew up in Toronto. When she graduated from Riverdale Collegiate, she was too young to enter nursing school so she took a business course and worked as a secretary. Eventually she graduated as a registered nurse from Toronto Western Hospital.
Kay knew that nurses would be needed during the war so on November 27, 1940, she joined the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps and was given the rank of Lieutenant. By October 1941, she received orders for a top-secret semi-tropical mission and was advised that if she didn’t accept the posting she may not get another opportunity, and would remain at the hospital. She and another nursing sister were posted to the troop ship Awatea, with 1,975 Canadian male soldiers who had been requested by the British government to reinforce its garrison. They set sail and eventually arrived in Honolulu, and at this time they were told that they were going to Hong Kong.
On arrival in Hong Kong, she worked as a nurse at a British military hospital. On December 25, 1941 – eighteen days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour – Hong Kong’s British garrison surrendered. Christie and Winnipeg-born nurse May Waters were captured by the Japanese. For the next eight months they were held as prisoners of war in the hospital.
As nurses, they were expected to treat their fellow prisoners although medical supplies ran out. While the Japanese treated the nurses correctly, Christie and Waters were sickened by the sights and sounds of the torture of the Chinese at the guard gates near their quarters.
In August, 1942, they and 14 British nurses were loaded on to trucks “like cattle being taken to market” and driven to the Stanley Internment Camp on the south side of the island. Conditions at the camp were frightful and food was minimal.
Finally, in September, 1943, after a prisoner exchange took place, Kay Christie’s journey home began on a Japanese ship called the Teia Maru, where the conditions were horrible. After four weeks, the ship arrived in Goa and the final six-week journey was on the Swedish-American liner Gripsholm, which was clean and stocked with good food. The ship stopped in several places; one of them being Port Elizabeth, South Africa. After the ten-week journey the ship arrived in New York and the Canadians took an overnight train to Montreal.
In Kay Christie’s words, “We were back in Canada where we belonged and every one of us had a brand-new appreciation for a way of life we had previously taken for granted.”
For many years, she could not talk about her experience.
On returning to Toronto she worked as a medical nursing secretary for a heart specialist. October 30, 1945, she was granted a discharge from the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps. She then worked as a medical secretary for a neuropsychiatric specialist until her retirement.
- Associate Royal Red Cross Medal
- Honorary Patron of the National Council of Veterans
- Honorary President of the Nursing Sisters Association of Canada
- Plaque, Police Academy of Hong Kong (also to Ms. Waters)
- The Lt (N/S) Kay Christie ARRC Memorial Trophy, The Warrior’s Day Parade (given in her memory)