Saturday, 12 May 2018
Stranger in My Heart by Mary Monro
Release Date: June 2018
Genres: Memoir / Biography
Stranger In My Heart (with foreword by HRH The Princess Royal) is about the search for understanding oneself, answering the question “Who am I?” by seeking to understand the currents that sweep down the generations, eddy through one’s own persona and continue on – palpable but often unrecognised.
My father fought at the Battle of Hong Kong in December 1941, was taken prisoner by the Japanese and then escaped in February 1942, making his way across 1200 miles of inhospitable country to reach China’s wartime capital at Chongqing. Seventy years later I retraced his steps in an effort to understand a man who had died when I was 18, leaving a lot of unanswered questions behind. My book is the quest that I undertook to explore my father’s life, in the context of the Pacific War and our relationship with China.
A picture of a man of the greatest generation slowly unfolds, a leader, a 20th Century Great, but a distant father. As I delve into his story and research the unfamiliar territory of China in the Second World War, the mission to get to know the stranger I called ‘Dad’ resolves into a mission to understand how my own character was formed. As I travel across China, the traits I received from my father gradually emerge from their camouflage. The strands of the story are woven together in a flowing triple helix, with biography, travelogue and memoir punctuated with musings on context and meaning.
"A well-written and deeply satisfying book, packed with information and adventure, as Mary Monro struggles to understand her WWII hero father, her inheritance, and herself. Above all, a damn good read!”
Damien Lewis, best selling author of “Hunting the Nazi Bomb”
Damien Lewis, best selling author of “Hunting the Nazi Bomb”
The author’s father contemplates escape from PoW camp in Hong Kong in January 1942:
“The poor fate of the prisoners was clear to Dad as the Japanese established their regime over the first couple of weeks:
The Japanese have just started issuing beans. These are a great improvement to the diet even though we only get enough to give each man a couple of tablespoons once a day. When they were first issued there were great arguments as to whether they should be germinated or not. The arguments in favour of germination (vitamin C) seem to me so obvious that I really think X [another staff officer] must be insane as he opposed. The silly little man even argued with the doctors. Some of the troops don’t like it. They say it makes the beans hard! But unless the Japanese give us more meat and vegetables we are in for a poor time. Already they have almost closed down the traffic over the fence. Relatives and Chinese girl friends are still allowed to bring parcels of food but these are examined and handed over by the Japs themselves. Ordinary trade has stopped. They have shot several Chinese who have been caught selling stuff to us. They are afraid of messages being passed into the camp.
Although actually getting out of the camp seemed quite easy, surviving a journey through occupied territory without getting shot or recaptured would be another matter. Very few men did escape from the POW camps and they invariably had a rough time of it. The Japanese were not the only potential opponents, as Dad observes:
We had both seen and heard much about the work of the 5th Columnists, and I had heard that when the Japanese took Canton [now known as Guangzhou], treachery and bribery were the chief reasons for the fall of the city. As a result we thought it was impossible to trust any Chinese, particularly in or near Hong Kong and that if we were unfortunate enough to meet one unexpectedly, he would betray us. We had also heard that there had been considerable guerrilla activity north of the border, but we imagined that there were probably Freelances over whom the Chinese government would have no control; that the term ‘guerrilla’ was a euphemism for ‘bandit’, and that if we fell in with any of these we should be murdered.
In typical military fashion, Dad considered all the options for escape. As the fence was not much of a barrier they could have walked out, but there were Japanese sentries everywhere, well-lit streets and a curfew in force. The camp was next to the sea, and bypassing the most heavily patrolled land around the camp by escaping across a short stretch of water looked a much more achievable route. They would then have a much better chance of returning to land, slipping unnoticed into the backstreets and up into the scrub-covered hills of the New Territories. Hiring a sampan would have meant trusting a Chinese – Dad thought this too risky, but Captain Tony Hewitt did escape successfully with the aid of a sampan. Although they could wade along the water’s edge and then get up into the hills, their silhouettes would have been highly visible at low tide – the only feasible time to attempt that route. They could steal one of the sentries’ rowing boats at night and make a getaway, but it was uncertain whether the sentries left the oars in the boats. The only other option was to make a raft and swim for it.
One of Dad’s original companions for the escape baulked at the absence of any safe option and withdrew. It was difficult to find any willing companion – married men thought it irresponsible, others were sick or wounded and most just thought the whole prospect too daunting. Anyway, we were bound to win the war soon and then everyone would be freed, wouldn’t they? ”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mary has written numerous technical and academic articles and is an experienced lecturer and presenter, but this is her first book. She lives in Bath with her husband, Julian Caldecott, and dog, Gobi. She practises as an osteopath in the picturesque Wiltshire town of Bradford on Avon. She treats people three days a week (see www.mmost.co.uk) and treats horses and dogs one day a week (www.hippokampos.co.uk and www.facebook.com/the2marys). She is a Trustee of the Sutherland Cranial College of Osteopathy (SCCO) and Member of the Royal Society of Medicine. She was formerly a marketing consultant, with five years experience at what is now Price Waterhouse Coopers, and three years with strategy consultancy, P.Four (now part of WPP). She began her marketing career with Cadbury’s confectionery and retains a lifelong love of chocolate.
Mary was born and raised at a farm on the edge of the south Shropshire hills, the youngest of four children. She attended Shrewsbury High School from age four to eighteen. She spent much of her childhood on horseback, which left her with permanent damage to her right eye, a broken nose, broken knee-cap and broken coccyx. She has been bitten, kicked, rolled on, dragged, and has fallen off too many times to recall, but she still rides racehorses for fun.