Gwen PRIESTWOOD / NELSON (née FULLBROOK) [1917-2000] | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong
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Gwen PRIESTWOOD / NELSON (née FULLBROOK) [1917-2000]

Names
Given: 
Gwen
Family: 
Priestwood / Nelson
Maiden: 
Fullbrook
Sex: 
Female
Status: 
Deceased
Birth
Date: 
c.1917-01-01 (Month, Day are approximate)
Birthplace (town, state): 
London
Birthplace (country): 
Death
Date: 
c.2000-01-01 (Month, Day are approximate)

Gwen Priestwood was supposed to be a nurse during the Japanese attack, but volunteered to drive a food supply lorry instead.

Soon after the surrender, she tried to escape with others but the plan came to nothing. She was interned in Stanley Camp with the rest of the Allied civilians, but on March 18, 1942 she began an escape with policeman W. P. Thompson. She carried with her to Chungking a complete list of British internees.

In 1944 she published an account of her experiences: Through Japanese Barbed-wire.

Source:

Gwen Priestwood, Through Japanese Barbed-wire, 1944, passim

Comments

Gwen Priestwood (nee Fullbrook) was the wife of the penultimate British Crown Advocate for China, Victor Priestwood. She had lived in Shanghai for many years.  In 1940, her relationship with Victor had broken down and she moved to Hong Kong where she was interned and escaped as set out above.  She went on lecture tours in America in 1943 and England in 1944 to recount her experiences and drum up support for the war. 

She moved to Canada after the war, re-married and became Mrs Gwen Nelson. 

She returned to Hong Kong in 1983 on a visit and was interviewed by the SCMP (See article on 17 Sept 1983, p17).  There is a photo of her with the article.  She died in Canada in 2000.  

It is well worth the effort to try and track down a copy of Gwen Priestwood's book, "Though Japanese Barbed Wire." Her account of escaping from Stanley with the policeman she calls Thompson is absolutely rivetting.

My aunt Gwen Priestwood was born Gwen Fullbrook in London in 1917 of Laurence Fullbrook, auditor for B.A.T. In Shanghai, and Emma Maud Jones, daughter of a London police detective. Her father Laurence died in 1923 and My mother, Daphne Laurie and Gwen were sent to a series of boarding schools in England only coming back to China in the summer holidays. They were evacuated to Hongkong when Shanghai was bombed by the Japanese, where my mother Daphne met my father, a Royal Navy surgeon, just posted to the hospital in Hongkong from HMS Aphis, one of the gunboats on the Yangtze River. In 1938 my parents were married in the cathedral and returned to England for my father to join the Home Fleet.

Gwen stayed on in Hongkong and was imprisonned by the Japanese as described in her book 'Through Japanese Barbed Wire". I have in front of me a series of telegrams sent from Chungking when she finally arrived there after her escape. The first reads:

' SURGEON COMMANDER WHEELER ROYAL NAVAL AIR STATION HALSTON BY KIRKWALL ORKNEY
RELIABLE INFORMATION RECEIVED THAT MRS VICTOR PRIESTWOOD HAS ESCAPED FROM HONGKONG AND IS NOW AT CHUNGKINGGLAD IF YOU WILL NOT REPEAT NOT GIVE PUBLICITY TO THIS ESCAPE FOR PRESENT BUT NO OBJECTION TO INFORMING RELATIVES UNDER SECRETARY COLONIAL OFFICE'

In a personal letter to my mother, which arrived much later she writes:

Free China

4th April 1942

'...the Chinese have been grand, Laurie, and helped us in every way, and the poor Sampan people perfect. I feel I want weep when I think of their kindness. They were marvellous... they were so anxious about our welfare and that we should get through safely and were most reluctant to take any money from us...'

Our family owe a great debt to all of you in Hongkong and China. Thank you.

RWW