WW2 volunteer nurses, part 2: The Auxiliary Nursing Service (ANS)

Submitted by Admin on Sun, 08/24/2014 - 17:13

This article from the Hong Kong Volunteer & Ex-POW Association of NSW introduces the second of two groups of volunteer nurses that served in Hong Kong during WW2.

As a part of war preparations in 1941, some patients in civilian hospitals, both government and private, were to be removed to relief hospitals specially set up in buildings such as schools, to make room for civilian war casualties. The private Yeung Wo Hospital, for example, took on the role of a casualty clearing station following the removal of all the patients in it (Li Shu Fan’s Hong Kong Surgeon, Victor Gollancz, 1964 page 95). The need for this had been anticipated, and to provide nursing staff for the receiving relief hospitals the Civil Defence Corps Regulations in July, 1941 established an Auxiliary Nursing Service (ANS). ANS nurses, with nurses of St John Ambulance, also staffed first aid stations throughout the urban areas. This Occasional Paper describes the ANS and the hospitals at which its nurses worked during hostilities and after.

The civilian relief hospitals were located in the Hong Kong University, the race course stands in Happy Valley, La Salle College in Kowloon, the Peninsula HotelSt. Stephen’s Girls’ College in Lyttleton Road and, it is believed, St Paul’s College in Central. In the event, the relief hospital at the Peninsula Hotel did not become operational.

1941 Stands at Happy Valley

The race course stands in 1941, location of a civilian relief hospital.
(Photo from Pow Mah published by Col.H.B.L.Dowbiggin,1965).

Happy Valley Racecourse

View from the north looking towards the race course. The relief hospital was located in the stands with the tower at the centre of the photo.

Some published accounts confuse the military and civilian hospitals. The relief hospital in the race course stands in particular, the scene of Japanese atrocities, is often erroneously regarded as a military facility. The military facilities comprised Bowen Road Hospital, the Royal Naval Hospital (Wanchai) and the Indian Military Hospital (moved from Kowloon to the requisitioned Tung Wah (Eastern) Hospital in Sookunpoo), plus temporary hospitals located in St. Albert’s Priory (Rosary Hill), St Stephen’s College (in Stanley) and the Hong Kong Hotel (in Central). They were staffed by service personnel including the Nursing Detachment of the HKVDC (VADs). Military casualties were also treated in some civilian hospitals, notably the Queen Mary Hospital, the War Memorial and the Matilda Hospitals, and the relief hospital at the University. 

Members of the ANS were largely Chinese, Eurasian and local Portuguese, with a very few Europeans, unlike the VAD which was made up almost entirely of Europeans with only a handful of Eurasians and no Asians. C.G.Roland in Long Night’s Journey into Day (Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2001) tells of a report that soon after the surrender some members of the VAD, “chiefly Chinese and some (local) Portuguese”, were seen in Kowloon under Japanese guard. The probability is that the nurses seen were in the ANS or St John Ambulance, not in the VAD.

The ANS and St John Ambulance nurses in a first aid station in the Salesian Mission in Shaukiwan were not harmed by the Japanese, but the men co-located there in an RAMC store and a Field Ambulance Advanced Dressing Station were almost all captured and killed shortly after the landing on the Island. Only three survived, including medical officer Lt. Osler Thomas, HKVDC and Association member for many years. ANS nurses in the first aid station were Lois Fearon and Mary Suffiad perhaps better known as Mary Wong, after the war a social worker and a Member of the Legislative Council. She was a University student in 1941 and went into China after the battle, working with the BAAG. She was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire for her work during the war.

Some five or six unnamed Chinese nurses were killed in the temporary military hospital in St Stephen’s College. Their presence in a military facility is a puzzle. One account describes them as wives of British soldiers, but the more likely explanation is that they were ANS or St John Ambulance nurses, perhaps working in a civilian first aid station co-located in the College buildings. 

An ANS nurse who was killed in the battle was Jessie Holland. She and a fellow auxiliary nurse were amongst five civilians on a launch on 12th December, reported as proceeding to Kowloon to reconnoitre. It is unclear if they were on a ferry or on a Police launch, and why the civilians were on board is not explained. The launch rescued some troops under fire, but Jessie Holland was killed. Her husband was Adam Morrison Holland of the Public Works Department who died in the American bombing of Stanley Internment Camp in January, 1945.

Our Association’s past and present membership includes two ANS nurses – Beatrice Hutcheon and Florrie Adams. The latter’s sister Jessie Wong was also an ANS nurse, at the La Salle College relief hospital, while their mother, Florence Wong, was an ANS nurse at the race course relief hospital. The following note describes Florence’s experiences there:

“We cooked and ate at the Shan Kwong Hotel. When the shooting got too bad on Christmas Eve we were not allowed to go back to the hotel…….. From 5 pm  onwards they gave us a good pounding all through the night;... .... then Christmas morning we came out to go on duty. We found all the Chinese doctors had gone……..At 7 a.m. the Japs appeared……..When the Chinese doctors had gone that left us with no men folk……..The only male was a British soldier being amongst the wounded and he was blackened to look like an Indian. About 9.30 a.m. the Matron and three of us went to the other end of the Jockey Club to get one of the ambulance doctors, and the only European doctor there. They came and stayed but could do nothing to stop the Japs. Looting continued. They came and went. Came back again only to take the young girls away. All Christmas day and night they kept coming in and taking whoever they fancied…….. Before daylight word was sent to Dr. Selwyn Clarke. He came at noon and wanted us to “stay put”, but Matron would not hear of it…….. So trucks came and took us to the Queen Mary Hospital late Boxing Day.” 

Mabel Winifred Redwood was also in the ANS and at the race course relief hospital. In her published book entitled It Was Like This… (ISIS Publishing Ltd, 2002) she gives a detailed account of events in the hospital, including how they disguised a corporal in the Middlesex Regiment. He was the only military casualty there, awaiting transport to Bowen Road Hospital. She also tells of the rape of the nurses, and of how a nurse, Marie Paterson, escaped to Bowen Road and raised the alarm.

Florence Wong was the sister of Harry Ching (father of Association member Henry Ching) who lived in Happy Valley. His diary entry soon after the surrender notes:

“Nephew Fred and I went to the racecourse stands to inquire for his mother. The place seemed deserted. A Japanese N.C.O. appeared and shouted at us, then beckoned us to approach. We tried in Chinese to explain our mission, but he showed no understanding. We tried to leave, but he would not let us go and continued to shout at us. Suddenly, he said “Spik Ingrise”. We brightened and he grinned. We explained it all again in English. He pointed to a big closed door. We pushed it open and went in. It was the morgue, with three bodies lying on tables. We quickly withdrew. He laughed and motioned us to the main stands. These were deserted and in confusion, beds empty and blankets strewn around. We thanked him and left. Outside we met Arthur May of the PWD. He eased our anxiety; had seen Fred’s mother at the Queen Mary Hospital.”

And in a later entry,

“My sister and her daughter Florrie came home, escorted to the door by Dr Selwyn Clarke.”

The auxiliary nurses dispersed and returned home following the surrender of Hong Kong. Earlier, at the La Salle College relief hospital following the withdrawal from Kowloon, those who were unable to return home were temporarily held by the Japanese in the Chinese YMCA in Waterloo Road, and subsequently moved to the Kowloon Hotel.

Members of the ANS were not interned as such; the few who were interned individually responded as “enemy nationals” to the internment order in January, 1942. It appears the ANS was regarded as having been disbanded with the surrender of Hong Kong on Christmas Day, 1941. After the war Florence Wong and her two daughters each received HK$486.00 as pay and allowances, presumably for the 18 days from mobilisation to the surrender. They were also informed that they were eligible for the Defence Medal. 

This was originally published as "OCCASIONAL PAPER NUMBER 27, The Auxiliary Nursing Service in the Civil Defence Corps, 1941" by the Hong Kong Volunteer & Ex-POW Association of NSW. For a list of all the Occasional Papers, please visit their website:  http://www.rhkrnsw.org/occasionalpapers/

Thank you to the association for letting me re-publish this article. If you can add any photos or stories of these wartime nurses, please let us know in the comments below.

Regards, David

Further reading:

  • An earlier article from the association introduces the other group of volunteer nurses in Hong Kong, the VADs: http://gwulo.com/node/20823


Diana Fortescue writes:

My mother, Margery Fortescue, was in the ANS and worked at the War Memorial Hospital throughout the fighting. She and  my father, Tim Fortescue, who was on the Governor's staff, and joined her there (as did my infant brother, Adrian who had been looked after at the creche at the Matilda hospital) on Christmas Day 1941 until 24th or 25th January 1942 when they were taken by truck by the Japanese to internment in Stanley.

She always said that the uniforms worn by the ANS nurses were very 'dreary' compared with the more glamorous ones worn by the VAD nurses

Barbara Anslow writes:

Interesting reading part 2 of WW2 volunteer nurses, but  although your account states that the Auxiliary Nursing Service was established in July 1941, it was functioning much earlier than that, my Mother was already a uniformed ANS by July 1940 before my father died.  

A proposal for the formation in Civilian Hospitals of a Auxiliary Nursing Service, open to women of all nationalities, has now reached a point where an appeal for volunteers has been made by Dr. Lilian Dovey, who is chairwoman of the committee entrusted with its organisation. HK Sunday Herald 5 March 1939 refers(March 1939 was referreed to as the founding year of the ANS in a celebration held in April 1940 (first year) at the China Fleet Club).

In connection with the scheme, a series of lectures were held in major hospitals commencing in March 1939 to attract volunteers. Examinations in Home Nursing/First Aid were held in May of the same year. To be registered as a qualified Auxiliary Nurse, holders of Home Nursing/First Aid certificates had to complete 96 hours of hospital training.

Moddsey, I'd had a quick search through the newspapers but didn't spot this - thanks for your more thorough search.

I'd also heard from Henry Ching by email, with the same start date of March 1939:

Barbara Anslow is right.  The Civil Defence Corps Regulations were issued on 4th July, 1941 and established the auxiliary services on a more organised legal basis.  But many of the auxiliary services existed before then on an ad hoc basis; the Auxiliary Nursing Service, according to G.B.Endacott’s “Hong Kong Eclipse”, was formed as early as March, 1939.

Regards, David

Henry Ching writes:

There seems to be general agreement in all accounts that Mrs E.H.Tinson was a nurse at the Salesian Mission. However, there seems to be some uncertainty whether she was in the ANS or in St John Ambulance. There were also several St John Ambulance nurses there at the time. Charles G.Roland in “Long Night’s Journey into Day”, who had access to a letter written by Mrs Tinson in 1946, describes her as “a captain in the St John Ambulance Brigade”.

Good point - it seems likely she wasn't in the ANS.

I wonder if Mary Suffiad/Wong was the 'Miss Mary Wong of Wanchai' who helped Kanneko Bush (Japanese wife of a naval Volunteer) get clothes for an escape to Macao (she was arrested almost immediately). (Lewis Bush, Road to Inamura, 159).

The following list is compiled from newspaper notifications from 1940 to 1941 giving the names of personnel who had completed 96 hours of hospital training for qualification as an ANS Nurse:

The list does not appear to be complete but can be used as reference.

5 MAR 1940 (Hong Kong Daily Press, page 8)

Au Yeung Sau Yu, Au Yeung Sau Chan, Hing Lai U, Lee Kam Chuen, Lee Sau Ha, Leunng Kwan Pui, Tsoi Kwan Ying, Wong Yuk Chan and Yui Kim Ping.

Sylvia Bancroft, Doris Chan, Anna Creasy, Sheila Haynes, Irene Lee, Margery Morse, M. Madgwick, Mabel Pearson Grant, G. Upsdell, Alice Wong and Rene Yuen.

11 JUN 1940 (Hong Kong Daily Press, page 2)

Janet Crawford, Bernadette Chan, Marion Chan, Betty Drown, Jessie Ewing, Phyllis Ferguson, Helen Jefferies, Gizella Kopeczski, Vera Simmonds, Majorie Tan, Stella Wong, Winifred White, Wong Man Kam and Wong Wan Chan.

5 SEP 1940 (Hong Kong Telegraph, page 2)

Maysie Blanchett, Chiu Man San, Erminia Castilho, May Cheung, Jessie Cheung, Julian Chua, Chan Kit Hing, Gladys Edwards, Jean Findlay, Adeline Fraser, Magdalene Greenwood, Olive Grenham, Hung Kwok Wai Chan,  Doris Hamilton, Moira Johnson, Kwan Wan Ngoi, Mary Kirk, Patricia Loseby, Fan J. Lee, Thelma Mills, Doreen Mok, Mother Annie Murray, Norah Potter, Mary Parsons, Marie Ring, Edna Sundo, Gertie Shea, Rhexenor Stalker, Mary Smith, D. Sage, Joanna Tsang, Alice Upsdell, Florrie Wong and Wilhelmina Williamson.

1 OCT 1940 (Hong Kong Telegraph, page 5)

Ruth Ashton Hill, Winifred Dalziel, Fung Mei Po, Lillian Edgar, Mary Goodban, Dorothy Grigor, Dorothy Lo, Florence Pacy and Tso Suk Han.

30 OCT 1940 (Hong Kong Daily Press, page 5)

Lydia Bonch, Molly Blake, Olga Bateman, Elaine Davis, Beryl Fair, Ida Gerzo, Lilian Howie, Sister St. Julienne, Sister St. John, Grace Kilbee, Rosalind Phillips. Beatrice Pope, Dorothy Piercy, Elizabeth Paton, Faith Snuggs, Joan Smalley, Jean Sheldon, Elsie Saunders, Margery Simpson, Adelaide Van de Veere and Constance Wallington.

15 NOV 1940 (Hong Kong Telegraph, page 7)

Ethel Barron, Margaret Buckley, Bertha Oryan, Mary Campbell, Winnie Cox, Chue Cho Ling, Mary Frederick, Edna Grant, Mary Hancock, Kan Lai Wah, Salvant Kor, Luk Sz Ho, Sophia Low, Jane Lambert, Gertrude Macgregor, Kathleen Martin, Winifred Phillips, Phoon Kwai Fong, Claire Reynaud, Emma Raymond, Dorothy Shilston, Jeanette Shrigley, Vern Silcocks, Louise Silas, Eileen Tinson and Marie Young.

13 DEC 1940 (Hong Kong Telegraph, page 9)

Olga Archangelsky, Mary Bruce, Ethel Byrne, Chue Tsan Hung, Diana Dodwell, Grace Darby, Margery Fortescue, Julia Fulker, Nina Goldenberg, Millicent Joffe, Sister Marie de Sacrement, Sister Marie de Victoire, Sally Moir, Kathleen Moir, Elizabeth Rodgers, Eileen Redmond, Sister St. Stanisias, Margaret Taylor, Katherine Upskensky and Crista Womack.

3 JUL 1941 (Hong Kong Daily Press, page 5)

Marjorie Allinson, Louise Benoist, Eva Churn, Phyllis Finch, Olga Ferrier, Beatrice Greaves, Leah Hawkett, Elaine Ho, Helen Jung, Florence Robinson, Gladys Skinner, Alice Tesler, Emily Wood, Lam Sau Ying and Leung Cho Wan.

25 JUL 1941 (Hong Kong Daily Press, page 7)

Florence Allinson, Helen Aycock, Vivienne Blackburn, Doris Brooks, Florence Cartwright, Winifred Deane, Alice Gibson, Louisa Holloway, Henrietta Jernakoff, Mary Kalley, Jessie Knox, Clare Marsh, Militea Rackovsky and Mabel Sully.

20 SEP 1941 (Hong Kong Daily Press, page 5)

Jean Baker, Nora Bascombe, Katherine Brameld, Chan Pin So, Chan To Fan, Sister St. Ceile, Catherine Cunningham, Nora Dillon, Lena Glover, Elizabeth Gibbins, Margaret Hearson, Lan Wai Hing, Violet Lee, Man Ngan Chi, Sister de Ricci, Marjory Stuart, Sister St. Simon, Edna Stenersen, Tam Wai Chit, Sister St. Tharcicius, Eleanor Thom, Vera Weill and Nora Witchell

Thanks Moddsey, that's a lot of typing! One tip is to also include the name of the newspaper and page number where you found the article. It makes it easier to find the original. I've added in a couple above where I've gone back to the newspaper to double-check a name.

I've worked through the list and linked any where we have a Person page. In many cases it's the first time we've known their given name, so it's a big help, thanks!

Regards, David

Actually the typing was not difficult, but the gathering of information from using different search words was. If you are able to keep the edit button open for the post, I should be able to complete the references to the newspapers.

Henry Ching writes:

A vote of thanks must go to Moddsey for his interesting list of members of the ANS. There are a few familiar names:

Betty Drown – wife of Ted Drown who worked in the Labour Department and who was in the HKVDC. Noted pianist, interned in Stanley.

Patricia Loseby – daughter of F.H.Loseby and eventually Hong Kong’s first female solicitor, interned in Stanley with her parents.

Gertie Shea – Eurasian Gertrude Alison Chan (Tyson), wife of John Shea who was in the ASC Company, HKVDC. 

Florrie Wong – most likely my cousin Florence Agnes Wong. Her mother Flo and sister Jessie were also in the ANS. 

Mary Goodban – wife of Gerald Goodban, headmaster of the Diocesan Boys’ School. He was a despatch rider in the HKVDC. She was interned in Stanley. 

Elaine Davis – wife of Professor S.G.Davis of the Geography Department, Hong Kong University. He was in the HKVDC. I think she worked in the Government public relations office and was interned in Stanley.

Eva Churn – daughter of Eurasian Samuel Macomber Churn. She married Norman Leonard.

Beatrice Greaves -  Eurasian  who married Robin Hutcheon, for many years Editor of the South China Morning Post. In 1941 she was a university student.

Violet Lee – Eurasian Violet Alison Shea, sister of John Shea, who married Edward Adolphus Lee (Ahlmann).

Nora Witchell – married Arthur Desmond Stutchbury who was also in Stanley Internment Camp with her. She was killed by terrorists in Malaya in 1950.

Moddsey, thanks for adding the newspaper references.

Henry Ching adds:

It looks as though Mrs Tinson was indeed a member of the ANS.   I am unable to look at the newspaper reports on which Moddsey has based his list. I wonder if the lists are of ANS members only, or whether they are lists of those who completed some sort of joint hospital training scheme in which members of both the ANS and St John Ambulance participated. 

In my list of familiar names below I omitted Vera Weill.  She was the wife of Leo (or Leon) Weill who served in the HKVDC as a gunner.  Leo Weill was a POW in Sham Shui Po and died in April, 1945. As you know, the Weill family owned Alberose in Pokfulam Road.

I've posted the clipping that mentions Mrs Tinson at:


It shows the auxiliary nurses receiving St John Ambulance certificates. In Mrs Tinson's case, could it be possible she was considered to be an auxiliary nurse, and also hold a rank in St John Abulance at the same time - ie the descriptions aren't mutually exclusive?

Regards, David

The lists above only indicate the ANS personnel that had completed 96 hours of hospital training for qualification as an ANS nurse. As said previously, the lists above may not be complete.  However, I did note that women that had successfully passed their first aid and home nursing exams (and not having completed hospital training) were also members of the ANS as the title of the clipping here shows.

I did not type out  the names of the candidates that had passed their First Aid and Home Nursing examinatiions as the lists are too long.