Earlier this month I posted a blog marking the 81st anniversary of the first ship to leave Hong Kong during the evacuation crisis of July 1940.
Today is another anniversary to mark – but this time remembering a happier original event than the departure of the Empress of Japan from Hong Kong in 1940.
Back then, on July 1st 1940, the wife and two sons of George Bearman were among 1,500 women and children to board the Empress of Japan, headed for the Philippines. George and fellow husbands and fathers remained in Hong Kong, with neither they nor the evacuees aware that their separation would be for far longer than anyone imagined.
A Weekend to Pack tells the Bearmans’ story and those of family, friends and colleagues, along with that of the wider community in Hong Kong following the July 1940 evacuation, ordered by the British government due to threats of invasion from the Japanese. While most in the colony believed the evacuation unnecessary and virtually all that it would be short-lived, the evacuees were soon sailing again. They were bound not for return to Hong Kong, however, but journeying on to Australia. The days of separation stretched into months as the tension in the Far East rose.
So, this blog – remembering back to July 24th 1926 – tells a ‘what happened before’ story.
Because on Saturday July 24th 1926, the wedding took place at Jesus Chapel, St Mary Extra – Peartree Church – in Southampton between George Henry Bearman (bachelor, electrical engineer, and resident of Portsmouth) – and writer of the letters that tell the story in A Weekend to Pack – and Hilda Grace Payne (spinster, music teacher, and Southampton, Itchen, her home).
Both George and Hilda were 25, and went on to buy a home at 37 Randolph Road, in Portsmouth, and have two sons, David and Edward. In the autumn of 1938, George sailed for Hong Kong to begin a three-year posting at the naval dockyard (on secondment from the Royal Dockyard in Portsmouth), with Hilda and the boys joining him six months later.
On July 3rd 1941, a year on from the 1940 evacuation, George writes to Hilda,“Well dear, if this letter isn’t too long on the way, it ought to arrive in time for me to wish you Many Happy Returns of your Wedding Day. Fifteen years, dear, or should I only say fourteen because I don’t think we should really count this last one – still we’ll make up for that, with the only trouble being when are we going to start? Anyway Hilda, I am glad of that day, fifteen years ago, and thank you for it, and for all it brought to us.”
Six months later the Japanese invaded, with Hong Kong surrendering on Christmas Day 1941. The years of separation continued, George with so many of his colleagues and friends, a prisoner of war.
Reverend Miles Newton, Priest-in-charge at Peartree Church – and the world’s oldest Anglican church, with the first church building dating from 1618 – says, “I am delighted that Peartree Church was the place where this devoted couple’s marriage took place.
“It seems it was also the place that George looked back to at a poignant moment when he and Hilda were separated.
“It is a pleasure and privilege to have become aware of their moving and emotional story.”