By PHILIP MATTHEWS
TO an Aucklander falls the honour, of being the first Chinese nurse to be awarded the United States Civilian Emblem. She is Miss Annie Wah Lee.
Born in Auckland 27 years ago, Miss Wah Lee was educated at the Normal School, then in Wellesley Street, and at the Auckland Girls' Grammar School. After she had had a year's study at the Grammar School the Wah Lee family returned to China, where Miss Wah Lee completed her education.
After leaving college, Miss Wah Lee, who was a brilliant student, taught English. She was at this time staying with a Jamaican girl, and by her she was introduced to a priest, who advised her to take up nursing. Through his good offices she was able to join the Kowloon Hospital, where she gained her first year's training as a nurse. Then followed a further five years' training at the Queen Mary Hospital, Hongkong, at the conclusion of which Miss Wah-Lee was appointed matron of the Hospital of the Precious Blood, which was also situated in the British Colony, and was run by sisters of the Roman Catholic Church.
At the time of the fall of Hongkong, Miss Wah Lee's two sisters, Nancy and Alice, whose exciting escape to Free China and subsequent voyage to New Zealand was reported in the Star last year, were on the island. Miss Wah Lee was on the mainland at the time, but at risk of her life she crossed to Hongkong to contact her sisters. As a nurse she was able, through a doctor, to gain a special pass to make the trip, but even so the hazards were considerable. The Japanese wanted to keep her on the island to nurse their own sick and wounded, but she refused, and since the Japanese were more concerned with subduing the British on Hongkong rather than the Chinese—except those of wealth or high position—the request was not enforced. Sisters in Disguise •Her. two sisters, disguised as old women, were taken to occupied China on a refugee boat controlled by the Japanese, and Miss Wah Lee later made a similar trip. This service was run by the Japanese in order to reduce the population on the island, and it was a dangerous voyage. Apart from the fact that many people were brutally clubbed to death by the Japanese in their efforts to control the thousands of refugees on the wharves and that a large number of old women and children were trampled to death, the Japanese themselves often attacked the boats and robbed the passengers. Furthermore, young Chinese women were liable to be molested by the lustful Japanese soldiers.
Miss Wah Lee was fortunate in escaping harm and after reaching the mainland made her way by foot, ricksha, sedan chair and truck to Free China. The last-named means of transport, though faster than the others, was reliable, for many of the lorries ran on coal when out of petrol and were prone to come to a halt leaving the. occupants to spend a night on the mountains. Nevertheless, the journey to Chungking—a distance of some 700 miles as the crow flies —was completed in .three weeks. In the wwtitne capital Miss Wab Lee contacted a priest, with thf; assistance of whom she obtained a position with the American Red Cross, rising to a position of prominence.
Miss Wah Lee has not said much about her appointment to her family, but they know she had been associated with the care of the sick and wounded American servicemen. Part of her duties have been of an inves'tigatory nature and she also made many trips by air to India in connection with the purchase of supplies. For her services to the Army the Civilian Emblem was awarded in October last. Miss Wan Lee has also been in contact with Madame Chiang Kai-shek. A few weeks ago Miss Wah Lee went to the United States, where she will further her studies in nursing work. She expects to be in America about two years before returning to China. It is understood by her family that she passed through New Zealand en route, but was unable to land and see her brothers and sisters. Her parents are in occupied China. Auckland Star, Volume LXXVI, Issue 27, 1 February 1945, Page 4