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A Missionary Family's Life and Escape from Chinaicon for Recommended story

by Genevieve

Contributed by 
Genevieve
People in story: 
Mary, Heather, Monica and Andrew Kennedy
Location of story: 
China
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A4206638
Contributed on: 
16 June 2005

30th November 1940 - Mary Weightman marries Andrew Kennedy at Chengdu, central China.

Please note this story is a work in progress and will be added to in the near future.

When the war started Mary Weightman, then 34, was Nurse in Charge of Borden Memorial Hospital, Lanchow, North West China (close to Tibet). She originated in Cumberland but had completed training as a nurse at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh before recieiving a strong calling to serve as a missionary with the China Inland Mission.

At Borden Memorial Hospital she worked alongside fellow CIM missionaries Dr. Rob Pearce and Dr. Cecil Pedley. The wards of the hospital were made of mud bricks and the equipment had been shipped from London to Shanghai.

'The only water for the theatre and for our own use had to be carried from the Yellow River about 300 feet back uphill to the hospital on the backs of donkeys. The water was emptied into the very large earthenware pots situated outside each ward and department, and left to settle, for the river was thick with mud. After two days, we could use it, but it had to be boiled, of course, as the Tibetans and Chinese put anything and everything into the river - including dead animals.'

Mary was asked to assist at the birth of a missionary couple's child; they were stationed a week's travel away from her base. On her way to this case, and travelling with two 'hua kang' (hammock) carriers - a traditional mode of transport in that province - their journey was halted by thunderous, persistent monsoon rain.

With the mud track turned into a quagmire, they could not venture any further for a while. They came to a standstill in a village with a church which, having been run by the CIM, was now without a full-time worker.

A young gentleman from Aberdeen who had been helping out there for a short while had been due to return to his permanent station in another town that day. He too had been delayed by the rain. His name was Andrew Kennedy, and seeing Mary, helped the Chinese to light a fire to dry her sodden clothes, and fetched blankets to warm her.

In the following days, both were able to travel on to their destinations but first agreed to keep in touch by correspondence. Through these letters, Mary and Andrew grew to love each other and decided to marry.

Travelling to meet Andrew for their wedding, Mary journeyed again with 'hua kang' carriers, who seemed to have no desire to be of help in any way. They turned out to be opium smokers and had a plan to end Mary's life.

Other missionaries had been lost and no traces of them found along the most dangerous road which Mary now travelled. She was in grave danger but the men did not realise that she could understand some of their threatening murmurs. When they approached a town in which Mary knew of a Christian doctor, she rushed ahead of the men and asked a passer-by if he knew where the doctor lived.

On finding the house, the doctor and his wife welcomed her in and spoke to the men most severely. This doctor of great influence arranged for church members to accompany Mary on the rest of her journey to meet her fiancee.

On St. Andrews Day 1940, Mary and Andrew were wed in the Anglican church at Chengdu, central China - the only place where missionaries could be married. The wedding dress was borrowed, the cake made with currants and raisins which had been saved there for special occasions. The ring, not quite a perfect circle, was made of Tibetan gold by a friendly local dentist, but Mary treasured it.

Andrew (my grandfather, known later to all the family as Dodo) became the business manager at the Borden Memorial Hospital.
He used to read the Chinese newspapers posted on the walls to find out what was happening in the world whilst the war was on.

In 1941 and 1943, Mary and Andrew had two daughters whilst still in China, Heather (my mother) and Monica respectively.

They were ok until the Japanese attacked China. During the air raids (bombings) they hid in the local caves. The Communists were advancing northwards and so they left hurriedly and survived a most hazardous journey out of war-torn China with a low flight after dark, 'over the hump' of the jagged Himalayas into India.

The route was regarded as one of the most dangerous journeys in the world, but Mary hugged her children and whispered: 'Safe in the arms of Jesus' to her husband as they flew on. They then joined a boat home in a convoy.

They were told that the ship would not stop if a child fell overboard. Heather and Monica both were ill during the journey with whopping cough. Their only belongings were in a couple of suitcases. They had no idea where the were coming to.

Andrew asked a seaman where they were. He said "See that ship? It just coming out of the Clyde" They landed in Glasgow.

This story was submitted to the People's War site by Sarah Shires of BBC Radio Shropshire's CSV Action Desk on behalf of her grandmother - Mary Kennedy, mother -Heather Bunce and much material written by Julie Skelton, another of Mary's grandchildren.

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - A Missionary Family's Escape from China

Posted on: 05 December 2005 by Stanley Jones

This ties up wonderfully with the pages I have also been putting on the WW2 page about Andrew and Mary's escape from China! Ummo and Dodo! Good that you have covered their early years in China - I have concentrated on the actual escape back to England. Might be an idea if I put a short cross reference at the end of my last page - to include your part of the story. I have also made reference that this was from the memoirs written by Julia Skelton.

Message 1 - A Missionary Family's Escape from China

Posted on: 05 December 2005 by Stanley Jones

This ties up wonderfully with the pages I have also been putting on the WW2 page about Andrew and Mary's escape from China! Ummo and Dodo! Good that you have covered their early years in China - I have concentrated on the actual escape back to England. Might be an idea if I put a short cross reference at the end of my last page - to include your part of the story. I have also made reference that this was from the memoirs written by Julie Skelton.

 

Message 2 - A Missionary Family's Escape from China

Posted on: 14 December 2005 by Stanley Jones

I have now added a paragraph to Part 4 of this story - linking these four articles to Andrew and Mary's life and escape from China

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This story has been placed in the following categories.

Nursing and Medicine Category
Love in Wartime Category
China Category
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