Poignant memories for two Expressmen

AN Expressman's discovery of a poignant letter from an uncle who died during the Second World War has revealed a story of endurance and heroism.

Former staff photographer Chris Wood's family received only one letter from George Christopher Stare before he was killed aged just 23 in 1943. 

George was a telegraphist on HMS Tamar moored at Stonecutters Island in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour when it was captured by the Japanese and he was taken prisoner. He was later torpedoed on another ship and managed to swim ashore. But, in the cruellest irony, he was killed in a factory accident. 

George 3Day SW034

The discovery of the letter led Chris and his brother Steve, also a former Express photographer, to want to know more about their heroic uncle.

So Steve went on a mission to Osaka where he found his uncle's grave, pictured right. 

As a tribute he placed a laminated copy of the letter on the gravestone.

Chris still remembers his uncle. He told the Daily Drone: 'Perhaps my earliest memory was of my Uncle George Christopher. I still remember his happy smiling face as he came into the room and picked me up in his arms.

'He was very proud of his Royal Navy uniform and I recall him saying “Goodbye” to his family before setting off for Hong Kong in 1941 when I would have been three years old.'

The family never saw George again.

George's letter, which was written while he was in captivity, read:

G.C. Stare R.N. P/SSX31692

Prisoner of War, Camp C.

Hong Kong

My Dearest Family

To be fortunate enough to write a letter is in itself wonderful & beyond expression, with the allowance of 200 words. Believe me dears, life is sweet when one realises that one is quite fit and in moderate health, Able to wander around camp all day constructing, planning and building such grand hopes for the future when once again I am with you all; able to share in your happiness and help bridge troubles that may arise in the normal routine of life.

This enforced condition has taught me patience, tolerance and endurance. These three combined have brought about in me a condition where I can school myself to take life as it comes and not hope too much of the persons around me. But rely on self each and every time.

You have all appeared so often in vivid dreams that I have sometimes felt your presence.

I am fortunate enough to have four photographs with me to gaze upon and daydream. How I would love to see the babies growing, I miss children very much these days.

Here’s wishing you happiness and unity at home.

Oceans of love and kisses to all, George

Chris said: 'That was his only letter my family received. Later he was shipped aboard the Lisbon Maru, a Japanese troop ship, with about 1,500 other prisoners, the American submarine USS Grouper [pictured below] torpedoed the ship and the Japanese sealed the hatches with the prisoners inside. 

'One of them, known as Pony, whom I met years later, was hoisted up on a pyramid of men and managed to cut the tarpaulin and some of the prisoners escaped drowning as the Japanese started firing at them.

'George Christopher managed to swim ashore on the Chusan Islands, where he was recaptured and taken with other survivors to Shanghai, before being shipped on to Osaka.

'I waited with my mother on the quayside in Southampton as the POWs returned after the war, but there was no sign of her brother George. It took three days before someone had the courage to tell her he would not be coming back. He died in an arms factory when a steel bar or bucket fell on him.

'But George Christopher’s letter is an inspiration to me and my family. We should remember how lucky we are to live in this beautiful world and do everything we can to do our best to help others.'

Steve Wood told the Drone of the emotional effect the letter's discovery on his family: 'I have spent a long time thinking solely about my uncle -  my mother missed him all her life, she thought and spoke about him to me all the time.

'My brother was picked up lovingly by my uncle when he was very young and he still remembers the experience.

'I had a very moving experience years ago when I met my uncle's best friend, Peter Dungy,  in Rhodesia when I was there for the Daily Express. We spent hours talking in the warm air.

'As the evening went on he began calling me George. It was very moving experience obviously from a friend who missed his old pal so much. They must have been so close and experienced so many things as kids together.

'I too had a friend, a Dutchman, Jan, who was a stamp dealer. We were very close, we did everything together but he was killed. I miss him too but I cannot imagine the feeling my mother would have had.

'I now understand my brother's feelings towards his uncle as I experienced the same emotions when I was by his grave, sitting alone.'

© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre