Life Abroad: Albert/Tony
Albert and Toby Ient's life abroad & the WWII letters
This short section tracks the places and main events that cover Albert & Toby Ient's life from the time they met in Malta in the 1930s until the end of WWII. Here we also summarise the many letters from dad (Albert) kept by my mum (Toby). These letters were written between 1940 & 1941 & again in 1945. They are full of love and express the longing to be together once more. Please follow the links below to go to sections in this document:
Romance in Malta
Back to England
Posting to Hong Kong
Evacuation from Hong Kong
The Letters & Cables/Telegrams
The Last Letter
The War Office Cable
Two and a Half Years Later
Toby & the boys return to England in June 1945
Albert Ient leaves POW camp
Albert Ient returns to England in October 1945
Myfanwy Edwards (nicknamed 'Toby' because she was a tomboy as a child and did the heavy work in the family) went to Malta in about 1931. It was here she met and married Albert Ient. They were married on 10th September 1932 in St Paul's Anglican cathedral in Valletta.
Toby was in the service, as a maid, of an army officer & his wife in North London when he was posted to Malta. So the maid went with the family. Malta was at that time headquarters British Military Command in the Mediterranean.
I recall that mum (Toby) said that she had seen Dad (Albert) on a number of occasions as he came to the army office near the house but he hadn't spoken so she decided to break the ice and the romance developed. After their marriage they stayed on the island and lived in army rented quarters in Valletta. They were on the island for 3 years. Both my brothers Tommy (who died in an accident in Hong Kong in 1940) and John were born in there.
Albert was an NCO in the Royal Signals and was in charge of installing telegraph & telephone lines across Malta. He had a team of locally employed labourers to erect the poles across the island. After marriage Toby was able to stop being a servant.
I think they had a wonderful time in Malta – the best years of their life. Life was good for them – the good climate, it was peace-time and their friends were from families who were similarly placed. Also they had the island to explore in the pre-tourist days!
This photo shows Albert (left) & Toby (back) with friends at Rinella beach, Malta
The picture below shows Toby (left) and a friend in the sea at Rinella
The picture to the right is of Albert & Toby in Malta
Just before leaving Malta they were to witness one of the last times the British Navy was seen it all it's glory. In talking about those days of British imperial might, Dad (Albert) said that in the lead up to King George V's Golden Jubilee review of the fleet that looking out from the harbour wall at Valetta you could not see the horizon for British warships and at night the glittering lights of the ships lit up the ocean.
They came back to England in 1935. As far as I remember this was for King George V's Golden Jubilee parade on Laffins plan at Aldershot. In England they lived at Frimley Green and it was whilst they were here that my brother George was born.
It was from England that Albert was posted to Egypt in 1937 during one of the crises there. However their world was soon to change dramatically for them, as back in England, a new posting for the Far East was coming up…………….
Albert was due for a posting to Ceylon in 1938 but swapped the posting with a friend and went to Hong Kong instead. He departed for Hong Kong on 14th December 1938. A decision he lived to regret; - Ceylon (Sri Lanka) never saw action during the war.
Toby followed out with the 3 boys later at some time in 1939. There first months in Hong Kong must have seem wonderful to Albert & Toby. An exotic place with seemingly an idilic life style. This all came to a terrible end in February 1940...... They were devastated by Tommy's accidental death in February 1940 when he fell from the roof of apartment block in 'Happy Valley'. He had been playing with friends on the roof. He was 8. I guess my brother George was too young to remember. John was only 6. It was only recently on a visit to my brother John in Yorkshire that I fould out what really happend. Some 60 years after the event. John and I were looking at the photograph of the apartment block where the family used to live in Happy Valley, Hong Kong. Assuming what I’d always been told that Tommy had fallen from a balcony, I asked him if he would point out for me the apartment. His answer was completely surprising. He said that whilst our apartment was to the left side and not visible in the photograph that Tommy had actually been playing on the roof with his friends and in a game of ‘cowboys and indians’ he decided to hide behind the parapet on the edge of the roof. He stood up at one point apparently, and another boy saw him and said, ‘bang, you’re dead’ and in surprise Tommy fell backwards down to the road below. I never knew my brother Tommy, but the emotions rose in me and brought tears to hear of this tragic accident.
Albert in crutches because of a broken leg at the grave of his son Tommy in Happy Valley Cemetery, Hong Kong
However before this they had a wonderful time in this magical oriental outpost of the British Empire. Albert enjoyed military life & the camaraderie of the sergeants' mess.
Albert & Toby with George (L), Tommy, (M) & John (R)
Family group - 1939
55 years after WWII ended I visited Hong Kong (in 1999) but before I did I asked mum (Toby) where I should go and she clearly enjoyed directing me to places like the Wanchi Ferry, The Peak, Aberdeen, Stanley Bay & Temple Street market. 'You must go across to the New Territories by the ferry – the waterway is always busy with junks and view of Hong Kong is lovely. Visit Temple Street market – they sell everything you can even have a suit made…………." and so on. But that is a story for another day. However it was clear to me that she had vivid memories of Hong Kong. A lot happened to her and Albert – The wonder of this new place, Tommy's death, Mum's evacuation & Dad's capture.
In July 1940, when it became clear that the war was about to reach the Far East, Toby and the boys were evacuated first to Baguio, Manila where they stayed at the Red Cross Headquarters, Pines Hotel. They took very little with them as there were restrictions but also there was the thought of returning. The ship was hit by a typhoon and Toby remembered everyone being very sick. They docked at Manila and were transferred up into the hills – a long journey. Toby said that the hotel they were staying in was owned by the Hearst newspaper magnate. They were all evacuee women and children together. Toby recalled that she loved it when walking back to the house in the afternoon from the village when it rained (almost always) & how refreshing it was and how amazing it was that by the time she got home her dress would be dry. Part of the time there must have been a little chilly as she said that the women chopped their own wood and lit the fires in the open hearth fireplaces. It may just have been at night. However they weren't there long – Toby and the children were evacuated again to Australia.
The following are diary-type notes made after reading the many letters my father sent to mother, firstly from Hong Kong, then Manila and finally Australia during the period 1940 – 1945. Almost all of the letters saved by my mother were from my father. Letters from my mother were lost when my father was captured in 1941 in Hong Kong.
On the 20th January 1942 the War Office wrote to my mother in Australia saying that dad was 'missing presumed lost.' It was not until July 1944 that my mother had further news. She had a letter from the Red Cross saying that my father had been found in a Japanese PoW camp.
A letter from Albert to Toby dated 7 July 1940 addressed to 2 Happy Glen Loop c/o Red Cross Headquarters confirms Toby had left Hong Kong for Manila on the previous Monday. (Albert had broken his leg whilst carrying out construction work and was in hospital at this time).
Letter from Albert to Toby dated 10 July 1940 from the Military Hospital, Bowen Road, Hong Kong confirms that the plaster on Albert's leg had been removed that day, but he had been ordered to take strict bed rest.
29 July 1940 - letter from Albert to Toby confirms her imminent departure from Manila and journey to Australia.
17 August 1940 - first letter from Albert to Toby addressed to New South Wales, Australia. 35 Denham Street, Bondi.
29 August 1940 - letter from Albert to Toby in which he says how sorry he was to hear that Toby's lodgings were "no good", but he was pleased to hear that the journey had gone well and that the boys "were so good". He commented on the poor reception the evacuees had received in NSW.
7 September 1940 - Albert wrote to Toby from the Victoria Barracks, Hong Kong to confirm that he was out of hospital. His letter was addressed to 244 Allison Road, Randwick.
18 September 1940 - Albert wrote to 18 Alexander Street, Manly.
7 October 1940 - Albert's letter responds to comments Toby had obviously made about her evacuation. She was clearly very upset about this. Albert wrote, "You seem to be in a rage about it all dear and I only hope it won't be much longer". Albert agreed that it was silly that younger, single women had been able to remain in Hong Kong when the married women had been evacuated. He said, "If you couldn't find a better nurse than some they have left behind here, I'll eat my hat".
27 November 1940 - Albert acknowledged Toby's move to Windsleigh, Pacific Parade, Dee Why and the need for her to have taken this step for "economic reasons". In the same letter he confirmed that doctors had passed him A1 fit and that he was going back to work. He also commented on the continuing commotion caused by compulsory evacuation, he advised Toby that the Husbands' Committee (of which he was not a member) was putting together a fresh petition.
Obviously asked what he did with himself Albert commented, "Life here is much the same and work goes on steadily. Pip Badge and myself play snooker and billiards until we look like them and we have taken to listening to the wireless in the bunk at nights".
6 December 1940 - Albert wrote to 56 Fairlight Street, Manly.
12 December 1940 - Albert wrote to Toby and confirmed that he had signed a petition requesting the repeal of the compulsory evacuation order. He said, however, that he did not feel that it would do much good.
30 December 1940 - Albert's letter was addressed to 18 Beach Road, Harboard. He wrote, "I hope you like your new address darling and hope that you won't have to move again and be satisfied with this one darling."
9 January 1941 - Albert's letter was addressed to 18 Alexander Street, Manly. He expressed surprise at her "moving separately". The impression gained from the letter is that Toby had decided to move independently, away from other army wives.
21 January 1941 - Albert's letter addressed to No 1 Flat Seaview, Beach Street, Harboard.
20 February 1941 - Albert's letter addressed to 18 Alexander Street, Manly. He acknowledged Toby's decision to move back to this accommodation.
Throughout this period Albert's letters were subject to censorship. He answered Toby's questions and responded to her news as best he could. He repeatedly said he had little news himself to impart, he told her very little about life in Hong Kong at this time. Major themes throughout all the letters were news relating to their sons, George and John; the continuing improvement in Albert's leg; his regular visits to Tommy's grave and their joint unhappiness over compulsory evacuation. Delays in sending and receiving mail caused concern for both parties, in particular the long gaps in correspondence which occurred between February and April 1941. On several occasions during these weeks they sent each other reassuring cables to confirm all was well.
26 June 1941 - Albert commented on what he called the "evacuation scandal" and told Toby that, "the husbands are holding a big meeting at the Peninsular Hotel on Friday, I don't know what they can do of course, but lets hope for the best dear".
10 August 1941 - Albert described his life as "pictures – work – mess and tombola. Work is still plentiful. Life here is about the same very dull as it has always been since you left darling".
Undated letter, August 1941 - Albert thanked Toby for the parcel he had received from her containing socks, soap and creams. This suggests that shortages were being experienced in Hong Kong and that Toby had easier access to such items in Australia.
16 September 1941. Cable. Albert to Toby, "Thank you for the money".
27 November 1941 - the last letter between Albert and Toby before the fall of Hong Kong.
The evacuation question was still at the front of both their minds. Toby had obviously told Albert about action taken by wives in Australia and Albert responded by confirming that in Hong Kong, "the committee had been hard at work. They hope to get some ruling on the situation". He went on to say, "You ask me my dear my opinion about the whole situation. This I wouldn't dare put on paper my dearest, all I can say is, it's LOUSY."
On Christmas Day 1941 the British Army in Hong Kong surrendered to the invading Japanese forces. This marked the beginning of Albert's internment as a prisoner of war in the hands of the Japanese. See WWII Far East chapter.
20 January 1942 the War Office wrote to Toby at 244 Allison Road, Randwick, informing her that her husband, Albert, had been posted "missing".
Here is the cable she received. click here >>>>> link to the picture of the telegram
Two and a Half Years Later on 14 July 1944, the Red Cross notified Toby that her husband was a POW in Zentzuiji Camp spelt elsewhere as Zentsuji.
Albert had sent numerous pre-printed, formal cards provided by his captors, and we know that Toby didn't receive them until some time in 1944. She had heard nothing for two and a half years. I think they came in batches - the Japanese did not forward these on until nearly the end of the war. The first card Albert sent said, "
I am interned in Fukuoka, Japan (Nippon). My health is usual. I am working for pay. Please see that George and John are taken care of. My love to you Albert.
Subsequent cards were marked Zentsuji and Hiroshima.
18 May 1945 Toby received notification from the Welfare and Administration Officer, British Services Families that she was to prepare to leave New South Wales for England during the second or third week of June. Her time as a military evacuee had come to an end.
The Dominion Monarch (Shaw Savill Line, 27,000 tons, advertised as the world's most powerful motor vessel) left Sydney for the UK (via the Panama Canal) at the end of June 1945 (exact date unknown) with Toby, George and John on board.
17 September 1945 Albert left Japan on board the British aircraft carrier, H M S Ruler and arrived in Sydney, Australia on 27 September 1945 after spending three and a half years as a prisoner of war in the hands of the Japanese, firstly in Hong Kong and then Japan.
On the 29 September 1945 we know that Albert was on board H M S Golden Hind, Royal Navy Barracks – some 20 miles outside of Sydney. A copy of a confidential War Office form confirms that on this date Albert was "briefly interrogated by an Intelligence Officer of H M S Golden Hind, R N Barracks, Sydney". Link to copy of form.
When he arrived in Sydney Albert found that his family had already left.
29 September 1945 Albert wrote to Toby, "I was bitterly disappointed to find you not at home and I was at a loss as to what to do".
17 October 1945 Albert went on board the Dominion Monarch (coincidentally, the same boat as his wife and sons had sailed back to England on). Original embarkation date had been set for 15 October, but was delayed; he eventually set sail for England on 18 October 1945. The journey took him via Fremantle and Suez. Letters written by Albert to Toby during his journey confirm that he was in Aden on 3 November and Port Said on 7 November and that he hoped to arrive in Southampton on 15 November 1945.