While researching about the family cluster of Dr. Albert Lim in Bukit Brown i came across this article which touched me and resonates closely not because of her mothers relentless search for her daughter but also the circumstances leading to this event, the sinking of S.S. Kuala. It is the story of Ruth Li and of her determination and effort which lead her to reunite with her daughter, Patsy Li.
In 13 February 1942, all hope of "Fortress Singapore" was gone. It was time to leave the place or become Prisoners of War. From what i can gather from the various online sources compiled by researchers and heritage enthusiast, an estimated 650-700 people boarded the S.S Kuala. There was no passenger list but there were evacuation permits given to prominent Europeans and Asians to board S.S Kuala and S.S. Tien Kwang.(S.S. Tien Kwang suffered the same faith as well). From what was gathered, only an estimated 300 ( this includes those women and men who ended up as internees or POWs in Sumatra, Java and Singapore) survived. This means that at least 150 people were killed as a result of the bombing and drowning at Pom Pong Island on 14th February 1942 and almost 200 lost their lives at sea when the rescue ship “SS. Tanjong Pinang”, which had earlier picked up some of the survivors from Pom Pong Island, was sunk by the Japanese on 17 February 1942.
"Patsy Identifed" Ends S'pore Woman's 4-Year Search for Daughter
Ruth Li was the eldest daughter of Dr. T. M. Li, famous Shanghai eye specialist was on board S.S Kuala with her 2 daughters, when it was hit. Like the other passengers, she had to abandoned ship and found herself with her 2 months old baby girl, Lotttie and 5 year old daughter, Patsy among the floating wreckage. She held on tightly to Lottie and placed Patsy on one of the floating wreckage. In the resulting confusion, she lost hold of Lottie who drowned and lost sight of Patsy. Ruth Li survived the ordeal and was rounded back to Singapore where she remained until the Japanese surrendered.
Ruth never gave up hope that Patsy was still alive and made numerous efforts to trace her without avail. When the war was over, Ruth Li received a letter from sister in New York Times. Enclosed in that clipping was a 3 February 1943 which stated that a girl named Patsy Lee was found by natives in a ditch in Guadalcanal island with bayonet slashes on her arms and head. U.S. Naval Chaplain F. P. Gehring handed her over to Pere Jean, head of the French Mission and eventually she was cared for in a Roman Catholic orphanage in Vila, the capital of the New Hebrides. There was no indication that Patsy Lee mentioned in the story was Patsy Li her daughter, but Ruth Li clung to that story and made many inquiries to Australia, the British and Australian Red Cross, the Chinese consulate in Sydney but received no information. Through the efforts of Dr. Albert Lim, Richard Lim and Mr. Hilary La Mothe, contact with the French authorities in Australia. On 22 June 1946, she flew to Australia and from there to Port Vila in New Hebrides.
|New York Times, 11 April 1943|
On 5 August 1946, her friends in Singapore received a simple cable - "Patsy Identified". It is was dubbed in the newspaper as a miracle of the war. Patsy was 9 years old when she returned to Singapore in May 1947.
Ruth Li was the eldest daughter of a Dr. T. M. Li, famous Shanghai eye specialist. The closes information that i could find of her father was of a Dr. T.M. Li ( Li Ch'ing-mao) / 李清茂 (1884-?) who studied at Oahu College, Honolulu between 1898 and 1902 and at St. John’s University, Shanghai between 1902 and 1907. He graduated in medicine at St. John’s in 1907. He was in 1917 ,in Peking (now Beijing) at the Union Medical College in charge of the eye, nose and throat deparments before being appointed Associate Professor in ophthalmology. He did special research work under the widely known eye specialist, Dr. Verhoeff Boston.
|Dr. T.M. Li /Li Ch'ing-mao|
What happened to Ruth and Patsy subsequently, i have no idea at the moment. If any of you have leads or even their photos, do leave a comment below
Survivors and Victim of S.S. Kuala
Among the survivors that were rescued from the sinking of S.S. Kuala was Lim Chong Pang and his story was well recorded on how he was among the few survivors picked by fisherman, Tay Ah Soey and Tan Ah Ngoh among others. A comprehensive list of passengers that was meticulously compiled over the years on who are the survivors and in attempting to established who died can be retrieved online.
From oral records and research efforts by others, i now know that there were other family member's of Lim Nee Soon's family who also died. Other than Wee Peck Hay, her daughter, Miss Lim Seok Geck went missing on that ill fated day. Miss Lim Seok Geck was the youngest daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Lim Nee Soon, and therefore sister to Lim Choong Pang. According to the Lim genealogy , Lim Seok Geck was born at No. 56/57 Robinson Road [subsequently renumbered as 112/114 Robinson road] on 22nd December 1921. She was only 21 years old when she died on the ill fated day. Another name from the blog which compiled the list of casualties of S.S. Kuala that caught my attention was Madam Chua Chit Nya (wife of Mr. Lim Chong Min and daughter of Mr. Chua Guan Chui ) and their 3 children. This means that her daughter-in-law and her grandchildren also died in the sinking of S.S Kuala.
Missing S'pore Girl Found in New Hebrides. (1946, August 6). The Straits Times
"Patsy Identified" Ends S'pre Woman's 4-Year Search for Daughter. (1946, August 6). Morning Tribune, page 3
Patsy Li Returns.(1947, May 19). The Straits Times, page 1
T.M.Li also known as Li Ch'ing -mao. Doctor.(website). Prabook.com