by Susan Peterson, The Sentinel Courier
Dennis Stewart and I had an opportunity to get together and go through some things that Aileen (Bootie), had kept over the years. Much of that was newspaper clippings and photographs, as well as a scrapbook Bootie had made which contained the only information she had of her husband for almost 4 years.
Personal items were few, such as the telegram she received from him just after he arrived in Hong Kong: "All well and safe, Love Keith". I suspect this was the last communication she had from him before he was taken captive.
The scrapbook contained articles from the Winnipeg Free Press and the Sentinel which focused on the surrender of Hong Kong, and the uncertainty of the fate of the Grenadiers. Then as months passed there were articles about the hope that the Japanese would work with the International Red Cross to convey information about their prisoners of war - who, and where they were. Also revealed are the factors leading up to the capture of the men in Hong Kong, and the attempts of the "powers that be" to justify those factors.
Long months passed - nearly four years of them - then finally, bits of information started to creep through. The February 17th, 1944 issue of the Sentinel states that Bootie received a letter from Keith the week before. It had been written to her in June of 1943. In it he stated he was well, everything was good and not to worry about him. Hardly the truth, but considering the Japanese censored letters, that statement gave him the best chance of letting his family know he was alive.
Slowly, the tone of the articles begins to change. As the International Red Cross is able to obtain information, hope arose that the majority of those in captivity would soon be identified and information conveyed to families as it was revealed. Next, the expectation that the war would soon be over, and the POW's rescued.
For Europe, the war ended in May, but for those in Hong Kong and Japan it would take the dropping of not one, but two atomic bombs before the Japanese would surrender. The prisoners of war in Hong Kong and Japan were freed, and in Hong Kong, rescued by Americans, put on naval ships and brought home with a few stops along the way for hospitalization, medical checks and debriefing.
The first time Dennis remembers seeing his Dad, was in October 1945. He was 5 years old, waiting to greet Keith in front of the City Café along with a number of Keith's friends and family. The war was over, the Grenadiers were released from captivity and arriving home.
The date was actually October 19, 1945, almost 4 years to the day since the Grenadiers had returned from Jamaica. The Sentinel issue, October 25th says this: "On Friday evening, Keith Stewart arrived home to be greeted by another large crowd of welcoming friends and members of his family. Keith seemed to be in the best physical condition of any of the returning Grenadiers to date, and, as one welcoming friend put it, looked 'like a million dollars'; he was delighted to be back home."
Dennis further recalls that his Dad spent time at Deer Lodge Hospital and experienced the same difficulties his comrades did with adjusting to civilian life and enduring the many medical concerns brought on by the harsh treatment, starvation and diseases they encountered. Their comradeship remained after they got home, getting together to discuss their concerns. Keith, Jack Hay, Jack Fordyce, Buzz (Hartley) Winram and other Grenadiers met with each other until the end of their lives. Keith's poor health continued and he passed away at the young age of 52 with cancer.
Keith Stewart was a very strong and humble man who took great pride in his farm and his ability to raise good stock, handle horses and produce quality grain. He was the first, World War II veteran to be President of the Legion Br. # 62 in 1947 and he always maintained his interest in the Legion and especially enjoyed the curling. The scars of his captivity were clearly evident to his family, who proudly claims that he always stood up for his own and everyone's rights. He was their unsung hero along with all the Hong Kong Veterans.