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Memory Quilt Honours Second World War Veterans

Interview By Vanessa Packman

KV Weekend

A sister who watched while her father and brother went off to serve in the Second World War is now doing her part to pay tribute to these brave fighters.Click to see larger image of Bliss Cole

Verna Pearson, of Sussex, was just nine years old when her 17-year-old brother, Bliss Cole, and father, Elmer, joined the Royal Rifles of Canada. While too young at the time to appreciate what the two men went through as part of the "forgotten regiments" quickly captured after their arrival in Hong Kong, she has since become an active campaigner to make sure their contributions are not forgotten.

The membership chair and treasurer of the Atlantic Region of the Hong Kong Veterans’ Commemorative Association was looking for a way to raise necessary funds for the group. This is the third year Mrs. Pearson has created and raffled a handsewn quilt for the organization. The third quilt is the more personal of the three, with photographs of former and surviving Hong Kong veterans on its 35 panels. This collection is a tribute to Mrs. Pearson’s own hard work to bring together veterans since she took over the role of membership chair in 2002.Click to see larger image of Mrs Pearson and the handsewn quilt

"There was just one member then," she said. "I had to work with the information he could give me and build from there."

Today, there are 76 association members who have come together in the last two years, and the group meets annually in Florenceville.

Mrs. Pearson’s two family members were among the more than 3,000 troops sent to Hong Kong to defend the British possession in 1941, but the lack of supporting weapons and equipment led to their quick capture by the Japanese.

The island was surrendered to the Japanese on Christmas Day, 1941, and Cole men were part of the 1,689 prisoners of war who spent the rest of the war in captivity.

It was only later, when Bliss returned home, that Mrs. Pearson learned of some of the horrific experiences he and other soldiers endured in their service overseas. Her brother weighed 150 pounds when he was captured in 1941, but lost half that during the next four years. His five-foot, 10-inch frame carried just 85 pounds when he was freed in 1945. Their father didn’t survive the war and died in the prison camps on March 16, 1944. He is now buried in Japan.

The little girl of more than 60 years ago is now a woman who is turning her skills towards thanking and supporting her brother.

Mrs. Pearson now devotes many hours to preserving the memories of her father, brother and their brothers-in-arms who served half a world away.

"It’s become a bit of an obsession for me," she said with a laugh.

She said her brother has come to terms with his war-time experience, but there are some things that carry over from that time.

 

Since this article was published the draw for the quilt has taken place and the winner was Isobel Lyons wife of veteran Henry Lyons whose pictures were on the quilt. She lives in Matepedia, Quebec.

Verna Pearson cont'd