Friday, 3 December 2010

The missionary rescue mission

My family has a long association with the Royal Navy. My father was a submariner, my uncle in the Fleet Air Arm, and my brother a Chief Petty Officer, whilst several cousins have also served in the senior service. And then there was my grandfather's cousin Mary...! Mary was not in the Royal Navy, but a Presbyterian missionary serving in China. She too, however, was destined to travel aboard a Royal Naval vessel.

In 1937 a British warship set sail from Hong Kong with a single mission in mind - to rescue Mary Paton. From the Daily Mirror of September 14th 1937:


British destroyer HMS Thracian speeded from Hong Kong under special orders yesterday...

She was off to the rescue of Miss Mary Paton, a fifty-year-old Presbyterian missionary, solitary British resident of the small town of Swabue, South China.

For twenty-three years Miss Paton has defied war, fever and bandits to found schools in remote Chinese villages.

But now she must leave for the Japanese have landed near, at Bias Bay, after having bombarded fortified positions in the district.

It is reported from Hong Kong that after the ships' guns had bombarded the town at Bias Bay marines landed and blew up Chinese naval works and anti-piracy forts and an arsenal.

She Insisted

The parents of Miss Paton, who is a sister of Mr William Paton, chief of the Presbyterian Mission Society, live in Watford, Herts.

She returned to England for a short time, but eighteen months ago she insisted on returning to Swabue, where she founded another school.

Mr. P. V. Thomas, head of the American Seventh Day Adventist Mission Hospital at Wacihow, arrived at Hong Kong yesterday with his staff.

He stated that the Japanese had bombed the hospital despite the American flags displayed.

Mr. R. G. Howe, the new British Charge d' Affaires to China, leaving Shanghai at 3.30am today for Nanking by road, informed the Chinese and Japanese authorities that the party proposed to take the same route as that covered by Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen, British Ambassador to China. A large Union Jack was painted on the roof of the car.

Japan has been unable to trace any attack on Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen, the British Ambassador to China, the Foreign Office spokesman stated in Tokyo.

He admitted that Japanese planes had met motor cars on the roads about Shanghai during the recent fighting, but said that none of these coincided with the time and place of the attack on Sir Hughe.

The Japanese reply to the British note on the attack is still in course of preparation.

The Chinese explained a big withdrawl on the Shanghai front yesterday.

Mary returned to England, living in Watford until she passed away in 1974, though she was able to make one final trip back to China a few years prior to her death. I have been able to carry out a great deal of research into her life, with her personal correspondence and photo albums having been donated to the London based School of Oriental and African Studies (, which has a fantastic archive service.

If you have missionary ancestors, other great resources include the MUNDUS database at, whilst the International Mission Photography Archive at can also help.



  1. What a gritty woman she must have been, with a very clear mission. Thanks for sharing her story, Chris.