Royal Canadian Corps of Signals
Captured Hong Kong
by Sandor Gyarmati
Taken from ‘The Delta Optimist’
Tsawwassen's William Allister, an internationally acclaimed artist and author who spent his life conveying messages of forgiveness and optimism, passed away peacefully at his home early in November 2008.
Survived by his wife Mona, two daughters and granddaughter, Allister was a Second World War prisoner of war whose outlook was featured several times in the Delta Optimist over the years.
During Remembrance Day activities in 2006, at the age of 87, he provided some heartfelt insight during We Remember, a presentation at the South Delta Library.
Allister's book, Where Life and Death Hold Hands, details his two-and-a-half years of captivity in Hong Kong and Japan, where he experienced incredible cruelty but also moments of compassion from his captors.
"To contain hate would only continue the cycle. To really understand was to forgive," said Allister, who was part of the Canadian forces unit sent to bolster the British defence in Hong Kong, only to be overrun by the Japanese in 1941.
A POW, Allister was eventually transported to Japan to be slave labour in the Nippon Kokan shipyard.
Allister, pointing out he had built a hatred for the Japanese, basing his feelings on his experiences at the hands of the military, said moments of kindness confused him as he suddenly began to see the Japanese people in a new light.
"I lay back, a mass of confusion. Compassion? Here? It had been so long we had gradually steeled ourselves to expect nothing, a protective sheath of non-emotion and with it came a draining away of fellow feeling, genuine sympathy for one another, an invisible hardening of the spiritual arteries," Allister read from his book.
In 1983, finally finished his difficult road of reconciliation when he visited Japan and the shipyard.
Born in Manitoba, Allister lived in the U.S. before eventually moving back to Canada, taking residence in Delta where he lived for two decades.