‘I was determined to show the Chinese guerrillas that the British could stand up to anything they could. Communist Lao Lee ordered us to cross the Kuantan River in the dead of night in case we met a Japanese patrol. We slipped and slid through the mud until I became utterly exhausted, but I was equally determined not to show it. Lao Lee laughed: “Pai Naa, I believe you’re nearly as tough as my soldiers.” Still smarting from all the Communist derision at the British defeat in Malaya, I was delighted to have a little praise.’
By the time the British surrendered to the Japanese in February 1942 at the fall Singapore, nearly all white civilians had left Malaya. One remarkable exception to the white flight was Nona Baker, ‘a parson’s youngest daughter’ from Dunstable, Bedfordshire.
Nona Baker and her brother, Vin, general manager of Sungei Lembing tin mine in Pahang, stayed behind in the Malayan jungle and were later adopted by Chinese guerrillas (who, after World War Two, would become the Communist terrorists of the Malayan Emergency). Against all odds, this remarkable, brave young woman, known as Pai Naa (White Nona), remained in the jungle for three years, avoiding capture by the Japanese and betrayal by spies before being delivered safely into the care of war hero Freddie Spencer Chapman. With hair cut short Nona Baker worked alongside the men while under constant threat of discovery and certain death, and with the men she suffered from malaria, dysentery, beriberi, hunger and, above all, fear.
‘No more moving picture of jungle hardships has ever been painted than that in this book and no more authentic picture of Malaya’s Chinese guerrilla bandits. If it were fiction such an intensely vivid record of human endurance would be dismissed as quite incredible. But it is true.’
Sir Richard Winstedt, K.B.E., C.M.G., F.B.A., D.LITT.
‘After living and fighting with the Chinese guerrillas for three years in the jungle near Kuantan, Pahang, Miss Nona Baker, the only English girl guerrilla in Malaya, has returned to civilization.’
The Straits Times, 7 October 1945
About the author
Nona Baker was the youngest of nine children, born to the rector of Dunstable. In the 1930s she sailed to Malaya to join her eldest brother, Vin Baker, the tuan besar or general manager of the world’s largest tin mine. When the Japanese Army invaded Malaya she hid out in the Malayan jungle with Chinese Communist guerrillas and survived the War. In Pai Naa, she recounts her tale in the first person, with assistance from authors Dorothy Thatcher and Robert Cross.