Prior to her imprisonment in several Japanese prisoner-of-war camps from 1941 to the end of WWII, American-born journalist Agnes Newton Keith and her British-born husband Harry, who was on leave from his government job in British North Borneo, stayed at the Empress Hotel in Victoria as it was becoming a popular and lucrative "funk hole" for "fashionable refugees." As they awaited their departure on the Empress of Russia, the couple witnessed the West Coast city preparing for war in the summer of 1939. She wrote, "Every war has its tune, a song to make forever sad the hearts of those who have listened. 'Roll Out The Barrel' was the enlistment tune in Victoria, played by the Canadian Scottish on every street. It followed us everywhere--into the Canadian Pacific steamship office, into the telegraph office, standing on the streets looking up to read the news bulletins above our heads, news which made our hearts stand still."

Agnes Keith's wartime memoirs of her internment for three-and-a-half years with her small son, Three Came Home, were made into a movie of the same name, in 1950, in which she was portrayed by Claudette Colbert. She was more than a genteel one-book wonder. White Man Returns describes her return to Borneo with his husband after World War II. Self-illustrated, Children of Allah is her memoir of her nine years in Libya with her husband prior to the revolution that brought the dictatorship of Gadaffi in 1969. As Mrs. H. G. Keith she lived at 785 Islands Road in Oak Bay and published her first novel, Beloved Exiles, in 1972, set in North Borneo between 1936 and 1951.

Agnes Jones Goodwillie Newton Keith was born in Oak Park, Illinois, on July 6, 1901. She grew up in Hollywood and Venice Beach as the daughter of one of the founders of the Del Monte company. She died on March 30, 1982 at age 80 in Oak Bay, British Columbia. Her husband died the same year.


Land Below the Wind (Boston: Little, Brown, 1939, 1940)

Three Came Home (Boston: Atlantic-Little, Brown and Co., 1947; Time Inc., 1965; Alexandria, Va.: Time-Life Books, 1981.

White Man Returns (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1951)

Barefoot in the Palace (Boston: Little, Brown 1955)

Children of Allah Between the Sea and the Sahara (Boston: Little, Brown, 1966, London: Michael Joseph, 1966)

Beloved Exiles (Boston, Little, Brown, 1972, London: Michael Joseph, 1972)

Before the Blossoms: Life and Death in Japan (Atlantic Monthly Press, Little, Brown, 1975)

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2008] "Film" "War" "Transient" "1900-1950"