Reaching Friends Around The Globe
Internment camp stories of WW2
Willie Jamieson Internment WW2                                              

I might as well start at the beginning of the war. We were sitting at breakfast at 7:30 Monday morning, December 8, 1941, when we heard a report from the radio in the apartment above us that five hundred Japanese planes had raided Pearl Harbor. We laughed at it because we thought it was only a rumor, but it was soon confirmed and we felt very serious. That same morning about ten or eleven o'clock, we saw the Filipino soldiers gathering up the Japanese civilians at the point of a bayonet, and putting them in concentration camps. Must say, at that time we felt sorry for those Japs. The Japs were bombing Baguio, the summer capitol at the very time we had been listening to the report of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

On Tuesday from 2:30 A.M. to 3:00 A.M., they bombed Nichols Field, the only air field in Manila, and it was only half a mile from our home. The next morning we heard the sirens, and the air was filled with droning. We saw fifty-four planes coming in perfect formation It was an ideal day for bombing, only half clear. They came within a half mile of Nichols Field, and leveled the Naval Base at Cavite. We saw some good "dog-fights", as the Americans tried to stop them, but it was hopeless as they were so few. One American pilot in a P-40 seemed to be getting the worst of it, but he led the Jap plane into range of our anti-aircraft guns and the Jap was brought down. From that time on, the Japs bombed Manila and Fort McKinley practically every day. Four of the men working at Fort McKinley were our friends; one of them was killed.

When the Japs landed north and south of Manila, drawing in from both sides, it was declared an open city and the American Army moved on to Bataan. All equipment of military value was destroyed, and the fire set by the demolition squads was so great the smoke hid the sun for several days. By New Year's eve, all the American soldiers had moved out. Before they left, they gave permission to the Filipinos to take any goods they wanted from the American Army warehouses. The Filipinos spent three or four days hauling away food, clothing, refrigerators, dressers, bedding, etc. This gave rise to something else. They began to loot the stores in the city, especially the Chinese stores, and the whole city went wild. On the morning of January 3rd, the Mayor of the city went out to receive the Japanese Army, and we went to see it march in. There were all kinds of foot soldiers, tanks, motor cars and trucks. The soldiers were very cocky, and acted like they owned the whole world. Some of the Filipinos cheered. We Americans felt worst of all. We weren't so afraid, but it gave us a funny feeling when the enemy marched in, and our soldiers were gone. We wondered what next!

The first order we heard was that all third country nationals should register in a certain place. Of course, we didn't know who the "third country nationals" were, but found out, they were the neutrals, the Germans, Spaniards, etc. The next day, the Japs started gathering up enemy aliens in much the same manner as the Japs themselves had been gathered up. On the night of the sixth, we gave ourselves up.

The Filipinos were so loyal, they wouldn't betray us, but we were afraid it would go much harder for them if we didn't give ourselves up. A truck came into our community and a Japanese officer came into our house and gave us ten minutes to get ready to leave. He said to take a few sandwiches and a rug, but that was all we would need as we would be back in three or four days. They took us to Santo Tomás, where two or three thousand other enemy aliens had been herded together.

At twelve o'clock that night, we were given a place to sleep on the floor, but no mosquito net. There were so many cockroaches, insects, etc., that we didn't get much sleep that night. The next day we learned the Japs would allow the friends of the internees to bring food, bedding and mosquito nets. Because of our friends, we were able to get these things. The third day our friends came with tears streaming down their faces. They brought us bedding, etc., and each day brought us a little food, so we were sufficiently taken care of in this way.

After we had been there for eight days, representatives of the religious section of the Japanese Army came and said rather formally that because of the generosity of the Imperial Japanese Government, they had decided to allow all the missionaries to continue their work as usual. Ernest Stanley chose to remain in Santo Tomás as an official interpreter for the Internee Government. As we left that afternoon, we were handed a pass with the conditions of our release printed in Japanese and English, which in brief meant we were to be prisoners in our own home. We were allowed to go to our meetings on Sunday. With two meeting places, we attended meetings alternately, two of us going to one place, and two to another. We had two meetings on Sunday, one in the A.M. and the other in the P.M. That way we got to see most of our friends. They always saw to it that we had a good meal on that day; but we felt badly, as they were hardly given a living wage. Every Sunday night we had to give a written outline to the Japanese of what we preached to our congregation. This had to be in to them before Tuesday of every week. We really had less liberty in our home than we would have had in the camp, except we were able to see our friends, and this meant much to us. When we would go out, we always ran the risk of facing the Japanese soldiers, and we saw some of their torturing.

We had difficulty getting food as the prices steadily went higher. A sack of rice at $4.00 went up to fifteen thousand Pesos or $7,500. Since no missionary was to apply for a job, we had to devise some method of getting the necessary dollars and cents. About three times a week, Herman made candy, its chief ingredients being grated coconuts, and flavored with something like a lemon. I had the job of scraping out the coconuts. The Filipinos bought most of the candy because they were so sympathetic toward the Americans. Ernest Stanley, being in Santo Tomás, arranged for the sale of the candy in camp. We made a lot of candy then, and got a good price for it. However, someone else got the idea, and made it on a larger scale, sold it cheaper and soon outsold us. After the wet season, the Filipinos were not so fond of candy, so that ended our candy business!

We had to figure out something else. In Manila all transportation stopped as the Japs took over the few streetcars not destroyed in the beginning of the war. What transportation was left was by horse and horse-drawn vehicles, so Herman decided to make the molasses the men mixed with the mush that was fed to their horses. We continued in this "business" until sugar became so expensive that there was no longer profit in it. We then decided that if we could only raise enough vegetables for our own use it would help a great deal. Where we were living there was no available garden space, but a Filipino lady had offered us an upstairs apartment with a good lot behind it suitable for gardening, providing we paid for some back rent and water bill, which amounted to about forty pesos. She said she would trust us for the remainder of rent until after the war. I sold four gold coins I had been keeping as souvenirs. I received fifty pesos for them. We paid the forty pesos down, and moved in, and started with our garden. It took a lot of work to prepare for a garden, as it was a rough place. A lot of brush had to be cleared away and the soil leveled. Herman and Cecil did most of the work, as I wasn't able for much at that time. We soon raised a good garden and Herman began to market some of the vegetables. Herman was quite a sight dressed in bib overalls and a pair of army field shoes, going off to market with his basket of vegetables in the mornings.

After the Japanese occupation, all American sponsored schools were closed. An Irish lawyer (who had become a Filipino citizen in order to practice law in Manila) living near us had sent his two children to a Filipino school, but was disappointed in their progress, so asked Herman to teach them. He promised to pay Herman what he could, according to his law practice. We didn't know what to do, because of the ruling forbidding missionaries to apply for a job, but after explaining the situation to the Japanese officer in charge of the religious group, he said to go ahead and teach, but if the military objected, to stop immediately.
The first month the Irish lawyer was very satisfied and gave Herman thirty pesos, or $15.00, and recommended him as a teacher to others. Herman got so many pupils, Cecil joined him in teaching. I took over the garden and Leo the cooking. We began to see more of the friends. During the week I would often sneak down the back streets and visit and they would visit us also, but the ruling was that any Filipino who befriended the enemy aliens would be treated as such. Every two months at least the Japanese sent spies to our neighbors, and asked what the Americans were doing, who came to visit them, etc. They were afraid our visitors might be guerrillas. The neighbors never gave us away, and often warned us. The only thing we did, contrary to the Jap ruling was to see our friends a little too often. However, once we did have a radio in our room for two weeks, but we had to be very cautious when we used it; only one listened, while the others kept their eyes and ears open for Japs. To come into our house, one had to climb a long flight of stairs, so the Japs could hardly come unannounced, but we felt the risk was too great to keep the radio. While we had the radio we heard a little news from San Francisco, and from the Japs. According to their reports, the U.S. Navy had been sunk many times, but with each report we realized our Navy was coming closer.

Prices were steadily going up and it became very difficult to get enough to live on, even though Herman continued to market his vegetables and the boys were getting good money for teaching. Eggs were $9.00 each, rice $7,500 a sack and cabbage $10.00 each.

About 5:30 one P.M: while we were eating, the door was thrown open by four Japanese soldiers. Only one of the Japs could speak English. He called us to attention and gave us this message from the Army, "Through the generosity of the Imperial Japanese army you have been given a release, but a change of order has been issued and it is decided that all the American, British, and Dutch missionaries shall be taken into concentration again. Be ready at 9:00 o'clock in the morning. Take only three grips, bedding, and you need not take any food, unless a little canned goods."

At the first opportunity we told our friends we were having to leave in the morning, and the poor folks wept. Prior to this, we had heard some had taken much more food than they were allowed, so Leo said "Let's take a chance and take all we have." He was looking to the future! I was afraid if we took too much we might get into trouble. We took forty cans of corned beef, a little rice and a lot of laundry soap. It took us most of the night to pack. About 6:30 the next morning, all the friends in the neighborhood were there, weeping and wailing, wondering what would happen next. About 9:30 A.M. the Japanese truck drove up. The soldiers came up to carry our grips. They were so heavy with the canned goods, soap, and etc. the little soldier had special difficulty in lifting the one he was to carry. He had to grunt to get it on his shoulder! When the tarpaulin was pulled back on the truck, and we started to climb in we were surprised to see eighteen or nineteen Catholic priests, already loaded, with their baggage. They said a guard had been left with them through the night.

When we arrived at the Santo Tomás camp, they wouldn't let us mix with the other internees. They herded us into a gym, and after about three hours had baggage inspection. That made it possible for us to see and have a brief visit with Ernest, who was on hand to assist an interpreter. The Japs told us we wouldn't remain there. Some thought we would be repatriated and taken home, but we were given something to eat and moved about forty-three miles from Manila to Los Baños, where there were more than 1,600 people. The missionaries (300 Catholic Priests and Nuns, and 200 Protestants) were put in barracks separate from the rest of the camp.

Because of this segregation we learned later the internees in the other part of the camp called our part the "Holy City or "The Vatican." Some of the internees thought we had had it so much better than they and were quite jealous of us, because of our seeming liberty, when they in reality were much better off than we, for they had received food parcels at Christmas time through the Red Cross, while our own homes had been deprived of this.

A Committee elected by the internees supervised the camp work. All able-bodied persons under fifty-five years of age were required to devote two hours each day to the various camp duties, such as preparing, cooking, and distributing food. Leo had various jobs, including night watchman and Cecil, Sanitation Head. All internees were given the privilege of having their own garden. We set to work to make a garden even though many laughed at us for they thought it would be just, a matter of weeks until help would come and we would be released. We were given a few seeds by other internees and this gave us a start.
On January 7, 1945, the Commandant and staff got a message from their headquarters that a large American task force was making for Luzon. They thought the task force would land about twenty miles south of our camp and cut the Island in two. The Commandant and staff called the Committee of the camp together and signed the camp and all the food over to them and pulled out at 5:00 in the morning.

Of course, this news went around the camp like wildfire. At the break of day, all the internees gathered in the court, the American flag was hoisted, the Star Spangled Banner was sung with much weeping and feeling, and lest the Japs return, the flag was taken down again. The chairman made several announcements. The last thing he said was, "From now on this camp shall be called "Camp Freedom". At the time of their internment, several businessmen had taken a dismantled radio into the camp; each man with and responsible for one part of the radio, which he hid. By the first night after the Japs had left, the radio was reassembled and we listened to news from San Francisco. We heard forces had landed in Leyte and Luzon and were now fighting in Lingayen Gulf. We heard the discouraging news that the American Army had been driven back into Belgium. We also heard President Roosevelt's radio address and thought even he sounded heavy-hearted. This made us feel pretty blue, but the news in the Pacific was encouraging to us. While the Japs were gone, Filipinos brought eggs, chickens, bananas, papayas, coconuts, and traded this for old clothing. They didn't want Japanese money as it wasn't any good, and they weren't allowed to use Filipino money. They needed clothing more than anything else. Some of the clothing for which they traded wasn't much, as the internees' castaway shirts consisted chiefly of buttons.

After seven days of freedom, a watchman came through the barracks and told us the Commandant, and staff were coming back to take over the camp. During one week of liberty, the Committee, afraid of some slip, had suggested and arranged for every person to take twelve pounds of rice to his cubicle, to be used in case of emergency. This was taken from the food allotment for the camp. When we heard the news of the return of the Commandant and his staff, some of the rougher element thought it would be better still if we had another twelve pounds each. They waited until dark, went to the storehouse, and obtained for each member this added allotment. The morning after the Japs returned, they demanded all the added portion be returned. They also demanded the radio. Some of the food was returned, some hidden away, and the rest was already in our stomachs. They returned Saturday morning. The following day, Sunday, early in the morning, the Japs called us out and away from our barracks for roll call. The purpose of it chiefly, was to search our barracks. Having just returned, they didn't have a very firm hold on us, and some of the suspicious internees broke roll call, returned to the barracks and found the Japs searching the cubicles. Because of this, the Committee insisted we be allowed to return to our barracks. Some who had escaped during the Japs absence stayed away, but one man returning to the camp, was shot and killed. The Committee took it up with the Commandant, declaring it a breach of the Geneva Conference rules because the man was returning to camp rather than escaping, but it availed little. After the Japs returned, they surely put the screws on. The food got worse and worse. They took one third of our rice and gave it to their soldiers. When the Committee protested and demanded more food, they said, "Your own troops fighting for your release are starving! There just isn't any food to be had." (The Commandant had said that he would see us eat garbage.) The Jap soldiers would steal the remaining rice in the storehouse, bring it to us and trade it to us for our personal possessions. At that time Leo traded a 20 Jewel Elgin watch for twelve pounds of soy beans. We ground them to make them go farther. On another occasion, Leo, seeing a dog dragging the bone of a water Buffalo across the yard, ran after the dog, retrieved the bone, and from it we made a soup sufficient to last several days. Our Committee figured we had food enough to last until February 15, but decided to lessen the ration to make it last until the 19th, hoping the American Army would break through and release us.

Knowing the American Army was near, some of the internees escaped to the American lines and told them we had only food enough to last until the 19th. They also told them of the conditions existing in the camp, eighty percent suffering from beriberi, and many dying daily. About February 15th that Army sent two soldiers into the camp by night and they contacted the Committee, but had a hard time convincing them they were friends, as the Committee was afraid the Japs were trying to trick them to see if there were any such plans. Finally, they were convinced the representatives were from the American Army. The representatives made two proposals, One was that all would make a break for freedom and the hills where they would get in touch with the guerrillas. The other was that the guerrillas would come in and take the camp over with the hope of holding it until the Army could come.

When roll call was taken the next morning, the monitor made the announcement that the American Army knew all the other internment camps were in better condition than ours. He also passed around some new American bills, trying to let us know they had at least contacted the Army. We couldn't say it in that many words, as it would have spread around like wildfire, causing the Japs to send for reinforcements. This was about the 18th. On the 19th, all our food was gone. The Japs gave us a little unhulled rice, but the doctors warned us not to use it unless we hulled it, as unhulled rice would give us ulcers of the stomach. We had to clean it ourselves by rubbing it between two boards and then blow away the hulls. This work took more strength out of us than the rice put into us. It took three of us all day to clean it. There were less than 800 calories in the 180 grams of rice. Everything looked pretty blue for us. We still had our garden and could use from it, but others had no gardens at all. Some had even traded their twelve pounds of rice for cigarettes, others used all their rice allotment in a few days.

Almost, every night, as the American forces drew nearer Manila, a number of the Internees would gather outside their cubicles and watch the flashes of gunfire in the distance. Everyone knew his pulse beat for a minute. As the flash of gunfire was observed, each man would grab his wrist, count the pulse beat until the sound of the explosion reached his ear. Knowing the speed of sound, we could, with a little figuring, determine the distance to the guns and the Army's daily advance. On the morning of our release while I was preparing a little laundry before our usual 7:00 roll call, I thought I heard an unusual sound in the distance.

To me it sounded like tank motors, and I thought the American Army might have broken through the Jap lines, and was coming to effect our release. I called the others and after they listened, they thought it was just my imagination. About five minutes to seven, Herman and I observed large planes coming in low toward the camp. I watched for awhile, and then just as I turned to resume my washing, Herman exclaimed, "Oh, Willie, look! Paratroopers!" It was the first time in three and a half years I had seen Herman show any measure of excitement. The paratroopers were tumbling out of the planes like bees and made a beautiful sight as they floated to earth, landing approximately a mile and a half from us. According to plan, the guerrillas who had been lying in the tall grass outside the camp for twenty-four hours, made contact with the paratroopers and in five or six minutes after the paratroopers landed, the attack started. In less than thirty minutes every Jap, approximately two hundred were killed. (The American Army, having received word as to the daily routine of the Jap garrison, knew that at 7:00 o'clock, half the guards were taking their calisthenics, while the remaining half took charge of the internee roll call. At the time of the attack, the guerrillas took care of the armed guards in the lookout towers, and the paratroopers, with guerrilla assistance, finished off the unarmed guards inside the camp in short order.)

During the attack, bullets whizzed over our heads, and we saw three guerrillas and a paratrooper go through our garden. One guerrilla didn't even have a gun, just a long bolo knife. The paratrooper went on to press the attack as unconcerned as if he were hunting ducks. The guerrillas weren't just satisfied to kill the Japs, they cut them in pieces, extracting their gold teeth in the process, etc. Before the attack ceased, a small plane flew low, circling the camp. On the bottom of it, printed in large letters, was the word "RESCUE". A Committee member sent word through the camp, "Be ready to leave in five minutes and take nothing but valuable papers." Later, they again sent word saying we could take all we could carry, and we were given a little more time. Sixty amphibious tanks came to take us away. That was the noise I had heard earlier in the morning. Leo was cooking rice gruel for breakfast when the attack started. When news came of our rescue, he put in some extra ground soy beans. Another man gave us a can of milk he had saved for months. The combination made a glorious meal. All the sick people were the first to be placed in the tanks, and those who were unable to get there on their own power were carried. They were also the first off. At 9:20 we moved out of the grounds. In route to the water, three and a half miles away, we passed rows and rows of trees loaded with fruit, bananas. coconuts, etc., in abundance. In passing the railroad depot, we noticed tons of coconuts heaped up in piles, and the Japs had said they couldn't get food!

The young fellows wanted to see everything, but when we passed through the Jap firing lines, we all had to lie on the floor of the tanks, for they were under the fire of enemy guns. Some bullets came through the tanks. None came through ours, but in another tank a man's elbow was splintered by a bullet. Each tank carried about thirty passengers, but with so many internees they had to make two trips. Those remaining for the second trip were asked to walk the three and a half miles to the water's edge and meet the tank as they returned. The paratroopers and guerrillas burned all the barracks, so anything left went up in smoke.

After crossing the lake, we were transferred to Army trucker and ambulances. In these we were taken to what formerly had been a new penitentiary. On entering the camp we were given two Hershey bars, the best I have ever tasted. Japs had been driven out of this place just three days before we arrived. The Army made a Hospital out of it. By 5:00 P.M. we were all there, and by 6:00 P.M. the paratroopers came and as they marched through camp they surely got a cheer.

Two weeks later, on March 9th, at 8:00 o'clock, we received notice that all unattached males could return to the USA. However, we had heard nothing of our friends since our internment at Los Baños, Herman and Leo chose to stay behind and learn of our friends' welfare and gather the little flock together. Those of us who were leaving were told to be ready at 4:30 next morning. We had to register and pass a physical examination. We knew when some did not pass the examination, they were to be flown at least part of the way back. We had breakfast at 4:30 and were taken (fifteen men in a truck) to Nichols Field, in Manila. Manila was the first bombed by the Japs, and with the return of the Americans, had been re-bombed. It has just been made fit for use again. From there we were flown to Leytethe and issued Army clothing, and after five days sailed for the USA, via the Admiralty Islands.