Defense of the Philippines during WWII

Civilian prisoners who were held in the Philippines during WW II by the Japanese Imperial Army are having a luncheon meeting in Long Beach, California, to hear noted historian and author Jay Wertz describe the role of the Philippine Scouts in the defense of Luzon in 1941-42.  The public is invited to join the ex-prisoners, friends and family at this luncheon.

After the Japanese invasion in 1941, the American Army under General MacArthur undertook a withdrawal on the Bataan Peninsula that delayed the Japanese timetable to invade Australia but ended in the horrific Bataan Death March after these forces ran out of food and ammunition.  Of the 44,000 American troops involved, over a quarter were Philippine Scouts, tough and well-trained troops who were key to the defensive strategy.

The story of these fighters will be told by Jay Wertz who has written several books on the Pacific war along with books on other campaigns.  The presentation will be held as follows:

    DATE: Saturday, March 2, 2019

    PLACE: Tantalum Restaurant, Long Beach Marina
                  6272 E. Pacific Coast Highway, Long Beach, California
    TIME: 12:00 noon
    PRICE: $42 per person

Please select an entrée from the menu choices below, which include salad dessert and beverage:

  • Vegetarian Pita Taco
  • Rib eye sandwich
  • Hoisin chicken
  • Mahi Mahi

For reservations, send a check made out to BACEPOW by February 23 to:

    Sharon Davis
    P.O. Box 7711, 1133 Camelback
    Newport Beach, CA 92658

The boy who wasn’t interned

By all accounts, Michael Seats should have been interned in Santo Tomas Internment Camp.  At thirteen, he and his mother had fled Hong Kong, leaving his father behind.  They were housed in the Sulphur Springs hotel, along with many other British refugees.

Michael Anthony Seats, 1943

Michael Seats, 1943

However, rather than being interned, he was able to get passage on one of the last ships leaving Manila, and ultimately landing in Perth, Australia.  From there, he gained passage on another vessel bound for England.  After sailing through the Panama Canal his ship joined a convoy for several days.

However, after his ship left the convoy, it was attacked by a German submarine!  Rather than giving away the rest of the story, you can read his harrowing account in a Boy’s Life article of July 1943 titled “We Were Torpedoed.

I would have loved to gotten an update from Michael, but, unfortunately, he passed away in Western Australia in 2018.

The STIC Tissue Issue*

By Prof. Martin Meadows

Recently I saw the following aphorism in an emailed collection of similar expressions: “You never appreciate what you have till it’s gone. Toilet paper is a good example.” That saying is quite amusing; however, the reason I mention it is because that is precisely what reminded me of, and thereupon gave me the idea to revisit, the situation that existed in Santo Tomas Internment Camp (a.k.a. STIC) regarding the rarely if ever discussed subject of toilet paper, now known more politely as bathroom tissue — hereinafter to be referred to as BT. I decided to explore the topic partly for the edification (?) of those who are unaware of it; partly in the hope that it would elicit similar recollections from others (especially women, whose perspective unfortunately is necessarily missing here); partly for my own records; and primarily because I was unable to find any treatment of it elsewhere. That is surprising, considering that BT is almost the equal of food and drink as a necessity of life (he said tongue-in-cheek). To be specific, I found no discussion of it in the four principal sources of information about camp life that I consulted for this brief survey. They include three primary sources (primary in the sense that they (1) were written by internees, and (2) are about STIC in general rather than personal accounts centered on the authors), and one secondary source. These are cited next in a short bibliographic detour.
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“Rampage” now available!

James M. Scott’s new book, Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita, and the Battle of Manila, is available now in print and Kindle formats. The 640-page book contains 16 pages of illustrations and 10 maps. General MacArthur’s visits to Old Bilibid Prison and Santo Tomas Internment Camp are detailed. The summary at Amazon.com states:

The twenty-nine-day battle to liberate Manila resulted in the catastrophic destruction of the city and a rampage by Japanese forces that brutalized the civilian population. Landmarks were demolished, houses were torched, suspected resistance fighters were tortured and killed, countless women were raped, and their husbands and children were murdered. American troops had no choice but to battle the enemy, floor by floor and even room by room, through schools, hospitals, and even sports stadiums. In the end, an estimated 100,000 civilians lost their lives in a massacre as heinous as the Rape of Nanking.

Cody K. Carlson, in his review in the Deseret News, says:

The heart of this book, however, is the stories of death and suffering inflicted upon the Filipino people, as well as other ethnicities, at the hands of a vengeful Japanese military whose soldiers knew they could not defeat the Americans. Scott examines massacre after massacre, such as the butchering that took place when Japanese marines entered a Red Cross hospital and indiscriminately bayonetted and shot both patients and staff despite pleas for mercy. No one was spared, not even Filipino film star Corazon Noble, who lived to later testify that she had been bayonetted nine times by the Japanese. Her infant had been bayoneted three times and died. Similar tales of death occurred at places like the German Club, De Le Salle and at St. Paul’s College, as well as countless other incidents that wove together during the battle like a macabre tapestry.

In his review in The Post and Courier, Jonathan Sanchez writes:

In Rampage, the war is agonizingly and microscopically close: the enemy soldiers, the Filipino and American citizens, the American generals. We see what they eat, what they wear, how they survive, how they die.

The review in the Kirkus Reviews states:

In 1945, Douglas MacArthur returned to the Philippines as he had promised, wanting nothing more than a spectacular military parade through the streets of Manila. The Japanese commander of forces in the field, Tomoyuki Yamashita, the “Tiger of Malaya,” intended to oblige by withdrawing his soldiers from the city, but an admiral named Sanji Iwabuchi had other ideas. Defying orders, he commanded his sailors and marines to dig in for a house-to-house defense of the city, co-opting some army units in the bargain. With certain death their only option, Iwabuchi’s command embarked on a campaign of atrocities in which more than 100,000 Filipinos and foreign nationals were slaughtered, with orders that they be grouped to save ammunition and then disposed of by burning buildings and, with them, material evidence of the massacre.

In his review in the Wall Street Journal (requires subscription), Jonathan W. Jordan states:

Mr. Scott does one of the finest jobs in recent memory of cutting out the middleman and letting the participants — hundreds of them — tell their harrowing bits of a kaleidoscopic wartime tragedy. The result is an eloquent testament to a doomed city and its people. “Rampage” is a moving, passionate monument to one of humanity’s darkest moments.

On 2 November 2018, Bob Drogin, wrote in the Los Angeles Times, in his review:

Scott, who was a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist for “Target Tokyo,” focuses in part on the 7,500 or so Americans and others held as prisoners of war or civilian internees in squalid conditions, and their dramatic rescue by U.S. troops. Although some of those stories are familiar, he adds a heart-rending portrayal of the brutal life they endured.

Other books by James M. Scott include Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid that Avenged Pearl Harbor, The War Below: The Story of Three Submarines that Battled Japan, and The Attack on the Liberty: The Untold Story of Israel’s Deadly 1967 Assault on a U.S. Spy Ship.

John “Jigger” Jay, accountant and cartoonist

By profession, British internee, John Leslie “Jigger” Jay, was an accountant. But he also proved to be an apt cartoonist of daily life at Santo Tomás, and later Los Baños internment camps. His most prominent work was in How We Took It, poems by Alfred J. Stahl and published in New York in October 1945. Jigger traveled on the S.S. Admiral E.W. Eberle leaving Manila on 10 April 1945, arriving in San Pedro, California, on 2 May 1945. He was repatriated on the R.M.S. Scythia leaving Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 10 May 1945, arriving in Liverpool on 25 May 1945, en route to Banstead, Surrey.

Illustration from "How We Took It"

Two pages from “How We Took It,” 1945, by Alfred J. Stahl and John L. “Jigger” Jay

STIC place-mat, by John "Jigger" Jay

STIC place-mat, created by John “Jigger” Jay.
Click on image to expand to see the great detail.


If anyone has more information about Jigger or his work, please use our “Comments” form.

Some 2017 articles involving former civilian internees

Following are some 2017 articles involving former civilian internees of the Philippine prison camps. Click the title to link to the full text:

Long Journey Home for British Ex-Internees

RMS Scythia

RMS Scythia

The passenger list for the 1945 voyage of the R.M.S. Scythia from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Liverpool, England, has just been added to the Repatriation & Rescue page on this website. This is important because it shows the final leg of the long journey back to the UK from the Philippines for over 200 Brits. One passenger was 12-year-old Robin Cooke, whose mother, Doris, died while in STIC in October 1942.

Repatriation Summary:

  • Manila to San Diego: 7,393 miles / 11,898 km
  • San Diego to Halifax, Nova Scotia: 3,685 miles / 5,931 km
  • Nova Scotia – Liverpool: 2,722 miles / 4,380 km

Total: 13,800 miles / 22,209 Kilometers

Download the 7-page Scythia passenger list in PDF format.
List of passengers on the Scythia:
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Three Canadian Priests added to “In Memoriam”

After some recent research, I have added Catholic Fathers Henri Desjardins, Omer Leblanc and Leo Poirier to the In Memoriam page on this site. They were working on Mindanao as members of the Société des Missions-Étrangères du Québec (Societas pro missionibus exteris Provinciae Quebecensis’), shortened P.M.E. None of these men were ever interned and a fourth member, Fr. Leo Lamy, died of malaria, on 19 December 1942.

6 of the PME Fathers who escaped the Japanese and internment.  Baganga, 1942.

6 of the PME Fathers who escaped the Japanese and internment. Baganga, 1942.


Courtesy of the UCAN directory:

“When war broke out in December 1941, parochial work came almost to a standstill. In Davao only four PME Fathers were left with Bishop del Rosario, together with the Jesuits Father Garcia and Father Alfredo Paguia. Out of the 23 PME Fathers at that time, seven escaped and took refuge among the pagan tribe of the East Coast of Davao, while the rest were taken prisoners and sent to the concentration camps at University of Santo Tomas in Manila and University of the Philippines in Los Banos, Laguna. Four PME priests died during this period. Father Leo Lamy died of malaria in San Pedro. Father Henri Desjardins disappeared mysteriously on his way from Manay to Caraga. Fathers Leo Poirier and Omer Leblanc who started their work in Santa Cruz were killed by the Japanese soldiers who took them to Pikit, Cotabato province, as prisoners. They were later executed as spys.”

For more information:

Only by the Grace of God now available!

Only by the Grace of God

Now available!

Former internee, Pamela Brink, has announced that her new book, Only by the Grace of God, is now available.  She and her family were interned in three camps during the War: Cebu, Santo Tomás , and Los Baños Internment Camp.

Pamela was only eight-years-old when first interned, but the book also includes the memoirs of her late brothers, Robert and John Brink. The family all survived the War and were repatriated on the M.S. Torrens, arriving in San Francisco on 15 May 1945.

The announcement at Amazon.com has this to say about the book:

Three siblings from the Philippines wrote down what they remembered about being imprisoned by the Japanese during World War II.

Pamela J. Brink, Robert A. Brink, and John W. Brink all survived the ordeal, but only one of them–Pamela–is still alive today. She shares their experiences in this memoir that recounts the horrors of war as seen through the eyes of children.

At age thirteen, John W. was the oldest when they were captured, and his account is likely the most accurate of all three.

Robert and Pamela’s versions are different as they saw everything through younger, more fearful eyes. All three, however, remember being overjoyed when they were rescued from the Los Baños prison camp.

When they were freed, everyone wanted to hear about atrocities, but their slow starvation could not compete with the horrors that Jews suffered in Nazi Germany. Most ignored their tales, and over time, they stopped telling them.

Three adults look back at their childhood experiences as prisoners of war, how they survived, and how they continued on in Only by the Grace of God.

Guerrilla Priest

Guerrilla Priest: An American Family in World War II Philippines

2016 book now available

Stephen Griffiths’ book, Guerrilla Priest,  is now available. Griffiths based his book on the unpublished memoirs of his parents, Alfred and Ernestine Griffiths.

According to the Dancing Moon Press website,

“Guerrilla Priest” captures a special moment in the history of the Pacific War: the formation of the first guerrilla resistance against the Japanese in northern Luzon, Philippines. Major Walter Cushing, Chief Puyao of the Tingguian village of Balbalasang, and Al Griffiths, an Episcopal priest, were key figures in this resistance. Guerrilla Priest describes the events that led to the ambush at Lamonan—disastrous for the Japanese—and the aftermath of that ambush for those who participated. The book also provides an intimate glimpse of the American colonial experience in the Philippines, its impact on the Tingguian people, and a portrait of Japanese soldiers and their commanders that defies stereotype. But perhaps most significantly, it tells the story of how a young American family—Al Griffiths, his wife Nessie, and their infant daughter Katy—managed to survive a horrific war.

Paperback copies of this book are available direct from the author: Stephen Griffiths. Paperbacks as well as eBooks are also available through Amazon.com or ordered through independent book sellers