Last Chapter, First Page

The Repatriation Voyage of the S.S. Jean Lafitte
Tacloban, Leyte, 3 March – San Francisco, California, 30 March, 1945

By Curtis Brooks

The final phase of the wartime history of Americans in the Philippines, for most of us, was the trip from Manila to the United States. My brother and I were with the first group of civilian internees to leave the camp, a journey that would begin on February 23, 1945 and end March 30 of the same year in San Francisco.

I don’t remember when we were first given a head’s up for the trip but it must have been only a day or so before departure. The morning of the 23rd was thunderous, with much firing from artillery all about the city. We loaded onto trucks and headed out the gate on to Calle España and drove east. It was the first time I had ridden on a vehicle since January, 1942 when a bus brought us into camp. We drove along the road for a distance and then came to a stop. There was a sign, “Keep off the Airstrip.” The road from there forward was the runway. Parked on both sides were several transport aircraft. We recognized the C-47, but there other aircraft we did not; we boarded one of those; I think we had a choice of what plane to board and supposed the unfamiliar planes to be the newer ones. Off to one side was a damaged dive bomber that apparently had come to grief using the airstrip. It was a moment of great excitement; we were on our way, further my brother and I had never flown before. In the plane we sat in bucket seats along the side of the fuselage. I remember counting and there were 35 of us on board. A friend of mine who had flown before told us we probably wouldn’t notice when the plane left the ground. Not so; the plane pulled up sharply with a noticeable jolt when we became airborne. The plane headed east and then circled south. To our right, the city of Manila lay blackened and smoking, in the harbor we could see the hulks of many ships sunk during the American bombing raids.
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Going Home, a memoir by Rob Colquhoun

GOING HOME: THE VOYAGE OF THE CAPE MEARES
Manila, 10 April – San Francisco, 12 May, 1945

By Robert Colquhoun

My mother, Elsa Colquhoun, and I were held by the Japanese in Santo Tomás Internment Camp, Manila, from January 1942 to our liberation by the US army on 3 February 1945. By then she was thirty-four and I was six years and four months old. My father was a military prisoner of war in Hong Kong and in Camp my mother met another Englishman, Harold Leney, who would become my stepfather. Their son, Tom, was born there on 30 March 1945. Ten days later the four of us left Camp for the last time and with many other internees headed by truck to the port area on the first stage of our journey home via San Francisco. At the harbor, because of the damage done during the battle for Manila, we were carried by landing craft – an excitement in itself – out to our ship, the SS Cape Meares.

The Cape Meares, named after a promontory in Oregon, was one of 173 C1-B freighters specially built during the war. Eight of these, all named after capes on the west coast of North America, were converted into troopships. (One of them, the Cape San Juan, did not survive the war: on its way to Australia in November 1943 with over 1,300 troops on board, it was torpedoed south-east of Fiji and sank with the loss of 130 lives.)

Cape Meares

Cape Meares


Intended to be used on routes which did not call for fast ships (they were capable of doing 14 knots), C1-Bs were better constructed and more versatile than Liberty and Victory ships. The Cape Meares was built by Consolidated Steel, Wilmington, California, and delivered to the Matson Navigation Co. in June 1943. It was 417 feet long, weighed 6,750 tons and could carry over 1,800 military personnel. It was armed with guns fore, aft and midships (next to the funnel), as shown in the above US Maritime Commission drawing.
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