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.)
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.