Going Home, a memoir by Rob Colquhoun

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.

The ship’s Master was Edgar A. Quinn, a 33-year-old Chicagoan of Irish descent with fifteen years’ seagoing experience, including war service in the Pacific and the Atlantic. To me, the Captain – nobody ever referred to him by his merchant navy title – was a remote, god-like figure. On one occasion, however, I was taken onto the bridge. Tall men were talking quietly as they went about their business. The Captain, doubtless none too pleased at the presence of this young intruder in his domain, shot us a glance and then returned to his task of getting his ship and its human cargo safely across the Pacific.

The Cape Meares was equipped with a hospital bay and operating theatre and as a result took sick and wounded civilians on board, together with what seems to have been a floating maternity ward of expectant and nursing mothers – several babies would be born on the crossing. The sick also included those who were mentally ill: one passenger, William Balfour, a 25-year-old Scottish radio operator, was described by the immigration authorities on his arrival at San Francisco as “unable to answer questions due to psychosis”.

Among the severely injured was Sofia Adamson, who has left an account of the crossing in her 1982 autobiography Gods, angels & pearls, roses. Born to Greek immigrants in the USA in 1916, she had graduated with a degree in education from UCLA in 1937. She married George Athos Adamson in 1939 and moved to the Philippines, where in 1934 he had joined his brother at an educational institution, recently founded by his cousin, which was to become the Adamson University, Manila. She herself became involved in the College of Education. During 1941 she worked as a secretary in General MacArthur’s office and remained in Manila throughout the Japanese occupation. Because she and George were both of Greek origin, they were spared being interned in Santo Tomás. During the battle for Manila, however, they were both wounded by shrapnel fire – she particularly badly in the neck and leg, so much so that she was unable to walk. As such, she was, as her surgeons put it, “crated for shipping” onto the Cape Meares and then lifted aboard by crane. In fact, because of the unwieldy plaster that encased her leg, she spent most of the voyage below decks, coming up for air with her husband for emergency drills and at various ports of call. After eventually recovering from her injuries in an army hospital in San Francisco, she and George moved to Pasadena, California, in 1946. Active in many areas of civic life, she was most notably a co-founder and benefactor of the Pacific Asia Museum, a showcase for the arts and culture of the Pacific Islands. George died in 2003 and Sofia in 2007, aged ninety. In the title of her autobiography, gods refers to her Greek heritage, angels to her childhood in Los Angeles, pearls to Manila, and roses to her life in Pasadena. She has an entry in Wikipedia.

One of the pregnant mothers on board was Jean Cowan Shanks MacWilliam, whose 1972 memoir can be found on Tom Moore’s Santo Tomás website: http://www.cnac.org/emilscott/macwilliam01.htm. In 1940, in her late twenties, she left her native Scotland for the Philippines to marry her childhood sweetheart, Richard Niven MacWilliam, who was working for the Insular Lumber Company in a remote spot at Fabrica on Negros Island. She arrived in Manila on 27 October and their wedding took place the following day. Their son Scott was born on 16 April 1942 – some four months after the Japanese invasion – and in June all three were interned at Bacolod. In March 1943 they were moved to Santo Tomás and in April 1944 to Los Baños. They were liberated on 23 February 1945, by which time Jean was seven months pregnant – and ripe for the Cape Meares. In the event, their second son, Richard, was born while the ship was at Pearl Harbor on 6 May, a few days before it reached San Francisco. After staying with family in Ohio and spending a week in New York, they sailed for Britain on the Queen Elizabeth in mid-June. Subsequently they returned to the Philippines, where Scott went to school at Brent in Baguio for a year, before moving to Australia in 1951. I have been in contact with Scott MacWilliam by email. He became an academic, working in many different countries on development policy. He is now based at Australian National University in Canberra, from where he carries out research on Papua New Guinea and Fiji.

Through Maurice Francis’s email group I have been in touch with another passenger on the Cape Meares – Francine Juhan (now Bostrom). Born in October 1936, and therefore just two years older than me, she was interned in Baguio with her father Francis Golden Juhan, a goldmine administrator, her mother Amelia Johnson, and her younger sister Elizabeth Amelia, aged three in April 1945. The Cape Meares was the obvious ship for the family to go home on: her father had TB and her parents had just had a son – Herman James Juhan, born 29 March. After the war they settled in Santa Monica, where her father set up in real estate, though he died of peritonitis in 1950. Francine now lives in Torrance, near Los Angeles. (Her maternal grandfather, Herman Frithioff Johnson, was interned separately in Santo Tomás. Born in 1885 and a proud ex-marine, he was working as a civil servant at the Cavite naval base near Manila when war broke out. After rescuing a colleague injured in the Japanese air attacks on the base, he himself was wounded, lost an eye and suffered from poor medical treatment during his time in Santo Tomás. The family lost track of him and they were only reunited in the USA after the war.)

Having spent the night of 9 April anchored off Manila harbor – throughout the voyage Harold and I slept on mattresses in the male quarters in the vast hold, while my mother, nursing Tom, had her own cabin – we set sail on the 10th. It was, for me, the start of a memorable experience. The children seemed to be given the run of the ship and I made two friends I have not forgotten. One was a boy of my age, Paul, who I remembered as French but was possibly Paul Laurens, a Belgian, who hadn’t been interned but had been living with his parents on restricted “permanent release” in Manila. (The only problem is that he doesn’t appear on the list of “alien” passengers on board – see below.) I also made friends, as did lots of other children, with a cheerful 19-year-old sailor, nicknamed for obvious reasons Curly, who was part of the gun crew. Always laughing and joking and surrounded by kids, at the end of the voyage he let me have a gigantic screwdriver which I admired – I kept it for years.

The Cape Meares made its way to Tacloban, Leyte (the city which took the full force of typhoon Haiyan in November 2013). It was here, on 12 April, that we learnt of the death of President Roosevelt. We then headed south towards New Guinea, to avoid Japanese submarines – I vaguely remember an incomprehensible “crossing the line” ceremony with a rather disturbing Neptune – before turning north-east for our second port of call, at Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the scene of a significant battle and American victory in February 1944. Here we were given a destroyer escort for the next and more dangerous stage of our journey – to Pearl Harbor, Honolulu.

Sofia Adamson, Jean MacWilliam and Francine Juhan all recall what happened next. Our destroyer detected, chased and, judging by the oil slick that came to the surface, sank a Japanese submarine. Unfortunately in firing its depth charges one of the sailors had jammed his hand in the mechanism, badly injuring it. It was decided to transfer him to the Cape Meares, where he could receive proper surgical attention. The destroyer came alongside, a line was thrown between the two ships, and we watched enthralled as the injured man was hauled across by breeches-buoy. I remember urgent shouts, probably magnified through a loud-hailer, as his body dropped dangerously close to the waves. But he arrived safely, received treatment and, writes Jean MacWilliam, recovered well.

Four days later – after, says Sofia Adamson, seven alarms and two failed torpedo attacks on us – we arrived at Pearl Harbor. “It was,” Jean MacWilliam remembered, “an amazing sight.” The broken hulls of ships destroyed in the attack of December 1941 were still visible and contrasted forlornly with the mighty display of US seapower to be seen first in the Marshall Islands and now in Honolulu. So we began the last leg of our voyage. On 8 May we heard that the war in Europe was over. Days later we sailed under the Golden Gate and arrived at San Francisco, shore band playing, on 12 May. For me, it was almost too soon. I had grown to love that ship and adored the crossing – the freedom to roam, the friendly crew, the plentiful food, the ubiquitous smell of paint, the constant throbbing of the engines, and the blinking of signal lamps from ship to ship – not to mention the excitements of lifeboat drill and gun practice (the debonair Curly, in helmet and flak jacket, at his post). It had been the time of my young life.

The Cape Meares continued to serve as a troopship until 1946 – I have found no record of its subsequent peacetime career – and was scrapped in 1965. After further war service (it was his last voyage with the Cape Meares), Captain Quinn remained with the Matson Line till 1951. That year he became a Columbia River Bar pilot at Astoria, Oregon. He died there in 1973, aged sixty-one.

List or Manifest of Alien Passengers Arriving at San Francisco

The list is to be found on Ancestry. It is on more than one page, but I have put the passenger numbers in a continuous sequence. The manner in which nationality was entered varies, but I have simplified and standardized it. Place of birth is also given in the original, but I have not included that here. In square brackets I have given internees‘ page numbers and camp from Stevens’ book, where relevant. “Dhea” means they are listed in Dhea Santos‘ roster at the American Historical Collection, Manila. “TM” indicates they are on Tom Moore’s website.

The crew of the Cape Meares is also on Ancestry. The big puzzle remains: where is the passenger list of US nationals? Was it recorded? It does not appear to be on Ancestry nor has it come to light elsewhere.

1. Adamson, George Athos. 37. Dean, Adamson University. Greek.
2. Adamson, Sofia. 27. Housewife. American.
3. Balfour, William. 25. Radio operator. British.
4. Brown, George Caldwell. 36. Manager. British. [Stevens 530 STIC, Dhea]
5. Brown, Grace Smith. 35. Housewife. British. [“]
6. Brown, Iain Alastair. 3y, 3m. British. [Dhea]
7. Cameron, John Mackenzie. 38. Insurance. British. [Stevens 530 STIC, Dhea]
8. Cameron, Elizabeth Paula. 35. Housewife. British. [“]
9. Cameron, Hugh Mackenzie. 7y, 8m. British. [“]
10. Cameron, Iain Mackenzie. 4m. British. [Dhea]
11. Colquhoun, Elsa. 34. Housewife. British. [Stevens 531 STIC, Dhea, TM]
12. Colquhoun, Robert Francis. 6y, 7m. British. [“]
13. Colquhoun, Thomas Robert. 1m. British.
14. Corpe, Rosemary. 38. Housewife. British. [Stevens 531 STIC, Dhea]
15. Corpe, Crispin John. 5. British. [“]
16. Elie, Hyman Cohen. 45. Navy, Civil Service. American. [Stevens 507 STIC, Dhea]
17. Elie, Yvette Gadol. 25. Housewife. British. [Dhea]
18. Elie, Lloyd C. 6y, 10m. American. [Dhea]
19. Gadol, Fortunée S. (mother of no. 17). 55. Housewife. British.
20. Feldman, Solomon. 44. Accountant, Texaco Co. British. [Stevens 532 STIC, Dhea]
21. Feldman, Zena. 37. Housewife. British. [“]
22. Feldman, Reva. 13y, 6m. British. [“]
23. Feldman, Helen. 5y, 7m. British. [“]
24. Hampton, James A. 67. Watchman. American. [Stevens 511 STIC, Dhea]
25. Hampton, Louis. 23. Student. American.
26. Hampton, James. 27. Civil service. American.
27. Hampton, Teresa Francisco (wife of above). 19. Filipino.
28. Hampton, James J. Raymond III (son). 1y, 9m. Filipino.
29. Harper, James Albert. 29. Foreman. American. [Stevens 547 Los Baños, Dhea]
30. Harper, Ella Mae. 26. Housewife. Canadian. [Stevens 562 Los Baños, Dhea]
31. Harper, Betty Jane. 4y, 8m. American. [Stevens 547 Los Baños, Dhea]
32. Harper, Anita Mae. 7y, 6m. American. [“]
33. Kane, John William James. 23. Manager. New Zealander. [Dhea]
34. Laing, Ronald Ian. 29. Florist. British. [Stevens 533 STIC, Dhea, TM]
35. Laing, Eric Charles. 26. Merchant. British. [“]
36. Laing, Maria Mercedes. 62. Widowed. British. [“]
37. Leney, Harold Bertram. 31. Accountant. British. [Stevens 533 STIC, Dhea, TM]
38. MacWilliam, Richard Niven. 44. Assistant Manager. British. [Stevens 560 Los Baños, Dhea, TM]
39. MacWilliam, Jean Cowan Shanks. 32. Housewife. British. [“]
40. MacWilliam, Scott. 3. British. [“]
41. MacWilliam, Richard Niven Jr. 6 days. Born at sea. British.
42. Nelson, Archibald Graham. 28. Geologist. British. [Stevens 560 Los Baños, Dhea]
43. Piercy, Arthur. 56. Merchant. British. [Stevens 560 Los Baños, Dhea]
44. Rynd, Patrick Gerald. 39. Banker. British. [Stevens 536 STIC, Dhea]
45. Rynd, Charis Veronica. 37. Housewife. British. [“]
46. Rynd, Catherine Ann. 3y, 1m. British. [“]
47. Sun, Ernesto Liorente. 22. Merchant. Filipino.
48. Sun, Doris Rosalind. Wife. 22. Chinese.
49. Van Odije, Anthony Hendrik. 60. Priest. Dutch.

A personal puzzle: who was my young shipboard companion? If it wasn’t Paul Laurens, the only other possible candidate is no. 18, Lloyd Elie. He wasn’t interned and the age is right (born 30 June 1938) – but he was American, not French, and Lloyd is a long way from Paul (I can’t believe I would have got the name so wrong in my memory). On the other hand, there may have been a French connection: his mother was Yvette and his grandmother (no. 19) was called Fortunée. This is not enough to convince me, however, that Lloyd Elie was the boy in question.

Robert Colquhoun, Blackheath, London, February 2014