Camp John Hay may have been the first place in the Philippines bombed by Japan in World War II. At 8:19 a.m. on December 8, 1941 – December 7 on the Hawaii side of the International Date Line – seventeen Japanese bombers attacked Camp John Hay killing eleven soldiers, American and Filipino, and several civilians in the town of Baguio.
The first response of John Hay’s commander, Col. John P. Horan, was to order all the several hundred Japanese residents of Baguio rounded up and interned in two damaged barracks on the base. The Japanese pleaded with Horan not to confine themselves in a place likely to bombed again. The one thousand American and Filipino soldiers at Camp Hay made little effort to defend Baguio from the advancing Japanese invaders. They abandoned the area on December 24, destroying most of their weapons and equipment and leaving the Japanese internees locked up without food and water. The soldiers left former Mayor, E.J. Halsema, in charge and he and Elmer Herod, another American resident of Baguio, provided food and water to the Japanese internees.
The Japanese army marched into Baguio unopposed the night of December 27. About 500 civilians, the great majority Americans, were interned by the Japanese at Camp John Hay in the same barracks where the Japanese had been interned. About 40 percent were missionaries from 22 different denominations, some who had recently fled China and organized a language school in Baguio. The other 60 percent were primarily miners and businessmen. Two U.S. army nurses were among the internees. The Japanese appointed Elmer Herod as leader of the internees. Many of the Americans later attributed their relatively benign treatment, compared to internees in other camps, to the concern shown by Halsema and Herod for the welfare of the former Japanese internees, some of whom now became employed in the camp
However, living conditions were difficult. All 500 internees were crowded into a single building, which had previously housed 60 soldiers, and the Japanese made little provision for food and water. Bedding was on the floor and each bed was rolled into a bundle during the day to allow for more space. After a few weeks, because of the obvious need, an additional building was obtained for male internees. The first project for the prisoners was to clean the building. Water had to be carried for one mile as the water main had been broken during the bombing. Drinking water was boiled as chemicals were not available. Lack of water, outside latrines, lack of screens for doors and windows, crowded buildings and the general lethargy of the prisoners contributed to poor sanitation. Intestinal diseases soon developed. Dysentery became so prevalent among the children, and adults as well, that a small dispensary was set up in the barracks.
On April 23, 1942, the five hundred American and Western internees were moved to Camp Holmes, a base of the Philippine constabulary, five miles from Camp Hay. They were joined there by 300 Chinese internees. Conditions at Camp Holmes were much better.
[On July 17, 1942, N. J. Sorrell escapes. On On April 5, 1944, G. Herbert Swick and Richard R. Green escape the camp. As a result, internees E.J. Kneebone, William Moule and J. J. Halsema are tortured by the Japanese.
On September 26, 1943, William Portrude becomes the only internee repatriated from the Baguio camp. He arrives in New York on the S.S. Gripsholm on December 2, 1943. Once there, he sends news about the Baguio internees to their families.]
Many of the original buildings which were used to house internees still stand such as the building now occupied by the Lonestar Steakhouse, the Base Chapel and the adjoining rows of cottages.
During the Japanese occupation, General Tomoyuki Yamashita used the American Residence as his headquarters and official residence. On December 27, 1944, the internees were moved to Old Bilibid Prison in Manila.On April 26, 1945, Baguio City and Camp John Hay fell into American hands. Combined Filipino and American forces pursued the retreating Japanese into the forests of the Benguet Mountains. Finally, on September 3, 1945 Yamashita surrendered to General Jonathan Wainwright at the American Residence. British General Arthur Percival stood as witness. These two Generals, who were both defeated by Yamashita, especially flew up to Baguio to accept the surrender of Yamashita.
For more information:
- Baguio Internment Camp, pages 316-323 of Santo Tomás Internment Camp, Frederic H. Stevens, 1946
- Captured: The Japanese Internment of American Civilians in the Philippines, 1941-1945, Frances B. Cogan, 2000
- Child of War: A Memoir of World War II Internment in the Philippines, Curtis Whitfield Tong, 2011
- James J. Halsema : The Internment Camp at Baguio, Michael P. Onorato, 1987
- Spirits Unbroken; The story of three years in a civilian internment camp, under the Japanese, at Baguio and at old Bilibid prison in the Philippines from December 1941 to February 1945, R. Renton Hind, 1946
- Behind Barbed Wire and High Fences: Church of the Brethren Missionaries Trapped in Japanese Concentration Camp, Helen Frances Buehl Angeny, 2011
- Under the Shadow of the Rising Sun : The True Story of a Missionary Family’s Survival and Faith in a Japanese Prisoner-of-War camp during WWII, Donald and Vesta Mansell, 2003