Baguio Internment Camp, Luzon


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

Luzon Island, Philippines

Luzon Island, Philippines, showing camps at Baguio, Manila and Los Banos (courtesy of Google Maps)

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.

Baguio Liberation 50th Anniversary

Baguio Liberation 50th Anniversary

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.

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13 thoughts on “Baguio Internment Camp, Luzon

  1. Are there any survivors alive today? I believe that my wifes grandmother was there- she was a daughter of a US Buffalo Soldier who married a filipina lady. Would like to connect with anyone who knows more.

    • Hi, Andrew, thanks for your message. If you send me your wife’s grandmother’s name, I will circulate your question to the camp survivors group. Thanks! Cliff

      • I am searching for information about the Schwersenz family which emigrated from Germany via Switzerland to the Philippines as jewish refugees.

        • Hi, Ulrich, I have recently started adding the Jewish refugees into my database. Alfred, Siegfred, Carl and Gerda Schwersenz and all listed in “Philippines, Jewish Refugees, 1937-1941” database as having fled from Berlin, Germany. Alfred and Sigfred as both listed on the plaque of dead in the Jewish section of the Cemetario del Norte in Manila as being Jews who died in the Philippines during WWII. They might have been killed during the Battle of Manila.

          The best book I’ve seen on the Jewish population in Manila is “Escape to Manila: From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror,” 2003, by Frank Ephraim. However, the Schwersenz family is not listed in the index. I will try to check some other sources.

          Best regards, Cliff

  2. My mother, her father, and her brother were in this camp (Maj. (ret) John Taylor Woodson, Elizabeth Woodson, and Bertrand Woodson). Her father was retired US military and her mother was native-born. My father was with the forces that liberated the islands and was on the ship that brought them to the states. There is a book, secretly written by one of the ladies in the camp. I’m sure it’s out of print, but perhaps you can find an old copy if you haven’t seen it: Forbidden Diary by Natalie Crouter. It is difficult reading, at least for me, but very informative. My mother shared few details of that time, so I knew very little of the appalling circumstances.

    • Maryjane Speth Simmons

      Hello Kathleen,
      I was with my Aunt who is now 91 years old and I love listening to her life experiences. She mentioned Elizabeth Woodson today and said she really missed her and did not have a chance to say goodbye. She also mentioned Bertrand and could not stop remembering … so I just surfed the internet and found your post. I showed her a picture I found of her and 2 children. I hope you see my post and maybe we can connect at least via email. We are from Baguio Philippines and my Aunt stayed a lot with you family … it is fascinating.

    • Annarae Tong Hunter

      I believe Fred Crouter, son of the author Natalie Crouter may still have copies of his mother’s book. I am the sister of Curtis Tong (recently deceased) who wrote the book “Child of War”. My Sister Eloise Purdy and I are in contact with a few of the Baguio internees. Sadly many are no longer with us!

  3. My husband’s families were all living in the Philippines during WWII. Some members were interred: specifically his paternal grandfather Roy Dewitt Bennett at Santo Tomas, maternal grandfather Dr. James Walter Strong first at Santo Tomas then transferred to Los Banos, and Aunt Frances Bennett Ichard at Camp Hay, along with Evelyn (Bennett) and Enrique De Luceriaga, and Alphonso and Roberta (Strong) Ybannez. Of all the family, the circumstances around Aunt Frances’ death have never been clarified. I was able to find her listed at Camp Hay, dying either from health reasons or trying to escape, but that’s it. Family legend said that she and two other woman were removed from the camp and beheaded. Would anyone at your site have more information about her or other family members listed above? Thank you so much.

    • Hi, Cheryl, thanks for your post. I’ve seen a couple of references that mention that Aunt Frances’ death, but I do not own these works, so I would have to request copies of the pages that mention her. Her family’s situation in mentioned in R. R. Hind’s book, Spirits Unbroken, 1946, pages 200-203. If you do not already have this, I can easily send the text to you. This book, however, doesn’t mention how Frances died. I will look through some other sources that I have to see if there might be more. Best regards, Cliff

      • I am sorry to say I lost the link to your site, so just read today your response to my request. Periodically I do family research hoping to find new information. I will try to locate Hinds book.
        Thank you for any information you may find.

    • Hi Cheryl,

      My name is April Bennett and I’ve been searching for more information regarding my dad’s famliy. I came across your comment here and remember my dad saying his uncle’s name was Roy D. Bennett. By any chance, did your husband’s grandfather have a brother named Carl Bennett? I would love to hear from you.

      Thank you for your time,
      April Bennett

  4. Sherri Douglas Albritton

    I am doing research for purely personal reasons. My grandparents, Clayton Orville and Mary Evangeline Douglas as well as my father, Hugh Edward Douglas and my aunt Dorothy Douglas were POW’s from 1941-1945 and were in, I believe, 3 different camps. I have unsuccessfully tried to find records or documentation of their lives. My father passed away in 2008, and my aunt passed away a year ago. Neither one would ever really talk about their experience, which I have understood, but I would like to pass on any knowledge to my children about their lives during that time. Any information would be greatly appreciated

    • Hi, Sherri, thanks for your question. There are several good books on the Baguio camps, but most of them do not have indexes, which make it difficult to find information about individuals. I assume that you have seen the book “Civilian Prisoners of the Japanese in the Philippine Islands,” published in 2002. Besides the short bio on Dorothy on page 106, she wrote two short essays in the same publication: “Enduring Talisman,” pages 52 – 53, and “Camp Holmes to Bilibid to Freedom,” on pages 53 – 54. There is a also a brief mention of Clayton on page 92 of “Under the Shadow of the Rising Sun,” 2003, by Donald E. and Vesta W. Mansell: “Another much-sought-after work detail was the “garden gang.” Like the garbage detail, membership in this work group was not permanent. Our garden plot was a former flower garden located a few hundred yards down the hill from the northwest corner of the Women’s Barracks. It was surrounded by pine trees and thick underbrush. This work detail began to break ground on February 8 [1942]. Clayton O. Douglas, a former teacher at the Trinidad Agricultural School, headed it up. Most of the workers were teenagers, including me. Under Mr. Douglas’s supervision we spaded up the soil and planted sweet potatoes and other vegetable crops.” I will soon be going to looking at the James Halsema diary at Stanford University. He includes many details about the Baguio camps and may have mentioned your family. I will certainly let you know if I find anything new. In the meantime, I have include the links to their listings on the S.S. Admiral Eberle passenger lists: / / . Best regards, Cliff

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