My Experiences in Manila,
G. R. Horridge

This document, by British internee G. R. Horridge, was written shortly after the end of the War and is provided courtesy of Mr. John Horridge.

George Horridge, pre-WWII

George Horridge, pre-WWII

So many people have asked me about life in an internment camp and if the Japanese ill-treated us, that I have decided to try and give a brief description of the civilian internment camps as I found them in Los Banos and Manila during my three years of internment also a few notes on how I came to find my way into internment in Manila.

When war broke out I was on my way from Shanghai to Sydney via Singapore. I left Shanghai on the “Anhwei” which was one of the last ships to leave and carried about 500 passengers, most of whom had British passports. The bulk of the passengers were housed in the holds of the ship and slept on bunks set up in tiers. In Hong Kong I transferred to the “Anshun”, also bound for Singapore, with 200 Chinese deck passengers on board, but with more cabin space available for European passengers. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour we were south of Haiphong and were instructed by the British Naval Authorities to make for Philippine waters, which we did.

We arrived in Manila Bay about 8 a.m. and found the Harbour crammed with shipping and more streaming in all the time. At one o’clock the Japanese raided Cavite Naval Yard with a flight of 27 bombers and a few minutes later another group of similar size sprinkled the harbour with light bombs. Our ship, the “Anshun” was hit by two bombs and set afire, three people were killed, and about a score wounded. The next day all passengers were discharged, and the ship went out into the Bay again. I heard later that this ship sailed the next night along with many others, and finally reached New Guinea. It appears that she was sunk in Milne Bay and has just recently been raised.

After leaving the “Anshun”, I managed to get accommodation at the Bay View Hotel where I stayed until the Japanese entered Manila on January 1st. The American troops evacuated the city and withdrew to Bataan where they held out against the Japs until May 1942. This gave the Japs a free entry into Manila, which they took over in a perfectly orderly manner. All citizens were asked by the Mayor to destroy stocks of liquor and this order was carried out by the majority of Europeans.

About 150 of us were confined to the Hotel for 3 days and were then taken to Villamore Hall. There we spent one night sleeping on the floor or sitting up on school benches whichever one preferred. We were given one tin of soup during the 24 hours. Next day we were transferred to St. Tomas University, which place had been designated as the main civilian internment camp in the Philippines.

St, Tomas was built as a day university and as such was ill-suited for the accommodation of 3500 boarders, men, women and children. It cannot be compared in general layout with universities in Europe or America. Toilet facilities were inadequate, and there were no showers or baths except in the gymnasium, until we installed them ourselves, and no cooking facilities except those in a small cafeteria which normally supplied ices, cakes, coffee etc. to the students. There was also no dining room and people had to eat off their beds until dining sheds could be built outside.

One of the worst features was the overcrowding and the lack of privacy. Eighteen inches between beds was the order in the mens’ rooms, but the women managed to get a little more room, although even so there was little room in which to dress.

Fortunately for some of the Internees, certain Filipinos with an eye to business brought a number of camp beds and odd mattresses to the railings round the camp and found no difficulty in finding buyers. The Japanese made not the slightest attempt to provide any beds or bedding whatsoever, and many internees slept on the concrete floor for weeks until sufficient wood could be brought into camp to make rough beds. The fortunate ones were those who had Spanish, Filipino, or neutral friends in Manila, who were later able to send in proper mattresses to their internee friends.

G.R. Horridge, trade certificate, post-war China

G.R. Horridge, trade certificate, post-war China

I feel that we were lucky in that for the first eighteen months the camp was run by the Department of Japanese External Affairs, which meant that civilians were in charge of the running of the camp. The commandants and general staff were reasonable in their attitude towards the internees, but the dally allowance to cover food, lighting, gas and medical expenses was always inadequate, and therefore only two meals a day were served for months.

This was no particular hardship for those who brought money with them or were able to get money smuggled-in (and the latter ran into hundreds of thousands of pesos, much of it borrowed at very high rates of interest), because a daily package line was organised at the main gate of the camp. As you can imagine, this system was of tremendous assistance in spite of the fact that very package was thoroughly searched. Liquor was strictly forbidden, but even so quite a few bottles were smuggled into the camp. This was always a source of possible trouble between the internees and the guards, and so the Internees organised their own strong arm squad and detention room.

A canteen was set up inside the camp for the sale of soap, tobacco, medicinal products and sundries, and a number of selected natives were allowed in the camp to sell fruit and vegetables. The canteen did a brisk business during the first twelve months, but as. stocks of almost everything began to run out, prices rose, and business dropped considerably. It should he remembered that before the war the Philippines Manufactured practically nothing except cigars and cigarettes, and even in foodstuffs, including meat, milk, butter and cheese, their imports were enormous.

Nobody was allowed outside the sleeping quarters between the hours of 7 p.m. and 6 a.m., but later this was changed to 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. Roll call was taken every day by the monitor of each section who was responsible for each man in that section.

All the work in the camp was done by the internees, this included all cooking and kitchen work, handling of garbage, gardening etc. With reasonable food this work was not over-strenuous, and many people had lots of time on their hands for the study of all manner of subjects. Schools were started for the children, with afternoon and evening classes for adults. It did not take the internees long to organise small variety shows and concerts, and these, together with gramophone records which were broadcast through a loud speaker in the grounds of the college, were a great help in killing the boredom of internment.

Softball, soccer, and a modified form of American football were regularly played (except in the wet season) in the college grounds, which boasted two football pitches. The bulk of the internees were American nationals, but there were also something like 500 Britishers, 30 Dutch and a few other odd nationals interned in St. Tomas, Missionaries of all creeds were allowed to live in Manila and suburbs, provided they signed a document promising to co-operate with the Japanese authorities, and kept more or less to their various institutes and compounds. In June 1944, however, about 500 of these, including nuns and priests, were interned in Los Banos, and in this respect they were rather fortunate, because many of those who remained outside the camps lost their lives in the final battle for Manila, many being murdered in cold blood.

One of the big concessions by the authorities, which eased the crowded living quarters, was that of allowing internees to build wood or bamboo shacks in the college grounds at St. Tomas, and some 300 were built These shacks had to be vacated by 7 p.m., but were nevertheless a boon to families as the dormitories occupied by women and children were at times something akin to a beer garden.

Clothing became a problem after the first year or so, but the climate is friendly in this respect, and only light clothing is necessary. It also means that cold baths and showers can be taken with real pleasure all the year round. The minimum night temperature in Manila is about 71 deg F, and the maximum day temperature 97 deg F.

We were fortunate in having a number of civilian doctors interned with us and they soon started operating a small hospital in a building formerly occupied by Catholic sisters adjacent to the camp. One shipment of medical supplies arrived from the international Red Cross and this proved most useful, particularly as it contained a large quantity of vitamin tablets, which came in very handy towards the end. We were also lucky in having with us about 30 American Army and 12 Navy nurses, who were taken prisoner on Corregidor Island in May 1942. When they came into camp they were in good health and as far as I am aware had not been molested.

The size of the whole college compound was about 250 yards by 300 yards.

During the first eighteen months the Japanese interfered very little with the life of the internees, but little by little more pressure was brought to bear by the military authorities, who finally took complete charge and from then onwards the conditions became very much worse, particularly as regards food and supplies. The package line was stopped, and no contact with the outside world was permitted except in the form of very infrequent messages.

I think the lack of news from friends and relatives was one of the worst features, and in the three years of internment I received only 3 letters from my wife, although she wrote regularly. In the first 2 years we were only allowed to write 3 letters, but daring the last 8 months we were allowed 25 words per month in messages. Some people received rather more letters, but they were anything up to 18-months-old.

One problem which cropped up and which caused a considerable amount of trouble, was that of internees recognising all Japanese officers in the camp with the customary bow. Time and time again the internees were accused of deliberate discourtesy in that they failed to recognise and in many cases deliberately turned away when Japanese officers approached. The internees always pleaded ignorance and argued that the custom was foreign to them, but in the end it became evident that we had to comply with the Japanese ideas or lose some privileges. St. Tomas was always more sticky than Los Banos in this matter, and all internees had to bow when lined up for roll call in the morning.

One Japanese-sponsored newspaper, published in Manila in English, was allowed in the camp during the first 2| years, but this was so full of badly written propaganda as to be practically useless. As can be well imagined, rumour in the camp was rife, and although correct news did come into the camp in devious ways, it was difficult to sort out the good from the bad. Nevertheless, in spite of the lack of proper news the general spirit and morale of the camp during the first eighteen months was extremely high and it must have surprised the Japanese somewhat. Part of this was due to the feeling of confidence that the Allies in the long run would finally blast the Japanese to pieces, once things really got under way. The only difference was about the length of time necessary to carry this out. There were a number of optimists who went about with the slogan “Help is on the way”, and were quite sure that the Philippines would be retaken in three months.

As most people are aware, there were two groups of civilians repatriated from the Far East, and a number of these came from St. Tomas camp in Manila. The Japanese merely announced a list of names, practically all American, and there was nothing that could be done about the aged and sick. The first ship took quite a number of consular employees, and this was understandable under international law, but the second took mostly business men and their wives, some of whom had lived in Manila all their lives and had never been to the States. Public indignation in the camp was at fever pitch, as it was generally realised that strings had been pulled in Washington on behalf of certain individuals by big business interests, and there was also strong suspicion that others had stooped to boot licking and bribery with the Japs in order to get out.

In May 1943 we were told that 800 men would have to go to Los Banos to start a new camp. This camp was later extended to 2000, and included wives and families. The site was part of an agricultural college 40 miles south of Manila, and we were housed at first in the Gymnasium (500), some in wooden bungalows and wooden cottages. We had to build our own outdoor kitchens, where we cooked rice and stews. No flour was supplied and we had no ovens. It is surprising what can be done in a large open iron pan — one can fry rice and make a good pot roast, if the meat is available.

Soon after we arrived the natives started to build a number of native-type barracks, wooden frames with palm leaf roofs, matting sides. No proper toilets and showers were provided. We protested strongly, and these last two were rectified. Even so, the typhoon risk was ever present, In fact, the first barrack was blown down as soon as it was built.

The only point in our favour was that the barracks were cool and families were allowed to live together.

We had plenty of food at first, and we had a canteen where we could buy fruit, eggs, peanut butter, rice flour, oil etc. This was all right as long as one was able to get money, but this was not easy. Contact with Manila and the outside was cut off completely. Then, of course, prices started to rise rapidly because of the huge circulation of Army notes, and to crown all our canteen purchases were cut severely, although there seemed to be plenty of foodstuffs in the surrounding districts. Coconuts were the most useful of these. The meat was grated for breakfast, this same meat was pressed to get milk for cereals and coffee, and oil was extracted for cooking and for soap making. The alkali for this process came from wood ashes. People became expert at frying cold porridge, making hot cakes from rice flour, and sundry other makeshift dishes.

Unfortunately things became more and more restricted, food became scarce, prices continued to soar, eggs went up to 17 pesos each, coconut oil 66 pesos per litre etc. Our money was confiscated and given back to us at the rate of 50 pesos per month, (l pesos = 3/-d.) This meant that one could buy practically nothing in the canteen. We were always hoping for comfort boxes from home, but these only came once a year. However, when they did arrive they were usually fairly big and with care lasted quite a time. What a sight for sore eyes to see six cans of bully-beef, two of salmon, six little tins of butter, two half-pounds of cheese, raisins, prunes, etc., and, of course, chocolate.

George Horridge, reunited with his children in Sydney, Australia

George Horridge, reunited with his children,
Margaret & John, in Sydney, Australia

At this same time we had a change of personnel, who thought we were getting too much food for war prisoners, so our regular camp food began to get less and less. About July it was around 900 grams a day (100 grams = 3 1/2 oz.), including 200 grams of vegetables, 100 grams of coconut. There should have been 100 grams of meat also, but this was only on the list, and never appeared except on rare occasions and then was just enough to make a watery soup. 40 lbs. of meat amongst 2000 people doesn’t go very far. (Early in 1943 this was the number in Los Banos). The pity of it all was that there was room in the college grounds for us to keep a few cattle, ducks, hens, pigs etc., and the college had a dairy farm running all the time we were there, but the milk was not for us, or the babies, or our hospital. The only livestock we were allowed to keep were pigs, and these were starved for want of proper food. Food was so scarce that there was literally not enough garbage to feed these pigs properly.

The food ration was reduced again and again on the grounds that transportation was difficult and prices high. Our total ration of grain dropped to 300 grams per day (10 1/2 ozs.), and coconuts dropped to practically nil. This grain ration was finally reduced in February to 200 grams (7 oz.) per day. No corn, no oil, eggs, meat, nothing except some potato tops (sweet potato); which we used as greens and such additional greens as we were able to grow in our limited garden space.

Forced labour scheme — – Our boundaries in Los Banos camp were constantly being changed. The Japs took all the permanent buildings including the Gymnasium and the larger part of our gardens, saying that these were wanted for a military hospital. This meant that we also lost our playing field. Food, as stated above, had become a very real problem, and the Japs, knowing this, offered us new unbroken ground in the dry season for gardens, and suggested that we supplement our food ration. We pointed to the physical condition of the internees in general, and told them that many were simply unfit to do heavy manual labour, (our wood choppers at this stage had to be given a mid-day meal out of our own small rations in order to keep them going.) The Japs replied that they would offer all gardeners an extra 100 grams of rice a day for 5 hours work breaking new ground. There was nothing much that we could do about it, and about 150 tackled the job, although the doctors warned us that we would use up much more energy than the extra rice would provide. I tried it out for 3 weeks on the argument that it was better to be out in the open doing something to kill time, rather than sit in the barracks waiting for the 4.30 meal which seemed like an age. The extra 3 1/2 ozs. of rice did at least provide some sort of a lunch.

Fortunately this unhappy state of affairs was ended by the timely arrival of U.S. rescue party who risked their lives in getting us out of this spot which at the time was 26 miles behind the Jap perimeter, south of Manila. I take off my hat to the officers who planned this raid and to the men who carried it out also the Filipino guerrillas who overpowered the guards around the camp at the right moment and gave them no chance to turn on the internees. There happens to be a very large lake in this area which stretched to within half a mile of the camp at one point, and this was the crux of the whole plan.

For about three weeks we had received Reports by devious channels that practically the whole of Manila had fallen to the United States forces, and this was confirmed by the flashes of guns we saw in the distance at night and by the sound of heavy bombing raids during the daytime, all coming from the direction of Manila, We also saw lots of American bombers and carrier-borne planes passing close to the camp. These pilots soon realised that the Japs had practically no anti-aircraft guns in the vicinity of our camp, and so they dived and strafed the roads in the area with machine gun fire. What a fine sight it was after all those months of waiting, Naturally, the temper of our captors did not improve, and it was just a question of wait and see. This is what actually happened — (23rd Feb 1945).

We were all waiting around the barrack for the Jap interpreter to come and take the 7 a.m. roll call, when somebody spotted transport planes flying low over the lake. Suddenly paratroops, began to drop out about a mile from the camp, but there were only 120 in all. This naturally quickened the pulse a little, but this was livened up still further when somebody else saw scores of Filipinos creeping down the hill behind the camp, partly hidden in odd patches of corn.

A few seconds later pandemonium broke loose as the Jap guards spotted these lads and opened fire with rifles from their protected guard posts round the camp. I happened to be in the topmost barrack nearest the wire and we got a real closeup of the fight which ensued. There were about six to eight Japs in each post, but the Filipinos who seemed to revel in the fight shot them up in about 20 minutes. The only safe spot was on the ground, and it is surprising how quickly even the older folks can get down when they have to. Soon the Filipinos were running in and out of the barracks, looking for additional Japanese, They had modern rifles and their usual jungle knives, but no uniforms except a pair of khaki shorts and an odd dark-coloured shirt, Amongst this raiding party were five internees who had managed to escape during the previous three weeks. All except one Britisher could speak the native dialect. Not a single Jap was taken prisoner, and the quartermaster, who was responsible for our starved condition, was caught, according to the guerrillas, hiding behind a piano. They had had many reports about this particular Jap and so they finished him off in double quick time.

An American soldier then poked his head in the barrack and told us to get what ever papers we possessed and go down to the old playing field. What a sight for sore eyes when we got there. About 70 amphibians with open tops were lines up in rows ready to take us out and down the lake towards Manila, As these monsters waddled out of the camp I looked around and saw the barracks in flames. There went the last of my belongings, but It didn’t seem to matter a damn.

We naturally expected that some hidden Jap guns would open fire as we got out towards the middle of the lake, but only one Jap machine gun started up as we got to the lake side, and he only lasted about 15 seconds. Those fighter planes had done a good job and had previously bombed all the Jap gun positions in the vicinity. They also patrolled the roads during our getaway, and so stopped any movement of Jap troops. A number of Jeeps were also put ashore by the amphibians on the way to the camp and these stopped any local interference. It took about 1 1/2 hours to get down the lake and then we put our feet once again on friendly soil. There was real food again, real bread and butter, these we hadn’t seen for nearly three years, eggs, milk and real coffee with any amount of sugar. The sense of relief in being free again was indescribable.

Joan & George Horridge, in Cornwall, 1950s

Joan & George Horridge, Cornwall, 1950s

We were then taken to a Base Hospital camp about 12 miles outside Manila, and fattened up for the journey home. Many of the older people were still in convalescent wards when I left, just having a good and well-earned rest. Although there were only two certified deaths from malnutrition in the camp, a number died from the result of ordinary operations as they had not the strength to recover. About 30% suffered from beri- beri in a visible form, that is, swelling of feet and ankles. I only saw part of Manila on my way out, but it was badly shattered and will take a long time to rebuild. Many of the buildings still standing were gutted with fire, and the water supply was off in half the town. There was no doubting the look in the faces of the natives. They also had had enough of the Japanese and their co-prosperity sphere in East Asia.

George Redvers Horridge, circa 1945