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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31 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

        • Major Ronald Mandell

          My understanding is that ironically since the Jewish immigrant’s passports read “German”, which was an ally of Japan, they were not interned, although it may have been better considering the huge number of civilians of all nationalities murdered by the Japanese in Manila during it’s liberation, including Germans taking refuge at the German Club.

      • Hi Cliff, my daughter has been doing research about her grandfather who helped liberate Baguio. Through stories he told my husband we were able to determine which camp it was. Are you planning any more reunions in the future. We just saw the one this year had passed.

        • Hi, Diana, thanks for your message. I do not have dates yet for future conferences at this time. However, if you, or your daughter, subscribe to this website you will be notified as soon as any new dates are announced. To do so, go to any page on the side and look for the “Subscribe to this site via Email” at the bottom of the page. We do not sell or share any user information and you can unsubscribe at any time. Best regards, Cliff

    • I was in Camp Holmes from about April 1943 til repatriation from Bilibid in February 1945. I was born Feb 24, 1942. My parents were miners working in Ba-ay on Luzon. When war broke out they traveled about 30 miles to the village of Balbalasang, Kalinga, Mnt Province, where I was born. The Japanese didn’t know we were there, but learned of our existence in January, 1943 and we hid on the run from the Japanese til captured about April of that year. My mother, sister and I ended up in Camp Holmes, my father was taken to a military camp, I believe Cabanatuan. My mother died in January 1944 in the camp. My father was on a Japanese Hell ship being taken to Japan when it was bombed by the Americans in Takoa Harbor in Formosa and he died in the attack.

      My sister and I were brought to the US and were raised by my father’s sister. I traveled to Balbalasang in Nov 1984 to see and meet the people that took care of us so many years ago. Naturally I didn’t know anything about our time in Camp Holmes so I can’t help you with information about your relatives. There are books (probably out of print) written by internees that may have more info.

  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!

      • Hi Annarae: Just found this website. I gave a little history about myself up above. I’m in the process of converting slides to digital to send to Balbalasang where I was born as they have young (and old) people interested in the photos. They are displaying them on the School FaceBook page. I visited in 1984 and they seem pretty interested in what everything and everybody looked like 36 years ago. I took about 5900 slides of my whole trip (little over 3 weeks), with one week spent in Balbalasang for about 1000 of those slides. I have met online some wonderful people. I hope your life is going well. If you would like to contact me that would be great. I assume we haven’t had a reunion since California. Take care and be safe. I’m still in Tucson, AZ. Steve Griffiths has written a book taken from the journals his mother and father (Fr. Griffiths) wrote about their experiences in hiding from the Japanese. My family is portrayed prominently in some chapters. I found out a lot that I didn’t know. Mom’s diary never said a word about any military actions, I’m sure because of the possibility of the notebooks falling into Japanese hands. Unfortunately it’s only from my birth in February til November 22, 1942.

        • Hi Garry,
          I am slow to find the information on line! But am pleased to have discovered your message TODAY!
          I’ve slowed down as this is my 85th year, but am always amazed by the closeness of fellow internees! So hope you keep well! Your sharing of your trip meant a great deal to Eloise and me!

          • Hi Garry
            My sister Eloise and I were talking today about CAMP and wanted a list of those interned in Baguio Camp! Do you know where I could find such a list on line???? I hope you are well, my friend! Take good care!Fondly! Annarae

          • Hi, Annarae, I just saw your message. I can email you at least two lists of Baguio internees. The first appeared in R. Renton Hinds book, “Spirits Unbroken,” 1946. The second is a list compiled in my database. I believe these two lists are the most complete and accurate. Best regards, Cliff

  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

      • Hi April,
        Now that the holidays are over I am once again researching my husbands family. In Manila there were two Roy D. Bennetts, one a newspaper editor and the other an educator, who was my husband’s grandfather. There were 11 children in the Bennett family at that time: one was Carl Bennett, son of Roy D. and my husband’s uncle. Carl remained in the Philippines, while most of the others came to the U.S. I will write directly to you to see if you are connected to our family.

  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

  5. Hello…my husband was at Camp John Hay in 1944/45. He is a WWll Veteran. We’re looking for information on how to find stories and records, photos, from that time. He tells me a lot and it is very interesting!

    • Hi, Debbie, thanks for your message. Besides this website, there are many books, articles, videos and other websites about the WWII experiences in the Philippines. I am developing a page with links to some of these resources, including POW perspectives, civilian internee perspectives, military perspectives, etc. Hopefully it’ll have something for everyone. Thanks again and regards, Cliff

      • Thank you so very much for the reply Cliff! It’s interesting reading the other posts and interests here. My husband Bill landed near Manila in July 1945, so he wasn’t there during the Japanese take over, but there were Japanese prisoners at Camp John Hay when he arrived. He served as an MP. General Eisenhower came to the camp and Bill was assigned as an Honor Guard. The General came over to Bill and said “Where are you from soldier?” He told him, and he said “Don’t worry son, you’ll be going home soon!” That happened during the end of his time there. Once he transported one of the Japanese prisoners to another location. That’s a story within itself…. Bill will be 95, but he has a lot of clarity as to events that took place during the war. I’m trying to document some of his stories. Thank you for the information, if you come across any information on a Captain Tassy (sp?) who was at Camp John Hay during the time mentioned, please let me know. Thanks, Debbie….

  6. My grandfather, Art Richardson, was headmaster at Brent School and interned in Baguio. He died in 1965, so I never knew him. I’ve been reading a number of accounts of Camps Hay & Holmes & Bilibid in recent months and wonder if there are still reunions of former POWs and their families? Since my grandfather returned to the Philippines after the war (he finally returned to the U.S. around 1960), I suspect he never attended any stateside reunions, but I don’t know. I would welcome any memories folks have of him. Thank you for the tremendous amount of information on this site!

    • Hi, Cathy, thanks for your message. Yes, there are still reunions of ex-internees and their families. Civilian Prisoners of War (CPOW) has had many reunions over the years. The group was formerly known as BACEPOW (Bay Area Civilians Ex-Prisoners of War) but has expanded into an international organization. CPOW has a newsletter available online titled Beyond the Wire. I’m sure that you would get a lot of useful information by participating. Best regards, Cliff

  7. Gloria Simon, Capt.(Ret. USAFNC)

    The US Episcopal Church Missioanry to the Philippines will have information
    esp Brent School and Easter School was run by Episcopal Missionaries. They have close connection with Camp John because the schools were established for
    US Military Dependent Children. So info on Fr. Griffith who I think was my principal in Easter School.
    My father was a Philippine Scout with the US Army stationed in Camp John Hay.
    and joined the US Army when the army turned over the Camp to the Air force in 1949. I am very interested in these stories.

  8. Good afternoon.
    My cousin and I are are trying to find any information on our grandfather James Clay Smith. He was an American civilian married to a local woman of mixed Japanese background named Mary Ann Leyden.. They had 3 sons. Joseph, Richard, and William. Joseph was my dad. He was incarcerated by the Japanese. The information I have was from the roster of American POWs of the Japanese. He is listed as Smith James Clay CIV 526 42-7-10 Baguio deceased pulmonary tuberculosis. My father didn’t talk about it and my grandmother died when I wasn’t old enough to ask questions. No one knows where he was buried.
    Any information would be appreciated.
    I am named after him.
    Thank you
    James Clay Smith II

  9. Hello, I am seeking information on my wife’s grandfather, William Hilliard, a Seventh-Day Adventist missionary, that I believe was first interned here. Anything you can provide would be very greatly appreciated. He survived the war. Thank you, Edward Stump

  10. My wife’s Grandfather, William Hilliard, was the Treasurer of the SDA far Eastern Division, and was interned at Baguio, and survived the war. Any information at all, or links would be hugely appreciated. My uncle, Dr. Lawrence Stump, was interned at Los Banos, with his wife Irene, and ……..
    drum roll……..both lived to celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary.

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