Santo Tomas Internment Camp
(By Mervyn Brown of the Shanghai Evening Post)
A graphic description of the happy and contented conditions prevailing among the little cluster of allied internees in Santo Tomas University, Manila, since the inception of the Greater East Asia War was given this morning by Mrs. James D. White in an exclusive interview to the Shanghai Evening Post. From her vivid, first-hand account of community life in that isolated patch of humanity there emerged a reassuring picture of quiet happiness and make-shift comfort, of close co-operation and high morale, of a sequestered island of peace and sanity in the midst of a world torn with strife and confusion, that cannot help but prove an immense comfort to worried relations and friends all over the world. It was a glimpse of a brave new world where a common bond unites all who share that constricted existence within a circle, of which the periphery encloses close on three thousand souls.
"The people in Santo Tomas are far happier than could ever have been expected," confided Mrs. White. "The morale is amazingly high and there is a community spirit which exists in few places outside. We all received excellent treatment at the hands of the Japanese and in no instance was there a case of anyone being humiliated or badly handled by Japanese soldiers."
"Mr. R. Tsurumi, the Camp Commandant, and Mr. Yamaguchi, whom we called No. 2, were both very nice and were extraordinarily helpful," continued Mrs. White. "We were left very much to run ourselves and only the most general rules were laid down as to our behaviour and requirements in the camp."
Looking the picture of health, Mrs. White went to describe the turn of events from that fateful day in December when the Japanese forces struck with the suddenness of death at Allied strongholds in the Pacific and all Allied nationals in the Philippines were precipitately enmeshed in the grim realities of war. "I had arrived in Manila on the President Harrison just before the trouble broke out," she declared. She stayed in the hotel where she happened to be at the time, and was eventually taken to Santo Tomas University in company with a batch of other American subjects on January 1942.
From the point of view of Shanghailanders it is interesting to learn that the passengers of the luckless Anhui were firs interned at Sulphur Springs Hotel in San Francisco Del Monte and were later transferred to the communal camp in the University.
Gradually the distorted conditions were sorted out and the complicated jigsaw of life in a concentration camp—if a modern University can. be called that—became straightened out, Mrs. White revealed in her narrative of those first days of stunned surprise before the tempo of this new unaccustomed existence had moulded this variegated cross-section of humanity into a unified whole.
The strange conditions, cutting rudely into the set pattern of their various ways, loomed large on their horizon and were undoubtedly disturbing, as is everything that lies in the mists of unreality. The internees, feeling ill at ease in their new surroundings, were assigned to classrooms in which they slept and lived. The premises were very messy, pointed out Mrs. White, with dirt everywhere and a conglomerated jumble of old disused furniture, oil paintings and the like strewn about in haphazard abandon.
The new occupants made what they could of these unpromising conditions. They slept on the floor, on benches, on desks, on cupboards turned over their sides. It was an al fresco existence in those first startling days.
Despite this, the prisoners were well-treated and everything was done for them that could possibly be done. They had to live on their own food, whatever they had brought in the shape of canned goods, for the first few days. Nevertheless, they were given every facility for sending home for anything they wanted so that many of the more fortunate were able to have home-cooked meals. Servants were allowed to come to the University twice a day, and they brought in a supply of food, clothes, laundry, beds, mattresses, mats and the like.
Conditions, however, very soon improved. Within a short space of time the Japanese were supplying regular meals with good food, twice a day. Breakfast, at 7 a.m., consisted of cracked wheat or corn meal, bread and coffee, Mrs. White asserted. The next meal was served at 4.30 p.m. and consisted of a variety of dishes….stew, beans cooked in every conceivable way, chicken on Sundays….and even turkey on. Washington's birthday. In addition there were always sweet potatoes, rice and, of course, vegetables ("Not always often enough”, interjected Mrs. White at this point.)
The community was divided into two halves, comprising of men and women in two different groups. "I don't know about the men," Mrs. White stated, "but certain numbers of girls were allotted to each room. There were 35 girls in my room, but the number varied. I know that in one room there were actually 8o girls, which necessitated them having three monitors in charge instead of the usual one. Why, some of the girls in one end of the room didn't even know those who were at the other extremity, it was so large!"
In an incredibly short time the internees adapted themselve to their new existence and a normal tenor of life was soon evident. Here was a township in miniature, set apart from its fellow-men, as secluded as an island in the Pacific. And, with the natural adaptability of mankind, they very soon acclimatized themselves to their novel conditions and evolved a communal existence which would serve as a pattern for the rest of the world. A community spirit was born and every one of them went to work with a will, doing his share for the general good of the community in whatever capacity he could best serve. Small town life began in earnest.
To begin with, a Central Committee of nine internees was set up. Of these nine only the Chairman, Mr. Earl Carroll, was selected by the Japanese authorities. The rest were elected by the internees themselves. This was a supervisory committee, with nominal powers, aimed only at guiding the efforts of the community into the best channels for themselves. It must be stressed that all work in the camp was purely voluntary. Divisions of labor were classified and soon the first framework of a civilized structure became apparent.
Many Shanghailanders were prominent in this new civic growth. Included in Mrs. White's own particular ken were Mr. and Mrs. Jack Jurgenssen, Miss Eva Grace Davis, Mrs. Christine Sperry and her sister Miss Violet Oliver, Miss Frances Long, Mr. and Mrs. S. W. Hamilton of the National City Bank, Mr. Eric Airries of the A.P.L., and Mr. Virgil Crow of Bill's Motors. The latter is now living outside the University, for reasons of poor health.
In an incredibly short space of time a series of small shacks sprung up in clusters—mushroom growths sown from the seed of human endeavor. As every community inevitably disintegrates into cliques, so these minute dwellings huddled together in a congeries of embryo villages with each and every one having a separate entity of its own. In such a manner the Santo Tomas internees found a natural outlet for the normal dictates of human nature and a microcosm was formed faithfully reflecting in its details all the major civic essentials of any township in the outside world. Human nature being what it is, each of these segregated little groups of hutments inevitably received a name and thus there came in to being Shanty Town and Jungle Town and even Glamorville. "This last one was considered the best residential sector," remarked Mrs. James D. White with the justifiable pride of an inhabitant pointing out the sights.
These little shacks, Mrs. White pointed out, were entirely the result of individual enterprise. "A group would get together," she declared, "and they would stake out a claim wherever they fancied the grounds. Then they would get to work and build everything with their own hands—and they made a surprisingly good job of it too. Wooden floors were put down. Walls were erected and windows fitted. Little gardens were laid out. Some of the shacks, of course, were more pretentious than others, depending on the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the builders."
Gradually the dwellings took shape and finally they were ready for the furniture. Once again human ingenuity was given a chance. Odds and ends were found in the garbage dump—bits of broken chairs and fragments of tables—and they were soon fixed up and pressed into service once more. Nor did it stop here. For as soon as the little homes were completed the individual element again entered into the proceedings and here again a Shanghailander was very much to the fore. Amongst other things, Mr. O. J. Steen, well known locally, contrived to construct by some means best known to himself a most efficient little ice-box, which was a very real luxury in that hot climate.
"There was a really friendly atmosphere everywhere," Mrs. White went on. "The British and the Americans mixed freely, and there was a great deal of community spirit."
Included in Mrs. White's particular circle of friends were Mr. Steen, Mr. McCarthy of the A. P. L. Mrs. Clarissa Wallace and Mrs. Ethel Newman. "Mrs. Newman had a shack named George's Kitchen," she declared reminiscently. "I once went there for lunch and had Chinese chow. Mrs. Newman had a Shanghai cook, and Boy! did that chow taste good!"
Each little village or township had its own separate civic development. In each a mayor was elected and he became the guiding voice in each little community. Time marched on and things progressed rapidly. Streets sprang into existence and by their names they vouched for the nationality of the various sections . . . . Piccadilly Circus and Fifth Avenue and Lexington Avenue.
"Of course, we were not allowed to stay in these shacks at night," stated Mrs. White. "There was a curfew at 7.45 p.m to begin with, but this was later extended to 9 p.m. At this hour everyone would have to get in off the grounds and there would be a roll call in each dormitory. After that we could move about inside the buildings as much as we liked, but were not allowed outside. We used to play cards or talk or do some odd jobs until about 10 p.m. when the lights in my particular dormitory were put out."
Here is a typical day, as spent by Mrs. White at Santo Tomas University. "I used to get up at 1.30 a.m. daylight-saving time," she said, carefully underlining the D.S.T.—and quite rightly, too for it seemed an unearthly time for anyone to get up at. After breakfast she made her bed, tidied up her own particular little corner, as did every one else in the camp, did some washing, and at 10 o'clock went to the camp hospital, here she worked during the day.
The hospital was situated in an old engineering building and the equipment was on the make-shift side, Mrs. White asserred, but it held about 8o beds and was doing very good work for the internees. The head of it was Dr. C. N. Leech, of the Rockefeller foundation, with several doctors under him, .including Drs. Frank E. Whittaker and Hugh L. Robinson, both of Peking. The head nurse was Miss Ethel E. Robinson. "The hospital secretary is Miss Eva Grace Davis, who is doing perfectly wonderful work," stressed Mrs. White. Also in the hospital are two Philippine doctors, Dr. Fernando, who used to be in Hongkong, and Dr. Calangi. In addition there are nurses from all over. Here again, as everywhere else, all work is purely voluntary.
The hospital was invariably fairly full, Mrs. White declared, in spite of the fact that chronically ill cases had been released at the outset. On the average there were also about 150 clinic cases dealt with each day. Anyone who was seriously ill, however, and needed an operation was allowed to be taken to proper hospitals outside.
For the mental relief of all those who have been worried as to the health conditions existing for the Santo Tomas inmates, it should here be stressed that every care is being taken of the internees in this matter. There are several dressing stations in the various buildings, while the Philippine Health authorities have injected everyone against cholera, typhoid and dysentery. Also efforts are being made to isolate all active T.B. cases. Of these, however, there have been surprisingly few.
There is also a special children's hospital, which has been built up entirely by the internees themselves, and of which they are justifiably proud. As a further measure, all mothers and young children are housed in a separate building where the diet is a little better and where they have three meals a day. Mothers with children, who have no family ties to keep them in the University, are all allowed to go to the Convent of the Holy Ghost, where conditions are even better.
Getting back to where we left Mrs. White still in the hospital, we find her finishing her work at about 4.30 or 5pm. She then went back to her dormitory and tidied up before dinner. After the meal like everyone else, she washed her own dishes (illegible) the evening. There was always music every night. People took large mats and sat on the grass while gramophone records were played and the music was relayed round the grounds by loudspeakers. Soon, almost too soon, it would be 9 o'clock and curfew. Finally at 10 p.m. the lights would go out. And so to bed.
Everyone was given complete religious freedom, Mrs. White pointed out. In addition the education of the children as well looked after. There were regular classes every day. "And not only for the children, but for the grown-ups too," she added. "There were classes for the adults in practically everything, ranging from an appreciation in music to engineering. Also practically every kind of language could be learnt. As an instance of this, there was a Shanghailander—Mr. George Greene, of the National City Bank—who gave private lessons in Chinese."
"We had various kinds of sport," Mrs. White continued. There was baseball and boxing and even football. Baseball was very popular and there were several ball teams, including a Shanghai aggregation. Why, we even had a World Series!"
It also transpired that the hospital was the worst of the bunch. "In fact," Mrs. White admitted candidly," the only .team we ever beat included four Britishers who didn't know one end of a baseball bat from the other."
For the more intellectual side of their amusement the internees had several libraries and they had their own printed newspaper. This was called the Internews and was edited by Mr. Russell Brines of the A. P. It consisted of two pages and came out twice a week. In addition there was also a health paper called the Campus Health, which was put out by the Sanitation Department. This consisted of health hints and reported any improvements that had been made.
Nor are the Santo Tomas inhabitants lacking for their evening entertainments. There is a show about, once every week and these invariably reach a high peak as there are several professionals included among their ranks. The shows are run along the lines of night club numbers and are extremely popular. There is a portable stage with lights rigged up from old tin cans. Everything is home-made except the costumes which are got in from outside.
And lastly, no picture—not even that of the inside of a concentration camp—can ever be complete without a breath of romance. Not even in this are the Santo Tomas internees deficient. Wherever there is a man and a girl and a moon there is sure to be some sparkle of romantic enchantment. So here, as everywhere else, there are the usual run of romances and flirtations among this conglomerate collection of human beings, thrown willy-nilly together for a fleeting passage of time by the incalculable dictates of an inscrutable providence.
Such is the variegated pattern of life at Santo Tomas University as it is being lived today and tomorrow and the day after—until who knows when. This is the life which Mrs. White has now left behind her—an existence the memory of which will crowd her mind for as long as she lives, no matter what the future may hold in store for her.
With others in her party, Mrs. White said goodbye to Santo Tomas University on June 5, and on the following day she watched Manila recede into the hazy distance from the deck of the Ural Maru, bound for Takao. Arriving at the latter port on June 8, the little party travelled by train to Taihoku, where they spent two days in the Railway Hotel. Finally, on June 13, —a lucky thirteenth for Mrs. White—she boarded a plane that landed her safe and sound in Shanghai that same afternoon. Perhaps this cosmopolitan city had never looked so good to anyone before . . . and possibly it never will again.
Looking happy and contented now that she has at long last been reunited with her husband, Mrs. White expressed her delight in this new-found freedom, savouring its subtle pleasure to the full. Life has taken shape anew for her now with the vision of America in the near future looming large on her widening horizon. Soon anticipation will merge into reality and a strange, unreal chapter in her existence will at last be closed.
Introduction | Author's Note | On to the Front | Gen. Wainwright Surrenders | Prisoners of War | Fort Mills Hospital | Racial Discrimination | Goodbye Corregidor | Lieut.-Comm. F. H. Callahan | Gen. Wainwright's Appeal | Official Communiqués | Santo Tomas Internment Camp |
Return to Corregidor Under Siege Page
© 2006 Corregidor Historic Society