A Personal Memory


Roderick Cameron McMicking Hall




The Battle for Manila (3 February – 3 March, 1945) is little known. It resulted in the almost complete destruction of the city, known before the war as “The Pearl of the Orient”. Approximately 85% of the city was reduced to smouldering ruins, the result of raging fires, heavy artillery shelling and dynamite. Among Allied cities, Manila was second only to Warsaw in the extent of its destruction. Approximately 1,500 American soldiers and 16,000 Japanese troops died battle. Among civilians, some 70,000 were the victims of massacres and 30,000 were killed during the heavy artillery bombardments.  

The battle began on the 3rd of February, when an armoured column of the First Cavalry Division made a headlong dash through 60 miles of enemy territory to rescue several thousand American, British and Allied civilian prisoners interned on the campus of the University of Santo Tomas. This resulted in the Japanese virtually abandoning the commercial and slum areas of Manila north of the Pasig River, which divides the city. South Manila, including Intramuros, the medieval Spanish walled city, the new legislative and government buildings, the University of the Philippines and the modern residential districts saw the brunt of the fighting and destruction.  

I was a 9 year old school boy, in the 4th grade at the American School when Pearl Harbor was attacked on 7 December, 1941, bringing the US and the Philippines into the war. Because of the time change, this is was 8 December in Manila. Less than one month later, on the night of 2 January, 1942, Japanese troops entered Manila, which had been declared an Open City by the departing General MacArthur. . A few days later, my father answered the call for all Allied civilians to report to the local collection station for internment. The university campus became the Santo Tomas Internment Camp. Because of the crowded conditions, the Japanese allowed those born in the Philippines to remain at large. My mother, brothers Ian, 7, Alaistair, 5, and sister Consuelo, 4, spent the war living in my grandmother’s home.  

Life settled down. I was too young to know that things were not normal, except for the lack of cars and buses. Public transport consisted of bicycles, calesas and caromatas, the local horse drawn carriages. I attended St Paul’s Convent school for girls, which accepted boys until the sixth grade, and was then tutored at home by a professor of mathematics from the University of Vienna, a refugee from Hitler. He and his wife had been given shelter by the Jesuits at Ateneo University, two blocks away. Learning was a joy. Botany was taught in the garden, looking at flowers and plants. Anatomy and biology lessons were held in the garage the day we slaughtered a pig for food.  

Although as children we unaware of any financial hardships, it was difficult to make ends meet. We have a letter that my mother wrote to my father in prison camp, which says in part…”I sold the diamond brooch you bought me in Paris to buy a 2 lb. can of powdered milk for the children.” My parents had their money on deposit in foreign banks, closed during the war. Those working for British and American companies could not be paid during the war, so many families had a difficult time financially.   

In the early days of the war, with Japanese victories, civilian prisoners, including my father, were able to secure passes from camp. Dad was able to visit and stay at home with us, for periods of a week or two. He was required to report regularly to camp. Other American and British children were allowed to stay outside camp for extended periods with Spanish and Filipino friends of their parents.  

My uncle Alfred was an officer in a Philippine Army Reserve Infantry Division. He was captured at the surrender of Bataan in April 1942, and was in the infamous Death March, which claimed so many lives. He came home in 1943 after the signing of a peace treaty between the Japanese and a puppet Philippine government, when all soldiers in the Philippine army were released. He returned emaciated and suffering badly from malaria. Every few months he had a relapse.  

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Roderick “Rod” McMicking Hall was born in the Philippines of foreign parents. His parents were of Scottish and Spanish ethnicity. His mother Consuelo was the sister of Joseph “ Joe” McMicking, the acknowledged brains behind the Ayala conglomerate. Roderick Hall is one of the four co-authors of the book Manila Memories, the stories of four young European boys in the Philippines during World War II. Through their narratives, they remember their lives in Manila before, during and after the Japanese Occupation.