The now famous Santo Tomas Internment Camp is located in the city, of Manila several blocks from the north bank of the Pasig River on Calle Espana. Its walls enclose about two hundred thousand square meters, approximately fifty acres of ground, Before the war it was the site of the newer unit of the Santo Tomas University. The older unit, still in operation at the beginning of the war, was located im the Walled City and is the oldest university under the American flag. It was founded by the Spanish Fathers in 1611, or before the Pilgrims had landed at Plymouth.
The newer section of Santo Tomas was built in a low part of the city and the campus filled with refuse taken from city dumps. All of the fill seemed sour and wet, absorbing and retaining moisture for a long time. In the rainy season all of the grounds are muddy and boggy. These buildings are comparatively modern, as the unit was completed and inaugurated on July 2, 1927. It consisted of the Main Building, Education Building, Seminary (which was never made accessible to internees) and the Gymnasium. These four buildings were the largest on the campus. In back of them were two smaller buildings, the Engineers’ Building and the Training School. Between the Main and Education Building was a small building ~ the Restaurant. All buildings were seated in the center of the spacious grounds and enclosed by a fifteen foot wall of solid concrete, except for the front part which ran along Calle Espana. This section of wall was made of tall iron fencing atop a low wall strung between heavy concrete posts. The wall had one gate midway each of its four sides. The front (or main gate) stood at the entrance of an elliptical drive and center walkway leading up to and around the Main Building and on out the back gate (always closed to internees, as were the two side gates). Bordering the drive and walkways were large shady acacia trees which along with other trees adorning the campus gave a cool and lovely green appearance.
Armiving here about 1:30 in the afternoon of January 8, 1942, one month after the attack on Pearl Harbor, little did we dream that this was to be our place of abode for tie following thirty-nine months. We had been told that Santo Tomas was being used as a place of registration and that we would not be held for more than three days.
We were ready when the Japanese came for us. For several days they had been taking everyone in the city who held American, British or Dutch papers. Most of our friends had been taken already. They came for us at 11:45 in the morning while we were in the garden at Jane and Bill’s playing with the children. There was an officer, an interpreter and a civilian Japanese (who had for years worked as a carpenter on the estate) and a squad of soldiers. They drove up to the gate and announced that they were looking for Americans. Carl met them and invited them into the house where he and Bill discussed papers and nationalities with them. Jane produced Spanish papers and therefore was never interned.
I was not breathing very easily but kept my composure. Soon Carl came out and said “Get ready”. I went in and after being presented to them asked how much time I would be allowed to get ready. The answer was “One half hour”, and I was also told to take food and clothing enough for three days. We were allowed one hand bag per person and mats to sleep on. Our bags had been packed to capacity for days, filled with all of the food, medicines, toiletries and clothes I could pack m. Jane had loaned us cushions from her chairs for our bedding. I freshened the children up, got myself ready and called a boy to come up for the bags and bedding. The interpreter came with the boy to inspect the baggage and whispered, “Take food enough for five or six days” — he could see I had already done so!
When I came down I told the officer in charge that our luncheon was ready and asked if he would permit time for us to eat and if he and his assistants would also eat with us. He accepted the invitation, but the three of them plainly showed that they were ill at ease. He did not speak English but we soon managed to make him forget much of his self-consciousness. Jane kept out of sight during the meal and, as the servants were all badly frightened, I served the table myself, and succeeded in getting Carl, Bill and the children to eat well. We made the most of a heavy situation, but as the officer gradually unfroze, the tension grew less and less. Inwardly, I was trembling, nervous, apprehensive and nauseated,
Soon the meal was over and without further delay we started out. I was the last in the line of exodus as I wished to cast an eye around for anything overlooked. The officer was just ahead of me and while going down the front steps skidded and tumbled all the way down. He definitely was not accustomed to waxed stairways and they proved to be more than he could manage in leather. As he fell his booted foot kicked up and contacted my Ieft shin, bruising and breaking the skin. It all happened so quickly and unexpectedly and he looked so comical all sprawled out on the concrete walk below I could hardly suppress a laugh. But for a moment the officer was infuriated and springing up kicked the steps resoundingly while shouting in Nipponese as he did so. I secretly hoped the kick that he had inadvertently given me would bear a lifetime mark and for some time it felt as though it would — but it did not. I have something better now.
There were the four of us and Bill and the eleven Japanese with only their one car for transportation — what were we to do? Then Carl, spying our own car and chauffeur across the street asked if we could use it, to which the officer consented. Carl and the interpreter were up front with Pio the driver, while the children and I sat in back with the Jap officer. Esten on my knee, the baggage piled in the trunk and with tears in the eyes of Jane and Mrs, Willfarth (a German neighbor from across the street who had come to see us off), we departed. Mrs. Willfarth assured us that we would be back soon. The officer took Esten on his knee and began entertaining the children by counting their fingers in Nipponese and teaching them simple words like head, hands, feet, etc. Then in his native tongue he began singing Auld Lang Syne in which we joined in English. And after a solo from him, which he sang rather well, we reached the gates of Santo Tomas. After reaching there and comparing notes, we realized we had been treated more kindly than any of our friends for most of them had been treated discourteously, roughly and some had even been slapped or prodded along with bayonets, made to wait long hours in the sun and ride standing in trucks.
Santo Tomas was hot and dusty and our friends Doc, Roy, Bob, Sully and others, loitering under the trees shouted greetings to us as we drove up, and came to assist us with the baggage. We had to line up in the sun and watt until the Japanese inspected our bags for contraband such as guns, knives, scissors, flashlights and the like. I had packed my sewing basket and they looked at my pair of nice sharp shears, but I talked them into letting me keep them. After inspection we went in search of room space, and what we found was no good. The room was small, dark, smelly, poorly ventilated, but the girls and I could have spaces together here so we took it — the
room is to the left when entering the back door of the Main Building. We laid our cushions on the floor and spread our sheets while Carl and Bill hung the big mosquito net. There were about twenty of us in that small poorly ventilated one-window room. But luckily we had a private lavatory, one of the few rooms on the campus that did.
Soon it was supper time and we ate our meal out under the trees seated on the ground. There were six of us now; as Bernice, Jane’s sister, joined our party, and throughout the internment remained a joy to us. All across the campus there were other families and small groups eating as we were – seated on the ground. No one was depressed but rather took on the holiday spirit shouting and joking back and forth from group to group. At that time there were no kitchens in operation. All had been told to bring food for the three day stay. There was no
organization either at that early date – things just happened which later took on shape. It was not many days before the restaurant kitchen was opened and was serving light meals to women and children. This was done under the auspices of the Red Cross. I realize now how blessed we are in not being able to see into the future, for had we known on that day of arrival that it would be three years and twenty six days before our liberators came, I doubt if we would have had the fortitude to have taken it.
With darkness the children were tired and sleepy. So I gave them a sponge bath and got them ready for bed while the mosquitos swarmed around us. When their prayers were said in that strange, crowded room so very different from their own lovely, cool, quiet room at home, I prayed that they not miss it or ever feel the fear I felt in my heart. Soon they were sleeping and I joined Carl, Roy, Lou, Emily and Doc and other friends in the patio not far from their door. We had an early curfew and the campus had to be cleared and it was then that life became quite gay in the halls, patio and corridors. No one seemed worried though they had not a chair to sit on, but sat or lounged on straw mats or cushions placed on the ground or side-walks around the patio. But I felt a bit homesick and kept thinking about Mother and Dave. At that time I did not worry too much about his safety as I know that he had left the city with our headquarters and thought him safe on Corregidor. Those first nights at Santo Tomas were filled with fear and terror clutched at my heart and I lay awake, always thinking of our insecurity and wondering what the future held for us. The tramping back and forth of the feet of the Japanese guards held particular terror for me, and I could hear them all through the night. Our room was never molested. However, many of the womens’ rooms were, for they would hold nightly inspections and one was apt to be awakened with a flashlight turned full force in one’s face. But I soon became adjusted and nature made me sleep — even on my hard bed.