I was told a few days ago that some magazine in the States wanted an article of the nurses escape from Bataan; and that it would be sent out on a submarine. I have written my story. Now Miss Davison says that we should not sent out any information. I shall abide by her wishes and desires. Diary, I shall give you my account of the escape.
Our Escape from Bataan
On the night of April 8, 1942, most of the officers and nurses of Bataan Hospital No 2 were sitting around in total blackout. Some were discussing the day’s activities and the possibilities of the next few days; some were in the
operating room to help take care of part of the casualties of the day.
In hushed tones a major said, “Hell, it will have to be a surrender, or the worst massacre in history. Do you know we have over 7000 patients now? There are no front lines; we haven’t anything to fight with”.
“You’re right, Major, our one P4O has gone to Cebu for quinine and we’re fresh out of ammmnition”.
Just then we were given the most startling orders: we were told to get ready immediately for a quick departure. ‘Where are we going?” I asked.
A Colonel’s voice cut in, “Your destination is unknown. Don’t waste time asking Questions; the Japanese are within three miles of this hospital. Stick your head out the door and you can hear war whoops.”
We could hear the detonation and concussion from artillery fire, a terrorizing sound, and the Colonel’s words were not morale boosters. Already I had the feeling of butterflies in combat action in my stomach; now they developed a major warfare. My throat was dry, and my heart beats were doing double time by the minute.
One of the chief nurses said, “Take only what you can carry in your hands. There will not be room for more, and hurry, we are to leave within thirty minutes.”
I was torn between two desires: Bill, my husband had been admitted to the hospital that morning with malaria and a temperature of 105 degrees; I had it decide whether I should try to stay here with Bill or go quietly as I was told. Having been in civilian life and accustomed to making my own decisions I found it hard always to obey army orders. This was the irony of fate, and fate was intent on collecting her dues with compound interest. This was the first time that Bill had ever needed me and I was ordered to leave. Should I or should I not ask permission to stay, for I was not an army but a civilian nurse! The army would have to be responsible for my welfare even though I was a nurse I was a civilian. With my rationalization somewhat restored, I realized that I could not humiliate Bill by staying; besides at a time like this, I must not be difficult, but must obey army orders. I did not want to be a prisoner of the Japanese.
Quickly I grabbed a small bag and hoped this came in the category of “what you can carry in your hands”. I whisked down the short cut path to the Officers’ ward and awakened Bill with a whispered, “We are leaving tonight; it is supposed to be kept a secret from the patients. Please take your quinine and take care of yourself for my sake”. I tried to tell his many things that I’d put off saying the past few months, but somehow I just couldn’t say what i felt. ‘He said, “I suppose surrender is inevitable; I’m glad you’re getting out. Do you know where you are going?” His reasoning was much clearer than mine.
In a few minutes, I stood in front of the headquarters tent where we were instructed to assemble. There was a tremendous amount of baggage–for more then what could be carried in our hands. Some of the nurses certainly believed that a fool and her luggage are soon parted and were determined not to be in that class. The chief nurse called the roll. All were present, including some civilians who had been caught behind the lines, the Filipino nurses, and the American nurses–a total of ninety women. As a problem of transportation, these women loomed up like a whole regiment.
Because of the approaching enemy, a complete blackout, hurried packing, good-byes, and best-of-luck wishes, everything was in a turmoil.
Captain Ayres gave me his ring to keep for him. He promised to see after Bill.
“Yes, Captain, I’ll send your wife a message that you’re well,” I promised Doctor Bruce. We all jotted down names and addresses for we could send mail to the States from Australia. Some of the officers were of the opinion that we would be sent to Australia, for Corregidor didn’t need so many nurses.
Because of a shortage of gasoline as well as vehicles, the men in charge of transportation drained gasoline from one convey ance to another. At 10 p.m. five ambulances, a bus, a car, and several trucks were loaded with ninety
women and their baggage. An officer and his car brought up the rear. Fortunately my good friend, Ruby and I were together in this car. Ruby ‘s a dietitian, a civilian employee, sent out by the Army from Washington. She is tops in her profession and has a charming personality. In the evenings during the lulls in activity on Bataan, we had some good games of bridge in the linen room adjoining the operating room.
As we were ready to depart, the Captain said, “The dock near here, Cabcaben, cannot be used because of the enemy’s troop concentration. We are driving to Mariveles several kilometers away; there you will get a boat.”
On the main highway from the hospital in the woods, we were one of the many convoys. It was a seething bedlam in this total blackout, for the Army had tanks, trucks and hundreds of soldiers on foot. We could only advance a few meters at a time; then wait from five to fifteen minutes while some of the officers tried to direct the convoy. Because of the dust and the blackness we could not see more than a few feet ahead of us; the blackout lights on the cars were of little aid. The drive over the narrow zig-zag mountain was hazardous. It seemed as if the steep shoulder of the twisting road were bound to thrust one or more of the vehicles into the black depths–a slip over the edge was very easy. Nature has a way of taking care of us when we lose sleep; for
those of us that had worked in the operating room forty-eight hours with very little time off duty, this was a blessing in disguise. I dozed when a lull came in the activites; a steep embankment was not one of my worries. To add to all the trials, one of the cars regardless of any amount of tinkering and persuasion, decided not to run; so it was pushed over the embankment. Nurses and baggage were to catch as catch can another car. Some of the nurses hiked a kilometer or so before they found transportation. Three rode on our fenders until they could do better–this later proved to be our hospital garbage truck loaded with barracks bags.
Three months before, I had driven over this same road. The drive was a gorgeous one; the mountains lifted solemn domes to the sky; their slopes were covered with green pastures and forest. The air was fresh and stirring, and this, under the bright sunbeams was truly refreshing. How utterly different was this night! There was no beautiful scenery visible and even the air was foul. Such time was spent in deliberation–so confused were everyone’s ideas. The traffic continued to handicap our progress, but the convoy’s speed increased gradually. In our five passenger car there were six of us, besides what we could carry of our worldly possessions in a barracks bag, together with gas masks and helmets. Our discomfort was mild compared to that endured by
those packed in the ambulances and trucks. We were a decidedly unattractive group. Most of us wore G.I. Coveralls and soldiers field shoes. We were covered with dust.
Before we reached kilometer 169 on the Mariveles road we heard explosions. The detonations sounded as if all fury had broken loose. The sky was filled with smoke smelling like gun-powder; and leaping, cracking, red flames covered the horizon.
Half seriously I asked, “Ruby, do you think the Japs are going to burn us alive?” The Captain answered for her, “Well, probably not tonight. I was ordered to phone a certain high ranking officer when we pass kilometer 169. After we pass this point, the ammunition dumps and warehouses in the vicinity are to be destroyed”.
“What are we going to do?” asked someone.
“Just sit here and wait,” he answered. “Evidently our convoy was behind schedule. The ammunition must be destroyed without further delay to prevent the Japs from getting our supplies.”
Ruby put in, “This looks and sounds as if it were the true scorched-earth policy.”
“Where are you going?” inquired soldiers on foot. “Haven’t you room for one more passenger? My feet are sore. Couldn’t I stand on the running board?”
Some of the men, stragglers from what had been the front lines, were lost from their company. Innumerable times when our car had to wait for the traffic to be ironed out, conversations could be heard to the left and to the right of us. “Say, fellow, can you give me a cigarette? I haven’t had a dobie in a week–I’m hungry as a cub bear just out of hibernation.”
“Do you think those damn Japs will catch up with us before noon tomorrow? What company are you from?”
“Thirty first; that is, what is left of it.”
“Man, you fellows caught hell, didn’t you?”
While a soldier on my right was asking us for water, his two comrades were engrossed in conversation. “What do you think the “Nips” will do with us?” asked one.
“Work hell out of us; that is; if they catch us” was the answer. “I’m going over the hill; maybe a Filipino can get me a banca, and I’ll get to China”.
We sat impatiently by the side of the road until the horizon began to be colored with chrome, saffron, gold and multiple shades of cerise. We commiserated with each other and changed positions frequently.
At six-forty five we arrived at the Mariveles dock. I was air-raid panicky and to add to my nervousness and anxiety, I found that the last convoy to Corregidor had left about fifteen minutes before. The Corregidor boat had waited several hours for us but it could not wait until daylight, because of possible raiding from the enemy’s bombers. The nurses from Bataan Hospital No. 1 had been waiting impatiently for transportation to the Rock, and the ship had left with them. As time elapsed, my fear and anxiety grew, for the day before Mariveles had been hit; people were lying around—many dead and others badly wounded. One poor Filipino had a blood saturated bandage around his head; his leg was in a makeshift splint. He raised his dirty, ant and fly infected body slightly and begged for a drink of water. Most of the wounded were begging for water and food; even in our haste some of us sent our canteens of water by soldiers to the victims.
Ruby and I went on a tour of inspection of the Mariveles docks. The country side had been wantonly destroyed. The cars and trucks were bent and twisted as if a terrific cyclone had swept the hillside, which looked like a city dump that had been neglected for a long time. “Ruby, shall we swim to Corregidor? Its only three miles. anything is better than this”, l ejaculated.
Ruby ignored me; she was looking at two row boats tied to an inconspicuous post of the pier. I started running for I wanted to get into one of those boats. By a narrow margin I made it; the boat was filled almost to capacity. These rowboats were being occupied by soldiers who were escaping from Bataan and were intent on getting to Corregidor. We were united in purpose and enthusiasm. Ruby had reached the other boat. What a relief to be able to get away from the dock! There were only three oarlocks to the boat and for an amateur I did well.
When we had rowed steadily for a few minutes hugging the shore on the Bataan side, a miracle happened! On my word of honor, a small yacht loomed directly ahead. It was hidden in a small cove surrounded by a thick, dark, tangled forest. We abandoned the rowboat quickly in favor of this beautiful yacht. Alas, the gasoline tanks were empty! We searched frantically for gasoline, and our luck was still with us for a-bright and shiny tinful was found. One of the soldiers said that he was a master mechanic and he proved to be more than that–in fact he was nothing less than a genius. The motor of the yacht began to hum, and in a few minutes the boat had left the shore of Mariveles and was headed across the channel for the Rock. ‘We were on the alert for ships and
was headed across the channel for the Rock. We were on the alert for ships and dive bombers of the enemy; this was the perilous stage of the sea trip. What a contrast in this trip and others I had made through these waters. Three years before I had been through this channel on a return trip from the States. Although the sea was rough, the crowd was gay, and life was perfect for me on the President liner, for Bill and I were on a glorious honeymoon. Little did I realize that I’d retrace this course by fleeing for my life!
From the yacht we could see Corregidor; it is about three miles long, a mile wide and six hundred feet above sea level. She stood out like a strong sentinel in a lone citadel. Her steep cliffs were covered with tropical forest and were in a lone citadel. Her steep cliffs were covered with tropical forest, and were manned with our twelve and fourteen inch guns. she represented a safe sanctuary for us. Although I had lived on Corregidor in the latter part of 1935 and the first six months of 1936, I never appreciated its strength and protection until now. As our eyes swept the horizon, we sighted a Corregidor harbor boat, apparently enroute to Mariveles for the nurses. When the ship approached the yacht, Signals were given then I felt sure that I was to go aboard. I reluctantly
boarded the boat for I knew that it would go back for the rest of the nurses on the pier at Mariveles, and I might never get to Corregidor. I preferred to take my chances in a mined bay with enemy planes overhead than to go back among the shambles we had left in Bataan. But I had no choice, really. I was fooling myself again–Army Orders! Enemy raiders flew over while the nurses and their baggage were put on board at Mariveles. The harbor ship had to pull away from the pier several times. My stomach was doing flip-flops and I felt ill. After the fourth attempt the nurses and their baggage were aboard at 9 A.M.and we were again en route to Corregidor.
When we were half way over the motor of the boat was turned off.
“Is there engine trouble?” someone asked.
“No the bombers are over us.”
While I tried to keep my heart in my chest cavity, I questioned, “Why turn off the motor?”. A patient Filipino engineer explained that turning the motor off and drifting with the tide made our cruising range difficult for the enemy to obtain, and their bombing would be inaccurate.
The planes flew over and we resumed our course. Again the motor died, and the Captain ordered us below.
“Well, I’d just as soon be hit with shrapnel as pinned in here,” said Lucy Wilson, an adorable girl who worked in the operating room with us.
“Take off your shoes,” suggested someone, “if you have to swim, you won’t be weighted down”. I complied.
The dive bombers which had been over head were now flying toward Mariveles. Because of further air activity near Corregidor we drifted in the Strait for a while. Then between raids we sneaked in at the dock at the noon hour. Besides being very dirty and exhausted, we were famished. Fortunately we were given soup immediately.
I do not know what happened to all the soldiers who were on the dock at Mariveles. It is said that they took to the hills when the raid was on, but several of them with civilian employees kept drifting over to Corregidor in
bancas during that night and day. Some tried to swim but were picked up by our harbor boats. Our friends, including Ruby, who left in the better row boat, were picked up about half way across by a harbor boat. The men on the yacht traversed the mined bay without disaster.
We are concerned about our friends on Bataan for there were extremely scant rations at the time of surrender. It is not believed that the Japanese will remedy the situation.
We are waiting for help here on Corregidor and hope soon to be reunited with the friends we left. Although we were ordered to leave, most of us feel that we deserted the sick and wounded men on Bataan.