Finch, A.L.  Child P.O.W.—A Memoir of Survival.

Enumclaw, WA:Annotation Press, 2008. Pp. 399. Large print.

This book is a personal account of abuse to the author and her mother by the Japanese during World War II in the Philippines.   It covers the author’s childhood, concentrating on slightly more than three years ending when she was eleven.  During this period, Ms. Finch writes that she and her mother were held as civilian POW’s and slave laborers in a series of camps in the Philippines, China and Japan.  Her tale is lively, interesting, and reasonably well-written.   However, it contains descriptions of alleged Japanese atrocities that didn’t happen.  It also contains “eyewitness” testimony that is impossible to believe.  The author appears to have conflated, exaggerated and sometimes invented events in the Philippines and elsewhere, and then placed herself and her mother in the midst of them. 

An early exaggeration is her tale of flying to the Philippines on a Pan Am Clipper which made “extemporaneous stops” at uninhabited tropical atolls to allow the passengers to swim, picnic and collect shells (p. 43). 

This is nonsense, but rather harmless nonsense. Much of the rest is not so benign.  The following review will highlight some of the many inventions and inaccuracies in this book.

As she and her mother had limited finances, Finch credits her “Aunt Alice”, stationed in Manila as a “Major” in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, with financing the trip.  The “Aunt” supposedly was evacuated along with several other nurses from the Philippines by submarine on December 11, three days after the initial Japanese air raids (p. 82). 

 

No such submarine evacuation occurred and no Major Alice is on the roster of U.S. Army nurses in the Philippines.  The ranking Army nurse at the time was Capt. Maude Davison*, one rank lower than Finch’s “Aunt”.  Initially the 100 Army and Navy nurses were desperately needed to treat the wounded.  A few (22) were evacuated in the week before the May 5 surrender of Corregidor**, but most (77) were incarcerated by the Japanese for the nearly three years prior to liberation***.  

 

In Chapter 9, “Death at Tea Time,” Finch claims that after she and her mother were arrested by the Japanese, they were transported to the Bay View Hotel, which she described as “second rate” and “across the tracks” in downtown Manila (p. 113). 

At this point Finch launches into one of her most serious inventions when she describes seeing piles of dead women and children at the hotel, many of whom appeared beaten and raped (p. 114).   Finch further claims that well under half the women and children taken to the Bay View left alive.  Among these victims she lists a wealthy Filipino family that had befriended her and her mother because of Finch’s friendship with their daughter when both were attending a private school in the U.S.  This family is never identified.

Actually the hotel was good quality, located across the street from Manila Bay and the imposing new American High Commission, now the U.S. Embassy. 

In addition, this entire episode is fiction.  The Bay View Hotel was a gathering place for foreigners (not Filipinos) to be interned by the Japanese, but no violence took place there during this period.  Violence did occur at Bay View three years later when the Japanese used it as a rape hotel during their murderous rampage as American liberation forces approached Manila.  Then approximately 100,000 Filipino men, women and children were murdered. 

In Chapter 10, “Evil Swords,” Finch claims that she and her mother were imprisoned with a mixture of military men and civilians in a series of 7 or 8 sub-camps to O’Donnell and Cabanatuan (p. 119). 

In actuality, the Japanese separated male military prisoners from most male and all female civilian internees; and there is no listing of “sub- camps”, which Finch claimed totaled around thirteen (p. 119). 

She also describes a camp commandant, whose hobby was raising roses, which he regularly watered by decapitating prisoners while the survivors were forced to watch.  According to Finch, she and her mother were always placed in the front row, so were regularly splattered with the victim’s blood (pp. 125-6). 

Finch further charges that this camp commander “became a mega-millionaire” and a member of the Japanese Diet following the war.  And that he was protected from prosecution by the American government which “needed…men to run the new Japanese government.”  (p. 128)   Later she claims General Douglas MacArthur placed this man as “the American head of an immense electronic corporation, which MacArthur helped establish.”  (Ch. 21, “A Long Road Home,” pp. 248-9) 

Finch also describes torture where victims were crucified face-first against wooden buildings, doused with gasoline and set on fire (p. 125). 

These two execution stories aren’t found elsewhere in wartime accounts of Japanese abuse and the flaming crucifixion incidents surely also would have burned down the buildings to which the victims were nailed.

No evidence is offered to support the charges against Gen. MacArthur and the U.S. Government, and neither the Japanese man, nor the company she claims he headed is identified. 

An excuse Finch uses for not identifying such people is fear of retaliation.  By the time her book was published it is unlikely that any still would be living.  Hundreds of war criminals were prosecuted due to eyewitness testimony and scores were executed.  Another excuse is that civilian internees were forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement by the U.S. Government.  Other civilian internees deny this.     

In Chapter 13, “The Basket Man,” is another of the more serious inventions in Finch’s book.  Here she claims that, upon the surrender of Corregidor, the Japanese rampaged through the Malinta tunnel hospital, where “they came across wounded patients, nurses, doctors and surgeons [and] …machine gunned every single person without mercy…” (p. 142) 

This massacre never happened, nor were patients and medical personnel massacred at the two large field hospitals on Bataan when the Filipino and American forces surrendered a month earlier. Indeed, all 100 American military nurses survived the war.

In Chapter 16, “The Jumping Frogs,” Finch’s account of five months in a Japanese officers’ brothel in the mountain resort city of Baguio is suspect. 

In this chapter (and elsewhere) Finch alleges the Japanese broke her fingers, burned her with cigarettes, tore out her toe nails and broke bones in her feet “solely to amuse” themselves.  She further stated that x-rays taken of her feet after her release showed “more than 50 healed fractures”. (p. 176)   Finch also claims that, when repatriated, she initially weighed just over 25 pounds, despite being nearly 12 years old (p. 269). 

No evidence appears to exist of this brothel, which she describes as “near the former summer home of Philippine kings….and emperors.” (p. 162-3.)  Moreover, there were no Philippine kings or emperors, unless you count the series of Spanish kings who never visited the Philippines in the 350 years the archipelago was part of their Empire.

Indeed, her tale of more than three years of starvation, disease, physical abuse and incredibly long hours at hard labor makes it difficult to conceive of her (or her mother) surviving.  In Finch’s case, this all allegedly began when she was only eight years old and recovering from polio.

In Chapter 18, “Lennie and the Rose Garden,” Finch writes that an Australian friend “Dear Lennie” was beheaded for no apparent reason in front of her and her mother while in Fukuoka, Japan in early February 1943.  

A photo accompanying this beheading account appears on p. 198.  At the bottom of this photo is a link to the Australian War Memorial website (www.awm.gov.au).  The Australian site identifies this as a famous photo of Sgt. Leonard George Siffleet being decapitated on a beach in Aitape, New Guinea along with two other Australian military men on 10/24/43.

In Chapter 19, “The Hell Ship,” Finch claims that she and her mother were sent from Fukuoka to Manila in early February 1943, and then shipped back to Japan (Kobe) less than a week later along with “nearly 800” POWs.  The trip to Kobe, she writes, took eight days during which no food or water was supplied (p. 207). 

However, there is no record of a “Hell Ship” departing the Philippines for Japan (or anywhere else) during that month.  There also appears to be no record of “Hell Ships” transporting captive women along with military POWs.  Furthermore, eight days without water spent packed in the sweltering ship’s hold likely would be fatal.

Finch claims they traveled to multiple camps in the Philippines (most of which aren’t known to have existed); to Foochow, China (work in a tin mine); to Fukuoka, Japan; back to Manila; back to Japan (Kobe); and then repatriation from Japan to the U.S. via Australia. 

No accounts of prisoners being moved around this much appear to exist.  Furthermore, civilians seized in the Philippines were either murdered (in remote locales) or taken to one of three holding camps, Santo Tomas University (Manila), University of the Philippines (Los Baños) and Baguio. 

In Chapter 20, “Kobe Dock Laborers,” Finch states that she and her mother worked 25 months, twenty hours a day, shoveling and hauling coal to power Japanese ships, while, subsisting on a daily diet of 50 to 100 grains of rice, supplemented by seaweed and anything they could scavenge. (p. 215)

In Chapter 21, “A Long Road Home,” inexplicably, at the end of the stint on the Kobe docks, mother and daughter were suddenly placed aboard a Swedish repatriation ship and taken to freedom in Australia.  Supposedly about 200 others, most of them “severely wounded soldiers” were repatriated with them (p. 237). 

Such repatriation missions didn’t occur late in the war.  Furthermore, wounded (or unwounded) military POWs never were repatriated by the Japanese.

A constant Finch complaint is the refusal of military authorities to believe the stories she and her mother told, but couldn’t document.  Her mother finally obtained counterfeit state-side documentation from a sympathetic unnamed colonel in military intelligence to assist her in getting a job.  This included “personnel records and paycheck stubs”; along with tax receipts showing she had worked in “aircraft companies in San Diego” during the war.  Documentation of school attendance, including report cards, for her daughter also was provided (pp. 334-5).

Upon finishing this book, one is left wondering if the stateside “cover story” supposedly provided by military intelligence, is actually the true account of Finch and her mother’s wartime experiences.  In her final chapter, Finch warns Americans against “charlatans” and advises that “when we hear an unusual fact or claim…we must check the sources carefully.”  (p. 383)

Her book illustrates the wisdom of that advice.

Reviewed by J. Michael Houlahan

Endnotes:

*Norman, Elizabeth, We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese, Random House, New York, 1999, p. 4.  This is the definitive book on U.S. military nurses in the Philippines during World War II.

**Houlahan, J. Michael, In Harm’s Way: The Valiant Nurses of Bataan, Bulletin of the American Historical Collection Foundation, April-June 2000, pp. 15-16.  In early January, 1942, Floramund Fellmeth (now Difford) was the “last of the Army Nurse Corps to leave Manila and the first to escape the Philippines.  She was placed in charge of 300 American wounded and a contingent of Filipino Red Cross nurses who were evacuated to Australia aboard an aging inter-island steamer….”, p. 9.  She is still living and had never heard of the author or her mother.  (Finch’s story of Aunt Alice’s escape may have been loosely based on this event.) The 32 page In Harm’s Way article is based on interviews with 11 of the surviving nurses, recounting their ordeal both during combat and throughout the internment that followed for those 87 not successfully evacuated. 

***Norman, p. xii. 

 

Houlahan is a retired U.S. diplomat, who was stationed at the American Embassy in Manila 1989-92.  He writes on the Philippines and visits that country frequently with his wife, a Filipino academic.  Ten of his articles are based on interviews with POWs, including eleven American military nurses, most of them imprisoned with the non-Filipino civilians at the Santo Tomas (University) Internment Camp. 

6/16/10