This article is authored by John Ream, assisted by family members who were all prisoners..
Internment Camp #3
Camp John Hay, in Baguio, was bombed about six hours after Pearl
Harbor was attacked, after which local Japanese civilians were interned
there. On December 27, 1941, elements of
the Japanese invading force occupied
BILIBID PRISON On December 27, 1944 Camp #3 was moved from picturesque Camp Holmes to Old Bilibid Prison in Manila. 300 military POWs suffering from cholera were moved out of the old three-story hospital building, which had been in the process of demolition during pre-war times. These prisoners were relocated to an adjacent compound in the prison and the civilians occupied the partially demolished building. Bilibid Prison was within walking distance of the larger Santo Tomas Internment Camp, but no interaction between camps was allowed. Conditions in Bilibid were primitive: no chairs, few beds, or place to eat. Bathrooms were unsanitary troughs dumping into the ground. Fortunately, liberation came within six weeks of arrival.
American Mortar Crew behind Bilibid Prison
POPULATION Camp #3 had three distinct populations: miners, missionaries and others. At the beginning of incarceration the numbers varied widely as Chinese moved out, missionaries moved in, then out, then back in. Some were transferred to Santo Tomas mid-war, and some families who “took to the hills” had to surrender. The population stabilized at around 500 internees. Most were American, a half dozen were British and a few were Australian.
Immediately upon being interned, a committee was formed to act as a liaison with the Japanese and to do the day-to-day management of the camp. The committee members soon became elected, subject to approval by the Japanese.
Off and on during internment, food from the outside could be purchased
from a little store, but the food problem worsened towards the end of
1944. When the camp was moved to
Hygiene was always a main battle, especially in Bilibid Prison. Flies swarmed around the open toilets, which were no more than slanted troughs one straddled. Occasionally someone would pour a bucket of water to wash the waste into the ground. Along the interior wall were several hundred graves of military prisoners who perished from disease. An effort to dig a well as an alternative source determined there was no place further than about twenty yards from either the toilets or the graves and that the water table was only about three feet below the surface. The major health problems were dysentery, dengue fever, hepatitis and beri beri in all locations.
Everyone in camp had to work in a job according to his/her qualifications. Doctors, nurses, teachers, cooks, handymen, blacksmiths, cobblers and others had to do their part. Even students had to put in three hours a week of community service. The high school boys mostly served on the garbage crew, taking the garbage wagon out of camp to the dump, under guard of course. Others joined the men on the hill to chop wood for the kitchen stoves. They also manned the kitchen cleanup, allowing them a few extra scraps to fill out their diets. Women and girls cleaned vegetables, picked stones and worms out of rice or worked in the camp gardens.
LIVING QUARTERS In
At the start of internment men were separated from women and children and only allowed to commingle during certain times. This prohibition was slowly relaxed when sexes were allowed to commingle for most of the day. However, it was not until April of 1944 that families were allowed to live together.
EDUCATION Within a week of internment, school was started without books. After six months the Japanese allowed a couple of men out to get books from the school, though. history and geography books were prohibited. These men also brought in enough recreational reading to open a small library, and Maryknoll nuns sent in books on occasion. If homework entailed the use of a book, it had to be passed around because of the shortage. Paper was very scarce and pencils were used down to the nub.
RECREATION Camp recreation included activities every Saturday night, bridge tournaments, and softball tournaments (the three teams being juniors, seniors and missionaries). Camp #3 had talented people in many fields - science, drama, music, dance and others. Performances were put on regularly. These evening events in the dining room were almost the only time the men and women could be together. Mostly they were segregated except for the commingling hour in the late afternoons where they could walk about the parade grounds under the watchful eyes of the guards – no touching. Sometimes the entertainment was a clever spoof on some opera or Shakespearian drama. Several plays were put on by the high school or elementary school. Each Christmas, the prisoners would enjoy a traditional performance of the Nativity with music from the camp choir. Creative production and costuming peaked in the spectacular “Passion” play of Easter, 1944, (depicting scenes from the Last Supper to the Crucifixion).
TREATMENT For the most part, physical abuse by the
Japanese was not a major problem. At the
beginning there were several incidents of cuffing some of the young male
prisoners. There were other incidents,
however, that could be described as nothing less than severe brutality. One missionary who was suspected as being a
spy against the Japanese while he was in
LIBERATION In late 1944 there were two sightings of U. S. aircraft over
On February 4, Commandant Ebiko presented
the camp’s chairman with a document freeing the internees. The Japanese were not seen after that. A patrol of the 37th Infantry broke into the
prison thinking it was a Japanese ammunition dump; they found 700 military
prisoners and 500 civilian prisoners.
Meanwhile the Japanese were blowing up and burning buildings surrounding
responsible commander from the 37th Infantry determined that the prisoners had
to be evacuated to escape the fires. The
prisoners who could walk started on foot to the north to a shoe factory called Ang Tibay. Since the 37th Infantry did not have enough
vehicles to take the non-ambulatory cases, the 1st Cavalry sent vehicles to
assist. The prisoners were fed K Rations
and returned to Bilibid the next day when it was
determined that the fire had burned up to the walls of Bilibid
before going out. After about three
weeks most of those in Camp #3 were flown to Leyte to await transportation to
First Red Cross Mail Call in Bilibid Prison after liberation