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This article is authored by John Ream, assisted by family members who were all prisoners..



Internment Camp #3

Baguio and Bilibid Prison



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 Baguio and freed these Japanese prisoners after the U.S. Army and Philippine Scouts had been evacuated to Bataan.  U.S. and allied civilians were directed to report to Brent School - “Bring three days’ provisions” - and were then marched through town to Camp John Hay.


CAMP JOHN HAY Camp John Hay was a typical Army post with barracks and support buildings, and the Japanese designated it as Camp #3.  When the new prisoners arrived the men were segregated from the women and children.  In both sections mattresses were placed on the floor of the barracks, crowded up to one another for sleeping. Bathroom facilities and food acquisition were inadequate for the number of people being housed.  The water supply was meager.  In the evening, the men and women were allowed to “commingle” in the tennis courts - “No touching”.  On April 23, 1942 Camp #3 was moved to Camp Holmes about five miles north of Baguio.


CAMP HOLMES Camp Holmes (now Camp Dangwa) had previously been a Philippine Constabulary training camp situated in the fertile Trinidad Valley.  With the mountains at your back one could look 50 miles down the canyon to the China Sea, it was the “Club Med” of POW camps.  Located at around 5,000-foot altitude, it was near pine forests and had a year-round moderate temperature.  Camp Holmes was a large facility, with three large barracks, numerous isolated cottages and some shop buildings.  The Japanese took over two of the cottages for their own use, while the internees used the largest one for a hospital.  The mothers and small babies were assigned the remaining tiny cottage.  A large kitchen and mess hall served the whole camp.


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.


MORTALITY Nineteen internees died while in Camp #3.  One was presumed to have been tortured to death and eighteen died of other causes.  Some of those related to malnutrition or lack of adequate medical facilities.


ADMINISTRATION  Camp #3 was fortunate to have as its commandants and administrators some Japanese who were known to the prisoners.  Prewar, these Japanese had been carpenters, businessmen, photographers and other occupations in the local community.  One of the commandants, Rokuro Tomibe, was as humane as one could expect.  He helped make the internees stay as easy as it was possible for him to do.  Camp #3 also was fortunate to have an older internee, Nellie McKim, who had been born and reared in Japan and spoke fluent Japanese with all the nuances and customs.  She was the main communicator with the Japanese and warded off many troubles.


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.


FOOD AND HEALTH Food was always a major problem, especially at the start and at the end of internment.  Food was always of poor quality and inadequate portions.  Breakfast was usually rice (hard or soft) with a spoon of syrup and sometimes a rotten banana.  Lunch consisted of soup and maybe a banana.  Dinner was rice or gabi (an obnoxious, slimy potato-like vegetable much like taro), a touch of meat and maybe some squash or chard which had been grown in the camp.  A few goats, cows and chickens were maintained to provide milk and eggs for the children and the sick.


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 Manila, the internees were fed the same starvation diet that the military prisoners endured the whole time of imprisonment.  800 calories was the average daily allocation in Bilibid Prison.  Health problems associated with nutritional deficiencies were common.


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.


WORK ASSIGNMENTS One of the first persons to be drafted into service was the young manager of a local hotel.  Although Alex Kaluzhny claimed no knowledge of cooking, he knew how much food to order for 500 people, and became the head cook of the camp.  After repatriation, Alex joined a friend and started a restaurant in Oakland, later expanding worldwide - TRADER VIC’S.


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 Camp John Hay and Camp Holmes the prisoners were housed in the large open rooms of military barracks.  Each person had living space the length of his/her mattress and about 18-24 inches on either side separating him/her from the next person.  After a year, creative minds figured out that the beds could be hung from the ceiling above other beds, leaving space for tables, chairs and shelves.  In Bilibid, it was mostly mattresses on the floor while some slept on wooden beds.


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 China was taken out of camp for interrogation.  He never returned and it was months, and many inquiries later that his wife learned that he had died.  Another man who had been smuggling liquor into the camp was severely beaten with a baseball bat and golf club.  When two men escaped to join the guerillas, three of their associates were taken to town and severely tortured by the Kempetai.  Commandant Tomibe went to town and retrieved “his” prisoners.  He had tears in his eyes when he witnessed their injuries.  Tomibe was subsequently demoted and transferred.


LIBERATION In late 1944 there were two sightings of U. S. aircraft over Camp Holmes.  One, a Navy fighter, swooped low over the camp, and the other a high flying P-38 was obviously making a photo recon run.  When Camp #3 was transferred to Manila, the road was full of trucks moving the Japanese Army to Baguio.  Upon arrival in Manila in the last week of 1944 it was obvious that there was a war on.  Navy dive-bombers were hitting the docks and the U.S. Army Air Corps’ B-24s flew almost daily bomb runs over the City.  On February 3rd elements of the 1st Cavalry entered the outskirts of Manila.  Sporadic firing could be heard and those who braved a look from the top floor of the hospital building could see jeeps and tanks.  The Japanese guards then took positions on the top floor, but soon left when it was determined that using this position was futile. 


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 Bilibid.  The 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 the United States.



First Red Cross Mail Call in Bilibid Prison after liberation







Contact Sascha Jansen