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The Long View

The Christmas of 1944

There is a moment in time when the past can be said to have finally receded from living memory. In February next year, we will be commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Manila, in which at least 100,000 died, and the metropolis destroyed to an extent that, up to the present, the city has never fully recovered.

An American civilian, Albert Holland, was among those detained at the University of Santo Tomas. On Christmas Eve, 1944, he wrote, “Today, to keep Dorita & the children alive, I purchased from a profiteer 2 lbs margarine. 20 oz. Jam, 1/2 kilo sugar, 1/2 lb honey, & for Dorita 3 3/4 oz coffee — The profiteer charged me $500 (!!) payable after the war — Frightful!” The UST internees were being systematically starved by the Japanese.

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A prisoner of war in Old Bilibid Prison, Warren A. Wilson, recorded their Christmas dinner: “Christmas Day — very successful — candy and prunes lugao with extra rice flour hoarded issue (150 given per man instead of usual 125 gm.) and chocolate malted milk, hot drink with 15 cans of evaporated milk added… Everyone seemed very pleased and morale is definitely better today.” The prisoners were very hungry, and wartime diaries of prisoners tend to record every meal in great detail: “A. R. (slight) about 11:00 A.M. Dinner about 3:00 P.M. of large rice issue, soup (beans meal and bouillon), a steamed camote, hot chocolate (15 cans more milk) and a baked camote—fruit pudding. Sorry there was no meat. The Officers had mango beans in their mess a chocolate cake from Bats Reynolds, little chocolate muffin from the chaplain. Coffee all day, extra amarican cigarettes (also Reynolds), a butter cream pie (Sgt. Owen etc.etc.).

”An American officer, Arthur L. Shreve, captured in Bataan, on Christmas Day, recorded the ordeal of his transfer along with fellow prisoners-of-war to San Fernando, La Union: “About noon we were placed on board steel freight cars. One hundred ninety three men were placed in each car. As this is a small narrow gauge railroad, there was not room for all of the men to be seated at one time. Our sick and wounded were placed on top of the cars in the boiling midday heat and lashed there to keep them from failing off with ropes. The Japs insisted that they would be more comfortable, but I feel it is also in an attempt to prevent the train being bombed or strafed by our men. We should be very thankful for them. For had it not been for the many bullet holes in the car, surely more of our men would have died from suffocation during the awful trip to San Fernando, La Union. Of course, there was no food or water and several times when the train stopped and the Philippines made an effort to give us food or water, they were chased away by the Japanese guard. After being on the train from about noon on the 24th until 2:00 AM this morning, we were unloaded on the station platform at San Fernando, La Union where we were allowed to remain until daybreak. We were then marched through the town of San Fernando out on the outskirts to a small Philippine school house where we were fed one rice ball in the morning and one just before dark. We were issued about one fourth of a canteen cup of water per man, and after being told where we were supposed to settle down for the night, we were gotten up after dark and marched about three and one half or four miles to the beach where we are to sleep.”

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The next day, a veteran of Bataan, Felipe Buencamino III, recorded in his Manila diary that the Japanese had begun evacuating Manila. The government of Jose P. Laurel had been evacuated to Baguio, the start of a journey that would take them to Taiwan and then Japan. Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, the Japanese commander, refused the appeal of Filipino leaders to proclaim Manila an Open City, as the Americans had in December 1941.

Anything on wheels, he observed, from the expected cars and trucks, to “carromatas, dokars, bicycles and push carts” were being commandeered by the Japanese. Because of the soldiers, vegetables, meat and fish could no longer reach Manila, as supplies were being confiscated. News came of Japanese-perpetrated massacres of civilians in Imus (where Bataan veterans were rounded up and executed), Polo and Obando (the latter two places lost 500 civilians burned, bayoneted or machine-gunned to death).

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You can visit the Philippine Diary Project at https://philippinediaryproject.com/, or like its Facebook page. In case you know of someone who kept a diary and you believe it should be shared online, let me know. They are valuable historical documents.

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TAGS: Christmas 1944, Manuel L. Quezon III, The Long View, UST internees, World War II
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