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Roderick Hall

He was already in his 70s when I got to know him over the last decade and a half of his life, which came to an end at the age of 90 last Jan. 13. Trim and tall, he kept that gangly bearing and bemused expression that strongly hinted at what must have been a swashbuckling early life. He was a shrewd and generous man of great energy and determination. He lived most of his life in Britain and America but his earliest years and maternal roots were here.

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Like all families of desaparecidos, sooner or later his life returned to a moment in time: Jan. 20, 1945. His family was in their Dakota St. (now Adriatico), Malate home; they were gathered on their porch, as his aunt, Helen McMicking, was being visited by her fiancée, Carlos Perez-Rubio. All of a sudden, Japanese troops arrived. The house concealed a secret, a forbidden short-wave radio belonging to his uncle, Alfred McMicking, a veteran of the Bataan Death March. After a three-hour search of the premises, it was discovered. The Japanese troops corralled the family, men, women, and children, and marched them off to the Masonic Temple on Taft Avenue.

The first twist of fate happened at this point, as two of Rod Hall’s siblings, his brother Alistair Jr. and sister Connie, were playing at a neighbor’s house, avoiding the roundup. The second twist of fate came that afternoon: for no apparent reason, Rod Hall and his brother Ian, and their Chinese amah Ah Nam, together with five household help, were released by the Japanese. For a week, Rod and his brother were allowed to bring food to the Masonic Temple for his grandmother, mother, uncle, and aunt—as well as her fiancé. Then one day the Japanese said there was no further need to bring food. That afternoon of seemingly random mercy turned out to be the last time he saw most of his family.

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What followed was the ordeal of the destruction and massacres in Manila in February 1945, as the Japanese vowed to turn Manila into an example of what lay in store for the Allies if they attempted an invasion of Japan. In the aftermath his father, who, as a British subject had been interned in Santo Tomas, and another uncle, the famed Joe McMicking who was the architect of Makati as the country’s new CBD, tried to locate the remains of their slaughtered family among the 200 decomposing corpses in the basement of the Temple. But the story would not rest; in 2015, he came across new information (a secret agent’s 1945 report on executions in Fort Santiago) which strongly suggested at least some if not most, of his relatives had been imprisoned and beheaded in that fortress prison.

At the threshold of the new century, Rod Hall embarked on a passion project: the accumulation of every published article and book, on World War II in Asia and the Philippines, including obtaining original documents from Japanese, Chinese, Allied, and Filipino sources, and the digitizing of collections to preserve them and make them accessible to researchers. The result is the massive Roderick Hall Collection on World War II in the Philippines, one of the highlights of the Filipinas Heritage Library.

He dedicated his collection to the memory of Angelina Ynchausti Rico de McMicking, Consuelo McMicking Hall, Alfred McMicking and Helen McMicking—those he last saw that fateful January morning. In 1995, the survivors of the Battle of Manila established an association—Memorare Manila 1945—for the purpose of establishing a memorial and an annual commemoration that he and his sister, though longtime residents abroad, faithfully attended annually. He used it as an opportunity to establish meaningful partnerships with institutions, families, and individuals who entrusted his collection with their papers; and much else besides by way of philanthropy.

There is one effort of his that struck me: a multi-year effort concerning the “Ulahingan” epic of the Livunganen-Arumanen Manobos. The epic consists of 79 episodes, each composed of 4,000 to 6,000 lines; it was recorded on over 1,200 tape reels and cassette tapes, and when Hall encountered the collection in Dumaguete he set to work to ensure their digitization.

Rod Hall lived our past; he set out to honor and enrich our shared historical and cultural patrimony by making meaningful contributions to its preservation and dissemination. He succeeded.

Email: [email protected]; Twitter: @mlq3
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