Grace Triumphant - Chapter 14 - The Japanese Occupation

The Japanese Occupation

“Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?” (Psa. 78:19)
“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” (Psa. 23:5)

Just before the Japanese entered Manila, we got off a cable to the brethren in New York letting them know that we were then all right.  They had no further work about us until January 1943, when evacuees on the S.S. Gripsholm passed on word about us.  It was a trying time for our loved ones, especially Anna’s mother and father.  One day they thought her mother had gone.  The doctor (a fine Christian) from across the street thought he was too late until he noticed a slight movement.  He was able to revive her but said the best medicine would be a letter from Manila.  Anna’s three sisters sent short notes through the Red Cross in late 1944, but these were not received until after our liberation.

For almost three and a half years we had no letters except one from Echoes of Service in Bath.  For some reason letters from Britain seemed to get through, for one of our fellow workers from there received a number of letters.  This meant, of course, that we were entirely cut off from our usual sources of supply as no gifts could get through to us.  In the early days some of those in the internment camps were given Red Cross food packages but these were not given to us on the outside; supposedly, the local markets were available to us!

How did God supply our needs during the time we were living in our own home as house prisoners?  Some of the local people gave us gifts, usually of food.  The believers were themselves suffering yet they gave to us.  Occasionally gifts came from some we had not known previously.  We also were able to sell some things.  This, of course, had to be kept from the knowledge of the Japanese, but we were able to dispose of our car and piano and some other things.  Then some of the Chinese offered to lend us money without interest until after the war.  This was to their advantage as it was like an investment to be repaid in good currency.  They had no confidence in the Japanese currency, which was referred to as “Mickey Mouse Money.”  Some of these declined repayment after the war.

Of course, the Japanese were also curious about the source of our income.  Filipinos who helped us would be under suspicion of aiding the enemy.  One afternoon a Japanese officer and soldier along with a Filipino policeman visited us.  Fortunately, we were all home at the time.  They evidently wanted to know who was helping us.  It added to their prestige to talk through an interpreter.  They started by asking questions in Tagalog which the Filipino was to ask us in English.  I took the wind out of their sails by replying to the policeman in Tagalog.  They exclaimed, “Oh, you speak Tagalog!”  It would have been undiplomatic to point out that probably I spoke it better than they did.  They asked how we made a living.  I directed their attention to our garden where we had planted sweet potatoes and squash, etc.  Actually it wasn’t very productive, but I didn’t think it was necessary to add that information.  Obviously that was not enough, so they asked, “What else?”  I mentioned that some of our members helped us.  Pencils and pads were at the ready—“Oh, who are they?”  “Oh, I couldn’t tell you all their names—there are many of them.”  “How much do they give you?”  Time was spent in telling how different ones (no names, of course) gave a few ears of corn, a little rice, or perhaps some eggs.  I omitted to tell them that our Japanese neighbor had once sent us a package of goodies!  Finally it became evident that I was not about to supply them with any specific information.  As they left I picked up a Japanese New Testament that had been sent to us long before.  I explained to the officer that I had had it for some time, and since I couldn’t read it I would be happy for him to have it.  He evidently recognized what it was and said something in Japanese to his companions which seemed to amuse them.  Often I have wondered what became of that Testament.  We just committed it to the Lord.

In many ways we had to improvise.  Several Navy men used to keep an extra white uniform at our house.  We hid these in the air space below the roof lest the Japanese should find them.  As time went on these were made over into clothes we could wear.  Shorts instead of long trousers was one way of economizing.

Before long there was no wheat flour obtainable.  Rice flour or cassave does not respond to yeast in the same way.  We could get yeast for some breweries were still in operation.  We had a corn mill, which was used to make corn meal and rice flour.  Len and Ken used it to make peanut butter and sell it.  Each evening we grated a coconut and squeezed it to get coconut milk.  What was left after squeezing was fried with sugar, and this added flavor and nourishment to cereals and puddings.  Feeling it was important for Rose to get some milk, we purchased carabao (water buffalo) milk from a boy each morning.  He augmented his profits by diluting the milk with water.

With a box on the back of my bicycle, marketing was done downtown in Manila.  When the tires wore out, the Filipinos very ingeniously made tires from the sidewalls of old automobile tires.

All radios were called in for inspection and modification to eliminate any short-wave reception.    Our house was surrounded by vines for shade purposes.  A wire was strung all around the house among the vines.  One short end protruded through a crack in the siding.  Each evening this was connected with a short wire to our radio.  Most evenings at 10 p.m. we could pick up an English news program from Free China.  Thus, we kept in touch with the progress of the war.  Japanese programs were not dependable for accuracy.  We generally figured it was the opposite of what they said.  The Tagalog newspaper was named “Taliba” (Sentinel).  Newsboys would cry, “Taliba! Balitang baligtad” (Sentinel! News in reverse).

One of Len’s customers for peanut butter was a former radioman.  He had hidden a shortwave in his house.  Gists of important news were typed on small sheets of onionskin paper.  When Len delivered peanut butter, he would come away with one of these news sheets secreted in the handlebars of his bicycle.  One morning on his way there, a friend stopped him with the news that the Japanese had raided the radioman’s house, found his shortwave, and taken him to Fort Santiago.  They evidently had watched for some time and were picking up people who had visited that house.  Len was on their list evidently, so for a while he kept out of sight.  The military police did question an acquaintance as to the home of Len, but he pleaded ignorance.

One of the diversions of those days was a monkey that had been given to Len.  It had been brought from Bataan by someone who managed to get away from there.  It afforded hours of amusement except when it got loose and seemed to delight in evading recapture.  It would patiently work for hours on any knot in order to get free.  Boys came by to tease, carefully staying beyond the reach of the monkey’s rope.  One day in leaping at these tormentors the rope broke!  The boys fled with an amazing dash of speed!  A fruit vendor would pass an apparently somnolent monkey, but the moment his back was turned he was minus one banana.  Len loaned his monkey to a friend for a few days.  During its absence a neighbor called to say Len’s monkey was in their yard.  It wasn’t Len’s but one quite similar, so then we had two of a kind.  Unfortunately, this second one came to an untimely end.  His rope got around his neck so when he leaped it was suicidal.

Sometimes the boys would visit friends in the neighborhood in the evening.  One evening Len was accosted by some Japanese and ordered to report to their office the next morning.  The Japanese didn’t usually venture abroad much at night, and when they did it was always in a group.  It could have been too dangerous for one or two alone!  I couldn’t go with Len, as I had to report to the Religious Section that same morning.  Anna went with him and I warned them not to offer any information, just answer questions.  Asked why he was wandering about at night, Len said he went outside for a little exercise before turning in.  Looking as his records they noted he was British but was born in the Philippines.  “How many times have you been to Britain?”  Len told them he had never been to Britain.  They never asked about going to the U.S. or Canada, and they apparently never thought of it.  They told him to go home—it was good to exercise but not to do it at night because there were many bad people about.  That deliverance was surely an answer to prayer.

One of our friends who had previously been one of my Bible students, Mr. Max Atienza, told me he had contacts with the guerrillas.  If I would give him a list of the servicemen we knew he would try to get information on their present whereabouts.  We had no knowledge about most of them.  We did hear about Virgil Wemmer.  One afternoon as our laundrywoman was returning our clean clothes, two young women came to the door.  When I invited them in they seemed reluctant to state their mission until after the laundrywoman left.  Then they told me they worked for the Japanese in a car repair place in Manila; there were some American prisoners of war also working there.  They handed me a little note from Virgil.  I asked if they could smuggle in anything for him and another fellow he named.  They would try some small packages.  They were not allowed to talk to the POW’s but a fellow they worked with would leave something in the lavatory and signal Virgil to go in when he came out.

In the meantime Max Atienza said that one of his contacts had been caught by the Kempetai (Japanese police), so he didn’t know whether we would get any news or not.  However, after a while the list I had typed was returned with notations about most of the fellows.  Jesse Miller was then working on construction of an airfield just south of Manila.  Later he was taken to Japan and worked there until release after VJ Day in August 1945.  Ray Harper was in Puerto Princesa in Palawan.  There some of the prisoners were chosen to be shipped to Japan and others to remain in Palawan.  Ray was among the latter but switched places with a fellow who thought it would be safer to stay in Palawan.  A number of the ships carrying prisoners to Japan were torpedoed by U.S. submarines who had no idea there were Americans aboard.  George Wightman, son of our fellow missionary, was among those killed in this way.  Ray got safely to Japan and later was released there after VJ Day.  The prisoners who remained in Palawan, when liberation was within sight, were herded into a cave and massacred by the Japanese.

We were aware of the guerrilla activity going on.  This was not only against the Japanese but also against Filipinos who collaborated with them.  The latter were usually warned to desist or suffer the consequences.  About twenty such were killed by guerrillas just in San Juan.  One of them lived a couple of blocks from us and his wife had once sent us some food.  One day I saw an American ride into San Juan on horseback.  There were times when a guerrilla would approach a man in downtown Manila, shoot him in broad daylight, and then disappear among the crowds.  In early 1944 we saw a well-worn copy of LIFE magazine and also got hold of a small-town newspaper.  We knew nothing about anyone in that little place but we read the entire paper.  The prices in the ads, the announcements of births, weddings, and deaths, all gave us a little inkling of wartime life in the U.S.  On most of such items brought in by U.S. submarines there was stamped the famous words of MacArthur, “I shall return.”  As the hopes of Filipinos were raised and sustained by this promise, so our hearts are cheered by the promise of One who is greater, “I will come again.”

Yet those were days when we learned to be very suspicious and cautious.  It paid to be non-committal to any but most intimate friends.  So we were hesitant to share the good news about the war that came our way.  We were never quite sure who we could really depend upon.

Because of the severe shortages there was a great increase in theft and other crimes.  Children would feel through the muck of a gutter for such items as nails, screws and bolts.  Washed off they could be offered for sale in flea markets.  People learned to watch their laundry on the line lest it disappear.  A bamboo pole through a barred window was one way of lifting loosed items of clothing.  At night men would climb poles to cut electric wire.  In our neighborhood they formed a vigilante group.  Any suspicion of burglars would cause an alarm to be sounded and everyone would turn on their lights while the men sallied forth with “bolos” (machetes) and flashlights.  The crime rate quickly dropped in our district.  One of our China missionaries living nearby had her purse snatched one day.

All this was a contrast with conditions before the war when there was very little crime.  We used to leave our home unattended, the ground floor all open, and nothing would be taken.  Hold-ups and purse-snatchings were rare occurrences but war conditions changed all that.

The Sutherlands had returned to Palawan just before the outbreak of the war.  No word about them reached us until after the war.  They had left their home in Brookes point and taken refuge in the hills.  They couldn’t surrender before the deadline because there were no Japanese around to whom they could surrender.  So they were forced to move form place to place and occasionally sneak into Brookes Point when they had a need there.  They suffered many attacks of malaria, which was rampant in those parts.  In 1944 they met some U.S. Navy men from a submarine, which had been wrecked in those waters.  These men were aided by the guerrillas and were able to make contact with headquarters in Australia.

It was about that time too that their little boy, Alastair, had a prayer of his own each evening.  When pressed by his Dad, Alastair said he was asking God to send a submarine to take them out of there.  Such a possibility had not occurred to the parents.  The navy men told them that a submarine had been ordered to pick them up one night and they invited the Sutherlands to go along.  What a thrill when, barefooted and in ragged clothes, they stood on the steel deck of that submarine.  Alastair’s prayers had been answered.  At MacArthur’s headquarters, even in his weakened condition, Sandy was pumped for all the information he could offer.  They were allowed to write to their loved ones in Scotland but were forbidden to tell how they got to Australia.  Other missionary friends from Mindanao was taken out in the same way.

On the island of Panay a group of Baptist missionaries had hidden out in the hills and forests of that island.  Although Japanese soldiers were in the vicinity on different occasions it was not until December 1943, that they finally located the hideout.  Just before Christmas these missionaries and some others who had taken refuge with them were killed by Japanese soldiers.

In spite of the difficulties, we managed to get news about the progress of the war, particularly in Europe.  One morning riding my bicycle into town to do some marketing, an unknown Filipino pulled alongside me.  He was quite elated with the news he passed on that Italy had fallen to the Allied powers.  In June 1944, I heard in the news from Kunming about the Normandy landing.  Even though it was after ten at night, I just had to go around to some of our missionary friends in the neighborhood with the good news.

We could also sense that things were not going well for the Japanese, in spite of their propaganda.  There were signs of increasing tension.  It was a turning point when the Americans took Saipan.  It would put an air base within striking distance of mainland Japan.  This was followed by a smashing defeat of their Navy in Philippine waters.  For us, prices were rising rapidly.  A sack of rice cost us over seven hundred pesos.  There would certainly be more inflation.  Yet our trust was in the Lord and in the exceeding great and precious promises of His Word.

At the beginning of the occupation, one of the Filipino elders asked if we should stop making payments on the chapel land.  Knowing there were sufficient funds for the next payment I said we should go ahead as long as the Lord supplied our needs for that.  The former owner was the wife of a Supreme Court justice, and she expressed surprise that the congregation could still maintain their payments.  Her other debtors had stopped paying.  It was an opportunity for the elders to testify about the goodness and power of God even in those difficult circumstances.  Later, I approached a Christian Chinese businessman about the possibility of him advancing the money to pay off the mortgage.  The assembly would sign a note to pay off as they were able, particularly after liberation.  He agreed to this arrangement and some payments were made to him but after the liberation he wiped out the outstanding balance as his gift to the chapel.

Can God?  Yes, indeed He can!  “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Eph. 3:20-21).