The American School - History

CHAPTER VI: 1942 - 1944

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Santo Tomas Internment Camp

  Only a day or two after Manila’s population had celebrated the arrival of 1942, Japanese troops began to occupy Manila.  During that week, all citizens of allied countries were given orders to report to the University of Santo Tomas where they would be interned.     Philippines
Most people had two or three days to get ready, and had the agonizing task of trying to decide what to bring with them: food? Clothing? Jewelry and money? Toys for children?  Not many were expecting a long stay; they were sure that General MacArthur’s troops would quickly rout the invaders. 

 There were a few people whose concerns were not only personal, but professional.  Even if they were not prescient enough to foresee an internment of three years, they felt that children would have a much easier time in the camp if their familiar school routine could be continued.  Lois Croft, the principal of the American School, and her counterpart at Central obtained permission to bring texts and library books from their respective schools into Santo Tomas.  Then they arranged for these books to be transported there.  Personal libraries were donated, and both the Philippine Normal College and the Union Theological Seminary allowed some of their books to be brought to the camp. 

 The internees quickly realized that they would have to take responsibility for their own welfare, and in the first few days several committees were formed.  It is very indicative of Manila’s expatriate community at the time that one of the first was the Education Committee.  There was a conspicuous abundance of expertise among the internees; eventually, the Committee included two former school principals (American School and Central), the former president of Union Theological Seminary, a staff member of the Philippine Normal College, and Luther Dewey, who was a former Superintendent of Philippine Schools and now President Quezon’s education advisor.  Nearly all the teachers from the American School and Central were interned, and there were many other professionals who were experts in their own fields. 

 One week after the internment began, classes for the younger children were organized, and in another week there were regular classes up t o grade 9.  The Committee had a free rein to organize the school as they saw fit, with one exception: the Japanese decreed that no modern history or political geography be taught.  At first, classes were held outside in the shade; they ran from 9:30 to 12:00, covering the core curriculum of English, arithmetic and basic science.  Normally, the school year would have ended in March, but it was decided to continue because the students were responding well. 

 There were approximately 300 children in the camp, ages 6 to 15, and another 300, ages 15 to 20.  Many hours of planning and discussion were needed to organize an educational system which would be advantageous to as many as possible.  For example, there was a small group of British children in the camp, who had been evacuated from Shanghai to Manila; some adjustments were made in a few of the courses so these children would be able to fit in to a British school system again.  The seniors from the American School and Central who would have graduated in March, 1942 were given their grades and their diplomas; they missed a few weeks of school but no one was overly concerned about it, least of all the students.  In fact, a few of them thought it was a good deal to get out of writing final exams.  Other high school students studied on their own until it was time to resume classes in June, 1942.  Obviously, classes could not be held outside during the rainy season, nor was there enough space for the increased number of students to be taught.  The school was given permission to use the 4th floor of the University; these rooms were former laboratories, with no flexibility to adjust lab tables and benches to the sizes of the students, but at least they were classrooms.  Not only was the basic high school curriculum now covered, but there were some post-secondary courses being offered for high school graduates to approximate first year college courses.  In time, there was an extensive range of other classes being held for anyone, adults included, who were not doing the regular high school work.  There were many language classes, business courses, art, philosophy and religion, almost everything imaginable. 

 Books were something shared by 4 or 5 students, and reference materials were very limited.  Equipment such as pencils, paper and chalk became increasingly hard to obtain, and the Executive Committee eventually assessed every family a few pennies to cover the cost of new materials.  A quiet place to work and study did not exist, and as time wore on many students began to feel the physical effects of strain and malnutrition.  In addition to school, teenagers also had regular jobs in the afternoon, such as taking care of smaller children, helping in the infirmary and working in the gardens or the kitchen.  Younger children were always useful for standing in lines (which could occupy hours each day) and running errands.  For the first two years, though, there was time and energy for various forms of recreation.  Baseball and basketball games were played, with one team chosen from former American School students, and the other from former Central students.  There were also adult games and boxing matches to watch.  Once a week, there was an entertainment program with a play of skits.  Somehow, friendships managed to blossom despite the strict Japanese ban on displays of affection. 

 At the end of each school year, students were given a report card, and also an extensive written explanation of courses taken, books used, and the teacher’s qualifications and experience.  The Education Committee hoped this would help the students when they entered other schools after the war was over.  In both 1943 and 1944, there were eighth grade and high school graduation exercises; these were a welcome social occasion with the entire camp invited.  Many camp ladies dragged out boxes of clothing they had brought with them, and unearthed old evening gowns and other party things which had been of no use during internment.  The girls in those graduating classes all wore “new” long dresses, carefully sewn from old material, and carried small bouquets of flowers grown around the shanties which some internees had built. 

 The school year began as usual in June of 1944, but it was interrupted frequently and never completed.  Older people in the camp were now ill or very weak, but their job assignments still had to be done.  More time was spent on these everyday jobs because there was an increasing lack of food and other materials.  Teenagers took on more work which was practically related to the business at hand: survival.  Their lives in the classroom would have to be resumed after they were released.  As the American forces slowly pushed their way towards Manila, excitement in the camp rode high despite the dangers from bombing raids and a decrease in their already dangerously low food rations.  The classes stopped, and everyone waited for deliverance. 
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Challenge And Growth (1945 - 59)

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