Angus Lorenzen

Born: Carlisle, England (1935)

- Home in
Tientsin, China

- Left Hong Kong with his mother and sister the day Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December of 1941

- Arrived in Manila and was interned in Santo Tomas civilian internment camp.
 

- Liberated by the US troops in February, 1945
 



Before the war, Angus Lorenzen lived in
Tientsin, China where his father was a successful businessperson.  He was 6 years old when his mother, sister and himself tried to escape from Japanese-occupied China in early December1941.  They arrived in Hong Kong on the day Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and just a few days before the Japanese Army landed on Hong Kong Island. They sailed to Manila but were captured by the Japanese there. They were interned in Santo Tomas Internment Camp for the next three years. His father and older brother initially remained in China and later expatriated to the United States.

 

Angus has just published his memoir, A Lovely Little War: Life in a Japanese prison camp through the eyes of a child. (History Publishing Company, 2008)

 

Here are some excerpts:

 

About the book (pp xi)

 

I was a child, and children view war differently from adults. Think of pictures you have seen of children playing in a bomb-blasted neighborhood when the battle has briefly passed. You see what appear to be carefree individuals, and can't imagine what horror they may have recently faced. You see them happily gather around soldiers, who become their heroes and role models. They haven't yet developed the life experience that eventually will lead them to hate and fear war.

 

So now I tell my story of those war years from the viewpoint of a child, with the light moments and humor that are a big part of a child's life. In all its agony of blood, death, and destruction, the war is seen through a prism that distorts the harsh light into a colorful spectrum, and only towards the end does it break through to focus on the deadly events that came to be known as the "Battle of Manila."

 

Settling in For a Long Stay (pp. 79-80)

 

A few weeks after we arrived, Santo Tomas Internment Camp had become overcrowded, and the housing situation would have to be corrected. At that time, the men in the group of American businessmen who had anticipated the Japanese occupation and prepared for it, were working as the internee administrators of the camp. Later, there were elections and a number of committees were set up to be responsible for every aspect of our lives, subject to the Japanese camp Commander's direction or approval. He was initially an Army officer, but that position was subsequently turned over to a Japanese civilian from the diplomatic corps, supported by Japanese soldiers. We were never free of the presence of armed guards.

 

Our leaders decided to redistribute the housing for everyone. The Main Building and Annex were assigned as dormitories for the women and children, the Gymnasium became one huge dormitory for the men, and the Education Building upper floor was assigned to young single men and older boys.  The Japanese administration used the lower two floors of the Education Building for housing, offices, and a guardhouse.

 

When the reassignments were made, my mother, sister, and I were assigned to a dormitory on the third floor on the Main Building, near the southeast corner overlooking the Education Building. After we moved in, we discovered that some men in the carpentry shop had made wooden cots for all of the people in our dorm. At first they were uncomfortable because they were just slats of wood on a base with short legs. But we were each assigned a blanket, which when folded and laid on the slats, softened them somewhat. In a short time, we became quite accustomed to sleeping on this hard mattress. We were also each given a mosquito net, which provide a modicum of privacy when draped over our cots, as well as protection from mosquitoes that swarmed as the weather grew warmer and damper.

 

Execution (pp. 85-86)

 

At first, we didn't even fear the Japanese guards, who we would see around the campus with their omnipresent long rifles. We would go up to them and chatter away, while they smiled and patted us on the heads. But that all changed after a couple of months. One night, three men climbed over the walls and escaped. They were only gone a day when they were recaptured by the Japanese in Manila and brought back to Santo Tomas.

 

Now began the first event that made us realize that the Japanese were not going to be benevolent captors. The men were tortured for three days in the Japanese jail, which was located in the guardhouse at the end of the Education Building. People who lived in the Education building said they could hear their screams as the guards inflicted extreme pain, for what purpose, no one knew. The Japanese just liked to hurt people who they were punishing. After being tortured, they were taken to the Manila North Cemetery, where they were made to dig their own graves. Some of the internee leaders were brought along as witnesses, and the prisoners were made to sit at the end of the holes, then shot in the back of the head and kicked into their graves.

 

The Knot Tightens (pp. 106-07)

By early 1943, I was well-accepted by the other boys of my own age. We ran in packs of five or six and found fun, or troubles, where we could. One thing we had learned was to stay away from the Japanese guards, and if we saw any coming, we quickly disappeared in a different direction.

 

Our standard uniform was a pair of shorts, without shoes or shirt, so we were well tanned, and looked like a bunch of savages. School took up half our day, but we had plenty of free time. Our freelance games included kick the can, pile-on, hide and seek, and many other typical games for children of our age.

 

The Year of Starvation (pp. 116-17)

 

On January 6, 1944, one day after our second anniversary as prisoners, our situation turned really ugly. Santo Tomas Internment Camp officially came under the direct supervision of the War Prisoners Department headed by General Morimoto, and came under the control of the Japanese military police. Regular Army military guards started patrolling inside the camp. We had always seen guards around, but now they were much more obvious...

 

We were warned that we must show better respect for the Japanese. When approached by any soldier or officer, we were to stop and bow. We were instructed that the proper position to assume was to have our upper bodies parallel to the ground, feet together, and arms pressed tightly against our legs. Japanese guards directly supervised the twice daily roll calls. During roll calls, we were required to assemble in the hallway outside of our room in two rows against the wall. When the guards approached, our room monitor would give us the order to bow by saying, "One, two, three, bow", and we would all bow in unison...

(pp. 118-19)

Everyone's focus was on food. The evening meal was served at 5 o'clock, and I'd rush to stand in line by 4:30. Even then, there would be a lot of people in line ahead of me. When my bowl was filled in the food serving area, I'd carry it carefully back to our shanty. My mother and sister would join me, and we would slowly savor our meal. Actually, savor may be the wrong word. I was almost afraid to sort through any solid material in my "stew" in case I recognize it to be something disgusting....

 

Now that I came to think about it, there were no longer very many cats and dogs roaming around the camp.  It was easy to understand why the dogs were disappearing because there was no surplus food to feed them and they were becoming emaciated unless they escaped through the storm drains. However, the cats could sustain themselves on the rats and mice that proliferated around the drainage ditches and the camp vegetable gardens. As times went on, all of the dogs and cats disappeared, and it became an open secret who had captured and slaughtered one for their dining table.                                                                                   shanties in Santo Tomas camp
                                                                                           (MacArthur Memorial Archives)

 

Liberation! (pp. 141-42)

 

We sat at our table in the hallway outside of our third floor dormitory savoring the last crumbs of our hardtack in the minutes before lights-out. Then, indistinctive in the distance, we heard the rumble of a myriad of voices screaming. The excitement was clear but the words were not recognizable at first, swelling and becoming clearer as the sound flowed up the stairways and along the hallways like a flood as successive groups of people picked up the scream. The message was relayed from person to person, repeated over and over again until we could clearly hear it. "They're here, They're her!"

 

When I finally understood, I jumped to my feet and started screaming myself as I raced along the hallway towards the main staircase. Reaching it, I almost tumbled down the stairs in my haste to get to the second floor, then down to the lobby on the main floor. But when I reached the mezzanine, the crowd was backed up the stairs, and I could go no further. I stood on the mezzanine landing and looked down into the main lobby. What I saw gave my heart another jolt. I was already running on adrenaline, my breath panting from the run, and the sight almost overwhelmed me.

 

The large double doors from the lobby to the plaza were pushed open, and the front end of a tank stuck thorough it, its main gun pointed in my direction. Around it, jumping and screaming, were fellow prisoners, throwing their arms around a group of soldiers and kissing them.  The GIs just stood around with big silly grins on their faces.

 

MacArthur's visit (p. 159)

 

The plaza was packed with people when we arrived. The general was driven into the campus in an Army staff car, which pulled to a stop at the entrance to the Main Building, almost in front of where we were standing. He got out of his car and made a few remarks to the crowd, while we stood right next to his car on the opposite side from where he stood. The area around and in front of us swarmed with reporters, photographers, and people shooting movie film.

 

My mother pushed me as close to the car as possible, and whispered that maybe my picture would be in one off the newspapers and my father would get to see me. The ceremony included draping an American flag, which one of the prisoners had kept hidden from the Japanese, off the portico to the main entrance. This moment was caught on film, and a big spread of the ceremony was featured in Life Magazine.  However, when I later was able to examine those pictures, I never found my family or myself discernible in the mass of joyously celebrating people. Anyway, I doubt my father would have been able to recognize me since I'd changed so much in three and one-half years since he had last seen me.
                              
                   YouTube video on the liberation of Santo Tomas Internment camp

 


Japanese fights back (pp. 160-62)

 

The ceremony was quite short, and MacArthur was driven away from the campus. Soon the plaza was almost completely deserted, except for a few military vehicles parked next to the Main Building and a scattering of people. I was still there with a friend, almost in the middle of the plaza, when there was a huge explosion. Debris and smoke flew from the west side of the building across the end of the plaza not far from where we were. Both of us fell to the ground, and when there was no second explosion, we got up and started to run for the entrance of the Main Building. I didn't realize until more than 60 years later that an Army Signal Corps photographer was taking background movie film, shooting across the plaza when the explosion occurred. He caught the debris flying from behind the building, and then zoomed in on my friend and me as we raced across the open space.

 

 

 

  The Japanese shelling  Santo Tomas camp                    Angus runs for cover
 


The Japanese had started to fight back. An incoming artillery round had exploded on the west side of the Main Building, the first of many shells aimed primarily at the Main and Education Buildings. 
 

Epilogue (pp. 216-17)

 

It wasn't until 1997 that I returned to Santo Tomas. That brief one-day visit whetted my appetite to better understand what had happened there. When I noticed a bulletin about a 60th anniversary celebration tour to the Philippines in 2005, I immediately subscribed. Our tour group included ex-prisoners from Santo Tomas and Los Baños, military members of the flying column, and ex-POWs captured on Bataan and Corregidor. We followed the route of the Death March, visited the Cabanatuan and Camp O'Donnell POW camps, toured the site of the internment and visited the Intramuros which has been mostly rebuilt since its horrible destruction. This broadened my understanding of all that had happened around me in that period from December 1941 to April 1945.

 

The highlight of the tour was a full day at Santo Tomas, again a thriving university with more than 40,000 students. Here, we 15 ex-prisoners and invited guests at Santo Tomas were the stars. We explained the horrifying events that had occurred in and around their beloved campus to the students and faculty, who had little knowledge of what happened here. When they questioned us, we pointed to the patches over the Japanese shelling damage in the Main Building that they had never noticed, nor did they know about the people killed by those blasts in the very classrooms they were still using.

 

People ask me how the Filipinos feel today about the Japanese who inflicted such pain on them. In my discussions with these younger people, I noted no animosity, and in fact, very little knowledge of what happened. To them, the battle of Manila was as remote in history as the American Civil war was to me when I was in school. History does have a wonderful way of healing battle scars, and, as has been said, "he who was my enemy is now my friend."

Older people gave me the best perspective. The speakers at the liberation celebration, including the American Ambassador, a Philippine State Senator, and the University president, all touched on one theme, "Through the generations, we must remember what happened here."  However, the most succinct comment I heard was from Diosdado Guaytingco, the guerrilla who had carried his dying leader onto the campus on the night of liberation, and now in his 80s still an active attorney. He said: "We can finally forgive the Japanese for what they did, but we must never forget."

 
Mr. Guaytingco and Angus in 2005
 

* Documentary about Santo Tomas Internment camp, Victims of Circumstance, produced by Lou Gopal and Michelle Bunn is available at:  http://www.lougopal.com/


Interview with Mr. Angus Lorenzen

 

What kind of experience was it for you to write this book?

 

The book was easy for me to write because it was about my personal experiences, and I’d already done most of the historical research for another book. My memories were enhanced because my mother had suggested that I keep a notebook about our experiences, and though the notebook is long gone, it helped to fix the memories in my mind.

 

You did not think your childhood experience as an internee had affected you much in later years. Do you still think so?

 

One never knows how any individual set of circumstances has affected one’s life.  Without the war, I would probably not have come to America.  But once here, the rule was, “Forget the past, get on with your life”, and that I did without looking backwards.

 

You are the Commander of the organization of civilian ex-prisoners of the Japanese. What would you like to accomplish through activities of your organization?

 

There are several things we try to achieve. First is fellowship and support for those who shared the same experiences.  Second is to capture and record the true history of those dark days, which is constantly being diminished by propaganda and fiction. Third is to pass on the legacy of those days to our descendents.  Fourth is to establish a non-profit organization to assist those in the Philippines who assisted us when we were so desperate.  And fifth is to foster understanding in Asia, and particularly Japan, about what happened to us in those prison camps.

 

Do you have any message for the Japanese people, especially young people?
 

 

For young people, my message is to not be ashamed or apologetic for what happened during the war.  That happened many years ago and was the responsibility of people two, three, or more generations ahead of you.  The world is a very different place today, and we all hope that the horror can never happen again, and that the young people will lead the way of ensuring that it does not.

 

For the older people, and particularly the politicians, I want to say that they must stop denying Japan’s culpability for creating a holocaust in East Asia. It is time to apologize to all those people who are now fading away that bore the brunt by disease, torture, and death of Japan’s Imperial ambitions.  Tell the truth - don’t propagandize what you did!

                                                                              (interviewed by Kinue Tokudome)