Cecily  Mattocks Marshall

Born: Manila, Philippines (1931)

- Hiding in the mountains in Mindanao with her family for 13 months after the war started

- Civilian camp in Davao City and Santo Tomas camp

- liberated on February 3, 1945

Cecily was born to a missionary couple who went to the Philippines in the 1920s. When the Japanese attacked the Philippines, her father was the priest-in-charge of Holy Trinity Church in Zamboanga, a water front city on the island of Mindanao, and her mother was the principal of St. John's Chinese school. Cecily had a younger sister and a brother. 

For 13 months, Cecily's family hid in the mountains in Mindanao until finally surrendered to the Japanese. They were interned in a civilian camp in Davao and then in Santo Tomas civilian camp in Manila. They were liberated by the American forces in February 1945 and repatriated to the US in May 1945.

After more than 60 years since those events took place, Cecily published a memoir, Happy Life Blues: A Memoir of Survival, incorporating entries from her diary she had kept during the war years.  

Here are excerpts from Happy Life Blues:

First Days of War
January 1, 1942

Dr. Julio Trota of Brent Hospital who lived a few doors down on the waterfront, visited about noon. He, Mother, and Daddy discussed evacuation plans, the availability of gasoline, and places to which we might possibly escape. It was felt that the army could supply the gasoline, at least enough for a trip to the interior. They believed that everyone should go inland. We were too exposed, facing the sea as we were.
                                                                                                               As Dr. Trota was about to leave, we heard the roar of planes.
"They're coming over now!" Dr. Trota shouted.
Cecily (c) with her sister and brother

Out over the sea, coming in very low over the water, we could see seven planes. They were flying directly toward our house. Dr. Trota ran for home, and we made a dash for our shelter. The air raid siren didn't go off until after the raid had begun. Everyone had been taken by surprise. The two dogs managed to get to the shelter first, followed by us five and the three Filipina women. Glimpsing out of the shelter, we could see the pilots in the planes and the veritable Rising Sun emblazoned under each wing; the first evidence that the enemy was real and that he was here.

In a moment, we were peppered with thousands of machine gun bullets. We could hear them bouncing off the tops of the sandbags covering our shelter. We could hear them hitting the galvanized tin roof of the house, metal on metal. The planes circled the city several times and at each rotation returned to spray their deadly cargo. Out of frustration, one of the soldiers in the foxhole nearest us began firing at the planes, giving away his position and giving all of us an extra does of bullets. 


(Cecily's family had just come down from  hiding in the mountains after being ordered to surrender and were interned for a month in Zamboanga.)

After a month in Zamboanga where we felt relatively comfortable, surrounded as we were by loyal and loving people and a guard who tried to make things easier, we were told one day by the military that we were being moved. They didn't say where but to pack up, just to "chop, chop, hully, hully." It didn't take us long to get our meager belongings together. That done, we were told to untie everything for an inspection...a routine that was to be repeated many times in the next two years. We stood on the porch, waiting for the trucks to take us to the pier. Our band of thirty-seven waited for the next chapter to unfold. It was February 1943.

From my diary:

February 25… Today’s the day.  Soldiers come.  Davao, the dread. We packed up and were taken to the dock.  Good-bye Zambo. We got on a transport and were put in the hold of the ship with about three hundred Japanese soldiers. SMELL! FILTH! OH! Garbage and offal were dumped in the center of the hold.  

Happy Life Blues

Our group from Zamboanga joined the two hundred and fifty or so internees already settled into life at an old cabaret a couple of kilometers out of Davao City at a place called Matina. Who were they?

From Mother's writings:

We were a composite group of sojourners in a far off land, - miners, engineers, planters, nurses, mechanics, and teachers. Our age ranged from six months to eighty-one years; we were denizens of nearly a dozen countries; among us were veterans of the Spanish-American War who married Filipinas, and had not returned to the United States for these forty-three years.

..."Happy Life Blues" was the inscription on the plaque hanging askew over the entrance to the former run-down cabaret, now a prison camp. The first entrants to be imprisoned here adopted this moniker facetiously. In reality, however, it wasn't too far off the mark...

While we were at roll call on the morning of December twenty-third, Tanaka himself appeared for the counting. He announced that we were going to be moved to another camp. For a while, there had been rumors that we were going to be transferred to Santo Tomas Interment Camp in Manila, but we had hoped that Christmas could be spent at Happy Life Blues...

(On the Christmas Eve of 1944, Cecily's family was transported from Davao to Manila.)

Santo Tomas Internment Camp

We joined a camp population of about four thousand Americans, British, and other Allied nationals. The children under eighteen numbered close to eight hundred...

Mother, Shirley, and I were assigned to room 30A on the second floor of the Main Building, a former dean's office. Fifty women and girls shared these quarters. We were issued a slatted wooden cot each and bare bones mattresses. The allotted space measured about four by seven feet, per person. We were accustomed to crowded sleeping quarters. We shoved the three cots together to make more aisle space in which to navigate; this enabled us to be a few inches further from the next sleepers...

My father and brother were on the third floor, room 54, in the same building. Their space ration was similar. Boys under six years of age were allowed to be with their mothers...

Shortly after our arrival, each member of the Davao group was issued one Red Cross comfort kit. The other internees had received theirs earlier. There had been many shipments of these kits during the war from the various Red Cross organizations. This particular distribution was the only one we ever received. The kits, about fifty pounds each, contained among other items, Spam, corned beef, bouillon cubes, canned salmon, powered milk,  (KLIM), butter (tinned), a few packets of sugar, chocolate, tooth powder, cigarettes, and small bars of soap. The soap wrappers were printed with the acronym, GAYLA. We thought it meant "Greetings All You Loyal Americans!" Some people dove right into their kits and feasted for a few days. Mother insisted that we save ours for a time when she was sure these extras would save our lives. We stowed the kits under the beds and guarded them fiercely...

Last Days

The all- consuming business of trying to keep alive went on, but death also claimed its victims. The hearse that came into the camp originally had now been replaced by a cart drawn by a man whose duty it was to escort the dead from the compound. The sound of the wooden wheels of the cart carrying the deceased was a grim reminder that death was not too far away from many of us. We were helpless to do anything about our situation except pray.

Listing "starvation" as a cause of death on several death certificates angered the Japanese authorities. As a result of his refusal to accede to their demands to change the wording, one of the doctors in the camp resigned, and chose a jail sentence rather than compromise the truth...

                                                                                     Cook shanties in the patio, Santo Tomas
                                                                                                                             (MacArthur Memorial Archives)


During the late afternoon of February third, several Navy planes flew low over the camp. One of the pilots dropped a pair of flyer's goggles into one of patios of the Main Building. Contained in the goggles was the message:

            Roll out the barrel! Christmas is coming. We’ll be with you Sunday or Monday!

...We tried to go about our routine. We stood in the chow line amidst much agitation and conjecture about the significance of the dropped message. There wasn't much time after the evening lugao for anything else. There was curfew and blackout, but the darkened halls were far from quiet. An undercurrent of hushed voices filled the corridors. Internees gathered in clusters outside the rooms debating the significance of the "goggle" message and whether Sunday or Monday would be too late.

Before long, though, we began to hear distant rumbling. The building shook. Tracer bullets with their brilliant colors whizzed by the windows. Machine gun fire rattled outside the walls. Mothers frantically tried keep the children away from the windows. The rumble and drone of distant machinery came closer.

"What were the Japanese doing?" we asked.

We had not heard that particular rumbling noise before. We had long heard rumors of orders for our impending massacre. Many people had claimed to have seen a notice relating to the extermination of prisoners. Was this it? Although nice o' clock was approaching, there was restlessness everywhere. By now the thundering and shaking seemed to be out in the adjacent streets. There were shouts from Filipinos over the wall. Abruptly, the shaking and reverberations stopped.

Suddenly, the air was punctuated with the cries of internees screaming down the hallways: "The Americans are here, the Americans are here!"

...The internees streamed down the hallways and onto the front plaza. Some people burst into an impromptu "God Bless America."  Shirley and I, with others, ran down the back staircase. Mother felt that the front would be too dangerous.... and it was.  

Parked at the entrance at the back of the building was the tank "Georgia Peach." Standing next to the tank, dressed in battle garb, were some of the GIs who had just crashed  through the gates. I thought they were the tallest men I had ever seen...

                                                                                   boys clamber over liberator's tanks parked
                                                                                                           in front of plaza of Santo Tomas
(MacArthur Memorial Archives)

...Were we really liberated? Several hundred men had raced to Manila and had entered the camp; yet, outside there was an entire Japanese army taken by surprise...

From my diary:

February, 4   Japanese in Education Building refuse to surrender and internees are on the 3rd floor. Lots of shooting.  Food galore. Japanese snipers snipe our troops. Wonderful thick mush with mongo beans and corned beef. Stayed up all night again. Keep’em Flying!”

...On the morning of February 7, an official ceremony was held on the main plaza. Someone had been hiding an American flag for years, and now was the time to bring this one form its hiding place and display it proudly. A group of people stood on the roof of the porte cochere overlooking the plaza, and from there, Dr. Walter Foley unfurled the Stars and Stripes while the throng assembled below waved widely and burst into a rousing rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner."

A short time later, we were alerted to the fact that a famous visitor was about to appear in camp. An entourage rolled through the main gate and out of a staff car stepped General Douglas MacArthur, who was at once besieged by crowds of grateful ex-prisoners. Of course, he recognized some familiar faces in the crowd, and some of his cronies from the prewar days. He pushed his way through the Skelton-like, raggedly dressed sea of humanity and made his way into the Main Building and up to the second floor. This is where I managed to get near enough to him to touch his arm...

...On the afternoon of February 7, not long after MacArthur's visit, all hell opened up. We children were out on the front plaza when the air above was punctuated by the screaming of a shell streaking across the sky. However, this shell was not intended for some military target. It was directed at the Main Building. In a split second, there was a violent explosion as the missile hit the corner of the building...

...An emergency room was set up next to where we had taken refugee to take in the wounded and dying who were brought in on stretchers by the medics. At one point, placed on the floor in front of us, was a line of stretchers bearing the casualties, both civilian and military, who were waiting for medical attention. These unfortunate souls, who just a few hours before had been celebrating their freedom, now lay gravely wounded or dying.

From my diary:

February 10   Went to see Miss E and Mrs. B in the Ed building hospital. The Japanese shell the building again and I was caught at the Ed building. Terribly frightened. In leaving the building, I had to dive under a truck. Main building is hit ten times.

I constructed an autograph book from scraps of paper. I called it, "Autographs of Freedom." As I roamed around the camp in the days that followed our liberation, I asked many of our liberators to sign. For years afterwards I kept in contact with a few. A few years ago, I asked Hayden Rice, one of our troops who had been with an antiaircraft unit, to write what he remembered about our meeting. He was in the city of Manila on a three-day pass. He wrote me:

"When I entered the gates and saw all these people, especially kids, I got very homesick and felt a great compassion for these people who had been Japanese prisoners."

...The following is an excerpt from a letter I wrote to my cousin Mary while we were waiting for repatriation.

Written in Manila March 20, 1945:

Dear Mary:

What a feeling it is to be free! Words cannot express the feeling of us the night of February 3rd when the army marched in. The fires of Manila burning lit up the sky for days. We have signed up for repatriation. I have gained eighteen pounds since the American took Manila. I am now 89. Daddy was down to 113 and is now 146. Mother was 81 pounds and is now 97. I am afraid that if the army hadn’t come when they did there would not have been many left to tell the story. Things were very bad here. Things are a million times better now and our family is well.


My parents seldom talked of their war experiences at home. All of us tended to go on and put those years in the past. However, with the approach of 50th anniversary of our liberation, there was some excitement about a reunion. I was contacted by a friend who spoke about the reunion to be held in Las Vegas. I went. It was the beginning of a new chapter in the lives of those us who shared those years behind barbed wire and iron gates...

                                                                                      Family's first postwar photo, June 1945

...Our lives were honed and shaped by deprivation, bombs, starvation, crowded living conditions; we were witnesses to events which were difficult to reconcile with the life that lay ahead. But reconcile we did. Most of us have faced the problems, the joys, the disappointments, the excitement, and heartbreak that comes with living. How we have dealt with these issues, however, has been measured against the background of what we experienced long ago. We learned at an early age to pick ourselves up and go on.

From Cecily to visitors of this website

Innocence is lost when children are caught in the cross fires of war. Their world is suddenly turned upside down.  Nothing will ever be the same.

In Happy Life Blues, A Memoir of Survival  I have attempted to relate that although World War Two robbed thousands of children of their childhood in whatever theatre of war they were caught,  there were many who survived to lead productive lives. Many were able as they moved into adulthood to turn the tragic events of their youth into positive ways of dealing with the future by drawing on the lessons of the past.

By recounting the events of that era it is hoped that generations who follow will learn what some historians have omitted from the history books. Knowledge gained from reading accounts like this may keep history from repeating itself. That is what is important.

Every family who lived through the trauma of those years has a story. This is just one of them.


                    Cecily Mattocks Marshall

lives in West Boylston and Sandwich, Massachusetts with her husband Peter. She is the mother of four and grandmother of fifteen.  A graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont, she taught school of many years, most recently in the Clinton, Massachusetts Public School System where she served as Coordinator of the Bilingual Education Department.

*  Happy Life Blues: A Memoir of Survival  was published by Angus MacGregor Books
75 Green Street, P.O. Box 968, Clinton MA 01510