Chris Arundell has forgiven the Japanese soldiers who held him and his family captive for three years at a World War II prison camp in the Philippines. But he will never forget.

Arundell was born in Manila to an English father and an American mother. He spent the first three years of his life in Pasay, a suburb of Manila where British and American ex-patriots lived comfortable lives.

“In those times, ex-pats in that area had lavish households with lots of help. In all accounts, I was living a lovely life,” Arundell said. “I remember my nanny and I remember that my best friend was my dog.”

Arundell says he had a close bond with his nanny, whom he affectionately called his “ama” in Tagalog.

“I have these vague memories of being pulled around the garden in a wagon by my dog,” Arundell said.

On Dec. 8, 1941, the Japanese military invaded the Philippine Islands and the Arundells’ lives would be turned upside down.

Arundell, his parents and younger brother were taken to Santo Tomas Internment Camp, also known as the Manila Internment Camp. It was the largest of several camps in the Philippines where the Japanese interned civilians, mostly Americans, throughout the war.

The campus of the University of Santo Tomas in Manila was the camp site, which housed about 7,000 internees from January 1942 until February 1945. Conditions deteriorated throughout the war and by the time the camp was liberated by the U.S. Army, many of the internees were near death from lack of food.

“All I remember at the very start was how I was very, very saddened over the fact that I no longer had an ama and no longer had my best friend, my dog. Children in those times were very close with their amas," he said. "My parents told me I had a very difficult time.”

Arundell has little recollection of being moved into the prison camp but he does remember suddenly being packed into small spaces with an overwhelming number of people.

“Thousands of people, from all walks of life, were suddenly all crammed together,” he said. “I was only 3 years old and I don’t remember moving to the camp. But I vividly remember there was a sudden change.”

According to historical accounts, internees consisted of business executives, mining engineers, bankers, plantation owners, seamen, shoemakers, waiters, beachcombers, prostitutes, retired veteran soldiers and missionaries.

About six months into imprisonment, two Englishmen and an Australian escaped from Santo Tomas.

“But they were caught a week later. They were blindfolded and executed by the Japanese in front of many, many people as an example of what would happen to anyone who tried to escape,” Arundell said.

A day in the life

Classes were available for children who were as young as 7, according to Arundell. Because he was between the ages of 3 and 5 while in the camp, many of his days consisted of wandering around and trying to play with other children his age.

“The days were spent outside playing but we had nothing to play with. No toys,” Arundell said.

Around the time Arundell was 5, he heard loud shouting and grunting and curiosity got the best of him.

“I wanted to learn what was going on. I crawled through some bushes very quietly to observe some Japanese soldiers conducting bayonet practice,” he said. “It scared me. They way they attacked these bags with their guns and bayonets. It was very violent. It was something so foreign to me.”

Then, Arundell was spotted by a Japanese soldier.

“He must have seen me rustling through the bushes. I remember him taking me out of the bushes and walking me down to the commandant’s office,” he said.

The Japanese soldier lifted him up to a sink with running water and began washing the young boy’s face, arms and chest, which were covered in mud.

“It was the first time I could recall ever seeing a sink,” Arundell said. “Then, the soldier left the room and something strange happened.”

The soldier returned and gave Arundell a red balloon on a string. He then walked the boy back to his family.

“Of course, my parents were pretty livid as to what I had done. They were terrified,” Arundell said with a chuckle. “But it was this stark difference in seeing violence and then the kindness of being given a red balloon. It always stuck with me.”

American arrival

On Sept. 21, came the first American air raid in the Manila area. On Feb. 3, 1945, the month-long Battle of Manila ensued.

“There was total confusion. I remember my mother and father were separated. At that point, my dad was in one of the main buildings and my mother, brother and I were in our shanty,” he said.

Arundell’s mother realized it would be safer to be in a building than in the air raid shelter.

“This was pitch dark at night. She took my hand and my brother's hand and we ran. And just as we were running toward the main building, there was a huge explosion and the force of the explosion knocked us flat on the ground.”

“When she got back her senses, she grabbed us both and we ran and we finally got into the main building, where we finally were able to reconnect up with my father,” Arundell said.

American forces pushed rapidly forward and, on Feb. 3, 1945, internees heard the sound of tanks, grenades, and rifle fire near the front wall of Santo Tomas. Five American tanks from the 44th Tank Battalion broke through the fence of the compound.

“McArthur was eager to liberate the prisoners of war and internee camps in the Philippines out of fear that the Japanese would kill all of us,” Arundell said.

The Japanese soldiers took refuge in a university building taking 200 internees hostage. Arundell recounted how American soldiers escorted the Japanese soldiers out of the camp for safe passage in exchange for the 200 internees.

The Battle of Manila lasted until March 3, 1945. Nearly 400 deaths were recorded among internees in Santo Tomas Internment Camp and more than 100,000 civilians died in the battle; the city was completely devastated.

Life after 

Arundell, who lives in Green Valley, has a few vivid memories of interacting with American soldiers after the camp’s liberation.

“I remember distinctly being lifted up onto an American Jeep with soldiers. There were throngs of kids. I remember smelling the oil and the gasoline,” he said. “They were handing out food. One soldier gave me my first Hershey's chocolate bar.”

Arundell and his family were repatriated, initially to the U.S., and then England, where he spent the remainder of his childhood and received his education.

In 1960, Arundell returned to the U.S. to work under a trainee management program with an English company. From 1961-67, he served in the U.S. Air Force Reserve as a staff sergeant, which required a brief stint of active duty during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Then and now

From 1961-67, Chris Arundell served in the U.S. Air Force Reserve as a staff sergeant, which required a brief stint of active duty during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

As an adult, Arundell set out to learn more about the events in history that led to the Japanese invasion.

“I wanted to understand how this all came about and learn more about the country that saved my life,” Arundell said.

Arundell has met with Santo Tomas camp survivors numerous times for reunions. Connecting with survivors has helped to fill in the blanks, he says.

“I once shared my story about the red balloon with a fellow survivor. He is older than me so he has a better recollection of events and much different experience than I did. He told me, ‘Chris, you were very lucky. Others who were older, if they had done that, something much worse could have happened.’”

The title of Arundell’s presentation Jan. 18 to a local group is “Forgiven but Unable to Forget.” 

“I fully accept the fact that other survivors, particularly the older survivors, who I am good friends with, are not able to forgive. I can fully understand that,” Arundell said. “For me, it’s the Christian thing to do.”

Even still, Arundell believes the $2,000 his parents received in reparations from the Japanese government following the war in 1946 was not adequate. Several petitions have gone forward for Japan to issue reparations to survivors who were children at the time of internment but all have failed.

“That is a bone of contention for a lot of survivors and I can certainly understand that,” Arundell said.

Above all, Arundell says he wants more people to understand this time in history.

“It’s not about me. It’s about the fact that 7,000 civilians were imprisoned in the Philippine Islands for more than three years. Many of these people were Americans,” Arundell said. “Whenever the subject would come up in my life, the vast majority of people I talk to about this have no idea.”

Lillian Boyd | 520-547-9732

Assistant Editor/Reporter

Lillian Boyd is the reporter and assistant editor for Green Valley News & Sun. Prior to her move to Tucson, she served as senior editor for Dana Point Times and reported and anchored for a local news radio station in Virginia.

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