This Sunday, April 28, 2013, an Easter Mass that was first sung by Allied detainees in a Japanese internment camp in Manila 70 years ago will be performed in the sugar town of Murwillumbah, far northern NSW. Sunday’s choral concert by the Chillingham Voices will be historic because it is only the second occasion the mass has been performed. Its original performance began at 10.30am on Easter Sunday, April 25, 1943, in the darkest days of the Pacific war following the fall of Hong Kong, Singapore, Manilla and the bombing of Darwin.
It was held in the Fathers’ Garden of the church on the campus of the historic University of Santo Tomas which had been requisitioned by the occupying Japanese forces and turned into an internment camp.
The musical arrangement was written by Mario Bakerini-Booth, an accomplished trumpet player and band leader, using a pen, ruler and blank sheets of paper obtained from the city’s black market. After the camp’s liberation in February 1945 by American infantry, he smuggled the original folio to Sydney where he migrated with his wife, the singer Dorothy “Dolly” Baker.
Years ago, Mrs Bakerini-Booth gave Mario’s handwritten score to fellow musician and friend Kel McIntosh, a longtime Tweed Shire resident, saxophonist, music teacher and life member of the Tweed Valley Jazz Club.
Kel, now 89, sent the original to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra for inclusion in its magnificent collection of records and memorabilia.
In 2012 Kel raised the subject of Mario’s camp music with Chillingham Voices choirmaster Harlie Axford and expressed his hope that it would one day be given an Australian premiere.
That was the start of a collaboration which has resulted in the inclusion of the Santo Tomas Internment Camp’s Easter Mass in Sunday’s programme.
Egyptian-born but of Italian descent, Bakerini-Booth was an accomplished classical trumpeter who studied music in Florence. He became a bandleader playing jazz at leading hotels and nightclub venues across Europe in the 1930s. With the outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939, the band travelled to India and then Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) for an engagement at Colombo’s Galle Face Hotel.
Pursuing work for the band, Mario and Dolly travelled to Shanghai where they formed an18-piece orchestra which was booked for a lengthy season at Shanghai’s Cosmo Club on Bubbling Well Road. However, menacing world events intervened and with the Japanese army poised to invade China’s commercial capital, Mario joined hundreds of expatriate Europeans to flee by sea. He and his wife caught the last British ship to leave Shanghai, the 4,000-ton steamer Anhui, and sailed for Hong Kong, then a British Crown colony.
They found Hong Kong’s harbour almost deserted and the wharves empty. With only a few hours’ notice, the 900 passengers were told they were sailing on to Singapore. On the second day of the journey the captain called a full meeting of passengers to announce they were changing course. There had been a change of plan. Now they were heading to Manila.
The events forcing Mario’s flight to safety were momentous. On December 8, 1941, the Japanese Imperial Army stormed the British and American sectors of Shanghai known as the International Settlement. In the same 24 hours the Japanese air force bombed Pearl Harbour which brought the United States into the world war.
On December 25, Christmas Day, the British army-in-residence in Hong Kong was routed and surrendered. Warned against travelling to Singapore because of Japanese military victories along the Malayan Peninsula, Manila with its 20,000-strong US garrison seemed a logical safe haven.
Interned in Manila
When the passengers put ashore in Manila Harbour they were already aware that Japanese forces had landed in the north of the country and were heading towards the capital. However, they were taken by surprise by the speed of the advance. On January 2, 1942, the city surrendered and Mario and Dorothy were trapped.
The foreign European population, mainly American and British businessmen, their wives and families, was rounded up and incarcerated in a civilian detention centre at the University of Santo Tomas, a fenced campus of 50 acres (22 hectares). More than 4,000 civilians were herded into the main building, the gymnasium and the domestic arts building which became their “home” for the next three years.
Founded on April 28, 1611, the University of Santo Tomas is Asia’s oldest university. It was named in memory of St Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274), a Dominican priest and one of the Roman Catholic Church’s foremost theologians.
All the internees were non-combatants. This meant they were treated differently from soldiers and officers in the notorious POW death camps where thousands of captured Allied military personnel were executed or died from malnutrition and disease. At Santo Tomas the Japanese army imposed a form of self-government allowing the inmates to organise an executive committee, a food and cooking roster, a medical service, a hospital and even their own police force.
However, behind the benign arrangements lurked a Japanese iron fist. When two British internees and one Australian escaped on February 11, 1942, they were recaptured on the shores of Manila Bay the following day, dragged back to the camp, interrogated, beaten and tortured in the guard house. Two days later, on February 15, they were executed by firing squad with two clergymen, their room monitors and Earl Carroll, American president of the camp’s executive committee, forced to watch.
A brave Australian
The Aussie was Blakey Borthwick Laycock, 43, a mining engineer, born at Coonamble, NSW, and his British comrades were Thomas Henry Fletcher and Henry Edward Weeks, seamen from the SS Tantalus, a 7,700-ton Blue Funnel Line cargo ship which had been sunk in the harbour by Japanese warplanes on Boxing Day 1941.
After rejecting pleas for clemency, Japanese soldiers put blindfolds on all three men but Laycock protested: “I don’t want that *** thing on.” In the absence of rifles, they were shot with handguns while sitting on the edge of their graves. Earl Carroll counted 13 shots and another eyewitness said they were still alive when soldiers began shovelling dirt on top of them. It was the last time anyone attempted to escape from the camp.
At the outset, internees believed their incarceration would be over in weeks or perhaps months. But their optimism sank with the news of the fall of Singapore, known as the “Gibraltar of the East”, on February 15, 1942, followed by the final surrender of US forces in the Philippines on May 6 and the flight of US commander-in-chief General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964) to new headquarters in Melbourne. In a matter of weeks the US and Britain had suffered their worst defeats of the war. MacArthur had famously said, “I shall return”, but when?
As internees began to accept their fate the camp started to resemble a mini-city. Humpies/ shanties were built to provide extra accommodation for people with families and to ease overcrowding in the dormitories, vegetable gardens were established, primitive shopping stalls built and an outdoor laundry.
On July 27, 1942, internees voted to elect their camp leadership. Earl Carroll declined to be a candidate and after the votes were counted the Japanese administration announced that Carroll C Grinnell, who was placed sixth in the vote, would be the chairman of the executive committee.
His role was controversial because to many internees he appeared too compliant. He responded to Japanese displeasure by banning community dances and all musical performances. Grinnell, a tough-minded former General Electric executive, also established an internee court and a jail for offenders.
Most controversially, he imposed very strict regulations against “inappropriate” relations between male and female inmates. The longest sentence ever given by the camp court was 90 days against a “chronic troublemaker” who was freed after 30 days.
Dave Harvey from Brooklyn was the most popular entertainer in the camp. He sang, danced, told jokes and acted as MC at the first concerts. He satirised the Grinnell administration saying that he intended writing a book titled “Mine Camp” and dedicating it to Grinnell.
The internees’ song
It was absolutely predictable that Harvey and Mario Bakerini-Booth became great friends. Not long after the Easter mass was performed, Mario wrote the music for Internee Song while Harvey wrote the lyrics.
It was presented at a camp concert for the first time on May 22, 1943. Later its performance was banned, though internees continued to sing the words and hum the music out of the earshot of their Japanese guards. (A copy of the music and words has been lodged with the Australian War Memorial by Kel McIntosh).
We live a life that’s new to us
Most of us here were strangers
Our habits and customs were numerous
We’ve survived these communal dangers.
You may be a Pole or American, English or Scotch or Dutch
But whatever your nationality
It doesn’t matter much,
For we’re internees of Santo Tomas
And we’re all resolved to pull the load together.
We’re ready now to put it across
And we’re ready to help in fair or stormy weather
Our troubles may be many
But we’re over 3,000-strong
Dark clouds are hovering over us
But they won’t be there for long
For there’ll come a wind that will blow those clouds away
And scatter them till there’re lost
It’s coming across the water
It’s blowing from every quarter
To us internees of Santo Tomas.
For we’re internees of Santo Tomas
And we’re all resolved to pull the load together.
After the liberation, one couple recalled their most memorable moment: “Who can forget the song Cheer Up, Everything’s Going to Be Lousy by Dave Harvey?” while someone else remembered: “How Dave Harvey and his entertainers used to enliven us.”
His most memorable show was called “The Lost Tribe of the Philippines”, which reflected the widespread feeling in the camp that the internees had been deserted by their governments. No wonder he wasn’t everyone’s favourite person.
Nurse Madeline M Ullon wrote: “Sometimes the Dave Harvey Show was not up to standard, however, Dave had the gift of getting people to laugh at themselves, circumstances and events. He is remembered by all, idolised by some and disliked by a few. To him our thanks. He preserved our sanity and lessened the doctors’ load of nervous breakdowns.”
Harvey was famous for concluding his concerts with a robust message: “Despite the chow, the work, the weather, the snorers, our uncle and all the rest, we simply will carry on. So, ladies and gentlemen, we end our entertainment for this evening and we hope you liked it.”
One of Harvey’s most controversial ventures was a camp booklet called “Slime to the Ridiculous” in which he recorded his quirky observations:
“When a man bites a dog – that’s news. When the writing bug bites an actor – that’s internitis.”
“Dietary note – fish and rumours smell bad after the first day.”
“Warning to annex mothers – never strike a child unless in self defence.”
“The health of many internees is improving by their diet of not eating off someone else’s plate.”
“Have you been working on the garbage detail? Certainly, you don’t think I smell this way all the time, do you?”
Another ex-internee wrote: “There were 87 women in the Santo Tomas Women’s Chorus under the leadership of Mrs Osbun and Mrs Jessie Brown, with Mr Toyne as accompanist. After much training and rehearsal in choral singing, six concerts were presented, the first in December 1942, the last in September 1944, when Mrs Dorothy Bakerini-Booth was guest vocal soloist and Mr EC Rider was guest pianist.”
The men sang too. “The male chorus under the direction of K M Kreutz started with around 20, practised on a jealously guarded Main Building roof where distant part of Manila could be glimpsed,” recalled Bill C Chittick. “They appeared 12 times. First in March ’42 and their last program, a minstrel show, in July ’44.”
After that the shows were prohibited. “Perhaps it was just as well,” Mario told the Courier-Mail when he and Dorothy arrived in Brisbane, en route for Sydney, after liberation. “In the topical jingles we sang there was a jeer and a sneer at the Japanese in every line, and the guards had very itchy fingers when they thought their ‘honour’ was being questioned … we had quite a good time until one day an American-educated Japanese arrived with a new batch of guards. He saw through our satire, and the concerts were stopped.”
Grace C Nash from camp entertainment, who later became a lecturer at Arizona State University, recalled: “An enemy guard befriended us and procured 50 lbs of mongo beans through his own lines which helped a number of families survive. He had first appeared in the empty barracks where Rosemary Parquette and I were practising for a formal camp concert (violin and piano) commanding us to play ‘Mozart! Beethoven!’”
Internee Bob Merriman recalled: “My most outstanding experience in the camp was probably the daily reception of news from KGEI San Francisco and from Australia on the radio I had hidden in the motion picture projection shack.”
Albert E Holland, an American internee, who kept a diary from November 1944 until liberation day on February 3, 1945, wrote despairingly: “They (the Japanese) may break my health, but they cannot break my morale.”
Holland’s entry for November 11, 1944 reads: “Today Lieutenant Shiragi said that we should kill all the dogs in the camp and serve them on the food line – I agree that the dogs should be killed – They are a menace to our health – But I do not relish eating those mangy mongrels – This shows while I may be very hungry, I am not yet starving – Otherwise I would make no such objection.”
DL Gardner wrote in his diary: “The Japs have cut our rice ration again to 120 grams a person. About 600 calories or less. We are weak, thin and hungry, but we still have high hopes.”
Grace D Oxnam shared this story: “My most memorable experience at the camp was my knowledge of the bravery of Dr TE Stevenson, jailed for refusing to cooperate with the Japanese when ordered to remove from death certificates ‘Malnutrition’ and ‘Starvation’, as causes of the death of internees.”
Starvation sets in
The conditions in the camp deteriorated rapidly towards the end of 1943 and malnutrition became starvation.
“Old men are dying off,” wrote Albert E Holland in his diary. “One or two per day. Just for the record I weigh 118 lbs – 73 lbs less than I weighed in January 1942.”
Holland was in charge of the old men’s hospital. “There are 52 patients, averaging 65 years. All either heart cases, paralysed, blind or crippled. It is not a pleasant place to work but I love it. To help these old men stay alive until the Americans come.”
On November 17, 1944, he wrote: “What I have expected has come to pass – our camp reserves of rice are exhausted. And starting tomorrow we will receive only 225 grams of cereal daily – nothing else. I weigh 110 today, down 18 pounds in 17 days.”
Internees were forced to cook rats and birds for protein and ate insects.
Camp records show that there were 390 deaths among internees between January 1942 and March 1945, a death rate of about 10 per cent. Official records show that male internees lost an average of 53 pounds during their 37 months of incarceration at Santo Tomas.
With US forces approaching Manila, the Japanese arrested Grinnell and three other camp leaders. Their fate was unknown until February 1945 when their executed bodies were discovered in a shallow grave.
General MacArthur entered the compound on February 7. Even the shelling by the retreating Japanese could not dampen the sheer jubilation of the internees. The liberation of the camp was followed by an exodus from Manila by internees anxious to return home.
A new life in Sydney
Mario and Dorothy Bakerini-Booth, each weighing about five stone, joined a ship to Australia where they planned to start a new life. The couple made their way to Sydney, found an inner-city boarding house and began to make some money from their music.
Kel McIntosh met Mario when he was invited to play in a Greek band which performed regularly on Sunday nights at Paddington Town Hall, chiefly for big family weddings. Later, when Mario formed his own dance band which played at the Trocadero, he invited Kel to join as its alto sax player. The band was a mini-United Nations: Mario played trumpet and electric guitar, the pianist Sid English and another trumpeter Salvatore Azzopardi were Maltese, the drummer was German, tenor sax was Salvatore’s brother Tony and the other alto sax player was an Aussie named Stan Mumford.
After Mario’s death in 1977, Mario’s widow asked Kel if he would be interested in her husband’s vast music collection.
Kel collected a truckload of music from countries around the world and brought it to the Tweed Valley when he moved north. “The greatest treasure of all was a thick folder of music and newspaper cuttings from Santo Tomas,” said Kel. He sent the wartime material to the Australian War Memorial and gave the music to the Northern Rivers Symphony Orchestra at Tweed Heads.
“Mario was a very quiet man and quite shy,” Kel said. “I put that down to his wartime experiences which, incidentally, he never talked about. Whatever he saw, whatever he suffered, left a lasting mark on him.
“I always hoped and dreamed that his prison camp music would be played in Australia. I think it was Mario’s dream as well.”