Daily Archives: 26 October 2006

Missionary POWs of the Japanese, 1940s

On Monday, December 8, [Max] Garrott was riding a local train to the home of Northern Baptist missionary William Axling when he learned that war had erupted between Japan and the United States. He saw the shocking headlines on a newspaper that a fellow passenger was reading. The next morning Garrott was interned (“for your own protection,” the police told him) at Sumire Girls’ School, a Catholic school and orphanage in Den’enchofu, Tokyo. He was assigned to a room with 12 other American men, a room barely large enough for the cots and beds wedged into it. “Safe, well, profitably interned,” wrote Max to [his wife] Dorothy through the good offices of the Swiss Red Cross. Though some missionaries were tortured by police interrogators during those early months of the war, Max was not mistreated. He even had the use of his piano, which kind officials had transported from his house to the school. They also had brought a picture of his wife. Since the internees were allowed to buy food in addition to what was served them by the authorities, and some talented cooks were among them, Max soon gained back the 10 pounds he had lost doing his own cooking after Dorothy’s departure. The next spring he and his fellow Americans had strawberry shortcake “running out of their ears.”

Humanitarian treatment was also the lot of Floryne Miller in Shanghai, who though an enemy alien was allowed to continue her teaching until February 1943. “Wouldn’t it be fun,” she wrote to her family in January 1942, “if this should get to you one of these days.” The letter was delivered. In 1943, while awaiting repatriation, she spent seven months in Chapel Civil Assembly Center, an internment camp outside Shanghai. “Everyone is so good to us,” she reported through the Red Cross. Words to the contrary would have been ill-advised, of course.

Far less fortunate were those who had transferred to the South China Mission. Oz Quick was in Hong Kong when the city fell to the Japanese on Christmas Day, 1941. He had gone there for medical treatment after falling ill with appendicitis at Kweilin. Quick was committed to Stanley Prison with about 300 Americans, including four other Southern Baptist missionaries and [Mission] Secretary Rankin. They had no furniture or furnishings of any kind, and food was so scarce that Rankin, already trim, lost 30 pounds during the half-year’s confinement.

The Robert Dyers were among eight Southern Baptist missionaries interned in the Philippines with about 500 American and British civilians. One of the eight was Rufus Gray, who was judged a spy because he had taken many pictures while in Peking (photography was his hobby) and had made friends among the Chinese. He died under torture by a Japanese intelligence unit. Bob Dyer was taken twice to the “house of horror” for interrogation, an ordeal that has haunted him ever since. As orderly to the sick in the camp’s makeshift hospital and undertaker to those who succumbed to malnutrition and disease, Bob lived with the specter of death day after day. Mary Dyer helped to boost the morale of the living with her magnificent renderings of hymns, wedding songs, and “God Bless America.” In 1944 the internees were transferred to Manila’s infamous Bilibid Prison, from which they were liberated by American forces in February 1945. Most were on the verge of starvation. After returning to the United States the Dyers resigned from the Board. Bob taught religion at Wake Forest University until his retirement in 1983, and Mary gave private voice and piano lessons.

In June 1942 Max Garrott was put aboard the SS Asama Maru for repatriation to his homeland in the first of two prisoner exchanges arranged through the medium of the Swiss government. The ship left Yokohama with about 430 passengers, mostly notably U.S. ambassador Joseph P. Grew and Mrs. Grew (she had refused evacuation with other dependents). At Hong Kong it picked up 370 more Americans, including Oz Quick and Theron Rankin. The exchange ship had large crosses painted bow and stern for identification, but because of a large Japanese flag painted in the center, the vessel was nearly torpedoed by an American submarine when off course.

After a second stop at Saigon, the Asama Maru proceeded to Singapore for a rendezvous with the Conte Verde, an Italian ship under Japanese control that carried 600 passengers from Shanghai. The two ships steamed to the Portuguese port of Lourenço Marques in Mozambique, where 1,500 Japanese from the United States were waiting aboard the SS Gripsholm, a Swedish vessel leased for this trip by the American Export Line. The Japanese exchanged ships by marching from bow to bow, while the Americans moved from stern to stern. Among the 1,500 Americans, just under 600 were missionaries and their families. Forty of the missionaries were Southern Baptists, 39 from China and one–Garrott–from Japan. One of the China missionaries, Pearl Todd, later served in Japan.

The trip from Japan to America took 10 weeks, half of them on the Gripsholm. The fixed price per person was $575, regardless of what accommodations one had. This made for some irritation on the overcrowded Gripsholm, but all were delighted with the sumptuous American meals, showers, fresh sheets, recent news from the homeland, and the delicious atmosphere of freedom.

After one stop en route, at Rio de Janeiro, the Gripsholm reached New York on August 25, 1942. Passengers without diplomatic status had to be screened for loyalty to the United States, a process that took several days. Three intelligence officers–from the FBI, Army, and Navy–examined each passenger, using dossiers prepared from earlier inquiries made of family members and acquaintances. Garrott met with difficulty because of his conviction that he could not take part in the war effort. He endured several hours of interrogation before he was permitted to go ashore.

SOURCE: The Southern Baptist Mission in Japan, 1889-1989, by F. Calvin Parker (University Press of America, 1991), pp. 165-167

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