War Through the Eyes of the Child is a virtual exhibition featuring the stories and experiences of children during World War II presented by the Filipinas Heritage Library in partnership with the US Embassy in the Philippines
“The forgotten victims of World War II were the children.”-Juliet Gardiner
World War II was an event that disrupted the lives of everyone, including children. Thousands needed to evacuate from towns and cities to move to safer grounds and had to adjust to separation from family and friends. Many of those who stayed, endured bombing raids, surprise inspections, and were injured or made homeless. Most schools closed, food was scarce, and buildings were destroyed. In this exhibition, we follow the experiences of children who have gone through the war: vendors, evacuees, internees and survivors. We also highlight individual stories specifically, the story of Martin Bantug, a Filipino teen who helped the Huks and the story of Teedie Cowie Woodcock, an American kid who was incarcerated in the UST internment camp from 1942-1945. We aim to give importance to these kids' lives: their contributions, their creativity and resilience during the time of the war, and their stories which reflects the different versions of humanity.
Before World War II (1901-1941)
Decades before the war, education was made accessible through the various public schools established per town by the Americans.
American teachers came in waves and they taught adults and children how to read and write. The first wave of public school teachers arrived in 1901 when 600 of them traveled aboard the ship called USS Thomas. These first public school teachers were called the Thomasites.
Students were taught reading, writing and arithmetic, coupled with the teaching philosophy brought about by democracy and righteous citizenship.
In the early 20th century, Sports such as basketball, tennis, baseball and track and field were all introduced in schools.
These sports became widely popular after its introduction.
On December 8, 1941, everything abruptly changed due to the bombing of Manila. The Second World War reached the Philippines. Children and their families were forced to flee and evacuate to nearby rural towns. Some, were even separated from each other. Schools were closed and buildings were destroyed. The prices of daily commodities also hiked up and food supply became scarce.
Children went to safer grounds in the countryside to escape the physical and psychological scars of war. Suffering was inevitable since most kids were separated from their parents and other family members.
Bataan Refugees (1942)Filipinas Heritage Library
In 1942, the Japanese incarcerated American families and their allies in internment camps. The Santo Tomas internment camp in particular, housed 7000 individuals. 400 of them were children.
Heads of the family would send request letters to the internment camps to allow their sons, daughters and wives to be interned in the facilities.
In the earlier months of incarceration, the children were still allowed to play as long as they keep to their circles. Food aid was still being delivered by the Red Cross and some locals who would like to help the internees.
The situation grew worse when stricter rules were imposed and when the Japanese military took over.
Among the internees, is a teenager named Teedie Cowie Woodcock, who drew a series of cartoon sketches on cheap paper while she was inside the Santo Tomas internment camp. She made this series of humorous drawings as a gift for her mother on 1944, a year before liberation.
Hundreds of men and women joined the guerillas, including teenagers.These guerilla units were organized strategically all over the country in resistance against the Imperial Japanese forces to fight for freedom and defend the Philippines.
Martin Bantug Story (1947) by Leon Ty and Philippine Free PressFilipinas Heritage Library
One of them is Martin Bantug, who was recruited by the HUKBALAHAP when he was still 12 years old.
Teenagers fulfilled roles in these resistance groups and were taught to defend themselves and the country.
"I learned how to shoot fairly well with my pistol, but I never tried shooting anybody with it. During a fierce encounter with a Japanese patrol, I was told by our squad leader to join the battle. I did, but I only fired in the air. The thought of killing a person frightened me. I was only 12 years old then." - Martin Bantug
Martin Bantug story pt2 (1947) by Leon Ty and Philippine Free Press,Filipinas Heritage Library
Separation was a recurring narrative for children regardless of roles that they took during the war. "Notwithstanding the excitement of the life in the hills, often I would cry in silence at night when I'd remember my parents, brothers and sisters" - Martin Bantug
Martin Bantug story pt3 (1947) by Leon Ty and Philippine Free PressFilipinas Heritage Library
"A Huks life is never monotonous. When not fighting or pursued by the MPs, he goes hunting or indulges with target practice." -Martin Bantug
During the war, children also helped out in earning for their respective families so that they can survive and they remained to be productive. Some sold fresh produce and became food peddlers and livestock vendors. Others recycled supplies like glass and nails for it to be repurposed.
Right after the surrender of Japan marking the end of the war, Japanese civilians, including children, were also displaced in the countries that they invaded. Some also obtained physical wounds and injuries inflicted on them during the battles prior to their surrender.
End of the War (1945)
After the war ended, children needed to adjust until family and school life normalized. Some had the opportunity to join their relatives and friends again. Parents returning from the resistance groups, forces, or internment camps became strangers to their own children who never had the opportunity to fully know them. Some kids tried to go back to school while others remained workers or vendors because of the poverty brought by the war.
Even post-war, its lessons remain to be powerful for children who lived through it and for us, as outside witnesses to this difficult part of history.
Research,Text, and Curation: Sofia Santiago
Digital Imaging: Andre Angeles and Louisa Marquez
Images are from the Filipinas Heritage Library and its Roderick Hall Collection, Google Life Collection,Philippine Free Press, and Archivo de la Universidad de Santo Tomas
Special thanks to Ricky Jose of Archivo de la Universidad de Santo Tomas, Ricardo T. Jose of the Department of History of the University of the Philippines and Adarna House Publishing.