The Fantastic Journey of a Family Letter During a Time of War Across Continents
The 7th December 1941 is etched in the minds of millions of people across the world in terms of Pearl Harbour. Within the next year Japanese forces had conquered a vast tract of territory in the region; Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaya, Burma, Thailand, Borneo, Java, Sumatra, the other islands making up the Dutch East Indies (DEI), Wake Island, Guam and the Philippines had all fallen.
The Philippines was the last major country to fall to the Japanese. When they landed on Luzon, the primary island, US Forces retreated to the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor where they held out until 9th April 1942 and 6th May respectively. When they finally surrendered, they were force-marched to Camp O'Donnell from where they were dispersed to many sub-camps to work on projects to clear up and repair damaged infrastructure.
In March 1942 Col. John Vance wrote a letter from the Philippines to his wife using the official War Department envelope. As no war ships were still stationed in the area, it is suggested that this letter was rowed out to a waiting submarine, thereafter enter the postal system in Melbourne and thence onward to his wife in Maryland, USA.
The envelope (Lot 2241) is on sale at Spink China on 18 January 2015 within the David Tett's Collection of Prisoner of War Mail in East Asia and Dutch East Indies.
After the war Col. Vance wrote his memoirs, in which he narrates how he came to the Philippines in 1940 and took on his duties as a US Army Finance Officer. He was responsible for disbursing money for all supplies bought, labour hired, vehicles and ships commandeered, and above all paying for all Philippine Army expenses since it had come into the service of the US. He details how, even during the siege of Bataan and Corregidor, bills had to be paid, and money sent to the southern islands to allow military units to continue to make purchases and pay their men. With the fall of Corregidor, Vance became a prisoner of war; the Japanese knew who he was and questioned him endlessly about the location of money. He was moved to Bilibid, then Tarlac, Taiwan and finally Manchuria, where he was when the war ended.
Other mail from Col. Vance is also included in the auction.
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