Foothills family's fight to survive WWII Japanese concentration camp recalled

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Bad things were happening around Bill Moule Jr. nearly 70 years ago. But as boy growing up in a Japanese concentration camp during World War II, the misery was just part of his normal, everyday world. Moule’s father had replanted his family from Grass Valley to a mining operation in the Philippines in 1940, as war clouds were building in Asia. When the Japanese invaded the Philippines on Dec. 8, 1941, his family would start an 18-month cat-and-mouse game with the Japanese Imperial Army in the mountains. It lasted until malaria took its toll on their health and they were captured. Moule and his family spent the next 18 months under Japanese guard – either behind barbed wire at a compound near the mountain city of Baguio or, later, in a converted Manila prison. Moule told an overflow audience of 70 people for his Friends of the Library Noon Program presentation that one of his family’s closest encounters with death came when his father was taken away for nine days and continually beaten. Japanese interrogators were attempting to get information from him after several men had escaped. They hung his father by the thumbs and dislocated his shoulder. “They never stopped beating him,” Moule said. “He was beaten until he was unconscious, which my dad said was a relief from the pain.” Moule asked noon program attendees to imagine the block around the library suddenly being placed behind barbed wire fencing and armed guards stationed to keep prisoners inside. For the Moule, his father and mother, and two pre-school-age sisters, concentration camp reality was one meal a day. That consisted of barley, rice and perhaps some dog, cat or other meat the Japanese decided to share, Moule said. “I thought it was normal to eat only one meal a day so for me it was fun and games,” Moule said. Moule, a Red Bluff resident who grew up after the war in Grass Valley, said that while other older children may have been affected by the tension and deprivation of the camp, his youth worked in favor of leaving him with no psychological scars. His father shared a report by a military psychologist on Moule when he was 8. “Everything was an adventure to this kid,” Moule quoted the psychologist as saying. “There were no ill effects because he didn’t know any different.” Moule said his own childhood recollections were redefined by the stories his father would tell in later life. Bill Moule Sr. had kept a diary and after the war published his story in book form, titled “God’s Arms Around Us.” That led to speaking engagements, where young Bill would introduce his father by telling his version of events and then have his father tell the whole, grim story of survival. Moule said his family struggled with malaria, his father came down with polio and there was the omnipresent threat of violence or death. Through a child’s eyes, the pain and suffering was just part of life. “Nothing bothered me,” Moule said. “I saw dead people, people dying. It happened everywhere.” Moule later learned to appreciate the sacrifices made in wartime to liberate him and his fellow prisoners. He expressed his gratitude, not as a wide-eyed boy of 7 but as a man of 72. “Everyone survived because we knew we were in this thing together and that some day, we would get out,” Moule said. Pat Brophy of Friends of the Auburn Library said the prospect of hearing a presentation on a subject that resonates with many people helped to draw an overflow crowd. With the library limiting room occupancy to 70, people had to be turned away. Moule delivered an excellent presentation that was non-judgmental and moving, she said. Upcoming free Noon Programs Oct. 21 Placer Mandarins: Vitamins in a Glass, with Joanne Neft Nov. 4 The Hauver Cave, with Gene Lorance Attendees are advised to arrive at 11:45 a.m. to ensure seating.