Major Charles Spencer Canby

    Major Charles S. Canby was born on July 23, 1895, in Saint Joseph, Missouri.  He was the son of Charles B. Canby & Josephine Spencer-Canby and grew up in St. Joseph. 

    It is known that Canby fought in the Mexican Border War.  On June 1, 1917, he joined the Missouri National Guard.  He remained in the National Guard until April 29, 1918, when he was called to federal duty and fought in France in WOrld War I.  When the war ended, he returned to the National Guard on June 5, 1919.  At first, he made his living as a high school teacher but later changed careers and worked as a financial agent at a financial agency. 

    During Canby's time in the National Guard, he rose in rank.  On December 1, 1924, he became a 1st Lieutenant.  He was promoted to Captain on August 1, 1936.  He later became the commanding officer of the 35th Tank Company of the Missouri National Guard

    On February 10, 1941, Canby's Missouri National Guard Tank Company was called to federal duty as B Company, 194th Tank Battalion.  It was at that time that he was promoted to captain and remained in command of the company.  The company was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington, for training.  In June 1941, Canby was made commanding officer HQ Company.  He would later become the battalion's executive officer.
    The battalion trained at Ft. Lewis and in August, 1941, the battalion took part maneuvers.  During the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered back to Ft. Lewis.  It was there that they learned they were being sent overseas.  By train they traveled to San Francisco.

    In the late summer of 1941, the battalion received orders for duty, in the Philippines, because of an event that happened during the summer.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd.  He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water.  He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island.  When the squadron landed he reported what he had seen.  By the time a Navy ship was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
    In September 1941, the 194th was sent to San Francisco, California, there they were inoculated, by the medical detachment and boarded onto a transport for the Philippine Islands.  Those men who failed the physical were replaced.  On September 8, 1941, the battalion was boarded onto the U.S.S. Calvin Coolidge. The ship sailed the same day.  The battalion arrived at Hawaii on September 13th, remained in port most of the day, and sailed later in the day, but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes, where it was joined by the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Astoria, it's escort.
    During the voyage, on several occasions, smoke from unknown ships were seen on the horizon.  The cruiser revved up its engines and intercepted the ships.  On each occasion, it turned out that the ship belonged a friendly country.
    On September 26th, they arrived at Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M., but did not reach Manila until later in the morning.  The soldiers did not disembark until 3:00 P.M.  The maintenance section of the battalion helped 17th Ordnance unload the tanks and reattach the turrets.
    The battalion rode buses to Fort Stotsenburg and taken to an area between the fort and Clark Field, where they were housed in tents since the barracks for them had not been completed.  They were met by  Colonel Edward P. King, commanding officer of the fort who made sure they had what they needed.  On November 15th, they moved into their barracks.

    On December 1st, the 194th was ordered to its position at Clark Field.  Their job was to protect the northern half of the airfield from paratroopers.  The 192nd Tank Battalion, which had arrived in November guarded the southern half.  Two crew men remained with the tanks at all times and received their meals from food trucks. 
    On December 8th, December 7th in the United States, Canby lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield.  He managed to send a telegram home on December 17th in which he said, "all Missouri men are safe and well."  He spent the next four months fighting the Japanese.  At one point, he was assigned the job of collecting ammunition and gasoline.  His detail managed to bring 12,000 gallons of gasoline into Bataan for the tanks to use.  In addition, the tankers recovered six truckloads of food. 
On December 24, 1941, he was promoted to major.
    On April 3rd, at 3:00 P.M., the Japanese lunched a major offensive with fresh troops brought in from the Dutch East Indies and the Singapore.  The line was pushed back far enough that the Japanese long range artillery could shell the rear area.  It was at this time that General Edward King made the decision to send his staff officers to negotiate the surrender of Bataan.
    The morning of April 9th somewhere between 6:30 and 6:45 A.M., the order "bash" was given.  This meant the the tank battalions were to destroy their tanks and any other equipment that had military value to the Japanese.  At 7:00 A.M., Canby became a Prisoner of War.
    HQ Company was ordered the next day, to move to the headquarters of the Provisional Tank Group, which was at kilometer marker 168.2.  At 7:00 P.M. on the 10th, the POWs were ordered to march.  They made their way from the former command post, and at first found the walk difficult.  When they reached the main road, walking became easier.  At 3:00 A.M., they were given an hour break before being ordered to move again at 4:00 A.M.  The column reached Lamao at 8:00 A.M., where the POWs were allowed to forage for food before marching again at 9:00. 
    When the POWs reached Limay, officers with ranks of major or higher, were separated from the enlisted men and the lower ranking officers.  The higher ranking officers were put on trucks and driven to Balanga from where they march north to Orani.  The lower ranking officers and enlisted men reached the barrio later in the day having march through Abucay and Samal.

    At 6:30 in the evening, the POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men.  Once this was done, they resumed the trip north, but this time they were marched at a faster pace and were given few breaks.  When they did receive a break, they had to sit in the road until they were ordered to move.

    When they were north of Hermosa, the POWs reached pavement which made the march easier.  At 2:00 A.M., they received an hour break, but any POW who attempted to lay down was jabbed with a bayonet.  After the break, they were marched through Layac and Lurao.  It was at this time that a heavy shower took place and many of the men opened their mouths in an attempt to get water.

    The men were marched until 4:00 P.M., when they reached San Fernando.  Once there, they were herded into a bull pen, surrounded by barbwire, and put into groups of 200 men.  One POW from each group went to the cooking area which was next to the latrine, and received a box of rice that was divided among the  men.  Water was given out in a similar manner with each group receiving a pottery jar of water to share.
    At 4:00 A.M., the Japanese woke the men up and organized them into detachments of 100 men.  From the compound, they were marched to the train station, where they were packed into small wooden boxcars known as "forty or eights."  Each boxcar could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors.  The POWs were packed in so tightly that the dead could not fall to the floor.  At Capas, as the living left the cars and those who had died - during the trip - fell to the floors of the cars.  As they left the cars, the Filipino civilians threw sugarcane and gave the POWs water.

   From Capas the POWs walked 8 kilometers, to Camp O'Donnell, arriving in the camp on April 14, 1942.  This camp was an unfinished Filipino army base that the Japanese pressed into service as a POW camp.  There was only one water faucet for 12,000 men.  Medicine was scarce so as many as fifty men died each day.  The situation was so bad that the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.  Canby was sent to this camp.

   Until October 1942, Canby was held at Cabanatuan.  It was at that time that he was selected for transport to the Davao Penal Colony on the Island of Mindanao to work on a work detail.  The POWs were taken to Manila and boarded on Erie Maru which sailed on October 28th.  After stopes at Iloido and Cebu, Mindanao, the ship arrived at Lasang, Mindanao, on November 7th.

    The POWs were taken to the Davao Penal Colony.  At the camp, the POWs were housed in eight barracks that were about 148 feet long and about 16 feet wide.  A four foot wide aisle ran down the center of each barracks.  In each barracks, were eighteen bays.  Twelve POWs shared a bay.  216 POWs lived in each barracks.  Four cages were later put in a bay.  Each cage held two POWs.
    The camp discipline was poor and the American commanding officer changed frequently.  The junior officers refused to take orders from the senior officers.  Soon, the enlisted men spoke anyway they wanted to, to the officers.  The situation improved because a majority of POWs realized that discipline was needed to survive.

    At first, the work details were not guarded.  The POWs plowed, planted, and harvested the crops.  The sick POWs made baskets.  In April 1943, the POWs working conditions varied.  Those working the rice fields received the worst treatment.  They were beaten for not meeting quotas, misunderstandings between the POWs and guards, and a translator who could not be trusted to tell the truth.

    Many of the POWs became ill with what was called, "Rice Sickness".  This illness was caused by a POW cutting his foot or leg on a rice stalk.  The POW developed a rash and suffered from severe swelling.  If a POW bruised himself, the bruise developed into a ulcer.  Most, if not all the prisoners, suffered from malaria.

    As the American forces got closer to the Philippine Islands the Japanese began to send as many POWs to Japan or other occupied countries as possible.  On June 6, 1944, the Japanese sent the POWs to Lasang, Mindano, by truck.  Once there, the POWs were boarded onto the Yashu Maru and held in the ship's front holds for six days before it sailed.  The ship sailed on the 12th and dropped anchor off Zamboanga, Mindano, for two days before sailing for Cebu City arriving on June 17th.  The POWs were taken off the ship and held in a warehouse.  The POWs were returned to the dock and boarded an unnamed ship and arrived at Manila on June 25th.  
    After arriving at Manila, Canby was sent to Bilibid Prison. 
While he was there, he visited Pvt. Zoeth Skinner, of the 194th, who was sick at Bilibid and in isolation.

    On October 10, 1944 the POWs were marched to Pier 7.  The detachment was scheduled to sail on the Hokusen Maru, but since one group of POWs had not arrived and the ship was ready to sail, the Japanese swapped POWs detachments. The POWs, who were scheduled to sail on the Arisan Maru, were put on the Hokusen Maru.

    On October 10th, the detachment Canby was in was boarded onto the Arisan Maru.  With him were the other members of the 194th.  The POWs who were packed into the ship's number one hold.  Along the sides of the hold were shelves that served as bunks.  These bunks were so close together that a man could not lift himself up if he was laying in one.  Those standing in the hold had no room to lie down. The latrines for the prisoners were eight five gallon cans.  Since the POWs were packed into the hold so tightly, many of the POWs could not get near the cans.  The floor of the hold was covered with human waste.  

    The ship set sail and took a southerly route away from Formosa.  It arrived at a cove off Palawan Island where it dropped anchor.  This resulted in the ship missing an air attack by American planes.   

    Each day, each POW was received three ounces of water and two half mess kits of raw rice.  Conditions in the hold were so bad, that the POWs began to develop heat blisters.  Although the Japanese had removed the lights in the hold, they had not turned off the power.  Some of the prisoners were able to hot-wire the ship's ventilation blowers into these power lines.  This allowed fresh air into the hold.  The blowers were disconnected two days later when the Japanese discovered what had been done.  It was during this time that five POWs died.

    The Japanese realized that if they did not do something, the ship would become a death ship.  It was then that they transferred 600 POWs to the ship's number two hold.  During this transfer, one POW was shot when he attempted to escape.  The Arisan Maru returned to the Manila nine days later.  There, it became part of a twelve ship convoy for Formosa.

    On October 21st, the convoy left Manila and entered the South China Sea.  The Japanese refused to mark POW ships with red crosses to indicate they were carrying POWs.  This made the ships targets for submarines.

    According to the survivors of the Arisan Maru, on Tuesday, October 24, 1944, around 5:00 pm, POWs were on deck preparing the meal for those in the ship's two holds.  The ship was, in the Bashi Channel, off the coast of China.  The POWs watched as the Japanese on deck ran to the bow of the ship.  A torpedo from an American submarine passed the ship.  The Japanese next ran to the stern of the ship and watched a second torpedo pass the ship.  There was a sudden jar which was caused by the ship being hit by two torpedoes amidships.  The ship stopped dead in the water.  It is believed that the submarine that fired the torpedoes was the U. S. S Snook.

    The Japanese guards fired their guns at the POWs on deck to drive them into the holds.  After they were in the holds, the Japanese cut the rope ladders and put the hatch covers on the holds.  They then abandoned ship.  Some of the POWs in the first hold were able to climb out and attached and lowered the rope ladders to those in the first hold.  They also dropped rope ladders down to the POWs in second hold.

    Many of the POWs attempted to escape the ship by clinging to rafts, hatch covers, flotsam and jetsam.  Others stuffed themselves with what was their last meal.  Most of the POWs survived the attack but died because the Japanese refused to rescue  them.  The Japanese destroyers in the convoy deliberately pulled away from the POWs as they attempted to reach them.  Other Japanese crews pushed the POWs away from their ships with long poles.  Those who attempted to climb onto the ships were beaten with clubs.

    According to the five POWs who had reached an abandoned lifeboat, the Arisan Maru sank slowly into the water.  At some point the ship broke in two where it had been struck by the torpedoes.  The exact time of the ship's sinking was not known since it occurred at night.  The cries for help slowly ceased until there was silence.

    Major Charles S. Canby lost his life when the Arisan Maru was torpedoed in the South China Sea.  Of the 1803 POWs on the ship, only nine survived the sinking.  Eight of the men survived the war.  Since he was lost at sea, Maj. Charles S. Canby's name is inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.   




Return to HQ Company