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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.