Archives: Detective Story Technique Saves UTO

Shanties at the St. Tomas internment camp, 1945

Japanese forces captured the city of Baguio, Philippines on December 27, 1941, in World War II’s first month of fighting. They set up several concentration camps nearby, which were used to intern 500 civilians from countries hostile to Japan, mostly American missionaries. Frances Crosby Bartter was among those interned, along with her husband, George C. Bartter, the rector of the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Baguio. Frances Bartter went to the Philippines in 1900, in the first consignment of teachers sent to inaugurate an American-style educational system in the islands. She married George, who made the first translation of the Prayer Book liturgy into Tagalog, in 1911, and worked alongside him as a mission teacher in several Episcopal schools. Mrs. Bartter wrote regular cheery dispatches from the concentration camps to The Living Church during the war. The camps were liberated by American soldiers in 1945, and she returned to America on furlough, where she died on June 14, 1946, aged 66. The following, Frances Bartter’s final piece, was published in The Living Church on July 15, 1945.


Mrs. G. C. Bartter’s plan to save the United Thank Offering of the Woman ‘s Auxiliary of the Church of the Resurrection, Baguio, Philippine Islands, was lifted right out of a detective story. Mrs. Bartter, now in Massachusetts, told how she did it. The amount was $150.50, and when things began to look dark, the executive committee thought the money would be safer out of the bank and in a small safe at the house. The bank permitted the withdrawal of not more than $100 from any one account for a stated number of days, so Mrs. Bartter drew that amount and was not able to draw the remainder before the storm broke.

“When our going to concentration camp seemed imminent,” Mrs. Bartter said, “I thought the money would stand a better chance sewed into my clothes than in the safe in an empty house. In this I guessed right, for on our return, later, the safe was found broken open and devoid of contents, outside the house.

“On the first attempt in camp to get money away from us, I heard that searchers were even looking into men’s shoes. I knew the money was not safe in my clothing. The notes were new and did crackle when touched. I was not quick enough in extracting them to give to the young girl who shinned to the rafters to deposit her wealth, or the bit of UTO would have roosted there temporarily. As it was, I stuffed the notes in a can of tea. The money remained there until our so-called release at the end of January 1942. When we reached our home and were subject to search without notice — at any hour of the day or night — no hiding place seemed safe, but the tea had given an idea.

“I recalled the story of ‘The Purloined Letter,’ which no seeker could find, but which lay within reach, in a perfectly obvious place, all the time. The money was sewed, in a tight roll, in black cloth, placed in a rather small brown bottle, surrounded and covered with tea, and on the outside of the bottle a label was pasted with a fictitious name of this new medicine and the ills it would cure. As a touch of irony, the words ‘Take as directed,’ were added.

“The bottle was left in plain sight. Once it was actually in the hands of the searchers, but the bottle looked innocent, they did not take as directed, and so it went safely back to concentration camp — this time Camp Holmes, when we were re-interned later that same year. Other mission money with which I was entrusted was placed in a similar bottle of white powder, which retained its label, Kaolin, and some reposed in the center of a ball of string.

“My family has deplored my ‘depraved’ fondness for detective literature, but you see it pays!

“Toward the end of our captivity, there came a famished time when even a small amount of tea couldn’t be spared, so, fortunately, before the night of the fire, when we were all taken out of Bilibid prison and placed in a shoe factory for the night, the money had again been restored to my clothing, where it remained until it could be sent to New York . Thus it survived four concentration camps – Camp John Hay, Camp Holmes, Bilibid Prison, and Santo Tomas — as well as a night in a shoe factory, a trip on a troop ship and a journey by rail.”


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