When you learn about the history of World War II, you generally get told about the battles in Europe or the bombing of Pearl Harbour. Events in Asia are often secondary – the Philippines is rarely discussed, for instance. But one small island, about three times the size of London’s Hyde Park, was critical to the outcome of the war. That island is called Corregidor and, as Time Travel Turtle’s Michael Turtle found out, to visit it today is a moving experience.
To see the site for yourself, you have to take a boat from Manila for about an hour. When I arrive on a humid morning, I join the tour run by the boat company. It takes me in an open air bus to the main places of significance and I’m thankful I’m not walking – it’s hot and the island is much bigger than I realised.
Corregidor is located at a very strategic position just inside the entrance to Manila Bay which is why it’s always been instrumental in the defence of Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Hundreds of years ago, the Spanish used it for that purpose but it wasn’t really until the Americans came that so much infrastructure was built on Corregidor. Imagine enormous guns that take a dozen people to operate and can fire for kilometres, huge barracks as large as a city block, and a mini-city made of tunnels dug into a mountain. And all of this is set in what feels like a jungle.
It was the scene of two large battles in the Second World War. One was in 1942 when the Japanese forces stormed it and took control. The other was in 1945 when the United States and Philippines took it back. The scars of both those battles are still visible across the whole island.
Everything is in some stage of ruin. Either the buildings were bombed during attacks or nature has launched its own assault since the site was abandoned. Although Corregidor has been preserved for its heritage value, nothing has been reconstructed. Some of the large guns are still here and, as I stand next to one, I struggle to imagine how you could operate and aim it. There are still signs and messages written on the concrete walls of some of the bunkers. In one tunnel into a hillside, twisted scraps of metal hang from the ceiling. At another site, that was once a row of artillery, you can see the effects of a bomb that blew a gun weighing as much as a truck across the field and into a stone wall.
It must have been a hard life for those stationed here, cut off from the mainland knowing that there’s nowhere to run when the bombs start falling and troops land on the shore. But, by all accounts, those were served were brave and tenacious and lasted much longer against the enemies than expected.
The only new buildings here are those needed for the tours and a memorial to those who died. The simple elegant memorial includes a metal sculpture that looks like an eternal flame. It’s for people from the Philippines, the United States and Japan. No matter what side the fallen were on, they are all remembered these days.
For every flight and hotel trip that you book to the Philippines for 7 nights or more from now until the 31st of December, Expedia will donate £100 to Habitat for Humanity GB (registered charity number 1043641) to help rebuild homes, schools and livelihoods.
Find out more about the work of Habitat for Humanity in the Philippines.