by PATRICIA BROOKS
Seventy five years ago this July a New Zealand-born priest disappeared in the Philippines. His parishioners did not know where he had gone. He just disappeared. It was a difficult time in 1943 in the Philippines for everyone. World War II was destroying lives the world
over and the Philippines was caught up in the Pacific maelstrom. The Japanese had invaded the Philippines and the Americans who had come to defend them retreated; MacArthur to Australia promising, “I shall return”, and the field soldiers to the hills as guerrillas.

Some of the foreign missionaries were interned but others, left in their parishes, coped as best they could under the circumstances.

Fr Douglas Vernon

Fr Francis Vernon Douglas, a Columban missionary who had served in the Philippines since 1938, continued to care for his parish at Pililia. Food was short, people disappeared and no one knew whom to trust. Some co-operated with the enemy while others surreptitiously joined the guerrillas.

Fr Douglas responded to a sick call from American guerrillas in the hills but it was not a genuine sick call, it was three lonely soldiers wanting a little European company.

Shortly afterwards Fr Douglas disappeared. His parishioners looked for him but no one knew, until the war ended in 1945, what had happened.

On July 24, 1943 he was arrested by the dreaded Kempei-tai, the Japanese military police and taken to Paete church for interrogation. Tied to the baptismal font, Fr Douglas was beaten and tortured for three days to near death but he refused to answer the questions
that could incriminate others.

Witnesses believed he was protecting the American soldiers who were later arrested and decapitated. Other witnesses believed he refused to divulge what he had heard through the confessional. Whatever information they sought, the Kempei-tai received no cooperation
from Fr Douglas. After three days of intense torture he was taken away on the back of a truck more dead than alive.

Two years later, at the end of the war in 1945, his Columban confreres sought to find out what had happened and from the information obtained believed that Fr Douglas died on July 27, 1943.

In remembrance of that day the parishioners of Pililia and Paete join with the Columban missionaries in the Philippines on a pilgrimage to commemorate the sacrifice and to honour the man who gave his life to save others.

The Mount Maunganui RSA in 2000 erected a memorial seat at the base of Mount Maunganui at the place where Fr Douglas sat when he was photographed in 1937 by his friend Brian Molloy of Tauranga.

This Anzac Day, the Mount Maunganui RSA reprinted a special edition of the biography, With No Regrets, to commemorate and remember Fr Douglas and other civilians who gave their lives during the wars.

To get a copy contact Pleroma books, www.pleroma.org.nz; Mt Maunganui RSA, Women’s Section, 544 Maunganui Rd,Tauranga; The Columbans, Box 3007, Lower Hutt 6315; Patricia Brooks , patriciabrooks@xtra.co.nz; $15 a copy.

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