Expressmen As Prisoners Of War

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Expressmen as Prisoners of War

Expressmen as Prisoners of War

Three of the American Expressmen found themselves companions in misery within the college turned concentration camp of Santo Tomas in Manila They were Frank Groves, Lloyd Cecil, and Cecil Kew. There Groves became for a time a member of the Self-Government Committee which made the laws of the camp, distributed the limited Red Cross supplies and food purchased outside the walls, and negotiated with the little Japanese commandant for the amelioration of the prisoners' lot.

Groves, Cecil, and Kew remained within those walls for nearly three and a half wretched years, until that glorious night when the United States First Cavalry Division brought its tanks through the narrow streets of the Philippine capital and crashed through walls to let freedom into Santo Tomas.

When Groves came out of Santo Tomas his 182 pounds had shrunk to 125, and his wife, who went through it all with him, tipped the scale at 78 pounds. He is always very proud to say that May Groves stood up to hardships, humiliation, and starvation in a Spartan manner and remained undaunted to the end, even when six-inch shells were being poured into Santo Tomas by the Japs. Such fortitude on the part of a frail woman who had been used to several servants and all the comforts of her own splendid suite at the Bay View Hotel in Manila, Groves regards as magnificent and, as he says, no more could be expected of any woman.

Most of the liberated prisoners of Santo Tomas were flown to Leyte and sent home by ship, but Lloyd Cecil insisted on remaining in Manila. A weakened skeleton, clad in rags, he searched for his home. Only the foundation remained. Then he looked for the American Express office. It, too, had been destroyed, but he had made up his mind to stay in Manila until he got the office reopened for business.

Eventually he found a building that hadn't been requisitioned by the Army. Then he encountered some former Filipino employees and enlisted their aid in cleaning out the nibble. His persistence and ingenuity persuaded the Army engineers to help repair the building. He dug a well to supply water for his staff. He bought office equipment from Filipinos who had looted the city during bombing raids, and appropriated two shattered safes from a bombed-out bank. An Army locksmith helped him get them in working condition.

A little more than a month after the liberation of Manila, Cecil reopened the American Express office, a tiny, flame-scorched room. An intermittent black snow of plaster flaking off the ceiling fell on Cecil's head and shoulders as he worked. There was no telephone and no electricity. But there was a lot of work, for the G.I.s on leave or quartered in Manila sought the services of American Express.

Cecil kept at the job for six months and then was relieved by Frank Fieth (now manager at Hong Kong) Long before the war ended, American Express was given an opportunity to extend its services in a new direction. Shortly after the liberation of Paris, General Eisenhower requested the American banks with French branches and the American Express to reopen their Paris offices for the benefit of the Allied forces there. Vice-President Bergeron immediately sailed for Europe in the hold of a troopship.

He found the Paris office was being used as a billeting centre for American troops. However, its records were intact. All through the war a notice and seal had been on the door marked "American property." Eugene Panaget, the French concierge, had remained on the premises, defending his charge like a terrier facing so many mastiffs. When Nazi troops tried to enter the building he would point to the sign and say fiercely, "You see that? You see what it says? You can't come in!"


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What next? The Mail Must Get Through

The Mail Must Get Through

Snugged down financially though it was, American Express officials regarded the immediate future with grave anxiety. For one thing, it was predicted that the sales of Travellers Cheques would reach a new low. The exact contrary proved to be the case. As the citizen armies gathered and were shifted from one part of the country to another, the wives and families of the men followed them about in pathetic anxiety to be with them until the last possible moment. As always when people are on the move, they bought American Express Travellers Cheques as the safest means of carrying their money.

Then, too, the United States Government encouraged the G.I.s to carry their accumulations of pay in American Express Cheques, and these were sold in the post exchanges of most of the great cantonments, as well as in ships' service stores.

Later, when the tremendous movement of troops abroad began, the soldiers carried American Express Travellers Cheques,... see: The Mail Must Get Through


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