1940s, historical fiction, history, World War II, writing

(8) Creating Historical Fiction: Malinta Tunnel, Corregidor Island, Philippines

Forgive me, it’s not Corregidor Island, but my shot is an island in the Pacific. Can we agree the sunsets are similar?

For my blogging buddies who study WWII, and for those who enjoy how historical fiction is created, here is an update on Chapter 5 of “The Lost Sisters of Bataan.”

Barbara Kiss and her nursing mates evacuated the jungle hospital in Bataan and find themselves at Malinta Tunnel on Corregidor Island. Reading memoirs is the best way to incorporate the details of an event to create the historical climate. The vernacular. The incidents. A day in the life. The tragedy.

Differing accounts experience similar events but from a different place on the island. A Navy officer tells his story on a ship. Another account is from the standpoint of a pilot. One is a Marine in a gunpit defending the southern shore at Monkey Point. Nursing accounts in the tunnel are priceless.

Next, factor the research from scholars, historical foundations, sites, specialty groups, and documentaries which have an important say about war in the Philippines. My head fills up.

Interested in the facts at Corregidor? Roger Mansell, Palo Alto, CA site titled “Center For Research Allied POWS Under the Japanese” is a great compilation of primary sources: http://www.mansell.com/pow_resources/camplists/philippines/pows_in_pi-OPMG_report.html#Malinta_Tunnel_Hospital_Group

How about a virtual field trip to Corregidor Island? I liked the site “Battery Way” created by John Moffitt.

https://corregidor.org/fieldnotes/htm/fots2-100523-2.htm Battery Way John Moffitt “Rediscovering Corregidor”

Finally, avoid “fact dumping” by describing the facts without plagerizing and integrating the facts into the adventures of the fictional characters.

The result? Historical fiction is an echo of the past.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 5:


April 9, 1942 

Six nurses huddled close, unable to see. Barbara crouched in the inky night waiting at the jungle periphery of Mariveles Harbor for a boat to transport them to Corregidor Island. To deprive the enemy, dynamite explosions rumbled and fire flashes announced U.S. efforts to demolish weapons and ammunition. She looked at her wristwatch and tilted the face until a flare illuminated it was 0330. During the intervals between detonations, the darkness was like a dense fog that insulated them from the demolition of war. Only their voices were heard.  

“Where’s our boat? It was supposed to be here at 0200.”

“Be patient. It will come.”

“I wish it were daylight. All I see in this blackness are faces. Our patients. We left them.”

“How could we?” 

“What were we supposed to do? We followed orders. We did our best.”

“I see the scared faces of the villagers who begged for a ride out of the jungle.” 

“What of the soldiers waiting for surgery?” 

“Where will the Japs take them?” 

The patter of small arms fire nearby interrupted their talk. A jeep arrived at the docks. Barbara breathed a sigh of relief when a flash illuminated Captains Roland, Fox, and Lt. Nesbit. Where was Lt. Colonel Schwartz? Someone whistled at the officers. In the jungle ferns, Barbara sat on a log with Cleopatra Dulay who shivered with chills. Yesterday the Sergeant had mild symptoms, but now Malaria fever throttled her. Barbara blindly stretched out her hand and aimed for Cleopatra’s forehead. She was burning up. The only idea Barbara could think to do was distract Cleopatra from her uncomfortable situation. Curiosity prompted her. “How old are you, Dulay?”

Barbara heard teeth chattering. Cleopatra answered, “I am thirty.” 

“You look–”

“I know. I’m so tiny people assume I’m a girl.” She wrapped her arms around herself and clenched her jaw to keep her teeth from clacking when she talked. “My mother wanted me to marry and have children. My aunts and sister had problems delivering babies due to our size.” She started to wheeze. “That’s not for me.” It took time for her to regulate her breathing. “I enlisted in the Filipino Army when I was eighteen. It was the only way to bypass village life. Join the Army. Send money to the family.”

“You did a fine job as the chief supply clerk. No. 2 ran smoothly because of you, Cleopatra.” 

She tapped Barbara’s hand in thanks. “What will Malinta Tunnel be like?”

“Better than the jungle, surely?” 

The male officers drew closer to the nurses and stood vigilant on the sandy beach. Lt. Nesbit batted away fronds and crawled over buttress roots to get to the pair. “I thought it was your voice I heard. How are you holding up, Sgt. Dulay?” 

“I’m glad you finally found us, Ma’am. What happened?”

“When we got the order to move, in the confusion, some of us had to fend for ourselves and walk. I was one of them. Until I came upon Captains Roland and Fox. Has anyone seen Ethel Thor? I can’t account for her.”


A twinge of worry warbled her voice. “It’s a hodgepodge scramble. I’m sure Thor will catch up.”

“She’s a tough cookie.” 

“A crusty old bird, that one.”   

“I watched her help Capt. Roland with a complicated surgery. Her hands were inside the cavity rearranging the innards of a patient while Paul stitched his aorta.”  

“She’s a lifer.” 

“Not this nurse. As soon as the war is over, I’m going back to Wisconsin to kiss my future husband and watch my children grow up.” 

“Amen to that, Carol.”

“I’m going to live in a big city and eat in cafes every day. I’ll find a nice man who loves books, and we will live together in sin.” 

“Who said that?” 

“What? That was Barbara?”

“I thought you’d be back in your Minneapolis neighborhood, married, and filling up on bagels with lox?” 

“And a chocolate egg cream.” Barbara laughed. “I pledge to order both every day for the rest of my life. But it won’t be in Minneapolis.” 

A hefty explosion silenced their chattering. They had a clear view along the coast of an ammunition dump explosion. The fireworks catapulted upward like white ribbons reaching for the moon. Lt. Nesbit announced, “I’m going to the pier to find a phone and contact headquarters at Corregidor for help. If a boat arrives, nurses, make sure you take it.”  

Lt. Fox told her, “I’ll go with you, Lieutenant.” They scrambled down to the harbor buildings. Soon a Navy seaman waved his flashlight in their direction. He pulled a cord and started the outboard motor attached to the stern of a dinghy.  

Captain Roland said, “Go, girls. He can take the six of you across the bay to Corregidor. We’ll catch the next ride.” 

Barbara, Cleopatra, Laura, Carol, and two Filipino nurses crept with their heads down to the dock. The waning moon kept the waters dark, and their eyes adjusted to shadows. As the boat puttered away from Mariveles Bay, no one said a word. The water was smooth, and Barbara put her finger in the coolness. Laura reached over and yanked on her arm. She pointed. A few yards away the water shifted and rolled. The dorsal fins of several sharks sliced up through the water testing the air. Barbara yelped and put her hand back in her lap.  

Thanks for reading, friends.

P.S. This eighteen minute video is useful for my spatial, mathmatical-logical learners. The technology is excellent. It puts World War II into perspecitve as a human, global event.

The ending is uplifting. Have you seen it?

37 thoughts on “(8) Creating Historical Fiction: Malinta Tunnel, Corregidor Island, Philippines”

  1. You’d better hurry up with that research and writing more chapters because I want to know what happens next!
    The thoroughness of your work really shows through. You must be so pleased with how it’s all coming together.
    I’ve had to shelve my writing for the time being because of an impending house move. I’m surrounded by boxes and chaos so it’s very difficult to focus. Although with the Easter vacation coming up and some good weather I may be able to write in the garden.
    Are you due to finish work in April?
    Hope you’re well!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! Finish in April? No, I’m about 2/3 of the way finished of the first draft. Then comes the editing process. My goal is by August 1. Fingers crossed!
      A move — a life change will thwart your creative efforts in a heartbeat. I hope you get to pick up the pen soon! Thanks for checking in with me, Sarah.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Going strong then. It’s great to have August 1 to aim for. Looking forward to hearing more about it.
        Editing is certainly tiresome and is something I’d happily hand to someone else and get them to identify the corrections I need to do! Although I do derive a sense of achievement once I get into it.
        Hopefully back on track with my own writing in the next few weeks. I’ve certainly got that urge to get going again! And reading your post makes me all the more keen to get back to it!

        Liked by 2 people

          1. Yes, it is historical fiction. It’s a pre-war (1938) spy/espionage tale. Not terribly erudite, more a bit of fun really but I’ve enjoyed researching so many aspects of it. I’m not sure my imagination is as wild as real life events so need these diaries and first hand accounts to give me inspiration!

            Liked by 2 people

        1. I am glad to hear it and glad to see you going full steam ahead with writing. When I’m not able to write, something is definitely missing. 🙂 Things are good here. I keep plugging away at goals. Not a lot of momentum at the moment but still moving. I have a lot that I am grateful for. Great to see you posting again Cindy.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s quite some time since I read up several accounts of the war as it affected the Philippines. It was horrendous for those left behind and the incredible bravery of those who chose to stay behind and melt into the jungles with Filipino patriots harassing the Japanese came at high cost. I’m glad you are reminding us of that bravery in your novel.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Ian. One of my characters is my favorite. She’s a Filippino nurse. They all played a huge role, naturally. It was their country that was fought over. I hope I do them credit. We have a 4 million Filippino population in the U.S. Not many know about that. A big portion live in California. It’s interesting to me how minority groups cluster together in a state. Anyway, thank you for your continued interest in my project. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes I’ve met Filippino people in California and you are right about them congregating in groups when they migrate. We have a large population of them in Melbourne Australia, and there are many of them working in Hong Kong and the Gulf States too. They are lovely people. I’ve visited the Philippines many times and briefly stayed there teaching at a university in Silang Cavite. That’s not far from the volcano that blew its top a couple of years ago.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s hard to “see” a number. That’s why I liked the video. I also liked the feeling of hope knowing we are in a period of the great peace. Atrocities happen today, for sure, but on a historical time line, on a global scale, this is a good time to be alive!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you for this lovely post, Cindy. I enjoyed this insightful video and you extract. It’s funny how size matters. I had to have caesarean births because I am also small so your character is wise. Have a lovely Easter, Cindy.

    Liked by 2 people

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