I’m looking for information on Captain Nieves Fernandez, a Filipino school-teacher who became one of the leaders of guerrilla resistance to the Japanese during WWII on the island of Leyte, in the Philippines. The little that is recorded of her story is encapsulated in the picture above, which was taken on November 7, 1944, three weeks after MacArthur’s Leyte Landings brought the Americans back to the Philippines: “Captain Nieves Fernandez, the only known Filipino female guerrilla leader and formerly a school teacher, shows US Army Pvt. Andrew Lupiba how she used her long knife to silently kill Japanese soldiers during the Japanese occupation of Leyte Island. Image taken by Stanley Troutman, 7 November 1944, Mabuhay Las Piñas, Leyte Island, Philippines.”
Four days earlier, on Nov 3, 1944, AP outlets in the US ran a story on her which survives until today via this issue of the Lewiston (Maine) Sun Herald of that date. Note the other headline on the front page — “Japs Evacuate Leyte: Battle for Isle is Ending.” This is a little more than two weeks after the Leyte Landings, when General Douglas MacArthur famously returned to the Philippines where he and the Americans had the benefit of the effective resistance that Filipino and American guerrillas had been carrying on against the Japanese for the previous two and a half years. And in fact the date on the article is October 26, 1944, nine days after the Leyte Landings.
In case it’s hard to read, here is the article text:
School Ma’am Led Guerrillas on Leyte
Woman Tells How She Helped “Gas-Pipe Gang” Slay 200 Japanese
LEYTE, Oct 26 (Delayed) AP. A prim former school teacher, so far as known here the only woman to fight 2 1/2 years with Filipino guerrillas, told today how she commanded 110 natives who killed 200 Japanese with shotguns made from sections of gas pipe.
“That was when they called me Captain Nieves Fernandez,” She said. “Now I’m just Miss Fernandez.”
Paler than most native women of this section (her first name, Nieves, is the Spanish word for snows), Miss Fernandez was without shoes and was attired in a plain black frock as she conferred with American officers. She is 38 years old “at present.”
After teaching school at Tacloban, the Leyte capital recently occupied by American forces invading the Japanese-held Philippines, Miss Fernandez said she developed a wholesale business of her own.
“But when the Japs came,” she related, ” no one could keep anything. They took everything they wanted.
“They had ways of persuading like giving you scalding hot baths and freezng cold baths alternately, with never a rest, never any food, and never any water except the soapy water in the baths.”
Working with guerrillas south of Tacloban, Miss Fernandez rounded up native men to resist the Japanese. These men, she said, had three American rifles. The rest they made themselves out of gas pipe. They loaded thm with gunpowder and old nails.
They also made grenades, and sometimes they got hold of Japanese weapons.
U.S. Intelligence officers said the Japanese offered 10,000 pesos for her head. She was wounded once. There is a bullet scar on her right forearms.
(Many Filipinos are expert at making effective weapons out of gas pipe. The weapons ar as deadly as any first rate shotgun. The home-made guns are called “latongs” int he Visayan dialect of teh Central Philippines, and “paltiks” in the Tagalog dialect of the Manila area.
(In some of the tougher areas of the Manila district residences must be guarded not because housebreakers want money or jewels, but because they will strip a house of gas pipe for the illicit shotgun industry.
Fascinated? I was. I tried to find more.
Mostly I found the same information in the original AP article. However, on one history site, I found an excellent article on WWII guerrillas in the Philippines which gave some more information:
Various rebel groups in the Visayas, the central islands of the Philippines, worked with varying degrees of coordination with U.S. forces. One group, the Black Army, lead by Ruperto Kangleon played a crucial role in supporting U.S. operations, especially MacArthur’s invasion of Leyte island and the surrounding area. One captain in the Black Army on Leyte was Captain Nieves Fernandez, the only female guerrilla commander in the Philippines. Once a schoolteacher, Fernandez now commanded 110 men. She specialized in improvised weaponry and even used a homemade shotgun. She was also a superb marksman and killed over 200 Japanese soldiers. The Japanese, in turn, put a 10,000 Peso price on her head.
I kept looking. I then found this writeup on the “Deadliest Fiction” wikia site. The category is “real warrior” and so this is supposed to be a truthful writeup, but it includes details not found elsewhere which may be embellishments.
Captain Nieves Fernandez was schoolteacher who became the only known Filipino female guerrilla leader. Working with guerrillas south of Tacloban, Miss Fernandez rounded up native men to resist the Japanese. She commanded 110 natives who killed more than 200 Japanese with knifes and shotguns made from sections of gas pipes. The Japanese offered 10.000 pesos for her head. She was wounded once. There is a bullet scar on her right forearm. Nobody knows who she was before the war, but her bravery even reached the newspapers of the US overseas. In her battles, she was a master guerrilla fighter; an excellent crackshot and hand-to-hand combatant. She helped liberate her island from the country, and the guerrillas also provided valuable intelligence during MacArthur’s assault on the islands.
Intense and bloody fighting also occurred much in Leyte before the arrival of Gen. McArthur. Waray guerrillas under Captain Nieves Fernandez fought the Japanese in Tacloban. Being infamously known as a crackshot, Nieves extensively trained her men in combat skills and the making of improvised weaponry. She also led her men in the front, once taking out 200 Japanese soldiers with only 110 men, and the Japanese posted a 10,000 Pesos reward on her head. The guerrillas in Leyte were also very instrumental not only in the opposition against Japanese rule, but also in the safety and aide of the civilians living in the island. In the book The Hidden Battle of Leyte: The Picture Diary of a Girl taken by the Japanese Military by Remedios Felias; a former comfort woman, revealed how the Filipino guerrillas saved the lives of many young girls raped or to-be raped by the Japanese. In her vivid account of the Battle of Burauen, she recounts how the guerrillas managed to wipe out entire Japanese platoons off the various villages in the municipality, eventually saving the lives of many.
And that is pretty much it. There are several dozen more articles but nothing that adds more to the story.
Are there any relatives out there who know something? She would have been born in about 1906 in Tacloban, Leyte, where she became a schoolteacher and a shopowner prior to the Japaense occupation. There’s nothing on what happened to her after the war, when she became, as she said, “Miss Fernandez” again.
I would very, very much like to be able to dig up more about Captain Fernandez. There could a book, a documentary, or a feature film in this. I’m fascinated.
Leave a comment or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you know anyone, or anything, about her.
UPDATE 1: One other really interesting thing I found is this beautiful piece of art by Oakland Fil-Am artist Nicole Gervacio. Visit her website and see her art at http://www.nicolegervacio.com/. She also wrote a lovely post about this artwork at the South Seattle Emerald.
UPDATE 2: Here’s another picture, from Wikipedia. I’m trying verify that it’s her. Seems to be younger than in the 1944 picture.
The Wikipedia entry that mentions her doesn’t add much:
Waray guerrillas under a former schoolteacher named Captain Nieves Fernandez, fought the Japanese in Tacloban. Being infamously known as a crackshot, Nieves extensively trained her men in combat skills and the making of improvised weaponry. She led her men in the front and managed to take out over 200 Japanese soldiers in the war with only 110 men. The Imperial Japanese Army posted a 10,000 Pesos reward on her head in the hopes of capturing her but to no avail. The main commander of the resistance movement in Leyte however, was Ruperto Kangleon, a former Filipino soldier turned resistance fighter and leader. After the fall of the country, he successfully escaped capture by the Japanese before establishing a united guerrilla front In Leyte. He and his men, the Black Army, were successful in pushing the Japanese from the mainland province and further into the coastlands of Southern Leyte. Kangleon’s guerrillas provided intelligence for the American guerrilla leaders such as Wendell Fertig, and assisted in the subsequent Leyte Landing and the Battle of Leyte soon after. The guerrillas in Leyte were also very instrumental not only in the opposition against Japanese rule, but also in the safety and aid of the civilians living in the island. In the book The Hidden Battle of Leyte: The Picture Diary of a Girl taken by the Japanese Military by Remedios Felias; a former comfort woman, revealed how the Filipino guerrillas saved the lives of many young girls raped or to-be raped by the Japanese. In her vivid account of the Battle of Burauen, she recounts how the guerrillas managed to wipe out entire Japanese platoons off the various villages in the municipality, eventually saving the lives of many.
UPDATE 3: We have talked to Lillibelle Fernandez Arong, the granddaughter of Nieves, and she confirms that Lola Nieves lived until she was 91, which would mean she died in 1996 or 1997, and that she had three sons, none of them surviving. She lived out her life in Tacloban City. Hoping to learn more soon.