Bersiap: The Bloody Independence War After WWII – Part 16

An eye-witness account by Gerrit Vermeulen, a young Dutch soldier from Renswoude
In his own words:

Gendong Tambak, 14 December 1946

The official list of casualties in the week of December 1 to 7 was released yesterday. During that week 24 Dutch soldiers have died. Another 24 men who will not see their fatherland again. Does it make us feel good to know that during that same week more than 2400 of our enemies have died? Was it worth our comrades’ lives?

18 December 1946

Yesterday we heard a bombardment the likes of which we haven’t seen or heard since the Germans bombarded Rotterdam. And that during the cease-fire that is still in effect. Now don’t think of a British bombardment on Germany with 1000 airplanes. Yesterday, only five airplanes and two warships participated in bombarding the town of Grissee, where we have been stationed earlier. There are always a lot of extremists in that area; they must have had many casualties, but there is no word on that yet. The extremists must be bored during the cease-fire and enjoyed firing at passing Dutch ships with machine guns and mortar grenades. Of course that is no fun for the crew and they had to respond in kind.

22 December 1946

Several waste barrels are placed in our camp, in which trash and leftover food are dumped. Once a week they have to be emptied, and once I notice so much bread in them that I say to the sergeant of the week, “What a waste to throw all this food in the kali while so many natives are starving.”
“Do you have a solution?” he asks.
“I think I do.”
I go to the kitchen and get three krantjeng (baskets) which I put in three different places in the camp, with a sign saying: please deposit any clean, good bread in here; we will distribute it among the natives. Great success! With about 40 to 60 slices of bread per day, twice a day, I go to the kampong closest to the camp, let the people stand in line and give them each a slice of bread. After the first time I always take a bayonet to keep the most greedy people at bay. Soon though, a mob is taking the bread out of the basket before I can hand it out and I have to call the dessa police for help. The medic who wants to take a basket to his sick people one day gets pulled off his bike when first one, then more, then half the natives of the kampong surround him to get a slice of bread; his sick people get nothing. The natives are starving, and will do anything for a slice of bread.

Gendong Tambak, 25 January 1947

Our Christmas and New Years went by in peace and quiet. We can’t fish any more, because a Chinese with 25 coolies and a net of several hundred meters catches all the fish there is. And swimming is not healthy considering the presence of sharks.

Several days ago a patrol went out with the order to scout the area and evacuate a number of natives that was remaining in one of the kampongs. Most of them had been taken away or had fled, and the ones that remained were starving to death. Not all of the fifteen natives were happy to come along, but they were forced to. One woman escaped three times but was caught every time. Her husband and son, having seen “the danger” in time, were in hiding. And so the patrol returned with those fifteen men, women and a children. That morning, five more natives had walked into our camp so there were twenty in total. They were all taken to the first kampong on the road to Soerabaja. In the next few days, another seventeen joined them, and I am given the task to provide them with food.

Two or three times a day I go there with food. They live all together in one large home with good tile floors. They sleep on the floor, on a mat or just on the floor. That is not strange to them, they are used to it. It has happened that we ran into ten or more people sleeping outside in the moonlight, between the tambaks (fish ponds), and we had to step over them, but none of them moved, pretending be asleep.
I have to constantly be aware to make the food distribution go smoothly. I believe that the evacuees, if they had to distribute the food themselves, would fight over it. They are mostly women and children, very, very skinny; some of the children have bulging stomachs from malnutrition and are so thin that their skin stretches taut across their ribs. The rags on their bodies are so skimpy that nobody in the Netherlands would want to wear them, even in war time. Some of them have brought a few of their possessions like a machete, a plate, a basket or a pan, but most of them have nothing. When I bring them a bag full of tin cans for drinking, the bag is immediately used as a sleeping mat. I let them work too, clean the house, fetch water and wood for the fire, and so on.

Perak, 6 February 1947

We are moving again, this time to Perak, in the area close to the airfield, with about twelve homes, serving as soldiers’ quarters. We are by far not as free as we were at Zeepost. Every home has one baboe who washes and irons the clothes, cleans the food bowls, brooms the floor and so on. The baboe in my house has an ugly face, which is even more unsightly because one of her eyes is damaged and partly closed. But she is clean and proper, which can’t be said of all baboes. She arrives at seven in the morning and leaves around three o’clock.

Stay tuned!

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