Memories of a Young Boy
Reunited With Mother
There were already transports of POWs going to Batavia. An acquaintance was going, and my father asked him to take a pair of wooden sandals he had made for my mother. We had engraved them by burning her name on it with a magnifying glass. To this day I have these slippers as a memento. My mother did not wear them out.
My father had the opportunity to have himself declared unfit for work by a doctor, who recommended us to recuperate in Australia. The Red Cross saw to it that we would meet our mother at the departure point. We were put on a train transport to Batavia under heavy Gurka guard. We now had some protection from the British Gurkas. The Indonesians had a holy awe for these Gurkas as they were bald with one little string of hair. They were slit-eyed and fiery. With a sten gun in their right hand and a sword of a curved kind in their left, they were unbeatable. We arrived safe and sound in Batavia where trucks were waiting to take us to a hotel. Well, the hotel was completely sandbagged and we slept on the floor. Again, we were arguing which was the softest tile. This was necessary, as it does not feel nice to have your bones sticking out making contact with something hard. At night, however, we could not sleep. We came from the mountains and were used to cool weather. Here, the air was so thick and hot that you could cut it. Outside, there was a pitched battle being fought with machine guns and hand grenades.
The next morning, we were put in trucks and driven to Tandjong Priok. On arrival at the quayside, we saw a crowd of women standing there, eagerly staring into the trucks. My brother cried suddenly, “I see her!” The truck had not come to a standstill yet, but we jumped out. We did not need to worry about luggage— we did not have anything, not even a toothbrush. (We brushed our teeth with crushed brick and our fingers. ) My mother was very thin and wearing our slippers. After our embraces and crying, we looked at each other and felt that we were all strangers to each other. My father had not seen my mother for three and a half years. For us it was a little shorter, but it seemed like a lifetime. I was now 12 years old and completely independent. After all I had been through, I was like an adult. I had not been sick one day, except for some ulcerated wounds. If you punctured your skin, infections would start and they became big, round, open festering wounds. There was no medication, so we tried drying them in the sun. But the most difficult thing was to keep the flies off. The best thing to do was to put your leg into the river where little fishes would eat away the pus—very painful, though! These ulcers would eat away the skin. My brother was less fortunate. He had no more skin on most of his lower leg. It was now all bandaged. After the war, we got medicine, a yellow powder, that was freely sprinkled on the wounds and the skin came back. Unfortunately, on part of his shinbone the flesh was completely gone (this eventually would cause his demise). No skin could grow there, and he always wore a bandage over it.
At Tandjong Priok we boarded a Japanese freighter, a miserable looking ship which took us outside the harbor to a big ocean liner, the MS Oranje, a hospital ship, on which we sailed to Australia and a new adventure.
This concludes the memories of the Japanese concentration camps as experienced by a young boy, Walter Hobé. Still haunted by the memories, Walter is 80 years old, lives in Canada and has been happily married for over fifty years.
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Until next time,