Bersiap: The Bloody Independence War After WWII – Part 10

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

Gendang Tambak, 28 July, 1946 – Continued

Along the road are low embankments which provide cover for us as we open deadly fire at the enemy. Immediately several of them quickly disappear behind the hilltop ahead of us. We also see one man tumble and fall and lie still. He lies pretty close by. Now we don’t see anyone anymore. But there, there! A few of them jump up and try to reach the hilltop up ahead. But there is no escaping for them any more. Immediately we open fire with brens, stens and guns, and they fall down. This is repeated a couple of times and then nothing. Five or six of our men dash forward to see if there are any enemies left behind the hilltop. But there are none, and on the way back they count the dead bodies and take their weapons. About a kilometer up ahead another part of our patrol is still in heavy combat. But we relax, light a cigarette, drink something and wipe our sweaty faces, while closely looking around. One of us got a bullet through his leg but he can still walk. Slowly, the firing diminishes, until only a single shot in the distance disturbs the silence. We are master of the terrain. The enemy is completely defeated.

We start heading home. With great caution still, because the enemy may still be hiding somewhere. Far behind us we hear several more shots, but they can’t harm us. The majority of the patrol takes the road and others go through the forest to provide side cover. But all remains quiet. We get home at 10:30 a.m. after eight heavy hours. The booty consists of 16 guns, 2 heavy machine guns, about 10 grenades and a nice pile of ammo. We guess the number of enemy casualties to be 50, of which 32 dead: a hefty loss for the extremists in men and weapons. Apparently they thought that we would be intimidated again by loud gunfire. They must have been totally surprised by our offensive. There is no telling of how strong the enemy is, but they sure exceed our troops in numbers.  We have 13 prisoners, five men, three women, a child of 4 or 5, two babies of 6 and 2 months, and two goats. I don’t really know if they are prisoners or liberated evacuees, but extremists they are not.

However, even though this fight was successful for us, I hope they will soon reach a cease-fire, so that we won’t have to shoot at our fellow human beings any more, our fellow citizens really, (even though they are straying citizens). We count one Japanese among the dead, but I know there were more of them. In the afternoon I go into town for a little while on the bike. That is the life of a soldier on the front line: a deadly fight in the morning and a bike ride in the afternoon.

Most of our men go to bed around 7:00 p.m. We get up again at 1:30 a.m. for a long, hard day on patrol. Not in the mountains this time, but on level terrain: along a jungle path, through a field and a kampong, in between fish ponds, across a small kali, then crossing a large kali. This river has a ferry, and we can get across in a rowboat. On the other side we find a kampong, where we rest for a while and talk to the people. When we leave none of us has any cigarettes left. We get home at 9:30. That has been the last patrol for us for a while.

29 July, 1946

Today we are moving again. We have to watch a bridge in an occupied kampong with friendly, helpful people. Nothing dangerous happens.

Kalianak, 1 August 1946

Reflecting on the heavy battle we fought against the extremists, I think they are just a bunch of young men in their twenties, armed and instigated by the Japanese and by each other, led by a few of the Japs. They realize that they are no match for a real army and try to lure us into ambushes and attempt nocturnal attacks. But when it comes down to a real battle, their fate is a fast retreat or destruction. In the mean time, they make our lives stressful.

In the afternoon we get a telephone order that Ab de Bruin and I will have to join the patrol tomorrow. It will be a very large patrol with several men from each post and also one or two platoons stationed in town.

Kalianak, 5 August 1946

They pick us up at 5 p.m. but it is already dark when we arrive. In the dark we find an empty hut, hoist our klamboes and go to sleep, because we have to get up again at 3:00. Extremists disturb our sleep by shooting at our camp a few times but they don’t cause any damage.

Friday morning. Usually we are among the first, but today among the last, designated to protect the First Aid post, a little behind the front. I am ordered to carry the injured, a stretcher on my shoulders. We stay behind in a kampong until, at the break of dawn, the shooting starts: confrontation with the enemy. Now it is silent again, then it starts again, from various directions. When the enemy keeps shooting from one spot, we use artillery fire and sometimes mortar fire. We clearly discern our guns and brens as well as the enemy carbines and machine guns. The battles last more than three hours. We have nothing else to do than keep an eye on the vicinity. Kind of boring after a while, sometimes it is better to join the fight.

Finally we get the message: We will be coming back. The enemy fires another few mortar grenades, a little too close for comfort, I think. It still takes quite a while before our men get back. The enemy has several casualties, we have none. We have four prisoners: three natives and one critically injured. I have to help carry the injured man. The booty consists of two guns and the bottom part of a heavy machine gun.

On Saturday I have to do kitchen chores. Wash, polish, clean up, take out the trash in the truck, make sandwiches and so on. We get shot at for a while longer. Bullets fly over and around the kitchen, hitting the ground. But as usual, nobody gets hit. I work until six and then have to get up twice in the night to stand guard.
Stay tuned!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, my dear friends. I’m going to be celebrating with my family and will return with the story of Gerrit Vermeulen two weeks from now.


Bersiap: The Bloody Independence War After WWII – Part 9

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

Gedangan, 1 July 1946

At 7:00 a.m. during roll call the Captain says: “Hey guys, we are at the front, and the necessary work has not been completed. So hurry up, for your own safety.”

I get 7 coolies, all different ones than yesterday. One of the coolies jumps into the air, reaches down into the water and grabs a huge turtle, which had bitten him in his foot. Yesterday he caught a kodok besar (large frog), which he took home to eat. Frogs here are twice the size as in the Netherlands. The ditch finally gets done.

Next, we have to clear the terrain, clean trashcans and fabricate lids for them, and dig a hole for empty cans waste. Outside the kitchen is already a large pile of empty cans. But when the coolies go home at 3:00 p.m., all the empty cans go with them. They can re-use them for all kinds of purposes.

This afternoon I get the order to pack up and move again. Quickly I get ready and jump on the first available car. The road is full of potholes – thank goodness it’s only 6 kilometers to the next post: a small railway station with two small buildings for us to use. Kampong Gendangan lies about 500 yards from the tracks.

Gedangan, 2 July 1946

Part of my platoon arrived here yesterday. I get 12 coolies for my work and two of our own boys, who have to cut down the tall alang-alang (hard, tough grass). I have to clean out a well, fill other holes and drains, clean an existing toilet and dig another one, at about 50 yards out, amidst tall grass; a 3-feet deep ditch, which can be closed when it’s full. Tomorrow we’re going on patrol – a heavy day ahead.

Gendang Tambak, 28 July, 1946

Last Thursday they showed a movie under the stars. Attending was not mandatory, we could go if we wanted and if we were not standing guard. It is still wonderful to sit outside at night. First we saw a trainings film: how to stay healthy, how to treat injuries, how to put broken arms an legs into splints, how the Japanese fight and how we have to fight, and how to best kill people.

A few bursts of bren fire sounded through the silent night. We didn’t care: it was more than 400 yards away. Then we watched a beautiful movie about Javanese life and customs on Java. More shots were heard, about 300 yards away, so across the kali. We thought it safer to sit on the floor rather than a bench or the roof of a car. And the movie continued. Then two brens started rattling and an enemy machine gun shot bullets through the air, without doing damage. The movie stopped and all went dark. Because it was 9 o’clock already we went to our huts and to bed.

It’s Friday, and two cars arrive with soldiers, several nurses, the battalion’s doctor, the battalion’s commander, Major Erne, and a few other officers. We are getting ready for a patrol to Indro tomorrow. The name of that kampong is bringing up bad memories. The marines lost one man whose body they couldn’t even take with them because of the heavy firing. And we ran into an ambush there once. We always run into the enemy in Indro. One of my friends remarks: “I wish I had to stand guard tonight, so I wouldn’t have to go on patrol tomorrow.” And I say, “I wish it was Saturday afternoon already.”

Early Saturday morning the command sounds: “Get up boys, it’s time to get up.” We get up, get dressed, have breakfast and get ready. It’s two o’clock. We leave at 2:30 a.m., a large patrol. A dark moon in the clear night sky, the weather is nice for a night walk. Slowly and carefully we move forward. We do make a lot of noise though: a few hundred yards up ahead one of our carts with two heavy mortars bumps loudly over the uneven road. It’s almost like calling out: “Watch out! Here we come!”

The group gets divided. We have to leave the path and continue into the forest. Before daylight we hear three shots, but so far away that they can’t very well  be meant for us. Take cover, walk on, take cover again. Our patrol forms a line of several hundred yards. Suddenly, loud firing not too far up ahead. It’s most likely part of our patrol connecting with the enemy. We move ahead again until we hear shots close by. We take cover behind palm trees and low embankments but we don’t see anything. Will it be just like other times? Fire back when we get fired on, if necessary with grenades. The army commanders don’t take any risks with their men. But it feels like the extremists are mocking us: they fire a little, then pull back a little; at night they circle our camp to scare us.

Anyway, we move forward again, take cover again. Enemy fire rattles straight ahead and close by, but because of the dense undergrowth and the hilly terrain we can’t see a thing. Suddenly enemy war cries erupt in front of us: “Madjoeoeoeoe Merdèkaaaaa”. It’s what they shout when they attack (Move ahead, Attack, for Freedom).

The lieutenant commands: “Raise the bayonets! Don’t pull back! Fire when you see them! Fire to kill and string them on your bayonets! Do not hesitate! Hold on!” One minute passes. We are tense. It’s kill or cure. Is there a large or small number out there? Will we get many of them against us? Another commando from the lieutenant: “Forward, hold on! String them on your bayonets!” Screaming loudly we jump up and run forward, across the open terrain, into the dense undergrowth, across open terrain again, then take cover again. We don’t see the enemy but the shots keep being fired and bullets fly over our heads. We don’t think of the danger, we are not afraid. Again “Forward!” sounds the commando, and again we cross open terrain, run through the bush, across open terrain again and through a palm jungle until we reach the road. And there, we suddenly see the enemy, running ahead of us, crawling, hiding behind embankments…

Stay tuned!

I welcome your comments


Bersiap: The Bloody Independence War after WW II – Part 8

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

Soerabaja, 12 June 1946

It has been quite a while since I wrote something, but nothing much is happening. So let me tell you about my little “Javanese girl.” We had seen her roaming around, sleeping on a bench in the bus stop, then back on the grounds of the compound. We said to each other, “why don’t we ask her to sleep with us in the waiting room.” We put up a stretcher, add some curtains and other cloths and ask if she wants to sleep there. “Yes,” she says. We guess her to be about 8 – 10 years old. A skinny little girl, she says she has no home, no father, no mother, and happily accepts little treats from the soldiers. She soon finds the kitchen and when I take her to the cook she gets plenty of food, which she devours without fork or spoon. We call her Sarina, after the song (Sarina, the child from the dessa).

We’re packing up and leaving again, but two months later, riding my bike through the other side of town, I see a group of young children with a Catholic nun. And there is our Sarina! She recognizes me too – the nun says her name is Daria. None of us knows where Daria is from, but I am happy that she is in good hands now.

Benowa, 26 June 1946

We’re getting up at 5:45 a.m. At 7:00 the cars for my platoon come by, but they don’t stop! Now what? “Let me take you to the kitchen – we can still catch up” says the cook.
“Toean, sepeda?” (your bike, sir?) asks the djongos.
“Saja, djongos, lekas, lekas”. Yes, quick, quick!
We load everything on top of the kitchen car, and race to the station, where a crazy activity is in full swing. We load sand bags, barbed wire, kitchen stuff and more onto the waiting train, which leaves the station an hour later.

Very slowly, because of the danger of land mines, we go towards our goal. We stop before we get there to give one division of us the opportunity to explore the terrain up ahead. After all, it’s possible that the enemy in large numbers are waiting for us. But all appears to be safe. The train pulls up again and then we arrive in Benowa, a dessa (small town, larger than a kampong), about 20 kilometers from Soerabaja.

The first thing we do is set out posts to prevent unexpected enemy attacks. We pile up sand bags for a wall to hide behind. Two officers, a few men and I walk to the kampong that has been vacated for us. All is safe and we split up among the houses: I choose one together with my two best friends and three others. Then we get to work. First of all we dig a deep trench to use as an emergency toilet: quite a job in the dense clay soil. Then we fortify our hut on its most dangerous side. With wood and soil we create a barrier to protect us somewhat from enemy fire when we lay on the floor inside. The terrain in front of us slopes down, so that it will be more difficult to hit us from below. The six of us hit the sack early that night.

Benowa, 27 June, 1946

Together with a few others I have to build latrines over a small kali (stream), but we first have to clean out that kali in order for the feces to be flushing down. A dirty job, cleaning that sticky clay kali – our progress is slow. We ask the Kepala Kampong and the Loerah (head of the kampong and the district) for 20 coolies, but none show up, and we struggle on until night. One of us has to go to the hospital for an ulcer on his foot. My two friends reinforce our barricade even more; everyone is busy from morning till night, building barbed wire fences, constructing barriers, standing guard, and so on. The cannons have arrived and are put into place. And then we worry: will there be a nighttime attack? There is no electricity here, so we retire early.

Benowa, 28 June, 1946

Roll call at 5:30; breakfast at 6:00; the sick report in at 6:30 and roll call and start of work at 7:00. Lunch from 12:00 to 1:00; roll call at 5:15, then dinner and end of work. This morning at 7:00 the Kepala Kampong arrives with 20 coolies and a little later the Loerah with 80 more. So now we have 80 coolies! When more show up in the course of the day we send them home: we have enough. These coolies are not lower class men, but regular kampong people, thankful for our arrival and help to fight the extremists. They get fl.1 (one guilder) per day. I get 9 men to help me dig a trench. But it is tough work. At first I can’t get the shovel into the clay, then I can’t get it out, and when it is finally out, the thick clay is stuck to the shovel and I can’t get it off! But now watch how the natives are doing it! There is a little water in the ditch. They dig into the soft spots with their bare hands and throw the clay up on the side. The harder spots are treated with their bare feet, shaped into a ball which they throw up on the side with their hands. If it is harder still they use a patjol, (a kind of hoe) to break up the clay and throw the pieces up on the side. It’s too bad I can’t converse with them: they speak Javanese and I get nowhere with my few words of Malay. Two words they know, however: makan (eat) and minoem (drink). And then two other words: Tabeh Toean (goodbye, sir). When they stop work at 3:00 p.m., a nice part of the ditch is finished. Saluting me in their own way, bowing, they say: “Tabeh Toean” and leave for their homes.

Benowa, 29 June, 1946

Nothing special happens today except for a terrible accident. We are strictly forbidden to shoot here. But twice that day I heard a shot. Then again, around 2:30 I think I hear another shot. ‘Darn! Why do they do that,’ I think. Then one of my two best friends comes running in shouting “The doctor! The doctor! They are shooting with the bren!” He is clasping both hands to his bare chest and both his chest and his hands are full of blood. He is passing me on his way to the doctor and I run along with him. I notice a wound on his back as well and conclude he has been shot through his breast. Thank goodness on the right, not in his heart. Two other men run in with another in between them, wounded in his shoulder.

Another soldier appears, calling, “Get the doctor! He is needed more over there!” ‘More casualties?’ I am thinking, while I run with the doctor to the place of the accident and there, on the floor, lies my other best friend: dead. They lift him onto a gurney and carry him away. When all that is finished, I go to my hut, sit down in the darkest corner and cry my heart out. A soldier, I should be ashamed to cry like that, but I can’t help myself. My best friend is dead; my other best friend, wounded.

However, as a soldier in a combat zone, I must stop thinking about that. So I quickly go back to work. One casualty and two heavily injured men because of someone’s carelessness is truly appalling. The three men that were hit were placing barbed wire near one of the barriers when a burst of fire came out of the barrier because of someone’s carelessness!

Stay tuned!

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