Celebrate Christmas and the End of 2016

Dear readers,

I invite you to take the time to celebrate Christmas and the Beginning of the New Year, as will I.

In January I will continue the letters from Gerrit Vermeulen to his mother in the Netherlands, about the Bersiap, the War for Independence on the Island of Java, which he enlisted for.

So have a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!


Bersiap: The Bloody Independence War After WWII – Part 13

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

Benowo, 14 September 1946
, Continued

In between the tambaks (fish ponds) we march, and at daybreak we position ourselves at the far end. From other locations more platoons have advanced in cooperation with us, and 2 to 3 kilometers away we hear the fighting going on already. At the end of the tambaks, in front of us, is an open sawah (rice field), and then the terrain slopes up to expose hundreds of people, shooting at us; bullets fly over and past us. But through the binoculars it appears that most of the people are refugees from the nearby dessa (village). Fleeing to the top of the hill they got caught in the fire and most of them are now returning to their dessa. We advance in a straight line but the closer we get the less the firing. Straight ahead, where we know one of our platoons to be, the firing is fierce, and firing is also continuing with the platoon to our right.

Many fugitives appear, men, women and children; a few of them are carrying some of their possessions. But most of them must have left in a hurry, leaving everything behind. Some mothers are holding a hand in front of the eyes of the child they are carrying. In a kampong where we were last week they told us that the extremists say, “Anak-anak ketjil makanan orang belanda” (white people eat little children). In several dessas little children sometimes scream with fear when they see us.

We stay at this post for a while. In front of us I see something white in a ditch. “What can that be?” I ask one of the boys, “Perhaps a fugitive?” Cautiously I go and take a look in the ditch. Sure thing! About 15 people are crouching down on the dry grass below. Most of them have completely covered their heads with their clothing. A few dare to peek at me through their eyelashes. “Ada Pemoeda?” (are there young rebels?) I ask.
Tida ada toean.” (No sir)
Ada Takoet?” (Are you afraid?)
Saja Toean.” (Yes sir)
No wonder they are afraid with all the shooting going on.

We move back a ways and take a stand in the burning sun for another hour. Another platoon moves across in front of us and disappears in the forest where the fighting has been continuing. Then we move forward again for about one kilometer and position ourselves. The intention is for the extremists to be driven towards us but that does not work this time. Again we move forward for about 2 kilometers and come upon a road. Bullets fly over our heads continuously but our platoon does not fire a single shot. From somewhere a heavy machine gun is participating in the fight. We stop for about an hour at the side of the road while up ahead the fighting continues.

Next, we move back to the main headquarters of this operation, still about 15 kilometers from our base, Benowo. We don’t have to cover that distance on foot; for the first 6 kilometers we go in cars and the rest in a train. We arrive home around five p.m. This operation did not have the success according to the setup and expectations. We had marched out with several hundred men, a lot of shooting had taken place, but we ended up with only a few prisoners and loot. On our side only one man was shot in his foot.

Benowo, 18 September 1946

We are having a few quiet days in camp. We all go to the doctor for a medical checkup and get a shot in the arm against cholera and typhoid. It does not hurt, but the arm is a little red and swollen and sensitive for a few days, and we feel a little under the weather. But after lunch on the second day I feel fine again. They say that negotiations are taking place and there is a ceasefire right now. Although I don’t have much faith in those negotiations, I do hope that they will lead to an acceptable agreement.

Benowo, 21 September 1946

It has been a week since the cannons were blasting here, but this morning they are at it again, blowing tens of grenades into the air. If any of you is interested in one of those large, copper shells, let me know and I will send them to you – at your expense of course. There are hundreds of them all around on the ground for the taking.

I went on a couple of short patrols, had guard duty once, but most of all I have been busy tying knots for a large fishnet. A lady from Ambon that I know gave me the inner net, I bought some rope, and I can find plenty of lead at the airfield, but tying the knots is a big job. I have had a young helper for a week, who worked for me for four to five hours. He gets a dime in the morning and a dime in the afternoon. Perhaps you think that is very little. But if I would give him 50 cents per day, I would run the risk that he would not come back the next day or would not want to work any more. With 50 cents he will feel rich, why then should he work? It’s the same with the men. When a coolie has worked hard one day and he gets 2 guilders he is happy, and he goes home saying, “Terima kasih Tuan, tabeh Tuan, saja poelang sekarang” (Thank you very much sir, good bye sir, I’m going home now). But he is going home with two guilders and the pay for one day is one guilder, so he feels he does not have to work the next day… and so he will not show up. This is not considered stupidity of the natives, it is normal.

The 12 year-old boy who was with me here ten weeks ago has been here every day again. He arrives at six thirty, gets the leftovers of the five men in the hut, washes the bowls, cleans the table, gets water for us and leaves around eight. He comes back at eleven thirty till one thirty and from four till five thirty. When he also has to do our laundry he stays longer. Every other day he buys a bunch of bananas for me. At night I give him one guilder for pisang and a dime for himself, and on his way here in the morning he buys a bunch of 20 to 30 pisangs at the pasar (market).

Officially children are not allowed in the camp, but around mealtimes several children always hang around; sometimes they get chased away only to get in again from the other side immediately. But Nain, the boy, is safe with us. I told him “Nain djongos saja.” (Nain is my houseboy).
Saja,” (Yes) he said.

Stay tuned!

I welcome your comments




Bersiap: The Bloody Independence War After WWII – Part 12

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

Gedangan, 5 September 1946

It is 7:00 in the morning and we hear shots coming from Benowo. That is strange, there has never been any fighting in Benowo so we call to find out what’s going on. Mercy! They tell us that most of the soldiers left early today on patrol, leaving only 40 men in the camp, which is now being attacked from two sides by about 200 men. Wirelessly the patrol is called back to relieve the camp. In the mean time, leaving a trail of casualties and injured, the attackers flee, straight into the arms of the returning patrol. Again there are many casualties and injured. We usually don’t get told how many dead bodies there are, but this time we think the number is anywhere between 70 and 100, plus the injured and the prisoners. Benowo is about 5 kilometers from Gedangan. Attacks in Bobo and Maro have similar results. But we suffered no casualties whatsoever, thank God.

Gedangan, 6 September 1946

I wonder how it is possible that the enemy in Benowo, Bobo and Maro suffered several hundred deaths and we did not have any. The attacks on those three places were carried out by about 1000 men, gangs of robbers, pesindo’s, (youths of the Communist Party), and a bunch of extremists. They had been told to go and kill the orang belanda (white people) in those three places and then to go to Soerabaja where there were 40 more orang belanda to kill. But those were actually killed by the Indonesians in Soerabaja, so they could just continue. These gangs were so poorly armed that it was pitiful. Most of them only had a spear. We later heard that the commanders considered them an unmanageable gang and sent them into battle assuming that they were going to be killed by our army, so that they would not bother the Indonesians any more. This is the hopeless way the so-called Republic of Indonesia is operating. There is no order, command, or leadership but only terror, plunder, murder and misery, and still there are people in the Netherlands who say, “Oh, leave those poor people alone! They are fighting for their freedom.”

Tuesday, 10 September 1946

Today the patrol has another catch. The men visiting the pasar on the square are interrogated. One of them, with an impudent face and carrying a large briefcase is quickly found out. The briefcase contained thousands of Japanese guilders. The commander of Grissee had sent him to Soerabaja to purchase car tires and bicycle tires for the extremists. On top of that he had a list with addresses of extremists in Soerabaja he could go to. But I think all those will have been imprisoned by now.

Thursday, 12 September 1946

Last night I went to bed around 8:30, but I did not fall asleep right away. When I was fast asleep around 9:30, I woke up suddenly by a loud bang. I was annoyed that the boys were making so much noise and turned over. But then the major came storming into our hut: “Set up the mortar, quick!” A sudden burst of grenades close by made me realize that I had been awoken by the sound of a grenade. Quickly we fired two light grenades out front but saw nothing. One of the guards said he had seen several men out front, who had thrown the two grenades that we had heard. But I think it was imagination because nothing happened and we went back to bed and I slept well.

Today, after work, as we are sitting in front of our hut where we sleep with five men, one of them yells “A snake, a huge snake in the hut!” Quickly we get a few sticks. But the snake is already invisible in the rubbish on the side and crawles out on the other side. I run around the outside and kill it; then one of the boys flattens the head with his rifle butt. I had hit it in the center, and one of the boys lifts it up by its tail. Suddenly a large frog falls out of the hole in the middle, a very large frog, still alive, with only a broken leg. But he can jolly well jump away and disappears in the tall grass.

Benowo, 14 September 1946

We have an early call tonight. At 12:30 we’re told: ” Get up boys, we leave at 2:30.” First along a path through the sawahs (rice fields) then along the embankments  in between the tambaks (fish ponds). After more than an hour we come to a largely destroyed dessa (village) and a kali (river), a wide, deep kali. There is no prauw (sort of canoe) to get across.

On the other side is a kampong, clearly visible in the moonlight. One of us takes his clothes off and swims across. Not a very pleasant job, to walk naked and unarmed into a kampong that is possibly occupied by armed extremists. He asks one of the natives if there is another canoe available but gets told that the extremists took all of the canoes the day before. One large canoe by the side of the kali is full of holes and totally useless.

There is nothing else to do but build a raft, because all of us swimming across with weapons and equipment is impossible. Then… we find two canoes on our side. A large one that we can’t lift and a small one for 7 or 8 men. We move the small canoe through the mud and into the water and with five men at a time, about ten times back and forth, bailing water after every crossing, we all make it across.

In between the tambaks we march and we position ourselves at the very end of them.

Stay tuned!

I welcome your comments


Bersiap: the Bloody Independence War After WWII – Part 11

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

Gendang Tambak, 6 August, 1946

In the night multiple shots are heard, close by and far away. The post that is considered absolutely safe is attacked by a group of 100 extremists. With a little planning they could have taken the five men that manned it by surprise, but instead they tried to find out if the post was on the alert by firing a few gunshots first, which of course immediately alerted our men. Assuming by the number of shots that the group of the attackers was large, our men called for immediate reinforcements. Upon the arrival of two trucks full, the enemy retreated. The reinforcement troops turned back and immediately 25 men went on patrol to try and cut off the retreating enemy, a move which was successful beyond expectations. Several men were shot down and a few were taken prisoner. They fled to a kampong from where they continued shooting. It’s a shame that several civilians were among the casualties. The enemy force of over 100 men, as was discovered later, was completely defeated by our patrol of 25 men. The battle lasted until our small patrol had used most of its ammunition.

Later, the prisoners told us that the plan was to blow up the bridge on post One, where they attacked us. They carried with them explosives, two heavy machine guns and one heavy mortar. They did not use the machine guns and the mortar, fearing our men would rush in to try and take them. On our side only one man had lost part of a finger. We estimated the losses of the enemy to be 25 men. Had we had a larger patrol, it would have even gone better.

Gendang Tambak, 8 August, 1946

Yesterday, it was up at 2:00 a.m., on patrol until noon. Three hours of rest, standing guard at 3:00 p.m. till 6:00 p.m., standing guard at 9:00 p.m. till midnight and back to bed until 7:00 a.m.

I sleep outside here, behind a bridge pillar, bulletproof from the front, nice and cool. It won’t be fun when it rains, but it won’t rain any time soon. The sun acts strangely here. In the Netherlands the sun rises in the east and travels through the south to the west. Here, the sun rises in the east, and travels through the north to the west, where it sets. For now, everything is quiet.

Reflecting on the situation, we are fighting the extremists in their Bersiap, their fight for independence from the Dutch, with a relatively small army in the vicinity of Soerabaja. But the violent Bersiap is taking place all over Java and other islands as well, killing hundreds of thousands of white people and Indo’s (mixed blooded civilians) every day. And it has been going on for a whole year now. Will we make a difference? Will the fighting ever end? (RHdJ)

Morokrembangan, 12 August 1946

It’s behind us: seven weeks in a row on duty at the front, now a few weeks of rest, which means rising at 5:30 a.m., serving until noon, then guard duty. But we are lucky to be at the best spot on the airfield: “Zeepost”. We are not allowed to swim in the ocean, because one of our men was attacked and killed by a shark. But we may go into town once in a while. And we go fishing with my net, fabricated from chicken wire and four long sticks, catching 27 beautiful, big fish the very first time. I sell ten of them in town for Fl.22 (22 guilders) and buy 25 kilos of sugar, which comes in handy, since we brew our own coffee and tea for the 25 men here.

Zeepost, 19 August 1946

“Sunday, a nice and quiet day”, I think, but no, the order comes at 6:00 a.m.: “Get up boys, we leave at 8:30. Take your weapons, beds, and let’s go.” We jump in the car, close the sailcloth around the back and sides so they can’t see us from the road, and off we go. It is bloody hot in the closed car and we are glad when we get to our destination, Gendong Tambak near Grissee. We attend a church service at 3:00, go to bed at 7:00 after watching many more soldiers arrive: a heavy patrol is awaiting us tomorrow.

We get up at midnight, leave at 2:00 a.m. and for a long time we are marching through jungles, across hills and valleys, until it finally gets light. We have arrived in enemy territory and the shooting begins. However, it takes a few hours before our group actually sees the enemy. Then we see, from the top of a hill, tons of extremists running across a street in the village of Grissee, at least a kilometer ahead of us. Yet they are also shooting from other positions closer by. We fire at them for at least an hour from our position, with the bren and the guns. Back and forth bullets fly over our heads, and we throw a few mortar grenades at them once in a while. Finally the others have caught up with us and we can move forward. First our artillery delivers an incredibly rapid fire up front, and we storm forward till we reach the edge of town; we remain there for about an hour and only see a few native men, women and children, without firing at them. Is the enemy waiting in the small town with ten or with hundreds of men? Did they flee or are they taking cover? It is too risky to advance now. Besides, our orders are to advance till here, and after eight hours we are not fresh anymore. We get home around 1:00 a.m. without any losses and with two prisoners, one of which is injured; the enemy suffered several casualties. It’s good to finally be back at Zeepost.

For your information: Today, in Dutch News NL you can read an article about upcoming research into the Bersiap period. Follow the link.


Stay tuned!

I am looking forward to your comments