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 ceasefire 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 have been bored during the cease-fire and enjoyed firing at passing Dutch ships with machine guns and mortar grenades. Of course that was 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 anticipated “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 join 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 partially 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!

I welcome your comments


Bersiap: The Bloody Independence War After WWII – Part 15

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

Gendong Tambak, 10 October 1946

Yesterday a pretty large patrol went out. We had no casualties of our own but made nine hostages and gained five rifles and one bren (possibly bought for a low price from the British). The enemy suffered at least eight deaths. Today, we are taking three of the hostages back. Apparently they are not extremists but regular natives. We lead them across the bridge, blindfolded. I have to hold one of them by the hand across the narrow temporary bridge so that he won’t fall into the water. I reassure him: “Baik djalan, poelang, anti roemah.” (You are doing very well, you’re going home, you will be home later). On the other side of the bridge their blindfolds are removed and they can return to their homes. They are very happy: “Terima kasih toean, tabeh toean. Ja baik, selamat djalan poelang, tabeh.” (Thank you sir, good bye sir. I will be all right going home, bye!).

I am going to catch some crabs. The natives always catch those to eat or sell. They are as large as a fist with eight legs and two tongs and are considered a delicacy, tasting like shrimp. I think I will sell my catch and stick to regular fish to eat.

Benowo, 18 November 1946

There was not much to write about recently, and we have been in Benowo for two weeks already. When we got here the regular young camp visitors welcomed us. “Toean Nain, toean Nain!” They call me Toean Nain, Nain’s boss, because my djongos (boy servant) is always with me when I am here. Sure enough, Nain is there and immediately helps me carry my barang (luggage). And again, like before, he comes three times every day. In my room, a room without windows because plenty of light and air are coming through the roof and walls, he has spread out two large bags, which serve as his table, chair and bed. He sits on them while he eats out of his can, with his hands of course, like all the natives do, without fork and spoon. Afterwards, he washes his hands or wipes them on his shorts, and that’s it.

Last week we had the first rain. Not much, but it is a beginning. We are now in between the dry and the wet monsoon; it’s very much like summer in the Netherlands. Sometimes sun all day, sometimes overcast, and often clouds. One day I decide to go for a walk. I first take the bike, then station it in a kampong against a wall and continue on foot. We don’t have to be afraid that a bike will be stolen in a kampong.

Somewhere people are sowing padi (rice). A man makes small holes, just like when we plant potatoes, only closer together. A woman and four children first sprinkle a handful of ashes in the holes and then a few grains of rice. I say to the man that we do this differently in the Netherlands. “You can take a bowl of padi in one hand and then scatter handfuls with the other hand in a broad sweeping motion. That goes much faster!” But he says, “tidak baik, itoe baik.” (that’s not good, this is good).

A little further a boy is cutting bamboo. Bamboo grows in clumps, and the lower, thick trunks are full of thorns. He can’t get the last one cut because it gets caught in the other thorns and so I walk over to help him. He tells me that there’s rain coming, and I should go home. But I say, “Tidak takoet hoedjan” (I am not afraid of rain) and continue on my way.

But the rain storm comes and the dense tree under which I take shelter soon is no use anymore and for the first time since Malaya I get really, really wet. The locals working in the field continue their work as if it is not raining. They don’t really care. It is never cold, and when it stops raining they just wring out their shorts and put them on again. Their shoes don’t get full of rain or mud either, because they are not wearing any. But I have difficulty walking, with large clumps of mud sticking to my shoes. After twenty minutes I arrive at my bike and think my worries are over. But it is only the beginning. After ten yards the wheels of the bike are stuck, full of clay, and trying to clean them does not work. They can’t turn anymore! The only thing to do is carry the bike and walk home on my soppy, muddy shoes. When I get home, I don’t know if I am wet with sweat or with rainwater!

24 November 1946

“Pindah kapan toean?” (When are you moving again sir?) the djongos asks. “Hari senen, Nain.” (On Monday, Nain). We have been here for three weeks already, quite a long time. I haven’t seen our section for two weeks. We’re planing three weeks in Gendong Tambak, then three weeks in town. That will be nice, in town for Christmas and New Year’s. But when will all this end? Will the inciting radio addresses by Sitomo and others go on and on for much longer? Do the thousands of natives who perished on the Island of Madoera (an island across the strait of Madoera from Soerabaja with a population of two and a half million) have to become tens of thousands? I have talked to some of them who came swimming from Madoera to Soerabaja with the help of a bamboo pole. Despite the danger of the many sharks, they risked their lives and swam across. “Kapan disini?” (why do you come here?) I asked. “Di Madoera makanan tida ada.” (There is no food on Madoera).

The soldiers here are usually not busy. Of course there are always those who have regular work, like drivers, cooks, medics and so on. The medics are much busier treating the natives than the soldiers. Every single day many natives come with sakit kaki (tropical ulcers on their legs), sakit mata (eye sores), sakit panas (fevers) and so on. Even the section of mortar soldiers stationed here, not going on patrol, is not busy. The captain calls me and says, “Vermeulen, you need to make a model camp bed of bamboo. You can get canvas from the quartermaster. Tomorrow morning that model has to go with us for size when we go to several kampongs to get enough bamboo poles for 120 camp beds. The stretchers we have now have to be turned in and every soldier has to make a camp bed for himself.” And so for the next two to three days everybody is busy making beds. It is pretty simple. Two long bamboo sticks and two short ones, the 4 bamboos stuck through the hem of the canvas, and with everything having the right size the canvas is taut. We put the long ends that are sticking out on either side on top of two crates and voilà, the bed is ready. I must say it sleeps well, although it is not a kapok mattress.

Stay tuned!

I welcome your comments


New Release! Anguished

This is an in-between post that I’m very excited about!

ANGUISHED is the title of my new ebook, released on January 11, 2017. Not about World War Two or about the Bersiap, it is a non-fiction/memoir that I would like you to check out. Available everywhere online, you will also find it right here on my website, on Ronny’s Books Page.

Of course I would really appreciate it if you would leave a review on Amazon or, or, or B&N, or wherever 🙂

Thanks, and I’m looking forward to Gerrit Vermeulen’s next adventure this Friday.


Bersiap: The Bloody Independence War After WWII – Part 14

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

Brandjangan, 26 September 1946

Today we’ll have to attend a mandatory discussion with the well known Pastor Koningsbergen, who sometimes writes in the Trouw newspaper. He just came back from a trip to the Netherlands where he had to address the troops that are getting ready to be deployed to the Dutch East Indies. Some of those troops strongly object to going there. As one country boy stated: “What can I do in the Indies? They need me here on the farm; I can do much more important work here.” Another one said, “What am I supposed to do do there with those people? They are fighting for their freedom; give them that liberty, they have the right to be free.” And yet another one talked about a colonial war to subject the natives all over again. The strongest opposition came from the soldiers in Kampen and Harderwijk, among which are many revolting communists. But the pastor had explained the reality. He praised the volunteers who had come here already and who had set a good example.

“Why do we not treat the extremists more forcefully?” someone asks the pastor. He can’t say much to that, but it seems that our government is not “free” to do more. Apparently it is under pressure of certain superpowers. The British have done an excellent job here. The most important harbors have been conquered and liberated, and so on. There are not many of them left, but we do wish that we would get rid of the last ones too with their Gurkhas (British soldiers from India). They are working more against us than with us now. This month, somewhere on West Java, the British celebrated the first anniversary of the by the Japanese  proclaimed “Republik Indonesia”! When our new troops arrive they will be gone in a hurry, I’m sure.

At one of the meetings where the pastor had spoken a mother of one of the volunteers asked: “Pastor, are all the troops coming back before New Years or not?” She thought that since conscripts are now being deployed, the volunteers would be sent home again. The Pastor explained that it could be June or July of next year that peace will have been restored here. And that then next fall, when new batches of men will arrive, the volunteers will be asked, perhaps in August already, “What do you want? Stay in the service or get out, or go back to the Netherlands?” And the ones that choose to return to the Netherlands may be home again by New Years of next year (but that is just my assumption).

The Pastor tells us how irritated he was about the incredible bureaucracy in the Netherlands. He had traveled to the Netherlands in his tropical outfit, but he was very cold. So he went to a military office and asked for a uniform, which was denied him, because he was not registered there. Then he went to the bureau in charge of “Care for the Soldier in the Dutch East Indies.” The lieutenant there said: “A case like yours has never happened before, so we cannot help you. Why don’t you go to the bureau in Scheveningen. They will give you a form to fill out and with that you can go to Rotterdam, where you can pick up your uniform after three weeks.” The pastor had said some unfriendly words, and that he would be back in the Indies in three weeks.

“I was very cold in Holland,” he tells us, “but when I came back from all those bureaus without success I was warm.” He had also talked for an hour and a half with the Minister of Foreign Affairs. At the end of his visit the man had said: “In this hour and a half I have learned more about the Dutch East Indies than during the entire year and a half before this.” “Well,” said the Pastor, “then you knew very little to begin with.”

He had also visited Princess Juliana to try and get her cooperation to get more entertainment for the soldiers here. It has been a very interesting discussion and none of the boys is sorry they attended.

Gendong Tambak, 2 October 1946

Today is the first anniversary of the establishment of the first Battalion of the 12th Regiment Infantry. In the morning a memorial ceremony will take place at the cemetery in Soerabaja, where the six casualties of our battalion are buried. Because we are at the front we can’t attend, only five men of our company do get permission and I’m not one of them. But last night the sergeant of the week came to me and said, “Gerrit, I want you to to go with us to Soerabaja tomorrow to take pictures of the laying of the wreaths.” I said, “Sergeant Scheidema can do that better than I, Sir. He knows more about photography, has a better camera than I and plenty of film.” “Yes, he said, that’s true, but the boys complain that they can’t get reprints from him; he only gives them to the officers but not to the boys. You are known to sell them cheap to anyone who wants them, and that’s why Captain Greiner says you have to go.”

So I attend the ceremony and take some pictures. I hope they will be good. Afterwards I visit some friends in Soerabaja and we discuss the situation at the front. It is really not that dangerous here. It’s almost like a vacation. Standing guard is easy and patrolling is not hard either. Most of the time there is no shooting going on. Sometimes we do have to face fierce enemy fire, but even then nobody thinks twice about the possibility he can get hit. In all the battles I have fought none of our group has been killed or seriously wounded; twice one man incurred slight injuries. A fight to us is almost like crossing the street is to you: you look left and right if you don’t see a car coming and then you quickly cross. We check if we see enemies in front of us, which does not happen often, then we storm forward and if we are lucky we’ll see them flee; but most of the time they have disappeared when we get there and are shooting again up ahead.

Perhaps you’ll remember that I wrote about our very first fight, when we ran into an ambush and retreated. That does not happen anymore and no one among us even considers the possibility that we could be beaten back. The last two weeks hardly a single shot has been fired.

Too bad the tide is out, now I can’t go fishing.


Stay tuned


I welcome your comments



Luxuriating The First Week Of 2017

Dear Readers,

I don’t know about you, but we were snowed in starting Christmas Eve 2016. We had a very quiet Christmas due to the fact that I slipped and fell on the icy road on Christmas morning, fractured my right big toe, were in the ER on my birthday, and I had to sit with it elevated and packed in ice for about a week after that. Add a gout attack, heavy medication, a slight temperature, and you’ve got the picture. It was not a good time to sit at the computer. But I promise next week I will continue with the letters of Gerrit Vermeulen in the jungles of Java during the Bersiap.

Happy New Year!