Bersiap: The Bloody Independence War After WWII – Part 5

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

Sunday, April 21, 1946

At 4:00 in the morning we hear voices whispering: “Get up boys, get up right now and don’t switch on lights.” We get up immediately, go to the kitchen to get oatmeal and tea, and after that we get ready for our first patrol in enemy territory. At 5:00 a.m. we are ready and march in the moonlight in one line as silently as possible across the damaged bridge. Our foremost positions are across both bridges, the damaged bridge and the railroad bridge. Beyond those are the hills where we are not safe. Even where we sleep we are within range of enemy fire but we have had no problems yet. In heavily armored platoons we move on. Just across the bridge we notice some abandoned homes and several damaged ones. This is the terrain where we can meet with enemy resistance at any moment.

Our patrol consists of about 60 men, among whom several marines who have patrolled here before and several native soldiers who know the tropics and the sounds of the jungle: they are a great help for us inexperienced soldiers. Watching and listening intently we slowly and silently march forward on the berm along the road. On the corner of a side street posts are stationed until all the platoons have passed that street, to prevent unpleasant surprises by the enemy. On both sides the terrain is densely covered by grass, bushes and trees. We only have occasional limited visibility on the sides in the bright moonlight.

Suddenly, about four hundred yards up ahead and thirty yards to the left, we hear a crowing sound, like a young rooster that tries to crow for the first time. Could that be one of the secret signs of our opponents? We have been told that the enemy sends signals to each other by whistling, knocking and animal sounds. But…the ones-in-the-know don’t pay attention so we are not worried.

Slowly the sky is lightening. We deviate from the road onto a jungle path. Strange bird sounds surround us; whistling, chirping, screeching, cooing, or whatever you’d call them: to us unknown sounds by unknown birds. We only recognize swallows and the dozens of little doves like the ones we have back home. It is wonderfully peaceful and quiet in jungle and field. But we can’t enjoy the beauty that surrounds us. We have to be on guard at all times because the enemy can be expected from all sides. We march up, and down, along a flat area and uphill again, crossing a dry stream bed, on and on. We stop every so often to give the scouts the opportunity to investigate the terrain with their field glasses. Only a few whispered words are exchanged. Orders are given by hand signals. Because of the winding paths only a few of our comrades are visible at any time.

Our jackets are getting soaked with sweat. We leave the path and dive into the wilderness through alang-alang, bushes, and underneath tall bamboo clusters. Those clusters vary from 10 to 50 and have sharp thorns at the bottom that rip into our helmets. Listening intently we slowly approach a kampong. Several burnt houses, and the others stand empty. No native and no enemy in sight.

We move on, straight through the jungle, then following a dry creek bed, across rocks, along a steep abyss. Rocks are everywhere on the paths, in the fields and in the jungle. A dry stream bed often resembles a rocky path. We search and and pass several other abandoned kampongs. It’s stop and go because the scouts up front have to check out the terrain ahead. We end up at the paved road again. We position a bren pointing backwards and continue in the direction of our barracks.

The artillery gets the order to provide shellfire to back us and deter possible invisible pursuers. Presently we hear gunshots and grenades whoosh over our heads and hit the area behind us. Wirelessly we signal to the camp that we are on our way back, in order to prevent them from shooting at us as perceived extremists. We arrive in camp at 10:30 and have mandatory rest until noon. We march out again at 3 and return at 5 without having encountered the enemy. Easter Sunday has come and gone.

Monday, April 22, 1946

Last night, while most of us were already underneath their klamboes, the Sergeant Major came in and said, “Boys, in case we have to withdraw at night, do not leave any weapons and ammunition behind. Everything else has second priority. The foremost posts are just 300 yards away.” We do not sleep well at all. Dozing off, we are wondering if we can expect an attack. We have our loaded weapons at the ready. Suddenly, gunshots awake me: enemy gunshots. They are immediately returned by one of our heavy machine guns and a bren. More shots are fired back and forth, but the quiet returns.

At 3:15 a.m. we hear again the whispered order: “Get up!” With the crescent moon high in the night sky we get going again and at dawn we have already penetrated several kilometers into enemy territory; just like last time, uphill, downhill, into and out of the jungle. I am among the first ones crossing a Chinese cemetery, when suddenly, close by, several shots are fired. Immediately we duck. A little later, quickly, we move forward a little ways. But unexpectedly, one of us can’t keep up. He does not know what way to go and so here we are, with 8 men out in front, cut off from the platoon.

Stay tuned!

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