Bersiap: The Bloody Independence War after WWII – Part 7

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

Soerabaja, 27 April 1946

I write Soerabaja, but we are about 12 kilometers outside of the city. I don’t know the name of this kampong.

Today we had the heaviest march yet. Get up at 3:00 a.m., leave at 4:00 and home again around midnight, exhausted but safe, thank God.

30 April 1946

This morning, on our patrol trip, we capture two prisoners. One man of 25 and one of 16 or 17. I don’t think they are enemies though, they are not armed. At first it looks like they didn’t know anything, but slowly but surely we get more information out of them than we could get in ten patrol trips. Now, I don’t know if everything they say is true, but they do know the outcome of our combat last Saturday. The number of enemy casualties they mention is 150, but that sounds too good to be true.

4 May 1946

We thought we were going to leave today, relieved from the front, but that has been postponed for two days. I go swimming in the kali every day around noon, when the (salt) water level is at its highest and cleanest and the tide is turning so there is no current. The kali is 40 to 50 yards wide, and swimming back and forth a few times is easy. It’s not dangerous because there are no crocodiles or sharks. The kali separates us from enemy territory, and once in a while we hear enemy fire, even machine gun fire, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t swim back and forth a few times. When the water rises a lot of snakes appear, but they are not poisonous and just looking for fish in the water. We get enough to eat here, but I often hardly eat anything because I don’t like it. There are enough bananas, oranges and eggs, and those are fine. But we are hoping to get out of here soon.

7 May 1946

Hey, we are back in the same place we left for 16 days. We had only taken the bare minimum of our possessions and now we’re getting everything else back. I am strolling through town for a little while and see a second hand bicycle at a Toekang sepeda priced at fl.50 (guilders). Hm, it looks good, has solid tires, I think I can get it for fl.25. But the guy doesn’t want to budge, even when I offer empat pulu lima (45) and walk away, and I end up having to give him fl.50 in exchange for the bike anyway.

On my way home, riding through a part of town I have never been, I discover a Pasar Besar. I am amazed at the number of natives and Chinese people there, and not a single white person. A huge hall and all the streets around it are filled with rows of small booths selling rice, flour, chickens, eggs, shoes, textiles, fish, fruits, vegetables, candles, and everything else you can find in a regular shop. It is quite different from a market in the Netherlands, let me tell you.

12 May 1946

After only four days in Soerabaja, this Saturday we are moving again. When the car stops at the destination I always jump out to investigate our new quarters. I like to get a spot against one wall or in a corner, so that I can put my barang behind it. It’s wonderful here. We have electric light, water, and even a refrigerator. We don’t need to broom the floor, wash our clothes and sew on buttons any more. We have a baboe who does the laundry and ironing for us and a djongos, who cleans the house. The djongos also makes tea for us. We have to pay our baboe and djongos ourselves: they get 50 cents per day from the twenty of us and they cook meals and serve drinks. A car picks them up in the morning and takes them home in the early afternoon.

It is humid and hot here, and I usually sleep on top of the blanket instead of under it. If there are doors and windows, they are open day and night. It is normal here that when we get up in the morning we put on our sneakers and walk around all day in our thin underwear. I have a nice green one, for 3/4 stitched closed in front, and so we work, sit, row and walk. Easy for the baboe, not a lot of kotor (dirty) clothes.

There are many tjitjaks in our quarters. I can count twenty from where I sit. They are little lizards that walk up and down the walls, catching mosquitoes and other insects, so we leave them alone.

May 23, 1946, Airfield Soerabaja

The bay is wide and clean, we can swim and row to our heart’s content. 20 yards from our quarters are locks where we see hundreds of fish. The boys try to catch some with a net and a fishing pole, but are disappointed in their catch.

Across the bay is enemy territory. About 200 yards from our quarters starts the airport with many large hangars, regular planes and seaplanes. There are also about ten Japanese seaplanes, painted in the colors of the extremists: red and white. But they are not in use.

When we go on patrol we have to be in full combat uniform, gun and ammunition, water bottle and a grenade. Uphill, downhill, sometimes steeper than 45 degrees; through forest and field, always on the alert. That’s hot and exhausting. Sometimes the perspiration runs into my eyes. On top of that, they have made me bren helper. The bren is the heaviest weapon we take along, heavier than the mortar even. I don’t really like carrying that thing. I have never used a bren, but still I have to carry it through enemy territory, set it up every time and lay behind it to shoot if there is enemy fire. I would rather practice with it first. It’s the same with grenades and my gun: I only used it once to shoot a snake.

25 May 1946

We are moving back to Gendong Tambak where everything is still the same. No coolies, no djongos, no pasar shoppers, no traffic except that of the soldiers. Yesterday the camp was under fire, thank goodness without losses. In many places in the forest heavy fire is still going on. The boys don’t trust it and check their weapons before dark, and put their equipment at the ready, including two grenades instead of one, because a fierce fight is likely. Is there a cease-fire or not?


Stay tuned!

I welcome your comments


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