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…
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