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.
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