An eye-witness account by Gerrit Vermeulen, a young Dutch soldier from Renswoude
In his own words:
Benowo, 14 September 1946, Continued
In between the tambaks (fish ponds) we march, and at daybreak we position ourselves at the far end. From other locations more platoons have advanced in cooperation with us, and 2 to 3 kilometers away we hear the fighting going on already. At the end of the tambaks, in front of us, is an open sawah (rice field), and then the terrain slopes up to expose hundreds of people, shooting at us; bullets fly over and past us. But through the binoculars it appears that most of the people are refugees from the nearby dessa (village). Fleeing to the top of the hill they got caught in the fire and most of them are now returning to their dessa. We advance in a straight line but the closer we get the less the firing. Straight ahead, where we know one of our platoons to be, the firing is fierce, and firing is also continuing with the platoon to our right.
Many fugitives appear, men, women and children; a few of them are carrying some of their possessions. But most of them must have left in a hurry, leaving everything behind. Some mothers are holding a hand in front of the eyes of the child they are carrying. In a kampong where we were last week they told us that the extremists say, “Anak-anak ketjil makanan orang belanda” (white people eat little children). In several dessas little children sometimes scream with fear when they see us.
We stay at this post for a while. In front of us I see something white in a ditch. “What can that be?” I ask one of the boys, “Perhaps a fugitive?” Cautiously I go and take a look in the ditch. Sure thing! About 15 people are crouching down on the dry grass below. Most of them have completely covered their heads with their clothing. A few dare to peek at me through their eyelashes. “Ada Pemoeda?” (are there young rebels?) I ask.
“Tida ada toean.” (No sir)
“Ada Takoet?” (Are you afraid?)
“Saja Toean.” (Yes sir)
No wonder they are afraid with all the shooting going on.
We move back a ways and take a stand in the burning sun for another hour. Another platoon moves across in front of us and disappears in the forest where the fighting has been continuing. Then we move forward again for about one kilometer and position ourselves. The intention is for the extremists to be driven towards us but that does not work this time. Again we move forward for about 2 kilometers and come upon a road. Bullets fly over our heads continuously but our platoon does not fire a single shot. From somewhere a heavy machine gun is participating in the fight. We stop for about an hour at the side of the road while up ahead the fighting continues.
Next, we move back to the main headquarters of this operation, still about 15 kilometers from our base, Benowo. We don’t have to cover that distance on foot; for the first 6 kilometers we go in cars and the rest in a train. We arrive home around five p.m. This operation did not have the success according to the setup and expectations. We had marched out with several hundred men, a lot of shooting had taken place, but we ended up with only a few prisoners and loot. On our side only one man was shot in his foot.
Benowo, 18 September 1946
We are having a few quiet days in camp. We all go to the doctor for a medical checkup and get a shot in the arm against cholera and typhoid. It does not hurt, but the arm is a little red and swollen and sensitive for a few days, and we feel a little under the weather. But after lunch on the second day I feel fine again. They say that negotiations are taking place and there is a ceasefire right now. Although I don’t have much faith in those negotiations, I do hope that they will lead to an acceptable agreement.
Benowo, 21 September 1946
It has been a week since the cannons were blasting here, but this morning they are at it again, blowing tens of grenades into the air. If any of you is interested in one of those large, copper shells, let me know and I will send them to you – at your expense of course. There are hundreds of them all around on the ground for the taking.
I went on a couple of short patrols, had guard duty once, but most of all I have been busy tying knots for a large fishnet. A lady from Ambon that I know gave me the inner net, I bought some rope, and I can find plenty of lead at the airfield, but tying the knots is a big job. I have had a young helper for a week, who worked for me for four to five hours. He gets a dime in the morning and a dime in the afternoon. Perhaps you think that is very little. But if I would give him 50 cents per day, I would run the risk that he would not come back the next day or would not want to work any more. With 50 cents he will feel rich, why then should he work? It’s the same with the men. When a coolie has worked hard one day and he gets 2 guilders he is happy, and he goes home saying, “Terima kasih Tuan, tabeh Tuan, saja poelang sekarang” (Thank you very much sir, good bye sir, I’m going home now). But he is going home with two guilders and the pay for one day is one guilder, so he feels he does not have to work the next day… and so he will not show up. This is not considered stupidity of the natives, it is normal.
The 12 year-old boy who was with me here ten weeks ago has been here every day again. He arrives at six thirty, gets the leftovers of the five men in the hut, washes the bowls, cleans the table, gets water for us and leaves around eight. He comes back at eleven thirty till one thirty and from four till five thirty. When he also has to do our laundry he stays longer. Every other day he buys a bunch of bananas for me. At night I give him one guilder for pisang and a dime for himself, and on his way here in the morning he buys a bunch of 20 to 30 pisangs at the pasar (market).
Officially children are not allowed in the camp, but around mealtimes several children always hang around; sometimes they get chased away only to get in again from the other side immediately. But Nain, the boy, is safe with us. I told him “Nain djongos saja.” (Nain is my houseboy).
“Saja,” (Yes) he said.
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