Bersiap: the Bloody Independence War after WWII – Part 17

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

Tjermee, March 1947

While we were first told we would stay in town for two weeks, now we are moving after one week already. Not to Benowo or Gendong Tambak, but to Tjermee. The road to Tjermee, which is about 20 kilometers from Soerabaja, is so bad that most transports are done by train, and we will be taking the train as well. It will be a nice change after Benowo, Gendong Tambak and Soerabaja all the time. Tjermee is quite a large kampong with a pasar (open air market). There are five or six weaving  and dying mills, where hundreds of people used to work. Now everything has collapsed and all engines from the machines have disappeared.

Don’t imagine these are like the Dutch mills, though. There are no brick walls, the floors are usually clay, the inner walls chicken wire. The light enters through glass roof tiles in between wooden bars. Men and women used to come from near and far to work here when the pabrik (factories) were still operating. In many homes in the kampong women now weave with primitive looms, sitting on the floor.

One day, on a walk, I see a whole row of women planting bibit (young rice plants). Of course I want to take a close-up look. I take off my shoes and socks to keep them dry, and go stand among the women, planting bibit. I don’t think they ever saw this before, because roaring with laughter they call me toean tani (Javanese gentleman farmer). I have some sourballs with me that I hand out to everyone, and of course I have to take a picture. Don’t think that you get cold feet standing calf-deep in the water, because the water is not cold. The planting is easy: you push the little plant in the mud and that’s it. But I don’t feel like joining the men, who pull the young rice plants apart, squatting in the water and muddy clay. I don’t feel like getting my butt muddy and wet.

We don’t have a single patrol while in Tjermee. Even though it is close to the front line, it is pretty quiet. Once we threw a grenade and eliminated an enemy patrol of six men; two dead, two injured and two taken prisoner, plus a loot of three rifles, one mortar, one machine gun and one pistol.

After our short stay at Tjermee we return by train to Gendong Tambak.

Gendong Tambak, March 1947

I arrange my barang (luggage) in my house and get on my bike, curious about my evacuees in the kampong, ten minutes away. They are still all there, except a few who have left for the city to work as baboes, and one very old woman, already sick when I left, who has died. One man has a terrible wound on his foot that has been taken care of by the Medic, but when I come back a few days later he keeps moaning and feels worse, and he passes away the next afternoon. I go to the dessa police to tell them that he had to be buried, but several of the evacuees are not home and people from the neighboring kampong do not feel like doing it.
When I come back the next morning it was done. When the evacuees had come home, five of them buried the man by the light of the moon. Good thing. Because keeping a dead body in a house where 25 people are living close together is not very desirable.

Five people from the kampong always share with the evacuees in the house when I bring food. One blind man, one almost blind, one without a nose and upper lip and two children, a boy and a girl of 5-6 years old. These kids are so skinny and so very hungry. The little boy always checks if there are any crumbs left in the basket after I have handed out the bread. He wipes the crumbs on the floor together and put them in his mouth, dirt and all.

Once I ask the police about the situation and they tell me that on average one to two people die per day on a total number of 900. Under normal circumstances people in the kampong could earn their living, ikan dan nasi (fish and rice), but because of the disruption of the war poverty and hunger are the norm.

When I am in Gendong Tambak, Samila is always my baboe. She also does a little sewing and darns my socks. When I ask what she wants for it she always says, “Roti, Toean.”(Bread, Sir). Once, after I had taken bread to the evacuees in the house and sat down to talk to Samila and her brother, a woman from the kampong appeared, the wife of one of the policemen. She said, “Tabeh toean; toean beloem kawin, Samila nonni Toean, bisa baik, Samila nonni bagoes.” Meaning “Good morning, sir, you are not yet married, so Samila can be your girl, she is a sweet girl.” Upon which I said, “Tida baik, saja orang belanda , dan Samila orang Djawa; saja tida bisa bahasa Djawa dan Samila tida bisa bahasa belanda. Tida baik, soesah banjak.” Meaning “No, that is not possible. I am Dutch and Semila is Javanese. Samila does not speak Dutch and I do not speak Javanese. That is not good, and it will create a lot of problems.” The wife of the policeman did not readily agree, but I said. “Samila maoe laki Djawa dan saja maoe nonni belanda.” (Samila wants a Javanese man and I want a Dutch wife.”)

A week later, finding the evacuees safe but still very hungry, I tell Samila that she should go to town to work as a baboe. I give her some money to buy new clothes, because she is still wearing an old shirt of mine. Then she has to get a soerat, an identity card, so that she can work in the city, and she needs to sign with her thumb print, because she can’t write her name.

I don’t know what happened after that. If she has found work I will probably never see her again.

Gendong Tambak, 22 March 1947

On March 17, at day break, we started an action that lasted until noon on the 18th. We encountered fierce opposition from the best troops of the “Repoeblik“. Sadly, it cost the lives of eleven of our men. Another eleven who will not return to their fatherland – another eleven families in mourning over one of their loved ones. I am starting to think like so many others: I feel the death of our eleven men as a terrible loss but the hundreds of dead on the other side as normal. Yet those, too, are men that would rather be alive and rejoin their families.

Among the extremists there are those who think they are serving their homeland by fighting the Dutch regime, but there are also those who join “just for fun”, because many of them are egged on and incited by some of the extremists.

This will possibly be our final stay in Gendong Tambak and we’ll be heading for a newly occupied area near Modjokerto.

We are still honoring a ceasefire.

Stay tuned!

I welcome your comments


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