An eye-witness account by Gerrit Vermeulen, a young Dutch soldier from Renswoude
In his own words:
Malang, 25 November 1947
It has been a few weeks since I wrote any letters. Nothing much has happened since the last time. Our demobilization has been deferred due to unforeseen circumstances. Without too much political friction it will be close to the end of 1948 before we can return to the Netherlands. Oh well, it’s nice here. It is never very cold here in Malang and the water in the kali (river) is always warm enough for swimming.
Yesterday, I visited a Javanese man. “Toean maoe tinggal di sini?” (Would you like to stay here, sir?) “Maoe.” (Yes, I would). “Kawin nonni Djawa, senang sama sama.” (Marry a Javanese girl, be happy and contented together). That is typical of the Javanese. They wish everybody love and prosperity.
Nadjopoero, 10 December 1947
Two days ago we moved again, farther and farther away from town. The homes here are of a much better quality than in Malang: good brick homes and no mud. We are on an outpost. Every morning the access road gets “swept”, checking to see if any mines were deposited during the night. We assume that the enemy is hiding in an ambush close by, to take any outgoing patrol of ours by surprise. We are not allowed to go outside the camp because the situation is still dangerous.
There are three guard posts, and the guards are taking it easy, reading some, smoking or writing. The most dangerous things that can happen to a soldier here is boredom. Let me state up front that it does not affect me. I read, I write, I take walks, I visit Dutch, Javanese or Chinese friends, I do some exercise, I swim, I play table tennis, volleyball or something else. But there are men who don’t like to read, who hardly ever get a letter, nor write one; who don’t walk unless accompanied by someone else; who don’t like to play games or exercise; who don’t care about pasars (open air markets) after they have seen one, because they think they are all the same; who don’t consider the Javanese equals they can talk to; who don’t want anything to do with the Chinese “bloodsuckers”. If those soldiers are off duty they are bored, day after day and because they often lie on their beds during the day for hours, they can’t sleep at night. Those men grumble all the time and can get into trouble like intoxication and such. Some officers try to encourage their men in their free time to engage in sports or watching movies, but many of them do not care about their men after the day is done.
Boering, 17 January 1948
We are moving again, once every week. This post is close to a bridge. Right after arriving at a new destination we are always busy. We build scaffolding, flatten the terrain, install barbed wire and so on. True, most of the work is done by koelies, (coolies) but we have to help too. We heard over the radio that they are talking about yet another ceasefire.
Five days after this new ceasefire the enemy did another surprise attack on one of the cars of our battalion. Like every morning, a truck from the post went to town (Malang) with about fifteen men, soldiers who had to go to the doctor and several armed men. Suddenly they were attacked on both sides. The truck stopped abruptly and the soldiers were catapulted forward. The enemy threw two grenades and one guy jumped behind the truck and started shooting at the mass of floundering soldiers. One of our men pulled his revolver and the attacker fled. Leaving the truck in the front, over the cabin, they saw they were surrounded by about one hundred extremists. It did not look good.
One soldier who had a gun was disarmed and they wanted to take him prisoner. But he managed to grab the weapon of one of his opponents and keep them at a distance. Yet it seemed that nobody would be able to escape because the situation with one hundred armed men against fifteen, mostly unarmed men was risky. Amazingly however, they were saved. Coincidentally, one of our patrols was in the area close by. They heard the shooting and hurried over. They managed to chase the enemy away with several losses. Our men suffered one heavy and four light casualties. This is ceasefire!
Boering, 6 February 1948
Another ceasefire has been announced. Does that mean that there will be peace? Right after the announcement we were given orders: increase your watchfulness; do not leave the post unarmed and at night do not go into town unless armed and together with others.
The remaining Republican troops in East Java are being moved back to Central Java. They are escorted to their own “territory” with their weapons and full gear, across occupied terrain. Between Dutch and Republican territories is now a “demilitarized” zone, which is taboo for both armies. So if both parties stick to this arrangement there will be no more fighting. Will it work? In my opinion quite a few bullets will fly back and forth before the first battalion of the twelfth infantry regiment will board ship in Batavia.
Wonomoeljo, 11 March 1948
Another move, this time to a very small village about 20 kilometers past Toempang. It is in the “demilitarized” zone, the zone that is forbidden for Dutch and Republican soldiers. How come, you might ask, that you areallowed there? Well, those agreements are ridiculous, really. We are now not soldiers anymore but we’re called policemen, and policemen are allowed in the prohibited zone. We all wear a yellow band on our sleeve with the letters S.P., which stand for Safety Police. We are to wear those bands at all times when we are outside. Yesterday a member of the service committee came to check if we were not violating the order.
I welcome your comments