Bersiap: The Bloody Independence War after WWII – Part 2

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

Atlantic, January 26, 1946

Across from Portugal, January 27, 1946

Every day, forming a chain, we have to carry 40 bags of potatoes, heavy loads of flour, oatmeal, and more provisions from the hold to the kitchen upstairs. Today, after duty, I attend the church service.

Mediterranean, January 28, 1946

We passed Gibraltar during the night. I would have loved to see the Rock of Gibraltar, but that was not to be. We now see, in the distance, the coastline of Spain, and on the other side the coast of North Africa.

The first days on board were easy, but that is changing. We have roll calls three times a day, drills, Malay lessons, weapons theory and so on. It’s good to be kept busy – we have enough free time left.

Mediterranean, January 31, 1946

We have wonderful spring weather here on deck; because of Princess Beatrix’s birthday we get the afternoon off. This evening we see many lights in the distance: we are approaching Port Said. It was bedtime before we sailed into the harbor but we heard a lot of commotion around the ship with loading supplies.

Suez Canal, February 1, 1946

We wake up to discover our ship is slowly crossing the Suez Canal. There is a lot to see on both shores; the Egyptian side has palm trees, a road and a railroad, homes, lots of brown skinned Egyptians and groups of British soldiers.
Every ship traversing the Suez Canal needs to pay a fee depending on the size of the ship. Our ship needs to pay a toll of about fl 40.000, guilders that is, for one passage!

At dusk we arrive in Suez and go at anchor a couple of miles off shore. Alongside a huge tank boat refuels the ship with thousands of gallons of fuel oil, and on the other side two tank boats supply us with thousands of gallons of fresh water. Another boat hoists up thousands of kilos of meat, and people in several small boats offer merchandise in exchange for English money or cigarettes.

The merchants speak a little English, and when the deal is made they raise the merchandise in a net on a long stick and the money returns the same way. We call out to those Arab or Berber or black merchants, or whatever they may be ‘Hey, Ali Baba!’ and they all listen.

Today I received rations. Every soldier received 500 cigarettes, 24 chocolate bars, 8 bags of cookies, 8 1/2 oz cans of tobacco, 2 jars of shaving cream, 7 bars of soap, 36 razor blades, 2 tubes of toothpaste, 1 tube of hair cream, 6 boxes of matches and 2 cans of shoe polish. We received £2 pay, and the rations cost us 38 shillings, so I have 3 shillings left. I don’t know for how long this is.

In the afternoon we sail through the Red Sea. I reflect on the many battles that were fought here, the many wars that raged, going all the way back to Biblical times.

Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean, Sabang, February 2 -13, 1946

Today we pass Sabang, a small island in the Dutch East Indies at the northern tip of Sumatra. It looks like we will go on to Singapore first. Today we have to hand in our coats, overcoats and regular uniforms, plus two blankets; I still have my nice new beret. We haven’t received any mail yet.

Straits of Malacca, February 15, 1946

In the Straits of Malacca we are sailing at less than half the regular speed, as we did in the Suez Canal, because of the mine fields all around. Scary.

Singapore, Malaysia, Camp Cha’ah, February 16 – March 23, 1946

We spend the time training, marching through jungles and wading through muddy kalis (streams), sleeping in a makeshift hammock or on a hard coconut mat under a klamboe (mosquito netting). We have drills, church on Sundays, encounters with a large snake, huge spiders and stinging ants, sounds of monkeys high in the trees, lukewarm drinking water, sometimes rationed. The jungle is beautiful.

During one morning’s march the scouts hit upon an enemy patrol, which we defeat. Later on they tell us that there are more enemies up ahead and we should go straight at them, no matter the road situation. We are crossing a kali, march across dry terrain, through muddy marches, until we find the enemy. After an exchange of fire we march back to camp.

Nevasa, March 23, 1946

In the middle of the night we have to get up, pack, march for 2 1/1 hour, catch a train to Singapore, and board Nevasa, a large size British troop ship, which is by far not as well appointed as New Amsterdam. Without designated sleeping places, mostly on the hard floor, cold, canned emergency rations, poor bathroom accommodations and so on we are happy to know that it will be only for a few days.

Nevasa, Tandjong Priok, the harbor of Batavia, Java, March 26, 1946

We have arrived on Java, are waiting to sail on to Soerabaja, our final destination.

Stay tuned!

I welcome your comments

Until next time,


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