A New Life! Retirement at its Best. 3

Birds, Geese and a Turtle

We have gotten to know quite a few people by name now, and enjoy having dinner with different ones each night. It is interesting to hear the stories of their backgrounds, the jobs they held, the places where they have lived, the trips they have made to all parts of the world.

One of the couples we befriended is currently on safari in Africa for two weeks and we can’t wait for them to come back and show us their pictures and tell their stories.

Sometimes, when I think I know someone’s name, and see her pass, I’ll call out that name, “Hi Doris!” If she turns around and greets me in turn, I know I did remember yet another one! If she doesn’t respond it could be that she hasn’t heard me; I never know in this place if someone can hear well or not.

The water level in the pond has gone down about three feet, because of lack of rain the past two weeks, and the motor of the fountain broke down. It was only two years old, but sucked up too many algae and died. I’m hoping that, if it does not rain soon, they will add water up to the original level. So far that has not happened.

One turtle calls our pond home. At about 10 inches long, it is not highly visible, and even slower than the geese when it crosses the road, as it sometimes does, crawling up the slope from the pond across the street and across the lawn to the back of one of the cottages. I don’t know if it finds there what it is looking for, but I do know that Pete has a number of bird feeders back there, and perhaps also geese feeders, because the yellowed strip of grass across from the pond to the back of the cottage is a dead giveaway that the geese love to visit him. I saw the turtle back in the pond the next day, thank goodness. I love turtles. I fondly remember swimming behind large sea turtles and watching them, through the mask of my snorkel, slowly “fly” through the water, like birds through the air. I remember, too, the encounters I had with huge Manta Rays, in Hawai’i and Tahiti. Swimming behind one in Mauna Lani Bay, and standing among them, touching their rough, yet velvety skin, while a guide was feeding them fish. Manta Rays also move through the water like turtles, “flying”. I love elephants too, by the way. In Thailand I rode a young elephant, and later on I stood beside a four-year-old, petting her while she glanced at me with her right eye and lifted her trunk in a “thank you”. But I am sidetracking…

Here, we have geese. They are everywhere in the area. Even in shopping centers you can see them crossing the street and cars giving them the right of way. We have been told that they are protected. We sometimes hear them fly overhead from a neighboring pond with the powerful sound of their wings and unanimous cry, and watch them land en masse on ours. Two months ago they had six young trailing behind, then five. By now you can’t distinguish the little ones from the adults anymore. Ten to eighteen of them waddle across our street on their way to the food source behind Pete’s cottage, then back to stand at the edge of the pond to drink, all in a row next to each other, then slide into the water for a little grooming. No idea if the water is refreshing or not, but it will be cooler than the outside air temperature during the day.

One afternoon, looking through the window at the hummingbird feeder we hung in a tree, our new “bird tree”, I saw a little head peeking around the corner of the patio. For a second I thought it was a dog; we are allowed to keep a dog here, as long as it is small, under 40 pounds. Then I realized it was a goose, and when I ran outside, I saw five more. I clapped my hands and waved my arms to chase them away, because we love to look at the geese, but to have them on our lawn or patio is a totally different matter. Did you know that a goose poops every twelve minutes? That is five times per hour. Multiply that by six (geese) and you will get thirty 3″ long productions in one hour. Multiply that by 24 and in one day… you get the picture!

For the same reason we are not going to put out any bird feeders except for the hummingbird feeder, which was discovered on the second day. The hummingbirds here are smaller than in Prescott. Many other birds are attracted by the container of water on top of the hummingbird feeder (which serves to prevent ants from trespassing down to the sugar water). All throughout the day we see and hear many birds, small ones, large ones and even birds of prey. Last week, when we walked back to our cottage after dinner, I saw a small bird chasing a large raven that repeatedly tried to dive into a holly tree. The raven was persistent, but so was the little bird, who was protecting its nest in the tree. I could not help myself and ran towards the raven, yelling caw, caw, caw, waving my arms. I scared him and he flew away.

When I walk around the track early in the morning, I see many worms on the walkway; by the time we go to breakfast they are all gone. The few that are left dry up on the spot and will have been dragged away by ants by the time the sun goes down. We watched similar cleanups in Hawai’i and also on our deck in Prescott. I love watching nature, to a certain extent.

By the way, the six geese did not come back to check out our back yard after I chased them away.

It’s a wonderful life!

Until next time,


A New Life! Retirement at its Best. 2


Last February, we flew to North Carolina for a week to check out Waltonwood, the facility we were hoping to move to. We were promised the “Welcome” apartment on the third floor free of charge, and all breakfasts and dinners in the dining room, as they are included in all rentals.

We had a late flight, and did not get to our destination until about eleven o’clock. Our son picked us up from the airport and drove us to Waltonwood.

When we entered the front door the receptionist behind the desk greeted us with a smile, and as she was talking, I saw a little mouse run across the room to a love seat on the other side, under which it disappeared. “Oh, a mouse!” I said, pointing.

The receptionist jumped up, “A mouse? No way!” she said. My husband and son looked incredulous. “For sure, it’s underneath the love seat,” I said. At that time the mouse appeared again and ran as fast as its little feet would carry it across the hall to a nook on the side, where it shot underneath a heavy chest next to the fireplace, where flames behind glass gave the impression of warmth and coziness. Everyone had seen it now. Not knowing how fast to get us (and herself) out of there, the receptionist gave us a set of keys, left her post and personally took us around the corner to the elevator, where she bade us good night. We never found out what happened to the little mouse. Hope it found a way out!

Breakfast, Brunch and Dinner

Breakfast in the dining room starts at 8:00 a.m. A little late, we thought, being used to getting up around six and having coffee and breakfast early. But then, when you get older, you slow down a bit, and perhaps get up later, we figured. So now, we are having our coffee before we walk to The Club for breakfast.

That first morning of our introductory week, we took the elevator down to the second floor, turned the corner towards the dining room and almost laughed out loud. It was a couple of minutes before 8 o’clock. Thick ropes were temporarily closing off the entrance and in front of the ropes a throng of people waited impatiently to be admitted. Along the wall, all the way from the Café to the dining room, walkers were neatly parked; small walkers, large walkers, red walkers and black walkers; ones with a seat and ones without, ones decorated with ribbons or “Best Grandma Ever”; walkers with names on the handlebars and walkers with a basket in front; plain aluminum ones with two wheels and two “feet”, one with a tennis ball on each “foot”. I counted ten. Well, when I get old, and I need a walker, I want one with large wheels for stability, one I can sit on. And it has to have storage underneath the seat. But that will not be anytime soon!

The ropes were moved to the side and the people could hardly wait to get in. Those who had taken their walkers into the room parked them somewhere inside, and everyone lined up for the buffet.

Every day, on a long table in the middle of the dining room breakfast goodies are set out. Large pots with hot grits and oatmeal are  followed by a bowl of raisins, one with brown sugar, a large bowl with individual packets of cereal and one with raising bran (many people want that for breakfast, so a large bowl full is more economical than running out of individual boxes all the time). Then there is a bowl with hard boiled eggs, one with fruit – if it is available – like bananas, oranges and Washington apples. Three bowls are next, one with yoghurt, either vanilla or strawberry (never plain), one with cottage cheese and one with prunes. Three large dishes hold cut-up mixed fruit, like watermelon, blueberries (not cut-up), cantaloupe, green melon, strawberries, raspberries, pineapple and an occasional kiwi. Delicious. In the beginning the fruit was separated, but everyone immediately went for the blueberries and the raspberries, to the disappointment of those who came to breakfast later. At the very end of the buffet is a cookie sheet or platter with pastries.

Oh, those pastries! They sometimes disappear before everyone can get to them. On Mondays there are donuts; Tuesdays, pastries with yellow or red jam in the center; Wednesdays, slices of yellow cake and chocolate-marbled cake; Thursdays, blueberry muffins and chocolate muffins; Fridays, if we are lucky, blueberry scones, and Saturdays another kind of Danish. We haven’t had scones for a while, but the pastry chef makes them in smaller quantities and larger sizes for Sunday brunch. They are put on the sideboard with the green salad and fruit salad, so people don’t discover them easily.

Because not everyone comes down for breakfast, people take foods up for their spouse, or for later, or for lunch. Eggs go in pants’ pockets, as do bananas. Small and large boxes are provided for that purpose as well, because not everyone has deep pockets. But last month, management had to put a stop to the disappearance of pastries. Not that the pastries disappeared into pockets, but in boxes of course. So now they put out only one tray at a time, and when it is empty, we have to wait a while before the next tray is brought in. Except for the donuts, all the pastries are baked fresh in the kitchen, and sometimes the eggs are still warm as well, freshly boiled.

It is fun to observe people moving along the buffet from the table where I am sitting for breakfast. We “land” at the same table of seven every morning, which, at the early hour of eight, is kind of comforting; we don’t have to talk much and just get an update about how everyone is feeling or what they are planning for the day. “We’re here, so we are well!” is a common response to the question “How are you today?”

Yesterday, I saw someone looking at the bowl of eggs for a full minute. Her hand went out and picked up an egg from the egg bowl. She looked at it and turned it over. I was wondering if she also squeezed it, and why she did’t smell it like I do with a peach or a pear. But she put it back in the bowl and picked up another one. That one deserved her approval and she lifted the seat of her stroller and put the egg inside. What is the difference between one hard boiled egg and another? You tell me!

And then the pastries! Tongs on the side indicate they are there to be used to pick up a pastry and put it on your dish. Some people put two on top of each other on their dish or in a box. Some decide that it is faster to pick up a donut or muffin with their hands – and since it is for themselves, it is not unsanitary, they reason, and it is faster!

One day, I observed a gentleman closely scrutinizing the jelly Danish. His hand was hesitating, hovering over the dish. After a full minute, his hand slowly moving over the dish – but not touching anything – he made his choice, took the best one (I’m sure), put it on his plate and went to his seat with it. I have to remember, though, that some people cannot see well; some cannot hear well, and some have difficulty talking. All the more reason to be grateful for my blessings, thankful to have it all.

Water, juices and coffee are set out on the side board together with a toaster and a basket with bagels and slices of bread, to serve yourself.

On Sundays no breakfast is served in the dining room because, starting at 11:00 a.m., they serve brunch. To start my Sunday morning I go for a walk in the neighborhood next to Waltonwood. My fitbit tells me it is 200 steps on the main highway’s walking path to reach the next neighborhood, Wimbledon: a shady street with two-story houses, many side streets and two large ponds, like ours, but much larger, both with splashing fountains. I meet early dog walkers and get to know the names of the dogs. Just like in Prescott, we get to know the dogs before the owners. There is a Clubhouse with a tennis court and a swimming pool, and a small Certified Nature Reserve with a koi pond, a trail with signs naming the shrubs and trees, and a bench to rest or meditate; it’s shady and lovely. I look forward to my Sunday morning walks.

After breakfast at home the bus of Waltonwood takes us to church – the church where our daughter-in-law is the Worship and Music Minister. She conducts the large choir, sometimes sings solo, and she masters all the handbells with the help of just one other person. That is amazing. When I think back to our Prescott church, where it took eight people – if I remember it correctly – to play the bells. I catch myself comparing things here to Prescott. I do that for a while after a big move, you know, compare how it was there and how it is here. Do you do that too? Or have you not moved as often as we have?

After church the bus takes us back to Waltonwood and we enjoy a lovely brunch with omelets, bacon, sausage, meat, blueberry pancakes, vegetables, sometimes fish, green salad, fruit salad, desserts and, sometimes, blueberry scones. Delicious all, but too much for me of course. I enjoy a cheese omelet, bacon, a blueberry pancake and a dessert. The choice is different every Sunday: red velvet cake, chocolate cake, cheesecake, apple pie, you name it. If there are scones I will take one home for a nibble with our coffee the next morning.

On Sundays, after the big brunch, we decided we would enjoy dinner at home. A “lunch-dinner”, without cooking involved. Because, even though the kitchen here is larger than the one in Prescott, I don’t cook anymore. We both think it’s wonderful (although Mike says he misses my delicious meals) because it saves time for me: no more shopping and cooking, and for Mike: no more kitchen cleanups.

On weekdays, dinner starts at 4:30 p.m. Yes, really. The scenario is the same as for breakfast, so we go around 5:00 p.m. and find a table with different people every night. They say there are hundreds of different kinds of people in the world, and all kinds are here at Waltonwood. Slowly, but surely, we get to know many of them instead of saying “that old lady with the grey hair” or “that man with the bald head”. There are about fifty shades of grey, and many of the men are bald. It takes a while to get to know about 150 people by name. It gets especially complicated when I discover that many parents, eighty or ninety years ago, all named their children Mary, and Bob, and John, and Marie, and Jane, and June, and Tom. There are many people here with the same name: four Bobs, three Janes, and so on.

Dinners are mostly very good. Other than two choices of meat, with soup, sides and dessert, there is an a-la-carte menu with delicious salmon, salads, and other side dishes and desserts. It is easy to get used to a choice of desserts every single day! Always changing, always delicious. Many people take home some cake or ice-cream for later. Because, with dinner starting so early, the evenings are long! Another option is going to bed early, and we often opt for that, after sitting on our small patio, watching the fireflies and listening to the birds high in the trees singing goodnight to each other.

It’s a Wonderful Life!

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A New Life! Retirement at its Best. 1


“Did you hear the fire alarm last night?”
“A fire alarm? No, we did not hear anything. What time was that?”
“Eleven o’clock.”
“Yes, it was at eleven.”
“What floor are you on that you did not hear anything?”
“We are in the cottage at the end of the street, and we slept soundly.”
“All the doors were closed, the elevators did not work anymore, and we had to take the stairs down. And I do not do stairs!”
“Oh, what did you do?”
“Well, I’m on the fourth floor. I saw Dorothy on the stairs at the third floor, and she can’t do stairs either.”
“So we had to go down to the main hall, and bright lights were flashing, and sirens were blasting.”
“Yes, even in the courtyard bright lights shone in our windows and firemen told us to get out, now!”
“You should have seen the dress everyone was in! Some wore pajamas, one a sweater, a night gown, one man was wrapped in only a towel; it was quite a sight, I tell you.”
“My goodness! Where was the fire?”
“There was no fire. In Assisted Living there was a water leak and that set off the alarms everywhere.”
“Wow, a water leak set off the fire alarms! That is pretty good security. I’m impressed. What did you do when you heard the alarm?”
“I didn’t hear it. I was fast asleep without my hearing aids and I stayed in bed, which is exactly what the booklet says we should do: stay in your room.”
“And I stayed in my room too, because I thought I can’t very well go down in my nightgown, and I can’t get down the stairs in my wheelchair.”

We were sitting at a table with five ladies while dinner was being served, and everyone was busy telling us about the alarm that we had not heard and the commotion that we had not been a part of. The fire that wasn’t provided lively conversations throughout the dining room.

We had just moved to this retirement community from Arizona. The beautifully landscaped campus consists of a main building with apartments for independent living and separate wings for Assisted Living and Memory Care, plus twelve cottages around a lovely pond with a 24/7 splashing fountain in the center.

Planning Our Future

Throughout our lives we have planned ahead for the future. We emigrated from the Netherlands to California to provide a better future for our children. We found a lovely home with a pool in Pasadena, and we thought we would live there forever. But after eighteen years, when the kids had left for college, we moved to Hawai’i for our early retirement. Onomea on the Big Island was truly paradise. Our home, surrounded by sugar cane fields with a view of Hilo Bay was lovely. We swam and snorkeled and danced hula, and we thought we would live there forever.

But after twelve years we decided we did not see enough of our children and the grandchildren who had come into being, and so, planning to be closer to the kids in our sixties and seventies, we moved to Arizona. We built a lovely home, and enjoyed, from our Hawaiian style deck, watching javelina, deer, bobcats and an occasional mountain lion in our back yard, as if we were on safari, and we thought we would live there forever.

But after fifteen years in Arizona, slowly growing older – very, very slowly – we decided that hm, all the children still lived far away, and, if we would want to enjoy some of the grandchildren while we could, we’d better move again. And so we moved to North Carolina, 15 minutes from our son, daughter-in-law and three grandsons.

We found a lovely cottage on the campus of a retirement community. It has two bedrooms and two baths, and everything is of a smaller scale, but it was not too difficult to adjust. As I wrote in Rising from the Shadow of the Sun, Pg. 276: “That is what life is about anyway, isn’t it? Adapt to your environment. Adjust, and be happy with the blessings you have.

Everyone in the cottages and apartments of this six-year old establishment has standard equipment in their home, part of which is a toilet that is 15” high. How is it possible for all those elderly people, many of whom are in their nineties, in wheelchairs, with walkers or canes, to sit down and get up from such a low toilet? I found a 4″ cement riser on Amazon to install underneath toilets, but that would make the top of the toilet tank hit the counter top above it. No good.

When we asked the handyman on campus he shook his head and agreed that the architect had not thought this through. But he had a solution: he could install a toilet of 17″ high. We agreed we would pay for the toilet as well as the installation (sadly, he gave no discount for the toilet he took out) and the next day he came and installed it. We absolutely love it. Not only is it 2″ higher, which does make a difference, it also has a sturdier seat and lid so we can sit on it to dry our feet on days that we can’t do that standing up. At 17″ the toilet tank cover touches the Kleenex container embedded in the counter top above it (like you see in the bathrooms of motel rooms). Any possible leaks inside the tank can be fixed by removing the Kleenex box and its container from the counter and reaching in with hands and tools through the opening. How clever!

No idea what they will do if the toilet fill valve, the ballcock and the flapper inside the tank have to be replaced. Perhaps they will take out the whole toilet – no big deal!

All of the staff and cleaning ladies and handymen and who knows who else have a key to our cottage. In that way we are not totally independent and we have to get used to that. Suppose the cleaning lady walks in when I’m in the shower? Or walking around in my nightgown? Or worse? What if the handyman comes in when I’m on the new toilet to see how it works? Not that I’m on the toilet to see how it works, mind you, but the handyman. And not for the handyman to sit on the toilet to see how it works, but to see if the installation works. Get it?

In this case, we wished he had come in, because after the installation, while we were out for dinner in the main building, which we affectionately call The Club, the new toilet leaked and the whole bathroom floor was flooded. We were thankful that we did not live in an apartment on the fourth floor, where the water could have leaked down to the third floor and set off a fire alarm!

It’s a wonderful life!

Until next time,


A New Life!

Hello dear friends,

I’m back! It has taken about three months to get ready for our move from Arizona to North Carolina, to actually move (that was the easy part, the plane took us here in about five ours), to unpack and get settled. But we’re here, and we love it, and we are glad we made this move when we did! Right now, it’s very green here, like Hilo, and very hot, like Prescott, and we welcome the occasional rain showers, like in Hilo; in short: we feel at home.

Thank you for still being there (I hope) to read about my stories of life in a retirement community as seen through the eyes of a fifty-year-old! Yes, that’s about how I feel. Not until now do I fully realize that being able to sit and stand up, to walk fast, to go up and down stairs, and other things that I accepted as normal are not given to many people who live to be a hundred! My mother was an exception of course, riding her bike and exercising until she was ninety-four, and walking unassisted until she was almost 102.

I’m planning to write a blog post once a week; I hope you will enjoy reading them and respond with a comment once in a while. It would be great to get a conversation going with those of you who have similar or differing experiences.

Until soon,




Biography of Gerrit Vermeulen, Veteran of the Dutch Army during the Bersiap.

Gerrit Vermeulen, born in 1909, was the third son in the family, one of 9 children, and he lived with his mother. So when he joined the army to go to the Indies in 1945 he was not that young anymore. He already owned a business, Vermeulen’s Bouwbedrijf (Vermeulen’s Building Company), which after the war built many temporary wooden homes (noodwoningen) and some farm buildings all over the country. His brother Henk, also a carpenter, worked for him for several years. While Gerrit was in Indonesia his younger brother Evert Jan took care of his business so Gerrit had something to come back to.

After Gerrit came back from Indonesia he married a girl named Jans. They continued to live in the same house until his mother got dementia and she moved in with one of her daughters, who had lost her husband in Auschwitz during the war. Gerrit and Jans unfortunately never had any children.

He loved his nieces and nephews and taught them to count in Malay. He occasionally dreamed in Malay too. “Uncle Gerrit” was a prankster. Once, he sent one of his nieces all over town to pick up the “baseboard ladder” he had lent to someone. That man sent her to someone else and so on until she finally realized she had been a victim of one of his pranks.

Gerrit would have loved to go back to Indonesia years later but Jans could not travel at all and he did not want not leave her alone.

When he rebuilt his home he called it: Tukang Kayu (Carpenter).

In 1982, when he was 73, he suffered a stroke and passed away.

Gerrit Vermeulen was a remarkable man, and with these letters he left a legacy: an eyewitness account of a historic part of history: Bersiap.

Thank you for joining me in reading Gerrit Vermeulen’s letters to his mother in Renswoude. They deserved to be read.

I welcome your comments!

I am going to take a little break from blogging, because of an impending move, but as soon as I am settled where I’m going, you will hear from me again. Please don’t go away!



Bersiap: The Bloody Independence War After WWII – Part 20

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

Lawang, 28 April 1948

We have moved again. On April 14 we moved from Wonomoeljo to Lawang, a distance of about 15 kilometers. We were in Lawang last year for a day and a half en route to Malang. Lawang lies at a high elevation surrounded by hills and mountains. Last week we could see Bromo Volcano spewing smoke. Bromo is about fifty kilometers from here, but enormous, dense smoke clouds rose up from the crater. Now they have subsided again somewhat. It is cool here, cooler than in Malang. We are stationed in regular homes – our whole battalion is here. Last year our battalion was together for one week, when we marched to Malang. Now the boys are discussing amongst each other that we are here because we will go to Soerabaja to board a ship in a few months. Of the 800 men our battalion counted originally about 500 remain. Some men have died, some were disqualified and sent back to the Netherlands and some were transferred to another post. In the beginning very few were transferred, but now many are allowed to transfer. They move to the M.L.D., the Military Air Force, the Marines and other national agencies, where they re-enlist.

Lawang, 12 May 1948

Our Company Commander went to Batavia to discuss our demobilization. When he came back he didn’t tell us when we would leave, but he did say where we will embark. First we will go from Soerabaja to Batavia. There we’ll stay for several days for administrative purposes and from Batavia we will sail home. We have to take into consideration that there will be very little space on the ship, many of us will have to sleep closely together. All tropical uniforms have to be handed in, we can only keep our underwear and one pair of shoes. Our luggage will be limited to one suitcase, a kitbag and 3 cubic feet of other luggage. That seems rather a lot, most of us will take less than 3 cubic feet of stuff back home with them.

The commander forewarned us to tell friends and relatives not to come to the harbor in Rotterdam or Amsterdam because they will not be admitted. Upon arrival the soldiers will first complete all formalities, then they will receive some money and a brown bag lunch and then they will be taken to the front door of their homes by busses. Whether they will arrive by day or by night, everything will proceed as planned – in a harbor life does not stop. For us it will take at least a few more months.

On May 21 we were invited to go and revisit the places where we had been stationed in 1946 and 1947. We left, carrying only a gun, in a jeep and a large truck, first to Soerabaja, and from there in between the tambaks (fish ponds) to our former post Gendong Tambak, where we were stationed for many months. Right now it is not occupied any more and there is only a post of the N.P. , the National Police. The natives have moved back into the remaining homes again, but there are fewer  than half of the original number. The destroyed part of the traffic bridge has been repaired temporarily and they are in the process of fixing the railway bridge. The tambaks have been partially fixed. The whole town makes an impoverished impression.

After half an hour we continue along an inner road in the direction of Grissee. It is strange to drive in a car on a road we walked all the time for about a year, always alert with our gun at the ready. Through familiar kampongs we drive. Many homes lie in ruins, there is rubble everywhere and the road is in bad need of repair. We talk about our memories: “Remember how hard we fought here?”
“Remember how we chased them away here?”
“Remember how we sneaked away while they kept shooting?”

We drive to the harbor, through the quiet old town and stop briefly at a Javanese cemetery. More than a hundred men are buried there. Small plates indicate the name, date of birth and place of origin of the victim. Fifteen such plates indicate the year 1946, attesting to the heavy battles that were fought there. After that we visit a Javanese place of pilgrimage, home of the holy grave of a holy man who was buried there 1300 years ago. A stone stairway of over a hundred yards leads to the top of a hill with mosques and other holy buildings. The holy grave is in a holy building for which we have to take off our shoes to enter. Through a narrow, low gate we enter, and through another small, low gate we enter the separate area where the grave is; only two people are allowed to enter at the same time. A priest hands each one of us a flower from a bowl of flowers, which we may put on the grave. Facing the grave, bent over, we exit the building backwards and put our shoes back on when we are outside.

We also visit the silversmiths, where you can purchase all kinds of handmade silver items, but at a very high price. On we go on our pilgrimage, and we take a break in Tjermee, one of our old posts. From there to Moro and Bringkang to Soerabaja, where we are allowed two hours on our own. At 5:00 p.m. we leave again for Malang. We all had a great day, visiting the old familiar places.

Soekoredjo, 21 June 1948

I’m packing for my week’s furlough in Soerabaja. I miss the 6:00 a.m. ride to Grissee but am lucky to catch a ride straight through to Soerabaja on a passing truck, after only a ten minutes’ wait. I am going to visit many old friends, Javanese, Chinese, and four friends from Renswoude. I even plan to go to Gendong Tambak on my bike. Soerabaja has changed a lot since I was there a year ago. It is much more crowded with a population influx of 1000 per year. There aren’t enough homes and no new homes have been built yet. The kampongs in the city are inhabited by natives, the Chinese live in Chinese districts, and many rich Chinese live in European districts. As in all big cities you find areas of the most dire poverty next to those of the greatest affluence. At the edge of town is a used car dump. About 20 to 25 of those car wrecks are actually lived in. The roofs are closed with old scrap metal, car doors, hoods and so on, and they don’t worry about rain, because it won’t rain for a while. Most of the folks who live there are beggars. Recently a few hundred have been rounded up and taken to a camp.

Kaliredjo, 5 July 1948

Last week our Company celebrated Prince Bernhard’s birthday with a banquet. We had a fun day with lots of delicious food, games, races, prizes and other fun things. Rumors are that our demobilization is being discussed in Batavia. In the mean time I have started negotiations with a housing agency to see if I can get a job there. There are many obstacles though. The language, the customs, the situations, the work routine and so on. But obstacles are there to overcome! If I get a job I hope it will be in Malang, where it is cooler than in Soerabaja.

Lawang, 9 August, 1948

And suddenly, the day is here! We have to get up at 4:00, hand in our camp bed, eat, and leave for the station at 7:00. The train leaves at 8:00, at 11 o’clock we are on board the Waterman, and at 12:00 we are leaving!

They call this a troop ship. Life on board is a mixed blessing. The food is alright, and the Dutch potatoes taste delicious. Drinking water is okay too, although you have to walk a distance to get it. Taking baths with seawater is bad. Sleeping in a hold without a single port hole and rows of tall bunkbeds up to five beds high, with narrow passageways in between is the pits; fresh air has to be blown in artificially. On deck it is always crowded and after three days, in Batavia, they added another six to seven hundred men. Life on board does not appeal to me.

On August 12 we disembark at Tandjong Priok (the harbor of Batavia) and drive immediately to Batavia where all demobilized men in large barracks are awaiting the departure of their ship to the Netherlands. I have to get registered, borrow a bed and a klamboe, and the next day the rigmarole begins. From the Administration Office to the Office of Social Services I go; from the Immigration Office to the Inspection Service to the Welfare Office and so on. And some of those places are far apart, so it takes time to go from the one to the other. But finally, it is all done and behind us. We are demobilized and transformed back to Dutch citizens. I immediately arrange for a flight back to Soerabaja to start my new job.

Soerabaja, 20 March 1949

For six months I worked for the Housing Office in Soerabaja as a citizen. At the end of the six months my boss said, “You’d better go back to Holland, Gerrit, because I think that in the long run there is no future here for a belanda (white person) and over there I’m sure you can get a job right away.” Hmm. I have to think about that – about my future.

What has changed here? The road from Soerabaja to Malang is still not safe. A few weeks ago, a gang of fifty men attacked the police office in Malang. But the police managed to keep them at bay, although they didn’t have a quiet night. The trains to Malang are constantly under fire. One time, gangs unscrewed part of the rails and took it out, which stopped all train transport for a whole week. Once, a car was attacked, resulting in 7 casualties and 5 injured. How can all these things still be happening? I don’t have a clue. I am going home.

Renswoude, 1 June 1949

We had a good journey from Batavia to Rotterdam. We were taken home by bus and were greeted by relatives and friends with a wonderful welcome. I served in the military on Java for three years to restore order and peace. Did we reach that goal? No, far from it. The army would have been able to do that easily. But with the political attitude of the wishy-washy Dutch Government it proved to be impossible. In addition, they let themselves be influenced too much by the British and Americans. The majority of the natives in the Dutch East Indies had expected and was hoping that the Dutch Government, the Authority, would restore order and peace. That would also have restored prosperity for them. But because of the influence of the communistic parties it did not work. I could have spent these three years better than in the service of my country.

So here I am, back to work in Renswoude.

Gerrit Vermeulen

Stay tuned for Gerrit’s Vermeulen’s Bio!

I welcome your comments




Bersiap: The Bloody Independence War after WWII – Part 19

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.

Stay tuned!

I welcome your comments


Bersiap: The Bloody Independence War after WWII – Part 18

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

Bringkang, 7 july 1947

We arrived here in Bringkang in April. We went on one heavy patrol together with another patrol of 50 men. They suffered one casualty. He was buried in Soerabaja yesterday with military honors.

The ceasefire, as well as continued shootings and negotiations in Batavia, continue. It seems that Soekarno could talk better with the Japanese than with the Dutch.

Mengantie, 22 July 1947

We are moving about once every week now. Yesterday I awoke at the drone of airplanes, something that happens seldom here. The commander announced that the Dutch had occupied republican buildings in Batavia. Furthermore he said that from now on the Government of the Dutch East Indies will be responsible for the peace, order and safety on Java and Sumatra. Which means that the Dutch army has to move to the interior to restore and keep the peace and safety. So what was more and more expected has now become a reality: the new republic in its current form can not be maintained. Big changes are imminent.

We have to stand guard every single night here. On top of that we have to go on patrol often, anywhere from 15 to 25 kilometers. If that would be on a straight road it would be okay, and if they would be held during the day that would be all right too. But often we leave at 2:00 a.m. to go into the hills and on narrow, wet clay trails in the dark. Try to remain standing when you lift your foot up high to climb up a step and you slide down three feet in the mud! We are lucky we don’t often hit enemy fire. But we often have to lay in ambush for two to four hours, in wet grass, in fields or in the jungle. When you then think that the negotiations between Soekarno and the Dutch go on an on, delaying our demobilization another six months, you can imagine that instead of order there is unrest on the frontline. Yet, I imagine that a lot will have changed for the better before the next New Year, the year 1949.

Malang, 15 August 1947

It’s getting boring already after two weeks in Malang. We have to stand guard, often go on patrol during the day, and once heard shooting with automatic weapons coming from a small dessa. We went to take a look. Men, women and children were hunkered down in the hiding places that have been dug next to many of the homes. We didn’t find anything – the shooters had fled to the hilly sawah terrain, right into the arms of another patrol. Two men died and four surrendered with their weapons, which included one machine gun.

Malang, 17 August 1947

Today the “Repoeblik” celebrates the second anniversary of the Sovereign State of Indonesia with Soekarno as its leader. Because of possible riots in town or attacks from out of town we have to stay on our posts and are not allowed to go anywhere. I have to stand guard from 12 to 2 a.m. Around 1 a.m., nearby, we hear shots being fired from guns and automatic weapons. The shooting increases, so we send out light signals and establish radio contact. Red alert is announced, we ready the mortars for firing and occupy all positions.

Through the radio we hear that a post next to us is being attacked. They ask for mortar fire. In the mean time, about 2 kilometers from us on the other side, a fight erupted as well, a seemingly heavier attack. Both mortars give rapid fire, one after another. Sometimes ten grenades are in the air at the same time. Our post, however, is not attacked.

After an hour the shooting gets less and around 3:30 we only hear a shot here and there at a greater distance and we are dismissed with the exception of the guards. It is barely light when the shooting starts again at about 3 kilometers distance, and that takes till noon. We had no casualties. The attackers came as close as 75 feet from the nearest post.

We are still in a ceasefire.

Malang, 20 August 1947

Ceasefire here is problematic. Traffic from Malang to Soerabaja has to go in a convoy in one day, so that they can assist each other in case of possible attacks. Yesterday one car with marines, driving without a convoy, was attacked, resulting in one casualty, two injured and a severely damaged car. One convoy on its way to Malang came to a complete stop at a destroyed bridge. Today the whole city is without water. They destroyed the water main and we are not allowed to do anything because of the ceasefire.

The T.R.I. soldiers (Tentara (army) Repoeblik Indonesia) are like flies on your bread. When you wave your hand over it they are gone, but keep your hand still and they are right back. When we go on patrol during the day there is not a single T.R.I. soldier in sight, but at night they are shooting all around the city. We can’t get back at them because of the ceasefire.

Stay tuned!

I welcome your comments


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


Bersiap: The Bloody Independence War after WWII – Part 16

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

Gendong Tambak, 14 December 1946

The official list of casualties in the week of December 1 to 7 was released yesterday. During that week 24 Dutch soldiers have died. Another 24 men who will not see their fatherland again. Does it make us feel good to know that during that same week more than 2400 of our enemies have died? Was it worth our comrades’ lives?

18 December 1946

Yesterday we heard a bombardment the likes of which we haven’t seen or heard since the Germans bombarded Rotterdam. And that during the ceasefire that is still in effect! Now don’t think of a British bombardment on Germany with 1000 airplanes. Yesterday, only five airplanes and two warships participated in bombarding the town of Grissee, where we have been stationed earlier. There are always a lot of extremists in that area; they must have had many casualties, but there is no word on that yet. The extremists must have been bored during the cease-fire and enjoyed firing at passing Dutch ships with machine guns and mortar grenades. Of course that was no fun for the crew and they had to respond in kind.

22 December 1946

Several waste barrels are placed in our camp, in which trash and leftover food are dumped. Once a week they have to be emptied, and once I notice so much bread in them that I say to the sergeant of the week, “What a waste to throw all this food in the kali while so many natives are starving.”
“Do you have a solution?” he asks.
“I think I do.”
I go to the kitchen and get three krantjeng (baskets) which I put in three different places in the camp, with a sign saying: please deposit any clean, good bread in here; we will distribute it among the natives. Great success! With about 40 to 60 slices of bread per day, twice a day, I go to the kampong closest to the camp, let the people stand in line and give them each a slice of bread. After the first time I always take a bayonet to keep the most greedy people at bay. Soon though, a mob is taking the bread out of the basket before I can hand it out and I have to call the dessa police for help. The medic who wants to take a basket to his sick people one day gets pulled off his bike when first one, then more, then half the natives of the kampong surround him to get a slice of bread; his sick people get nothing. The natives are starving, and will do anything for a slice of bread.

Gendong Tambak, 25 January 1947

Our Christmas and New Years went by in peace and quiet. We can’t fish any more, because a Chinese with 25 coolies and a net of several hundred meters catches all the fish there is. And swimming is not healthy considering the presence of sharks.

Several days ago a patrol went out with the order to scout the area and evacuate a number of natives that was remaining in one of the kampongs. Most of them had been taken away or had fled, and the ones that remained were starving to death. Not all of the fifteen natives were happy to come along, but they were forced to. One woman escaped three times but was caught every time. Her husband and son, having anticipated “the danger” in time, were in hiding. And so the patrol returned with those fifteen men, women and a children. That morning, five more natives had walked into our camp so there were twenty in total. They were all taken to the first kampong on the road to Soerabaja. In the next few days, another seventeen join them, and I am given the task to provide them with food.

Two or three times a day I go there with food. They live all together in one large home with good tile floors. They sleep on the floor, on a mat or just on the floor. That is not strange to them, they are used to it. It has happened that we ran into ten or more people sleeping outside in the moonlight, between the tambaks (fish ponds), and we had to step over them, but none of them moved, pretending be asleep.

I have to constantly be aware to make the food distribution go smoothly. I believe that the evacuees, if they had to distribute the food themselves, would fight over it. They are mostly women and children, very, very skinny; some of the children have bulging stomachs from malnutrition and are so thin that their skin stretches taut across their ribs. The rags on their bodies are so skimpy that nobody in the Netherlands would want to wear them, even in war time. Some of them have brought a few of their possessions like a machete, a plate, a basket or a pan, but most of them have nothing. When I bring them a bag full of tin cans for drinking, the bag is immediately used as a sleeping mat. I let them work too, clean the house, fetch water and wood for the fire, and so on.

Perak, 6 February 1947

We are moving again, this time to Perak, in the area close to the airfield, with about twelve homes, serving as soldiers’ quarters. We are by far not as free as we were at Zeepost. Every home has one baboe who washes and irons the clothes, cleans the food bowls, brooms the floor and so on. The baboe in my house has an ugly face, which is even more unsightly because one of her eyes is damaged and partially closed. But she is clean and proper, which can’t be said of all baboes. She arrives at seven in the morning and leaves around three o’clock.

Stay tuned!

I welcome your comments