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


Bersiap: The Bloody Independence War After WWII – Part 15

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

Gendong Tambak, 10 October 1946

Yesterday a pretty large patrol went out. We had no casualties of our own but made nine hostages and gained five rifles and one bren (possibly bought for a low price from the British). The enemy suffered at least eight deaths. Today, we are taking three of the hostages back. Apparently they are not extremists but regular natives. We lead them across the bridge, blindfolded. I have to hold one of them by the hand across the narrow temporary bridge so that he won’t fall into the water. I reassure him: “Baik djalan, poelang, anti roemah.” (You are doing very well, you’re going home, you will be home later). On the other side of the bridge their blindfolds are removed and they can return to their homes. They are very happy: “Terima kasih toean, tabeh toean. Ja baik, selamat djalan poelang, tabeh.” (Thank you sir, good bye sir. I will be all right going home, bye!).

I am going to catch some crabs. The natives always catch those to eat or sell. They are as large as a fist with eight legs and two tongs and are considered a delicacy, tasting like shrimp. I think I will sell my catch and stick to regular fish to eat.

Benowo, 18 November 1946

There was not much to write about recently, and we have been in Benowo for two weeks already. When we got here the regular young camp visitors welcomed us. “Toean Nain, toean Nain!” They call me Toean Nain, Nain’s boss, because my djongos (boy servant) is always with me when I am here. Sure enough, Nain is there and immediately helps me carry my barang (luggage). And again, like before, he comes three times every day. In my room, a room without windows because plenty of light and air are coming through the roof and walls, he has spread out two large bags, which serve as his table, chair and bed. He sits on them while he eats out of his can, with his hands of course, like all the natives do, without fork and spoon. Afterwards, he washes his hands or wipes them on his shorts, and that’s it.

Last week we had the first rain. Not much, but it is a beginning. We are now in between the dry and the wet monsoon; it’s very much like summer in the Netherlands. Sometimes sun all day, sometimes overcast, and often clouds. One day I decide to go for a walk. I first take the bike, then station it in a kampong against a wall and continue on foot. We don’t have to be afraid that a bike will be stolen in a kampong.

Somewhere people are sowing padi (rice). A man makes small holes, just like when we plant potatoes, only closer together. A woman and four children first sprinkle a handful of ashes in the holes and then a few grains of rice. I say to the man that we do this differently in the Netherlands. “You can take a bowl of padi in one hand and then scatter handfuls with the other hand in a broad sweeping motion. That goes much faster!” But he says, “tidak baik, itoe baik.” (that’s not good, this is good).

A little further a boy is cutting bamboo. Bamboo grows in clumps, and the lower, thick trunks are full of thorns. He can’t get the last one cut because it gets caught in the other thorns and so I walk over to help him. He tells me that there’s rain coming, and I should go home. But I say, “Tidak takoet hoedjan” (I am not afraid of rain) and continue on my way.

But the rain storm comes and the dense tree under which I take shelter soon is no use anymore and for the first time since Malaya I get really, really wet. The locals working in the field continue their work as if it is not raining. They don’t really care. It is never cold, and when it stops raining they just wring out their shorts and put them on again. Their shoes don’t get full of rain or mud either, because they are not wearing any. But I have difficulty walking, with large clumps of mud sticking to my shoes. After twenty minutes I arrive at my bike and think my worries are over. But it is only the beginning. After ten yards the wheels of the bike are stuck, full of clay, and trying to clean them does not work. They can’t turn anymore! The only thing to do is carry the bike and walk home on my soppy, muddy shoes. When I get home, I don’t know if I am wet with sweat or with rainwater!

24 November 1946

“Pindah kapan toean?” (When are you moving again sir?) the djongos asks. “Hari senen, Nain.” (On Monday, Nain). We have been here for three weeks already, quite a long time. I haven’t seen our section for two weeks. We’re planing three weeks in Gendong Tambak, then three weeks in town. That will be nice, in town for Christmas and New Year’s. But when will all this end? Will the inciting radio addresses by Sitomo and others go on and on for much longer? Do the thousands of natives who perished on the Island of Madoera (an island across the strait of Madoera from Soerabaja with a population of two and a half million) have to become tens of thousands? I have talked to some of them who came swimming from Madoera to Soerabaja with the help of a bamboo pole. Despite the danger of the many sharks, they risked their lives and swam across. “Kapan disini?” (why do you come here?) I asked. “Di Madoera makanan tida ada.” (There is no food on Madoera).

The soldiers here are usually not busy. Of course there are always those who have regular work, like drivers, cooks, medics and so on. The medics are much busier treating the natives than the soldiers. Every single day many natives come with sakit kaki (tropical ulcers on their legs), sakit mata (eye sores), sakit panas (fevers) and so on. Even the section of mortar soldiers stationed here, not going on patrol, is not busy. The captain calls me and says, “Vermeulen, you need to make a model camp bed of bamboo. You can get canvas from the quartermaster. Tomorrow morning that model has to go with us for size when we go to several kampongs to get enough bamboo poles for 120 camp beds. The stretchers we have now have to be turned in and every soldier has to make a camp bed for himself.” And so for the next two to three days everybody is busy making beds. It is pretty simple. Two long bamboo sticks and two short ones, the 4 bamboos stuck through the hem of the canvas, and with everything having the right size the canvas is taut. We put the long ends that are sticking out on either side on top of two crates and voilà, the bed is ready. I must say it sleeps well, although it is not a kapok mattress.

Stay tuned!

I welcome your comments


New Release! Anguished

This is an in-between post that I’m very excited about!

ANGUISHED is the title of my new ebook, released on January 11, 2017. Not about World War Two or about the Bersiap, it is a non-fiction/memoir that I would like you to check out. Available everywhere online, you will also find it right here on my website, on Ronny’s Books Page.

Of course I would really appreciate it if you would leave a review on Amazon or, or, or B&N, or wherever 🙂

Thanks, and I’m looking forward to Gerrit Vermeulen’s next adventure this Friday.


Bersiap: The Bloody Independence War After WWII – Part 14

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

Brandjangan, 26 September 1946

Today we’ll have to attend a mandatory discussion with the well known Pastor Koningsbergen, who sometimes writes in the Trouw newspaper. He just came back from a trip to the Netherlands where he had to address the troops that are getting ready to be deployed to the Dutch East Indies. Some of those troops strongly object to going there. As one country boy stated: “What can I do in the Indies? They need me here on the farm; I can do much more important work here.” Another one said, “What am I supposed to do do there with those people? They are fighting for their freedom; give them that liberty, they have the right to be free.” And yet another one talked about a colonial war to subject the natives all over again. The strongest opposition came from the soldiers in Kampen and Harderwijk, among which are many revolting communists. But the pastor had explained the reality. He praised the volunteers who had come here already and who had set a good example.

“Why do we not treat the extremists more forcefully?” someone asks the pastor. He can’t say much to that, but it seems that our government is not “free” to do more. Apparently it is under pressure of certain superpowers. The British have done an excellent job here. The most important harbors have been conquered and liberated, and so on. There are not many of them left, but we do wish that we would get rid of the last ones too with their Gurkhas (British soldiers from India). They are working more against us than with us now. This month, somewhere on West Java, the British celebrated the first anniversary of the by the Japanese  proclaimed “Republik Indonesia”! When our new troops arrive they will be gone in a hurry, I’m sure.

At one of the meetings where the pastor had spoken a mother of one of the volunteers asked: “Pastor, are all the troops coming back before New Years or not?” She thought that since conscripts are now being deployed, the volunteers would be sent home again. The Pastor explained that it could be June or July of next year that peace will have been restored here. And that then next fall, when new batches of men will arrive, the volunteers will be asked, perhaps in August already, “What do you want? Stay in the service or get out, or go back to the Netherlands?” And the ones that choose to return to the Netherlands may be home again by New Years of next year (but that is just my assumption).

The Pastor tells us how irritated he was about the incredible bureaucracy in the Netherlands. He had traveled to the Netherlands in his tropical outfit, but he was very cold. So he went to a military office and asked for a uniform, which was denied him, because he was not registered there. Then he went to the bureau in charge of “Care for the Soldier in the Dutch East Indies.” The lieutenant there said: “A case like yours has never happened before, so we cannot help you. Why don’t you go to the bureau in Scheveningen. They will give you a form to fill out and with that you can go to Rotterdam, where you can pick up your uniform after three weeks.” The pastor had said some unfriendly words, and that he would be back in the Indies in three weeks.

“I was very cold in Holland,” he tells us, “but when I came back from all those bureaus without success I was warm.” He had also talked for an hour and a half with the Minister of Foreign Affairs. At the end of his visit the man had said: “In this hour and a half I have learned more about the Dutch East Indies than during the entire year and a half before this.” “Well,” said the Pastor, “then you knew very little to begin with.”

He had also visited Princess Juliana to try and get her cooperation to get more entertainment for the soldiers here. It has been a very interesting discussion and none of the boys is sorry they attended.

Gendong Tambak, 2 October 1946

Today is the first anniversary of the establishment of the first Battalion of the 12th Regiment Infantry. In the morning a memorial ceremony will take place at the cemetery in Soerabaja, where the six casualties of our battalion are buried. Because we are at the front we can’t attend, only five men of our company do get permission and I’m not one of them. But last night the sergeant of the week came to me and said, “Gerrit, I want you to to go with us to Soerabaja tomorrow to take pictures of the laying of the wreaths.” I said, “Sergeant Scheidema can do that better than I, Sir. He knows more about photography, has a better camera than I and plenty of film.” “Yes, he said, that’s true, but the boys complain that they can’t get reprints from him; he only gives them to the officers but not to the boys. You are known to sell them cheap to anyone who wants them, and that’s why Captain Greiner says you have to go.”

So I attend the ceremony and take some pictures. I hope they will be good. Afterwards I visit some friends in Soerabaja and we discuss the situation at the front. It is really not that dangerous here. It’s almost like a vacation. Standing guard is easy and patrolling is not hard either. Most of the time there is no shooting going on. Sometimes we do have to face fierce enemy fire, but even then nobody thinks twice about the possibility he can get hit. In all the battles I have fought none of our group has been killed or seriously wounded; twice one man incurred slight injuries. A fight to us is almost like crossing the street is to you: you look left and right if you don’t see a car coming and then you quickly cross. We check if we see enemies in front of us, which does not happen often, then we storm forward and if we are lucky we’ll see them flee; but most of the time they have disappeared when we get there and are shooting again up ahead.

Perhaps you’ll remember that I wrote about our very first fight, when we ran into an ambush and retreated. That does not happen anymore and no one among us even considers the possibility that we could be beaten back. The last two weeks hardly a single shot has been fired.

Too bad the tide is out, now I can’t go fishing.


Stay tuned


I welcome your comments



Luxuriating The First Week Of 2017

Dear Readers,

I don’t know about you, but we were snowed in starting Christmas Eve 2016. We had a very quiet Christmas due to the fact that I slipped and fell on the icy road on Christmas morning, fractured my right big toe, were in the ER on my birthday, and I had to sit with it elevated and packed in ice for about a week after that. Add a gout attack, heavy medication, a slight temperature, and you’ve got the picture. It was not a good time to sit at the computer. But I promise next week I will continue with the letters of Gerrit Vermeulen in the jungles of Java during the Bersiap.

Happy New Year!

Celebrate Christmas and the End of 2016

Dear readers,

I invite you to take the time to celebrate Christmas and the Beginning of the New Year, as will I.

In January I will continue the letters from Gerrit Vermeulen to his mother in the Netherlands, about the Bersiap, the War for Independence on the Island of Java, which he enlisted for.

So have a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!


Bersiap: The Bloody Independence War After WWII – Part 13

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.

Stay tuned!

I welcome your comments




Bersiap: The Bloody Independence War After WWII – Part 12

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

Gedangan, 5 September 1946

It is 7:00 in the morning and we hear shots coming from Benowo. That is strange, there has never been any fighting in Benowo so we call to find out what’s going on. Mercy! They tell us that most of the soldiers left early today on patrol, leaving only 40 men in the camp, which is now being attacked from two sides by about 200 men. Wirelessly the patrol is called back to relieve the camp. In the mean time, leaving a trail of casualties and injured, the attackers flee, straight into the arms of the returning patrol. Again there are many casualties and injured. We usually don’t get told how many dead bodies there are, but this time we think the number is anywhere between 70 and 100, plus the injured and the prisoners. Benowo is about 5 kilometers from Gedangan. Attacks in Bobo and Maro have similar results. But we suffered no casualties whatsoever, thank God.

Gedangan, 6 September 1946

I wonder how it is possible that the enemy in Benowo, Bobo and Maro suffered several hundred deaths and we did not have any. The attacks on those three places were carried out by about 1000 men, gangs of robbers, pesindo’s, (youths of the Communist Party), and a bunch of extremists. They had been told to go and kill the orang belanda (white people) in those three places and then to go to Soerabaja where there were 40 more orang belanda to kill. But those were actually killed by the Indonesians in Soerabaja, so they could just continue. These gangs were so poorly armed that it was pitiful. Most of them only had a spear. We later heard that the commanders considered them an unmanageable gang and sent them into battle assuming that they were going to be killed by our army, so that they would not bother the Indonesians any more. This is the hopeless way the so-called Republic of Indonesia is operating. There is no order, command, or leadership but only terror, plunder, murder and misery, and still there are people in the Netherlands who say, “Oh, leave those poor people alone! They are fighting for their freedom.”

Tuesday, 10 September 1946

Today the patrol has another catch. The men visiting the pasar on the square are interrogated. One of them, with an impudent face and carrying a large briefcase is quickly found out. The briefcase contained thousands of Japanese guilders. The commander of Grissee had sent him to Soerabaja to purchase car tires and bicycle tires for the extremists. On top of that he had a list with addresses of extremists in Soerabaja he could go to. But I think all those will have been imprisoned by now.

Thursday, 12 September 1946

Last night I went to bed around 8:30, but I did not fall asleep right away. When I was fast asleep around 9:30, I woke up suddenly by a loud bang. I was annoyed that the boys were making so much noise and turned over. But then the major came storming into our hut: “Set up the mortar, quick!” A sudden burst of grenades close by made me realize that I had been awoken by the sound of a grenade. Quickly we fired two light grenades out front but saw nothing. One of the guards said he had seen several men out front, who had thrown the two grenades that we had heard. But I think it was imagination because nothing happened and we went back to bed and I slept well.

Today, after work, as we are sitting in front of our hut where we sleep with five men, one of them yells “A snake, a huge snake in the hut!” Quickly we get a few sticks. But the snake is already invisible in the rubbish on the side and crawles out on the other side. I run around the outside and kill it; then one of the boys flattens the head with his rifle butt. I had hit it in the center, and one of the boys lifts it up by its tail. Suddenly a large frog falls out of the hole in the middle, a very large frog, still alive, with only a broken leg. But he can jolly well jump away and disappears in the tall grass.

Benowo, 14 September 1946

We have an early call tonight. At 12:30 we’re told: ” Get up boys, we leave at 2:30.” First along a path through the sawahs (rice fields) then along the embankments  in between the tambaks (fish ponds). After more than an hour we come to a largely destroyed dessa (village) and a kali (river), a wide, deep kali. There is no prauw (sort of canoe) to get across.

On the other side is a kampong, clearly visible in the moonlight. One of us takes his clothes off and swims across. Not a very pleasant job, to walk naked and unarmed into a kampong that is possibly occupied by armed extremists. He asks one of the natives if there is another canoe available but gets told that the extremists took all of the canoes the day before. One large canoe by the side of the kali is full of holes and totally useless.

There is nothing else to do but build a raft, because all of us swimming across with weapons and equipment is impossible. Then… we find two canoes on our side. A large one that we can’t lift and a small one for 7 or 8 men. We move the small canoe through the mud and into the water and with five men at a time, about ten times back and forth, bailing water after every crossing, we all make it across.

In between the tambaks we march and we position ourselves at the very end of them.

Stay tuned!

I welcome your comments


Bersiap: the Bloody Independence War After WWII – Part 11

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

Gendang Tambak, 6 August, 1946

In the night multiple shots are heard, close by and far away. The post that is considered absolutely safe is attacked by a group of 100 extremists. With a little planning they could have taken the five men that manned it by surprise, but instead they tried to find out if the post was on the alert by firing a few gunshots first, which of course immediately alerted our men. Assuming by the number of shots that the group of the attackers was large, our men called for immediate reinforcements. Upon the arrival of two trucks full, the enemy retreated. The reinforcement troops turned back and immediately 25 men went on patrol to try and cut off the retreating enemy, a move which was successful beyond expectations. Several men were shot down and a few were taken prisoner. They fled to a kampong from where they continued shooting. It’s a shame that several civilians were among the casualties. The enemy force of over 100 men, as was discovered later, was completely defeated by our patrol of 25 men. The battle lasted until our small patrol had used most of its ammunition.

Later, the prisoners told us that the plan was to blow up the bridge on post One, where they attacked us. They carried with them explosives, two heavy machine guns and one heavy mortar. They did not use the machine guns and the mortar, fearing our men would rush in to try and take them. On our side only one man had lost part of a finger. We estimated the losses of the enemy to be 25 men. Had we had a larger patrol, it would have even gone better.

Gendang Tambak, 8 August, 1946

Yesterday, it was up at 2:00 a.m., on patrol until noon. Three hours of rest, standing guard at 3:00 p.m. till 6:00 p.m., standing guard at 9:00 p.m. till midnight and back to bed until 7:00 a.m.

I sleep outside here, behind a bridge pillar, bulletproof from the front, nice and cool. It won’t be fun when it rains, but it won’t rain any time soon. The sun acts strangely here. In the Netherlands the sun rises in the east and travels through the south to the west. Here, the sun rises in the east, and travels through the north to the west, where it sets. For now, everything is quiet.

Reflecting on the situation, we are fighting the extremists in their Bersiap, their fight for independence from the Dutch, with a relatively small army in the vicinity of Soerabaja. But the violent Bersiap is taking place all over Java and other islands as well, killing hundreds of thousands of white people and Indo’s (mixed blooded civilians) every day. And it has been going on for a whole year now. Will we make a difference? Will the fighting ever end? (RHdJ)

Morokrembangan, 12 August 1946

It’s behind us: seven weeks in a row on duty at the front, now a few weeks of rest, which means rising at 5:30 a.m., serving until noon, then guard duty. But we are lucky to be at the best spot on the airfield: “Zeepost”. We are not allowed to swim in the ocean, because one of our men was attacked and killed by a shark. But we may go into town once in a while. And we go fishing with my net, fabricated from chicken wire and four long sticks, catching 27 beautiful, big fish the very first time. I sell ten of them in town for Fl.22 (22 guilders) and buy 25 kilos of sugar, which comes in handy, since we brew our own coffee and tea for the 25 men here.

Zeepost, 19 August 1946

“Sunday, a nice and quiet day”, I think, but no, the order comes at 6:00 a.m.: “Get up boys, we leave at 8:30. Take your weapons, beds, and let’s go.” We jump in the car, close the sailcloth around the back and sides so they can’t see us from the road, and off we go. It is bloody hot in the closed car and we are glad when we get to our destination, Gendong Tambak near Grissee. We attend a church service at 3:00, go to bed at 7:00 after watching many more soldiers arrive: a heavy patrol is awaiting us tomorrow.

We get up at midnight, leave at 2:00 a.m. and for a long time we are marching through jungles, across hills and valleys, until it finally gets light. We have arrived in enemy territory and the shooting begins. However, it takes a few hours before our group actually sees the enemy. Then we see, from the top of a hill, tons of extremists running across a street in the village of Grissee, at least a kilometer ahead of us. Yet they are also shooting from other positions closer by. We fire at them for at least an hour from our position, with the bren and the guns. Back and forth bullets fly over our heads, and we throw a few mortar grenades at them once in a while. Finally the others have caught up with us and we can move forward. First our artillery delivers an incredibly rapid fire up front, and we storm forward till we reach the edge of town; we remain there for about an hour and only see a few native men, women and children, without firing at them. Is the enemy waiting in the small town with ten or with hundreds of men? Did they flee or are they taking cover? It is too risky to advance now. Besides, our orders are to advance till here, and after eight hours we are not fresh anymore. We get home around 1:00 a.m. without any losses and with two prisoners, one of which is injured; the enemy suffered several casualties. It’s good to finally be back at Zeepost.

For your information: Today, in Dutch News NL you can read an article about upcoming research into the Bersiap period. Follow the link.

Stay tuned!

I am looking forward to your comments