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


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!