Thursday, July 30, 2009

My father's story... by my Mother

December 21, 1919 born Modjokerto, Island of Java, Dutch East Indies, 6th of 8 children (one predeceased) of my grandfather and grandmother
1930 - home leave to Holland with whole family. My grandfather died there in April 1931 and my grandmother returned with 7 remaining children to DEI. Lived in Malang, on the island of Java.
1939 -1941 compulsory military service, Dutch East Indian army. My father attended the Coro Officers’ Training School in Bandung, graduated as Ensign after serving two months apprenticeship in Malang.
1941 – out of army, worked a few months for a bank.
Dec. 1941 Japanese invasion of DEI, recalled to army. Didn’t see his family again for many years.
March 1942 – August 1945 Prisoner of war on Java, Flores, Java, and finally French Indo-China
1945 - August liberation of prisoners in Saigon.
1945 remained in army, first in Singapore, as guard of Japanese war criminals in Changi jail.
1946 Still in army, moved to the Riouw, DEI islands off the south coast of Singapore. Was finally able to find his mother and sisters.
1948 demobilization in Batavia, emigration to Holland. Studied accountancy in Amsterdam.
1949 return to DEI with a contract to work for an electric utility company, just as the country achieved its independence from Holland and became Indonesia.
1950 - return to Holland
1950-51 worked for a chemical company in accountancy.
1952 - emigration in October to Canada
1955 - marriage to my mother

The prisoner of war years...

March 1942. Imprisoned in a POW camp in Bandung on the island of Java, DEI. The guards were Korean under Japanese officers. Rice and vegetables as food, not much protein in their diet. The prisoners lived in former military barracks, about 100 to a unit, their beds hard wooden benches, with only their army blanket and mosquito net. The barracks were constructed of concrete, with tiled roofs. As in all the camps which my father inhabited over the next three and a half years, and in spite of malnourishment, dysentery and malaria, the Dutch doctor-prisoners who had been trained in tropical medicine, were able to maintain a better standard of health than British, Australian and American prisoners, with less prisoner death. One and one half years more or less were spent in this camp with very little for the prisoners to do.

Mid 1943. The Japanese decided to use the prisoners to build an airstrip on the island of Flores, so a contingent of about 2000 prisoners were moved there. The prisoners built the Maumere airport, a military airstrip, today a commercial airport on Flores.

Mid 1944. As the Americans advanced toward the Philippines, and were reaching New Guinea, the Japanese closed their camps on Flores and removed the prisoners back to Java, to a very large camp in Batavia, housing about 2000 prisoners. Again the guards were Korean under Japanese officers and the food was poor. At some point the majority of the prisoners were put on a ship to go to a new camp on the island of Sumatra. My father was fortunately not one of them, as they were torpedoed by a British submarine and all were lost. (The story was later told that the captain of that submarine had not known that there were prisoners on board, and later committed suicide.)

January 1945. Some of the rest of the prisoners, about 500 in number, were again moved, this time to French Indo-China, where they were to build a railroad. They were put on a freighter, which was one ship in a convoy of five ships, three freighters and two destroyer-escorts. The convoy was torpedoed by two allied submarines, one British and one Dutch, and two freighters (with all the supplies for the railroad) and one destroyer were sunk. Some time after the war, my father learned that the reason the freighter with all the prisoners on board was not torpedoed also was that the allies thought it had already been hit, as fire was pouring from its funnel. This was because when the other ships were sunk, the Chinese firemen on the prisoners’ freighter refused to remain below, so the captain called for volunteers to stoke the boilers. A contingent of Australian prisoners volunteered, and they built the fires so high that flames were escaping through the funnel – thus their lives were saved once again.

When the freighter and its one remaining destroyer escort arrived in French Indo-China, they sailed into the Makong river and as they no longer had any supplies to build a railroad, instead of sailing to Hanoi as expected, they stopped in Saigon. There was already a large camp of prisoners, British, American and Australians there. My father’s group were taken by train to another camp north of Saigon at Dalat, with New Zealanders and British prisoners. All officers were removed from these camps and were transported to other camps in Thailand. Two ensigns were assigned to be leaders of the prisoners, one in charge, and my father as second-in command and administrator. My father’s job was to keep track of the men, their medical needs, deaths, and other requirements of the prisoners. There were two daily reports, morning and evening, and otherwise my father did not have much to do. The other prisoners were working building an airstrip. Again all the prisoners slept on wooden benches in thatched-roof barracks of wood. The food consisted largely of rice and vegetables, but they were plentiful. Also a cow was butchered every day, although with again about 2000 prisoners in the camp, there wasn’t much meat per man.

On August 1st, rumours were circulating through the camp about an “atomic bomb” which had been invented by the Americans. A few days later the prisoners were moved back to Saigon, this time to the newly deserted camp of the French Foreign Legion, and on August 15th the war ended. The prisoners were rearmed by the Japanese, and the women and children of the French Foreign Legion soldiers (who had fled as the Indo-Chinese rebelled against them) asked for and obtained succor by the prisoners. At this point, the prisoners were once again receiving a salary. Their former officers returned, and this contingent of prisoners was the last to leave French Indo-China. Admiral Mountbatten put the Dutch prisoners on a ship for Singapore and asked them to volunteer to be guards of the Japanese war criminals now in Changi jail (which had been the prison of the British POWs) in Singapore. As their ship sailed from Saigon, they were given a rousing send-off by the French women and children whom they had helped.

While in Singapore, my father was retroactively promoted to 2nd lieutenant with a commensurate increase in pay, and while in the Riouw became a 1st lieutenant.
1946 the Riouw. Finally my father was able to find out what had happened to the rest of his family. His mother and two sisters had opted to stay out of the Japanese concentration camps and managed somehow to survive. One was a teacher. By 1946, as the Indonesians started their struggle for independence by attacking Malang, they rounded up all of the Dutch colonists and put them in concentration camps. From there they were moved to Bandung and then Surabaya, and while they were still in Surabaya my father was able to get some leave and returned to Java to visit them. They also were able to discover a brother, who had been training with the American air force, had been shot down over the island of Sumba, near Flores, during the time that my father had been imprisoned there. Three other brothers, who were all privates in the Dutch East Indian army, had spent the war years in three different prison camps in Burma, and had survived. His mother and and youngest sister were sent for repatriation to Holland in 1947. The youngest sister stayed for 2 more years as a teacher at the request of the Indonesians. She was repatriated to Holland in ’49. His youngest brother was the only one of the boys young enough to be able to take advantage of the education offered to veterans (born post-1923), so spent two years at university in Bandung before repatriating to Holland and continuing in university there. Two older brothers followed their mother and sisters.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

My story


Some twenty years ago I started something. Something moved me to put my life in print. It felt like a possession. A damned life no longer wanted to be behind a dam so it began to break down the walls of years and tears gone by.

As the walls came tumbling down my memories moved me to write but I had nothing to write with or on. I had no pen, no paper... nothing but the will to write. So I bought a pen and paper, specifically a ballpoint pen and several loose-leaf booklets to hold what was about to unfold.

Then like a flood; my life, rife with strife, flowed fast and unfettered. The force of it overwhelmed me and my handwriting. My hand moved like writing in tongues. I cursed my cursive writing. It was ineligible even to my eyes but it didn’t stop me from writing. Within a week my booklets were full with what best can be described as a doctor’s dictum—scribbles slanting this way and that way.

Along the way I purchased a computer and transferred all of my handwriting onto it. It took some time but I managed.

Days turned into weeks and months as I fell asleep each night writing in my mind the next ten pages. Each morning I awoke to write at first light. It was all I could do.

After five or six months I had it all down.

I purchased a dot matrix printer. It pulled paper from a box. Each page punctured and perforated to the next as it rolled along knobs on a roller. Before I knew it I had an abridged account of my life... some one hundred thousand words.

When the time came to print—the printer printed a dash through every single letter, word and sentence; leaving the first printout of my life as ineligible as my handwriting.

Left with a biting memory; I saved it on diskette hoping I could come up with a better computer and printer later on... then review, revise and rewrite.

When that time came my computer failed to recognize any saved files on my diskettes. At the time I was living north of sixty in a log cabin heated by a wood stove with my wolf/coyote cross.

Cross; I threw my five booklets, my computer printout and my supposedly saved files on diskettes into the fire.

I had to wait seven years before being inspired to write again. Thanks to a wet, wild and wilful woman with a sex drive on overdrive. I came alive.

Like a second coming I thrived as she tempted my creative juices with her demented desires. I sired in her desire poems and prose like Shakespeare’s sonnets. It was as if gusts of lust made it a must for me to write.

And write I did as if a light got turned on. And on and on I wrote by rote as the words came to me like musical notes.

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