Monday, 20 October 2008

Down at the office

In the late afternoon of this Friday, Sparkes, Sparkes my business partner who also lived Good sunny cornerat Dennenlust some 100 yards down the hill from 'Sunny Corner', rang me up.

"Smith", he said, "I have just got a tip that there may be a retreat from Tjiater in this direction and we may find ourselves soon in the line of fire. I have also some Soebang people with me here and we have decided to camp out in the office. I don't know what you want to do because I know you have a lot of folks there with you, but I think you ought to move. We shall be a lot safer in the middle of the town than out here in things get hectic."

Bill Leslie and I hastily discussed matters and decided to move, like the Sparkes family, to the office. DKS No sooner said than done. Camp beds and provisions were piled into the two cars and off we went. We dropped Paula and Marie Dirks at the house of a friend of theirs and the remaining six of us proceeded to the office where we turned the book keeping department into a bedroom for the Leslie family while Ena and I took up our quarters in my own room/office. The Sparkes family and their refugees were accommodated in Sparkes' room, and in the surface shelter which we had had erected at the side of our office building. Mosquitoes and weariness drove us under our mosquito nets at a comparatively early hour and in spite of the strangeness of our surroundings I think that everybody slept well.

The following morning, Saturday, the Jap bombers were over early and were overhead or in the near vicinity all day. I had a small radio in my office and there was also one in the shelter and we heard the announcement that the sirens would no longer be used but that we had now to consider the situation as one of continuous alarm. The staff had all turned up but little or no work could be done as we spent most of the forenoon in the shelter, driven to cover by the sound of exploding bombs and occasional serial machine gun fire.

On one of the periodical rushes to the shelter, Sparkes reached there carrying a cup of tea which apparently had just been served to him. Mrs Sparkes was immediately ahead of him and as they crossed the threshold a particularly loud bang caused Sparkes' had to jerk so that half of the scalding tea disappeared down the back of his wife's neck! Mrs Sparkes was so peeved that I don't believer she would have noticed a near miss. Sparkes himself would probably have welcomed one in preference to the telling off he got.

Sometime during the morning Ena decided that she wanted to run up to 'Sunny Corner' to fetch something or other which had been forgotten. For some reason which I forget, I was unable to leave the office at that particular moment so Bill Leslie went with her as escort.

They were just leaving the house on the return journey when a low flying Jap Navy-O reared over the treetops and let off a burst of machine gun fire. The bullets spattered along the road a few feet from the car, but fortunately they were not hit. It says a lot for Ena's coolness and driving ability that she did not lose control of the car but, on the contrary, stepped hard down on the gas and went licketty spit down the hill.

Ena and Bill had just arrived back at the office when some bombs fell about a hundred yards away. Ena and I were in my office when the crash came. As plaster fell from the ceiling, we both made a dive under the desk. Unfortunately, we went at it enthusiastically, but from opposites sides so that our heads came together with a resounding crack.

We both fell back on our haunches and laughed uproariously.

A further crash close at hand put an abrupt end to our amusement and we made record time to the shelter.

It may sound irreverent but it tickled us to death when we arrived there to find Sparkes sitting in his armchair at the far end, eyes screwed up tight, hand clasped before him, singing softly and quaveringly, "Nearer, my God, to Thee."

Apart from a burst or two of machine gun fire from the Jap fighter planes on the Chinese quarter a little earlier, these bombs were the only ones which fell within the town itself and were, I imagine, in the nature of a warning by the Japs as to what they could do if they wanted to. By this time, except from anti aircraft fire from the few Beauforts brought by the British, there was no opposition and they could have blown Bandoeng off the map if they had so wished.

How many bombs were actually dropped I do not know exactly, but it could not have been more than three or four and not very heavy ones at that. They fell all in the vicinity of the junction of Groote Postweg with Bantjeis and imageRegentsweg. The Post Office was slightly damaged and a number of cars parked there set on fire. The rear of the image Escompto Bank building got one bomb and another damaged the Mosque. About 40 people mostly natives, were killed or injured.

Sometime during the forenoon our friend, Sam Bor, called up for the militia like most Dutchman of military age some months previously, dropped into the office.

He brought the cheering news that the Japs had been held and thrown back at Tjiater. "Deze keer komen ze niet door!" he said decidedly. (This time they won't get through). Poor Sam! Like the majority of us he was living in a fool's paradise of wishful thinking and highly receptive of every optimistic rumour. I can still recall the sort of glow which possessed me on hearing his words.

**** to be continued

1 comment:

Brett Ward said...

I really don't know how they kept their sense of humor with all of that going on. I am amazed.
I love reading your father's installments.
Thank you for bringing them to us.