Sunday, 19 October 2008

How we all react differently....

On Thursday one of our employees, a young Dutchman who had been called up, with thousands of others, some months before, came into my office, showing signs of great exhaustion. His uniform and rifle were caked with mud. He had just arrived back from Tjiater, how I don't know.

"Mr Smith," he said, " I have been lying for four days in the mud of the rice fields, bombed and machine gunned from the air practically all the time. I haven't fired a shot and I haven't seen a single Jap".

I understand that this was more or less the general experience of Tjiater. Jap planes bombed and machine gunned their positions until the troops had to retire. Japanese infantry thinly spread out in long lines advanced slowly until they received a message from the planes that a position had been abandoned. The infantry then all converged on the position, as along the ribs of a fan and thus, within a very short time, had occupied the point in force. These tactics repeated, I believe, until the Dutch were driven back from their outposts to the Tjiater fortifications where a bitter struggle was reported to be now taking place.

Bandoeng was becoming every day more crowded, people seeming to flock into the town from all directions. All hotels, boarding houses, etc were by now full up and restaurants and cafes were unable to cope with the rush. Over the radio, contrary to the anti hoarding policy strictly enforced hitherto, came the advice to all citizens of Bandoeng, to stock up with as much food stuffs as they could procure. Ena and I went on the scrounge and in one way or another collected about £100 worth of tinned and bottled foods which were to stand us in good stead in the days to come, even after our liberation from internment three and half years later, but of this more anon.

Friday morning while I was still in my dressing gown, drinking my coffee and listening to the early news, the sirens started their wailing. Almost simultaneously, the roar of low flying aircraft directly overhead, immediately followed by the rattle of bursts of machine gun fire. "Action stations" was the word with a vengeance. I yelled for the house boy, Engkong, to get a move on but got no reply. Running to the rear premises to find out what he and Amah, his wife, were doing; I discovered they were nowhere to be found and we never saw them again.

This desertion was a great disappointment to us, as Engkong and Amah had been with us for seven years; ever since we were married and had been always very well paid and treated. Up to the time of our removing to 'Sunny Corner' some 15 months before, they had always lived in the servants' quarters with which most European houses are provided and we had come to regard them as permanent fixtures as the house furniture itself. They had proved themselves honest as the day, had shared to a great extent in our joys and sorrows, so to speak, and we had been convinced of their loyalty. But this desertion by house servants proved to be almost the general rule during this period and by the time the Japs arrived in Bandoeng, very few Europeans could boast of still possessing domestic help. However, we must not judge these people too harshly and I, for one, would immediately re-engage Engkong and Amah again if they should turn up again one of these days.

Later in the day, when the excitement of the raid had subsided, we walked to the kampong further afield where we had rented a house for them and where they had lived very comfortably ever since we occupied 'Sunny Corner', only to find the house shut up. On enquiring we learned that they had merely been there long enough to pack some belongings and had then set out, presumably on foot, for another village where Engkong, thanks to our financial assistance in previous years, had acquired some acres of sawahs (rice or paddy fields) sufficient to meet their simple needs should he eventually choose to retire.

Poor people! At the moment of writing Dajeuhkelet, the kampong (village) where they lived, is in the front line of the battle going on between Dutch troops and Indonesian extremists and the village itself exists only in name, mainly as the result of the exploding of a large ammunition dump there about six weeks ago, which flattened everything within a large radius. The chances of their having survived in the turmoil in that district during the past few months are just fifty fifty.

One shining exception to the general desertion of house servants is to be found in our 'toekang kabon' or gardener, Amat, a Javanese, who stuck to his Tuan and Njonja (master and mistress) through thick and thin until Ena herself was interned in October 1942 and even after that, stayed on in the service of Ena's mother until November, 1944. When one realises the intense anti European propaganda of the Japanese and the actual threats of punishment which were made to all natives who were guilty of lending any form of assistance to Europeans, one can regards Amat's action with only admiration and gratitude. It is such as he who restores one's sadly shaken faith in any good whatever to be found in Indonesians generally and I can only pray that he is still alive and that I one day shall have the privilege of shaking him by the hand. And, so far as lies in my power, he shall be suitably rewarded for all that he did for us.

***** to be continued


kim* said...

so is this a blog of continuous i have to read the others to know what is going on in this entry?

piggy said...

I love these stories.. are they real.. or just stories?

UniqueNurseGranny said...

Good presentation.Am glad to be able to follow now directly from my blog dashboard.Rather like those serials magazines used to have as we breathlessly await the next edition.

Precious Quilts said...

Each post is an extract from my father's original manuscript reflecting a period in his life which in this case was that of the Japanese occupation in Java.

To fully understand you will need to go to the beginning of these posts and follow them in sequence.

Thank you all so much for following this unique insight to life in the 40s during a war environment and how it affected my family.