Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Good Friday?

For some time past no bread had been procurable and I had taken it upon myself the task of providing ourselves with this commodity, calling upon the lore of my planting days when I used to watch my cook making bread in my bungalow up on the estate.

On this Good Friday at 11 am I was busily engaged in kneading dough in the kitchen when that bird of ill omen, Mrs Graven, came for a second time, accompanied by her shadow, the traitor Niekerk.

This time the sword definitely fell.  There was no respite possible.  We had to be out of the house by 2 pm as two Japanese officers were moving in.  We could take clothes with us and other personal belonging but the house furnishing must remain as they were.

This was my first meeting with Mrs Graven.  She was rather tall and solidly built for a Japanese woman with typically Nip features and not a bit attractive.  Her age, I guessed, would have been about 40.  She stayed for some time and I must admit that she was by no means unpleasant in her manner but gave the impression that she was just carrying out an order which she found neither pleasant or unpleasant.

In the course of our conversation I asked her, on my part jokingly, if we could take our Beckman baby grand piano with us.  To my surprise she replied "Boleh" (You may), perfectly seriously.  A little later, going through the house, she passed the large GE frigidaire which stood in the lobby outside the kitchen.  "You can take this too," she said.  "Those who are coming in need not know that there was ever a frigidaire here".

This was very gratifying but we could not but wonder how we were to get it away, as we had no means of transport.

She also agreed that we could leave a couple of trunks in one of the small store rooms to be called for some days later.  When we wished to fetch them, we must call at her (Sparkes) house for the key.

On this occasion too, I had some conversation with Niekerk who acted as a sort of Dutch echo to Mrs Graven's Malay and he then volunteered the facts about himself which I have already set down.  He also told me that he had known Mrs Graven for about 30 years and according to him, had helped her in her private affairs for a long time and as now merely standing by her in her present job.  I can hazard a shrewd guess as to the nature of the link between them both before and after the Japanese invasion.

As soon as our visitors had gone, I dashed to the telephone breathing a silent prayer that it would function.  It did.  I just got on to the firm from whom we had bought our piano and asked the owner, whom I knew very well, if he could store the Beckman for us and, if so, to send coolies immediately to take it away.  He agreed and within an hour we had the satisfaction of seeing the instrument being carried down the hill, safely out of Japanese clutches, at any rate for the time being.

My second call was to our good friend, Lt Kagee of the Dutch Military Police.  As soon as  I told him about what was happening, he said "We'll be right along".  And they were - six of them within 10 minutes of bringing with them a 15 cwt truck and a passenger car.  We shall always feel a debt of gratitude to these grand chaps who just came in and said, "Now show us what you want us to do."  And the whole bunch set to work helping us pack our belongings into trunks, suitcases and baskets.  The faithful Amat took upon himself the task of packing our dinner service.  We decided that, in Mrs Graven's own words, "as those that were coming in need not know it was here", and what Mrs Graven herself did not know of, we should take with us, and thanks to our friends, the MPs, we were able to take away with us much that would otherwise had had to be left behind and irretrievably lost.  And thanks to Ena's mother to whose house the stuff was brought, we recovered practically everything after the liberation.

The frigidaire was man handled on to the truck, which was then loaded up with other things, as was also the car, and while Ena and I and two of the chaps carried on feverishly with the good work of packing, the first load was rushed down to Dagoweg 31e, quickly unloaded, and truck and car brought back to Dennenlust again for the second load.

One of the articles taken in the car on its first trip was a Firefoam extinguisher which I had presented to the MPs as they seemed keen on having it and I did not consider it worth while salvaging.  The chap who was driving had put the extinguisher on the seat beside him and coming back from Dagoweg, turning a sharp corner, the things fell of the seat on to the floor of the car.  It fell unfortunately on the knob which has to be pressed to set it working and the result can be better imagined than described.  The inside of the car was a mess of spattered soap suds.   The poor chap had had to drive most of the way back with his thumb on the valve to keep the thing from completely emptying itself.  When he drove in, he called to us in his predicament and we went to his aid, all of us doubled up with laughter.  And just to finish a fitting climax to this amusing contretemps, just as he was easing himself out of the car, his thumb slipped off the valve and all of us got a generous share of the suds.  It was just like an old fashioned slapstick comedy film and had the same salutary effort on our somewhat dampened spirits.

The truck and car were loaded up for the second time, including ourselves and all the livestock and, with our military escort, said goodbye again to 'Sunny Corner' and descended once more on poor old Ma, who in spite of all the difficulties attendant on our unexpected arrival, was delighted to have us back with her.

Wherever those good chaps may be now, Ena and I say bless them for what they did for us on Good Friday, 1942.

***** to be continued

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