Thursday, 17 September 2009

23 August 1942

Today 9 years ago Ineke and I became engaged.  Yesterday we were out from 2.15 to 4 pm.  Exercise started with a run round the exercise yard, this time in the South East triangle where we have not been for some weeks.  There was no compulsion to keep on running but I was rather bucked at finding myself able to carry on until the order was given to halt.  We must have covered 3 kilometers at a conservative estimate.  I should have died at the very thought of running such a distance 5 months ago.  My rib is still somewhat painful but my performance of yesterday I have proved to my own great satisfaction that there can have been  nothing seriously wrong.  After the run, we had 20 minutes fairly strenuous physical jerks and then one ball game.  Chatting with my neighbour, Mingail, yesterday evening, I was interested to learn that he has been actual eye witness of the far famed Indian Rope Trick, Mingail is a Jew and hails from Calcutta.  He saw the trick performed at a place, called Hardwa, in the United Provinces, where it takes place only once a year in connection with some Brahmans festival.  He was one of a crowd of some 5000 spectators and described how the fakir showed to the audience a length of rope about 6 or 7 feet in length and introduced the small boy who was to assist in the act.  After a lengthy discourse on what he was about to do a description of what they were to see, turning around as he spoke and gazing intently of the spectators who were grouped in a huge circle round the open space where he performed, the fakir handed the rope to the boy.  In response to an incantation, the rope straightened itself and became apparently rigid with one end resting on the ground.  To a running commentary on the boy’s action mingled with unintelligible incantations by the fakir, the boy climbed up the rope about a foot at a time until, on reaching the top, he vanished from sight while the rope became limp and fell to the ground.  The boy appeared some time later from among the spectators.  Mingail could give no explanation.  Religious books are being issued this morning and I have received ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, in Dutch, and which I can keep as long as I like.  This book in particular is for Protestants, Catholic get ‘The Catholic Church’, also in Dutch.  This is due to the efforts of the Indonesian prison director, who seems to be a very good man.


On the occasion, I did not naturally, follow the example given by the Dutch people but waited for the fried eggs I had ordered.  When they were at last served I was rather handicapped by having no second plate on which to put my bread but made a satisfactory meal in spite of the difficulty.  We reached Batavia on 21 November 1926, a Sunday, and again I looked anxiously for  the H & C representative and again I looked in vain.  This time I had no qualms about going to the hotel and, with Hodson’s assistance, I was soon in the Hotel der Nederlanded in Batavia.  The port for Batavia is Tandjong Priok and the 10 kilometers road between the port and the city must be, I imagine, one of the finest in the world being macadamed, wide and perfectly straight over long stretches and bordered each side most of the way by the picturesque flamboyant trees which were then in full boom so that we seemed to be proceeding along an avenue of flaming torches.  Hodson left me while he went out to look out some of his pals from whom he could borrow some money.  He had given me a fairly broad hint as to his financial embarrassment but I was then too much of the canny Scot and too suspicious of everybody in this strange new world to offer assistance.  It was then, while Hodson was absent, that I perused one of his poetry books which he lent to me.  That evening I dined alone in the large dining room of the hotel, feeling desperately self conscious.  My condition was not improved on my observing that I was an object of amusement to the native waiters in my immediate vicinity.  I can hardly blame them in retrospect but at that time I was not in the mood to feel disinterested.  It was appreciatively warm that evening, as it usually is in Batavia, and I had as yet no clothes suitable for the tropical climate.  I wore a rather heavy thick pair of dark flannels and a lined tweed sports jacket which, with the heat, made me feel as if I was indulging in a Turkish bath at full pressure.  The perspiration was dripping off the lobes of my ears and the point of my nose into the soup and my hands were so wet that spoon, knife and fork kept turning and slipping out of my hands.  It was without exception the most uncomfortable meal of which I have ever partaken.  The next morning I presented myself at Harrisons and Crossfield’s office and, as before in Singapore, explanation and apologies were profuse as to the failure to have me met at the boat as had been arranged.  Mr Graham, one of the younger members of the staff, took charge of me and after showing me something of Batavia in a taxi, put me on the train for Bandung, with instructions to proceed to the Preanger Hotel there were a Mr Fenton, one  of the assistants on Langen Estate would be waiting for me.  All went well from then on.  I duly met Fenton, whom I liked at sight, and who, I am glad to say, is still one of my best friends.  We were to stay a day in Bandung for the purpose of giving me the opportunity of buying furniture, cooking utensils, crockery etc for my house on the Estate and in this matter Fenton was most helpful.  I should explain that one of the conditions of my contract was the allowance of 250 guilders for furnishing, with the condition that the articles purchased would remain the property of the company.  I had fully expected that I should have this full sum at my disposal and was therefore very much surprised when Fenton, rather embarrassedly, informed me that a bed costing 100 guilders, and a food cupboard of 25 guilders, had already been purchased for me on the Estate.  Fenton later admitted to me that this transaction, strictly unethical as it was, had been arranged between the manager and a then favourite assistant and was really nothing less than a barefaced swindle.  He could not, naturally, air his opinion then and I myself knew no better, although it did seem strange to me, especially the 100 guilders for a bed.


Out from 2 to 4 pm.  A run of 6 times round the yard, physical jerks and two ball games.  Hot tea, without sugar, available as has been the case for the past few days.  A capital supper – stewed potatoes with gravy and sliced cucumber with a nice tender piece of meat.  Very tasty.  Exchanged ‘William Pitt’ yesterday with Mingail for ‘Bindle’ by Herbert Jenkins and the latter today for ‘Calico Jack’ by Horace W C Newtie, a story of the music halls of the Gay Nineties.

Monday, 7 September 2009

22 August 1942

Lights full strength past 2 nights, but still shades on outside lamps.  Food greatly improved generally during past 10 days.  Distribution and serving now being controlled by Indonesian warders.  Formerly left to trusties.  ‘Trusty’ is I believe, an American term used to describe prisoners who have been entrusted with positions of some authority in the prison organisation.  Reading ‘Macaulay’s' essay on ‘Pitt, I am struck by some passages which might have been written of the present day instead of with reference to the years 1803 to 1805.  Here are a few of them.  ‘The English army, under Pitt, was the laughing stock of all Europe.  it could not boast of one single brilliant exploit.  It had never shown itself on the Continent but to be eaten, chased, forced to re-embark, or forced to capitulate.’  ‘The Habeas Corpus Act was repeatedly suspended.  Public meetings were placed under severe restraints.  The government obtained from Parliament power to send out of the country aliens who were suspected of evil designs, and that power was not suffered to be idle.  Writers who pronounced doctrines adverse to Monarchy and aristocracy were proscribed and punished without mercy.  It was hardly safe for a republican to avow his political creed over his beefsteak and his bottle of port at a chop house.’  ‘Bonaparte, now First Consul, was busied constructing out of the ruins of old institutions a new ecclesiastical establishment and a near order of knighthood.  That nothing less than the dominion of the whole civilised world would satisfy his selfish ambition was not yet suspected; nor did even wise men see any reason to doubt that he might be as safe a neighbour as any prince of the House of Bourbon had been.  The treaty of Amiens was therefore hailed by the great body of the English people with extravagant joy.’  ‘Had Napoleon content with the first place among the sovereigns of the Continent, and with a military reputation surpassing that of Marlborough or Turenne devoted himself to the noble task of making France happy by mild administration and wise legislation, our country might have long continued to tolerate a government of fair intentions and feeble abilities.  Unhappily, the treaty of Amiens had scarcely been signed, when the restless ambition and the insupportable insolence of the First Consul convinced the great body of the English people that the peace, so eagerly welcomed, was only a precarious armistice.  As it became clearer and clearer that a war for the dignity, the independence, the very existence of the nation was at hand, men looked with increasing uneasiness on the weak and languid cabinet which would have to contend against an enemy who united more then the power of Lewis the Great to more than genius of Frederick the Great’.  ‘War was speedily declared.  The First Consul threatened to invade England at the head of the conquerors of Belgium and Italy and formed a great camp near the Straits of Dover.  On the other side of those Straits the whole population of our islands was ready to rise up as one man in defense of the soil’.  ‘But the genius and energy of Napoleon prevailed while the English troops were preparing to embark for Germany, while the Russian troops were slowly coming up from Poland, he, with rapidity unprecedented in modern was, moved a hundred thousand men from the shores of the Baltic to the Black Forest, and compelled a great Austrian army to surrender at Ulon.’  Verily, there is nothing new under the sun.


My other recollection of Singapore is a visit to the Museum there, impressed upon my memory by reason of the fright I got when entering the building.  There was a wide main staircase branching off at a landing to right and left.  Climbing the first main flight, I only raised my eyes when a few steps from the landing and almost had heart failure at the terrible spectacle of a giant gorilla, about 8 feet high, a ferocious looking beast, coming apparently straight at me.  They really should not leave specimens lying about like that on Museum landings.  SS MelchiorWhen the day came, I went on board the ‘SS Melchior Treub ‘ which was to bring me to Batavia and where I again met Miss Lund and another fellow passenger of the ‘Khiva’ named Stephen Hodson, a young man who was returning to Java, having just enjoyed his 6 moths furlough after his first 5 years as a rubber planter.  This Hodson, whom I met again many years later, was a very tall, well made chap, but to my opinion rather effeminate as to features.  He was very languid in movement and manner, and used to be a source to many on board the ‘Khiva’ of somethat contemptuous amusement, combining as he did the habits of heavy drinking and wandering about looking soulful with a volume of poetry in his hand.  Later, in Batavia, I had the opportunity of glancing through one of these books of his and there was precious little soul to be found in any of the verses – rather the reverse, in fact.  The voyage between Singapore and Batavia was uneventful although it was a new experience to find myself on a foreign ship and where those of my own nationality were outnumbered by about fifty to one.  Being, of course, quite unaccustomed to Dutch customs, I was quite bewildered the first morning at breakfast.  I happened to enter the dining room either very early of very late, I forget which, and found myself the only occupant.  The tables were laden with all sorts of eatables, bread, ham, meat, fish, sausage, cheese etc but no steward came bustling forward to enquire my pleasure in the way of breakfast.  I sat down at one of the tables with the array of foodstuffs before me and quite undecided as to what I ought to do.  it did not seem quite right or proper to me to pile in without somebody more or less in authority indicating that I could begin.  After about 5 minutes a native steward appeared and merely asked me if I would have tea or coffee and would I like eggs.  Some Dutch people coming in and taking their places just then I noticed what they waited for nobody but started right in to eat but in a fashion which struck me as being rather uncouth, to say the least of it, a slice of bread, spread with butter was covered with either ham, fish or sausage etc and then eaten with a knife and fork.  Whatever I thought of the customs then, I have long since adopted myself as the only way of sensibly eating with bread and butter.  Just think of the unnecessarily complicated method employed in the British custom with one plate and a fork and knife for the meat or fish and a smaller side plate with a knife for the bread and butter, lying down the fork and knife every time a mouthful of bread is required and laying down the knife to lift up the fork and knife again.  The Dutch method is much more practical and has the additional advantage of keeping the hands quite clean during the process.