Thursday, 29 October 2009

27 August 1942

Out from 9.15 to 10.45 am.  Walk around and one ball game.  Issued with 2  packets of 20 ‘Mascot’ cigarettes.  I still have 3 Capstans left and 2 squares of toffee.  Rumoured that we are to have a big match this afternoon between our bunch and the convicts.


I must admit that my first impressions of the Dutch were not very favourable as it seemed to me that all reported meanness attributed to the Scot was as naught compared with that of the natives of Holland, so much so indeed that in a letter home I misquoted a proverb to the effect of ‘cast your whole bread upon Dutch waters and it will return to you a half loaf’.  That this opinion was not altogether unjustified, let the following experience prove.  As I have already stated, I arrived on Langen towards the end of November and as Christmas and New Year approached, I felt naturally very homesick at the prospect of being so far from home and among strangers in a strange land during that, in all former years, so happy and festive season.  It was therefore to my great joy and satisfaction that I was informed that there would be a Christmas party at the Big House and to which the whole staff was to be invited.  And not only a party by a Christmas tree as well.  My spirits soared at the prospect.  The manager’s wife asked me one day what I should like  off the Christmas tree.  Fenton suggested half a dozen pillow cases as I had forgotten to include these very necessary articles in my outfit.  I considered not only Fenton’s suggestion but also what I took to be the Dutch way of arranging Christmas presents as extremely practical indeed.  Accordingly I acquainted Mrs F V  with my desire and got my first shock when she intimated, ‘You understand, you pay for the present yourself – only it is rather nice to get it off the tree.’  Anyhow, by Christmas Eve I had somewhat recovered and became, although still puzzled, somewhat reconciled to the strange Dutch custom.  We duly forgathered at 8 pm on the night on the spacious open verandah of the Manager’s house where on arriving we sat down in a large circle, radiating from the decorated Christmas tree which stood in one corner.  At 2 am we were still in the same position and during the six hours there had been, if I am not mistaken, not more than two rounds of drinks.  The Christmas tree was hung with many parcels, and many more lay on the ground round about it.  I learned later that the feast of St Nicholas, which is the children’s feast on the 5th December, had on the occasion, probably with a view to economy I should imagine, been combined with the Christmas festival.  St Nicholas is the counterpart of our Santa Claus but it is honoured by the Dutch, and probably by other continental countries as well, with a special feast day on the 5th December each year when, just as Santa Claus does with us on Christmas Eve, he bring presents to the children.  St Nicholas is always accompanied by a black faced attendant, known as Black Peter, who carries a birch in one hand and a large sack over his shoulder.  Black Peter is an object of much apprehension to the very young as it is his ascribed duty to wield the birch and even to bear away in the sack any reported bad boy or girl who is so refractory as not to promise St Nicholas to mend his or her ways in the future.  I have attended many St Nicholas parties arranged for the children of members of the Concordia Club in Bandung where the good Saint and Black Peter were wont to appear in person and it was a delightful sight to see a few hundred mites in their party best regarding St Nicholas and Black Peter with eyes big and round with mingled awe and apprehension.  This feast, in the home particularly, provides an opportunity for members of the family to play tricks on each other in the form of fake parcels purporting to contain something of actual value but yielding, when opened, some trifle or other, together with a screed of poetry, ridiculing or poking individual fun at one or other characteristic of the recipient.  On this particular night, St Nicolas did not, of course, appear but the parcels were legion.  The manager had four children – there were no other on the Estate at that time – and, apart from real presents (such as mine) the other thousand and one parcels had reference only to the FV family.  The accompanying poems were in some cases pages in length and what with the reading of these and the opening of parcels themselves, which were prepared mostly in Chinese puzzle fashion, each parcel revealing a small one when opened and so on, six solid hours were spent in this (to me, at any rate) highly unedifying amusement.  I might have enjoyed the proceedings more had I understood Dutch, but I doubt it.  At 2 am we adjourned to the dining room where we were regaled with a very indifferent dinner accompanied by red and white wines – one bottle of each only.  I feel sure, I was really so sleepy by this time that to eat anything at all cost quite an effort and the rest of the company could have been in no better state.  I will not be  so uncharitable as to suggest that the serving of the meal was timed to this end, but it is a fact that what was not eaten on that occasion was quite sufficient to provide meals in the manager’s house for a few days after.  However, let it pass and haste on to the climax which provided me with a shock compared with which the previous one was but a slight start of surprise.  This was given me at the beginning of January in the form of a debit note for 7.60 guilders, being my share of the Christmas dinner, yes, even unto the Christmas tree itself and the decoration thereof.  I am glad to record that my first impressions of the Dutch, thanks to this experience, have for many years now been utterly removed but it will be appreciated that from such a wound my recovery was slow and followed a long period of convalescence.


Rumour was correct.  Out from 1.30 to 2.45 pm to witness a handball match between us and the convicts.  We got a bad beating 13-8 being the final score.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

26 August 1942

The terms of my contract, which I do not think I have yet enumerated were as follows:  Commencing salary 250 guilders per month rising by annual increments of 25 to 350 per month in the fifth year.  Six months European furlough on full salary at the expiry of 5 years service, passage, 2nd class, free to Europe and back again to Java in the event of the contract being renewed for a further period of 5 years.  Free house, fire and light.  Free medical attendance (excluding dental treatment and illness caused by misconduct), free Personal Tax and an allowance of 12 guilders per month for a garden coolie.  Also an allowance of 40 guilders and four days local leave every 3 months.  The most important item, however, was the bonus to which every employee was entitled and which was based on the profits made by the Company in the course of a year.  In the golden days of planting bonuses were often of such proportions as to ensure an employee being in a position to retire for life at the end of his first contract.  These days had gone for ever by 1926 but there were still reasonable prospects of being able to double one’s nominal salary.  Alas for my expectations.  Rubber began to slump in 1927 and by 1931 the bottom had fallen out of the market altogether.  My first year’s bonus was 760 guilders, and the next year’s 1200, and for the next three, what will all allowances cancelled and salary cut, I might claim that the company paid themselves back for the bonuses, I had received.  This wonderful contract, for all its lovely seals and flourishing signatures, although it protected the company against my leaving their service within the 5 year on pain of the payment of £100 plus so called ascertained damages, was, as far as my rights were concerned, only so much waste paper when the company’s results began to evidence themselves in the red figures.  In my fifth year, I was much worse off than when I started, receiving only 240 guilders a month and no extras whatever except hours, fire and light.  The Personal Tax I have mentioned is a Poll, or Head Tax imposed by the Dutch authorities in addition to usual Income Tax and is based on house rent and the possession of motorcars, cycles and horses.  The four days leave every 3 months were according to the contract, to be spent at one or other resort in the mountains for health’s sake but on occasion I have been  9 months at a stretch at Langen without any such break and sometimes simply because it did not suit the convenience of the manager, Fits Verploegh who was a big built, red faced  man of about 37 who has been planting since his 18th year.  He had an air of great authority and owed his position, I suspect to this more than to actual ability.  Although there was not a soul on Langen, who by reason of his position could dispute his title as manager, he always insisted in signing himself on all correspondence and reports as ‘Head Manager’. His policy was to keep his assistants as far as was possible from adding to their planting knowledge anything more than he himself chose to impart to them in somewhat patronising fashion.  He even went as far in this matter as to take great pains to prevent the circulation of any agricultural periodical which might reach him in his official capacity.  Practically every other manager I have known was insisted on his employees reading such papers in order that they might keep abreast of the latest methods and up to date as to experiments being carried out in their particular field.  Fitz Verploegh had an efficient secret service system recruited from the native overseers on every Division, by means of which, he kept himself informed of the state of work and of everything else on the Estate without being under the necessity of exerting himself in any way whatsoever.  I have known him not to stir from his house for a whole month on end and yet, to my amazement, at the end of that period, to send me his monthly report of sometimes 12 foolscap pages to translate and type and that report consisting of a wealth of detail which one would have sworn was impossible except by personal observation and inspection.  His spying proclivities extended on occasion even to pirate correspondence and quite frequently Fenton and I, at least, have had our letters from home passed on to us days after they arrived on the Estate and displaying obvious sings of having been tampered with.  This was on account of the fact that the Estate mail was fetched from Banjdar, the nearest village and post office, every day by a native postman specially employed for that purpose.  Letters etc were collected by an agent in Bandjar and locked in a post box carried by the postman and the duplicate key of which was held by the manager.  So all letters, no matter to whom addressed, were first delivered to the Big House and thereafter, often very much at leisure, further distribution took place.  We knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that our letters were held up at the Big House from the date stamp of Bandjar post office.  While efforts were being made to form a Planters Union, we had ample proof that all letters and literature sent to each assistant individually on Langen by that body were suppressed.  It was a long established rule on Langen that each assistant should have one Sunday free every two weeks but this privilege was on most occasions torpedoed by the manager, who, making one of his rare appearances, would stroll along to the office resplendent in white ducks and topi on Saturday afternoons when wages were being paid out to the work people and say, ‘Well, gentlemen, what about a spot of hunting tomorrow?’  That meant getting up the next morning at the usual time and walking and running through the jungle from sometimes 7 am to 3 pm, more fatiguing than an ordinary day’s work.  To refuse would have been to bring upon one’s self the managerial displeasure and only one who has actually been employed on an Estate can appreciate the manifold ways and means which can be employed in the expression of that sentiment.  Fitz Verploegh has been known to confine an assistant who had offended him within the boundaries of his own Division.  It was an understood thing that even on a free Sunday we were not supposed to go beyond the Estate boundaries without first obtaining his august permission.  He was a perfect survival of the type, formerly very common, but fortunately even then almost extinct, which in the early days of planting considered itself absolute monarch of all it surveyed and whose power stopped not very far short of life and death over those under it.


Out from 2.45 to 4.30 pm.  No run or jerks.  One ballgame.  New command specs.   Rutherford Greeuw arrived.  Perry day before yesterday.  Cell inspection and search after lunch today, looking for razors and other sharp objects apparently.  My searches greatly taken up with Ineke’s photo on my table.  Took it up and pressed it against my mouth on leaving, smiling broadly.  Search very perfunctory – just looked into cupboard and did not even open suitcase – majority not so lucky.

Friday, 9 October 2009

25 August 1942

The Tjitandu was a troublesome river during the rainy season, often causing serious floods in its lower reaches, where Langen was situated.  As protection for Langen and other neighbouring low lying Estates an earthen dyke had been thrown up along the south bank for a distance of 9 kilometers but even this precaution was on occasion not proof against the forces of the water and a break in the dyke would result, with serious consequences not only to the gardens  but imagealso to native kampongs and to the railway.   I had only been a week or so on Langen when such a break occurred but fortunately this took place near the east boundary and actual damage to garden was slight.  Much more serious was that in, I believe, the beginning of 1931 when the dyke gave way about the middle of our river boundary.  I was garden assistant on Straits of Java Division at that time and my young garden in the south east corner of the Estate was flooded to a depth of 4 feet of muddy water.  I had to go out with the gang of native labourers to secure the wooden bridges which spanned the big drains crossing the roads at intervals and I floundered up to my arm pits in water from 7 am till noon with snakes of all kinds, which had been driven out of the undergrowth by the encroaching water, swimming literally in dozens past my nose, sometimes uncomfortably close to that organ.  The instinct of self preservation was however too strong upon  them and they were not interested just in a mere man.  Later on, when I walked, or rather swam, along the southern boundary, which was marked off by a high hedge of lamtoro trees, these trees were simply festooned with snakes which had at last found something to hang on to.  On that memorable occasion my favourite dog, Lockie, a dachshund of somewhat doubtful parentage, accompanied me the whole time, swimming like the other which is the natural prey of his breed, with, an occasional helping hand under his chest from myself.  And as luck would have it, on that day he actually found an otter in one of the major drains and a terrible fight ensued in which poor Lockie was more under water than above it.  The other won, that is to say in as much as Lockie eventually decided that on this occasion discretion was the better part of valour and retired from the fight.  The houses on Langen were, for the most part, well and solidly built, high in the roof and with thick brick walls, a construction which ensured their being as cool as was possible under the circumstances.  The heat and humidity were indescribable and I do not exaggerate when I state that for 5 years my body was never dry.  The atmosphere lay on one like a heavy, damp, woolen blanket and it was very seldom, hemmed in as we were by high rubber trees, that we experienced the relief of a breeze.  My first house consisted of four apartments, dining room, sitting room, bedroom and a verandah open on two sides, except for a low balustrade, kitchen, store room, bathroom etc were outbuildings built in a  row and connected with the house itself by means of a roofed over passage which ran from the rear door of the dining room.  it was in this house that a thing, for which I have never been able to offer any natural explanation, occurred.  The servants leaving every evening after dinner, I was always alone in the house from about 8 pm till 5.30 next morning when  my ‘boy’ roused me by knocking on the window of the bedroom.  Last thing at night before going to bed I used to check up on all doors and window fastenings.  One morning, on emerging from the bedroom into the dining room to open the rear door for my ‘boy’, I was amazed to find one of the four chairs placed round the dining table lying flat on its back on the floor, just as if it had been placed carefully in that position.  I well swear that the chair was in normal upright position when I went to bed the night before and that nobody could have entered the house during the night.  Also, I had not been disturbed by any noise.  I should add that the chair as quite intact when examined.  So, what is the explanation?  I was puzzled then and still am.  Servants were soon engaged for me, a house boy, a cook and a garden boy.  My boy was an elderly Javanese named Resodikromo, or Reso for short, and he served me faithfully for my 5 years on Langen.  Cooks and garden boys were more like a procession during that period.  Some cooks were bad, others not so bad, sometimes Soendanese, sometimes Javanese.  How they ever managed to turn out anything eatable at all from the very primitive kitchen and appurtenances thereof is a mystery.  Along half of one wall of the kitchen ran a sort of tunnel of brickwork about 10 inches square, open at one end communicating with a chimney at the other, and with three or four circular openings in the roof of the tunnel on which pots and pans could be set.  Billets of wood were inserted at the open end and, when set alight, the flame was drawn by the draft along the tunnel. The circular hole nearest the the mouth gave, of course, the greatest heat and each successive hole a lesser degree so that cooking in all its stages could be dealt with.  Primitive indeed but immensely practical.  Holes not in use at any time were simply covered with a piece of tin cut to fit the apertures.  There was of course no lack of firewood as diseased trees in the gardens were being continually uprooted and firewood, in the terms of my contract, was free, like the house and garden boy for whose wages an allowance of 12 guilders per month was granted.  We usually paid 8 guilders and so were 4 guilders to the good in that respect.


Out today from 2.40 to 4.30 pm. Run round, ball game and jerks.  This morning got 2 Davros cigarettes from a jay sentry.  Gave one to Mingail, my neighbour, whose birthday it is today, his 33 rd.  The Director personally brought to him a photo of his baby girl, aged 2, but apparently nothing else was, allowed in.  In connection with the cigarettes I got this morning, my neighbours ascribe this to my usual luck.  I protest that it is not so much luck as merely adhering to the maxim that if you don’t ask for a thing it is practically 100% certain that you will get nothing, whereas if you do ask, there is a fifty fifty chance of your getting something, even though it may by only a kick in the pants.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

24 August 1942

However, with what was left, it was possible to purchase such necessaries as a dining table and chairs, sideboard, wash stand etc all second hand  of course.   I also bought half a set of the cheapest plain white crockery.  Fenton then brought ne to one of the hospitals, as I have omitted to mention Graham’s also doing in Batavia, to satisfy the authorities, that I betrayed no symptoms of cholera.  In accordance with regulations and because, I believe, an outbreak had occurred in Singapore while I was there, this examination had to take place on three successive days.  Between Bandung and Langen we had to break our journey the following day at a place called Tasikmalajaimage for the same purpose.  While awaiting the train in Tasikmalaja, we sat in the Club there which was quite deserted except for ourselves and an elderly fat Dutch planter, manager of an estate in the vicinity, who offered us drinks and was scornfully amused at the idea of a Scotsman preferring a sweet soft drink to his native whisky.  We reached Langen Estate in the early afternoon and repaired to Fenton’s house, where, according to custom, I would stay a month in order to become accustomed somewhat to things in general before being left to paddle my own canoe.  As a matter of fact, it was Fenton who left at the end of the month, I remaining in the house, he having been transferred to another part of the Estate.  After lunch, we went to the Estate office where I met Mr Fitz Verploegh, the manager, who after greeting me said, indicating the office, ‘Well, this is your place for the next 5 years.’  The prospect at first sight did not seem encouraging.  The office was a bare looking room about 20 feet square with whitewashed walls, with a battered looking desk in the centre with an equally decrepit chair behind it and one or two tables and chairs against the walls.  In the corner opposite the doorway was a small safe set in a projecting mass of concrete.  This safe, I learned later, had formerly stood against the wall on a strong wooden rest, but one day, the then bookkeeper had closed the door of the safe, which locked automatically, leaving the only key inside.  The only way to right matters was to burn a hole in the back of the safe with an oxyacetylene blow lamp and subsequently the only way to preserve the safe’s usefulness was to embed it in concrete.  It was a brilliant solution because in its present state it afforded a hundred times better security than it had done as a loose steel box.  To give a general idea of Langen Estate I would explain that practically the whole area was reclaimed marshland and as flat as a billiard table.  Drainage of ground water was the major problem and an elaborate system of drains and pumping installations was the result.  The Estate was divided into so called Divisions; an employee residing on and being responsible for each Division.  These Divisions were subdivided into Gardens marked out in square areas.  The rubber trees were planted in straight rows and equally distant from each other. image Between each third row of trees, in both directions, were ditches for leading off water.  These ditches communicated, by way of deeper ditches crossing the garden at intervals, with drains about 6 to 8 feet deep running round the borders.  These again were linked up to so called main drains, which were really miniature canals, and which flowed, albeit sluggishly, into the marshes to the south.  The oldest trees on Langen had been planted in 1905.  A rubber tree comes to maturity and can be safely tapped at 6 years old as a general rule.  There was no road on to or off the Estate as far as the outside world was concerned.  The only communication was by the railway which cut the plantation in two from East to West.  Langen had a miniature station, known as a Halte, at which only the local train stopped, and from the main line a siding ran to the Factory godown (warehouse), where the cases of rubber were stored against despatch.  Java is divided roughly into three parts, known as West Java, Middle Java and East Java.  There is a strong similarity in population to our own country, in that Java harbours two distinct races, the Javanese to the East and the Sudanese to the West.  These two people are as distinct in race on the Scot and the English, but even more so in language, dress and custom.  Roughly speaking, the Sudanese inhabit the West Java and the Javanese Middle and East Java.  Langen was situated where West merges into Middle Java with the result that the labour was a mixture of Sudanese and Javanese, thus occasioning a knowledge of both languages in addition, as was my case, to Dutch and colloquial Malay.  In due course, I spoke six languages every day.  English to the manager because he preferred to speak that language, Dutch to the other assistants, Sudanese to my native overseer, Javenese to the coolies, Malay to the office clerks and Scots to my dogs!  The Halte was situated about the centre of the Estate, the manager’s house and two assistants’ houses forming a triangle with the Big House at the apex, about two hundred yards to the East of the Halte on the North side of the railway and roughly a hundred yards from the track, and the Factory buildings immediately opposite on the other side of, and about 50 yards from the railway, my house was situated at the base of the triangle nearest the Halte.  When I arrived the staff consisted of the manager, Fitz Verploegh whop was Dutch; Fenton of Scottish parentage but brought up in England; Van Der Meulen (from whom my bed was purchased) a Dutchman; Drost, idem; Vacquier, Eurasian; Sator de Rotas (engineer) idem; and Raden Kusumbrata, Soendanese.  Fenton, whose place I was taking as book keeper, was now going on full time garden work with his own division.  Van Der Meulen, Drost, Vacquier and Kusumbrata were all divisional garden assistants.  The divisions were, from east to west, Langkap Lantjar (Drost); Hevea (idem); and Straits of Java (Fenton) south of the railway, and ‘A’ Block (Vacquier); Langen (v/d Meulen) and Tjigaron (Kusumabrata) north of the line.  Langen Estate, as it now is, was really an amalgamation of several small estates in previous years and which had bequeathed their names to the divisions which they had now become.  Seem on a chart, Langen Estate was an irregular rectangle about 5 miles long by 3 broad situated, in its length, between two natural boundaries the Rawah Lahbok marshes to the south and the River Tjitandoei to the north.


Out from 2 to 3 pm only this afternoon.  Library books collected this morning.  New issue this afternoon.  Got ‘Woodstock’ by Sir Walter Scott.  Run round, jerks and only one ball game for veterans today.