Friday, September 14, 2012

Diary of a POW

A very wise friend of mine once told me that you need to “send out ships” in order to get back treasure.  One of my ships, my lines of enquiry, came back with my Opa’s (Grandfather’s) POW registration card:
Unit:   Air and Coastal Artillery,  Cilacap (Tjilatjap)
Place of capture:    Cibatu (Tjibatoe), Java
Date of capture:   8th march, Year 17 (17th year of the Emperor) = 8th march 1942
Camp Transfer :   to No.1 Branch POW camp, Java 15th august, Year 17  =  15th aug 1942.  POW#15740 (Located Bandung)
Camp Transfer:    to Malay Main Camp  = Changi, Singapore POW# 18986
The back of the card indicates that this 2nd transfer occurred on 29th October 1942, possibly via Thailand :  
This is the second of two registration cards written in the same hand and with the original data copied almost identically.  Whilst the earlier card is missing the second camp location and number, strangely it has an additional address.  Nylandweg 123 is crossed out and replaced with Pahud de Montagne weg 12 (slightly different from the Pahud de Mortagnes Laan on the back of my Grandfather’s portrait), only for this second address to be dropped again for the later version.

Was this a change of mind that made them write out the entire card all over again?   Again, it seems that Hans (Johannes) did not know for sure the address where Marianne Van Bael-Knoll (Tikus) was staying by that time.
In the archives I found also the registration card for A.J.W. Scheffer, the “radiotelegrafist” – turned- artist that drew my Opa’s portrait.   

“As Prisoner”  by  “A.J.W.Scheffer   6th August 1942”
For the most part, his card mirrors that of my Opa, up until sometime after  their 1st transfer, on 15th august 1942 (Year 17), to the large No.1 Branch camp (Bandung). POW#15723.        

The transfer took place just 9 days after the sketch was drawn and 5 months after they were both captured.   Only 16 POWs separated the two men at that camp, two men who were born just months apart at the turn of the 20th century.
I have found online exerpts from the diary of one Gerrit Jan Van Dam, also of the Air and Coastal Artillery who was stationed in Cilacap, the place to which my Opa was sent suddenly from Billiton at the outset of the war.    He, just like Hans, was captured in Cibatu (Tjibatoe) just one day after Hans, according to his diary, which indicates that they were fighting and moving in the same Company.   Most POW cards show a generic 8th march 1942 as being the date of capture whilst in reality there must have been small variations on those dates.   Therefore, whilst Hans left no records for us to follow his movements,  Gerrit’s diary would be a reliable reference for understanding what happened to Hans, at least for the first months, up until the 1st transfer:
March 7th 1942, and our entire Company was instructed to prepare for retreat to Bandung as the Japanese army was closing in rapidly on Cilacap. That evening we destroyed all weapons we could not bring with us and blew up our ammunition depots. The latter were filled with tracers and once they were well and truly ablaze it provided us with a very pretty but dangerous firework display......
After everything was destroyed we crossed over to the convict island of Kembangan Musa. We had to walk across it from the southern tip to the northern tip. It was already starting to get dark, and although at the beginning of the journey everything went quite smoothly and we had a decent path to follow, later on we had to go along slippery paths and steep cliffs, so we had to keep a close eye on the person in front of us to be able to continue. After this nocturnal trek we arrived at the northern most point of the island at the break of dawn, and boats were commandeered to cross back over to Java. There, we had a little break before we moved on, and after a journey of about two hours we arrived in a village that had a train station. After much opposition from the Javanese station master, our Commander was able to charter a train engine with engineer, and some carriages, so we could continue on our way to Bandung. We did not manage to get as far as that; the engine ran out of coal, and we were stranded in Cibatu. We set up camp in a school, where we could all finally get some sleep......
That morning of March 9th 1942, after a good night's rest, the future seemed a little bit brighter, but not for long. During roll call our Commander told us that the Dutch East-Indies had surrendered unconditionally and that we now held the status of prisoners of war.....
Many of us were angry and wanted to continue to fight, others were relieved and happy that they no longer needed to…………………
Our Javanese soldiers were very disappointed, and it took some days before we could convince them that they had better put on a sarong and make off to take to their various villages. Eventually they were persuaded and, after a sad farewell, they departed........
The first week we noticed nothing of a Japanese occupation and were still able to come and go as we pleased. Eventually, our commander received an order by telephone for our entire company to put themselves behind barbed wire at the market square. Once we were behind the barbed wire, there was nothing for us to do anymore, and soon boredom set in; you could tell by the little squabbles that arose among the men. At last, Japanese guards came, and that was the end of that little bit of freedom we had still had......

The guards became increasingly strict and the Japanese soldiers got even tougher with their abuse. We received orders to pack our bags, preparing for depart elsewhere. Carrying our belongings on our backs, we marched to the station where we were pushed into railroad cars and moved out west. Later that afternoon, we arrived at Garut, a town at the foot of mount Papandajan, where we were billeted in former police barracks....
This is where I think they went their separate ways for the transfer to the large camps.  I have found in the archives the POW card of one  Gerrit Van Dam, born 28th feb 1914.   IF indeed this is the same Gerrit Jan Van Dam, he was transferred to No.3 Branch camp of Java POW camp whilst Hans and August Scheffer were sent to No.1. Branch camp.

Gerrit Van Dam POW# and Camp #

Hans Van Bael POW# and Camp #

After Garut, we went up to Cimahi, a town about 5 miles to the north of Bandung. We were housed in what was known as the “Kale Koppen Kamp”, the camp of bald heads, which consisted of bamboo huts. Many Dutch POW’s were already housed here, and together with our group, it came to about four thousand of us. The camp got its name because the Japanese ordered everyone who was brought in to shave their head. That first day, it was quite a strange sight, to see all these bald heads together, but you quickly get used to it.
The Japanese were a lot stricter here...............
The boredom was perpetual, we basically had nothing to do all day. Some took their little aluminium dinner dishes, and started engraving them;  I must say, there were some true artists among us.

Thanks to Henk Beekhuis for his help in searching and pointing me in the right direction to find the POW registration archives.  

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