By Leonie van Daalen
Suddenly, in November 1949, a long column of military men and some tanks came roaring into Tjepiring so that the ground trembled. Officers came in trucks and jeeps, waving at us, as they entered our small community. They were from the Northern Light, Infantry Battalion 403, part of the Tiger Brigade, which moved onto our sugar plantation. We greeted them with much enthusiasm, for we were very happy to see them. Their presence meant both security and fun. Our plantation was suddenly transformed, as we could hear the voices and laughter of young men everywhere. The soldiers moved into all the empty houses while the officers stayed in the clinic, which was also partially transformed into a canteen.
These young men had been fighting around Djogja and Solo for six months. They were generally in their early twenties, many of whom came from farms in the three most Northerly provinces of the Netherlands. Due to the war years, they had travelled very little, so when they arrived in the Indonesia, they were suddenly confronted with a totally different culture. Yet courage and bravery were asked of them to establish order in the colony and to protect Dutch citizens and property. They had arrived thinking that they were liberators, but, instead, they had had to fight a hidden enemy, a treacherous guerrilla war. To many, it was a great disappointment that the Dutch government had agreed to the Independence of Indonesia before the end of the year.
As soon as Anny and I strolled into their emplacement on our way to the swimming pool at the other end of Tjepiring a chorus of whistles greeted us. At first, we were very embarrassed to see many of the boys wearing only loincloths. Out of all windows hung partly clad men, trying to get our attention by calling “Hey miss” or whistling. Some ran out of their lodgings forming a group that followed us to the swimming pool. There, we quickly went into the cabins to change into our bathing suits while waiting and hoping that the men would go away. However, they just stood around the pool calling to us. Finally, I became impatient, but Anny refused to leave the cabin. I opened the cabin door, ran to the pool and dove in. At that moment, about ten boys jumped in as well. Pandemonium followed, for some of the soldiers could not swim. So then, more boys who could swim jumped in to help those in need. Others tried to approach me, making it impossible for me to swim. So, I quickly climbed out of the pool and ran back to the cabin where a frightened Anny sat in the corner. We did not swim much that afternoon.
The next time we went swimming, Anny refused to leave the bathing cabin again. “What is the matter with you?” “I said. “What are you afraid of now?”
She would not answer me. Finally, she whispered, “I don’t dare to stand by the cabins” I went out and looked right into the open bathroom of the neighbouring house, where some men were bathing.
We never sat still
Since the Independence of Indonesia had been declared, the military were no longer required to patrol or to bring peace to the area where they were stationed. The officers kept the troops occupied with military exercises and competitions. Some learned to swim while staying on our plantation. We saw them marching around competing in swimming, bicycling or running races. Or boys were hanging on ropes between two trees as part of their exercises. During one exercise, a soldier fell into the river that traversed Tjepiring. Something was always happening.
Yet, they had plenty of time to befriend the plantation employees and their families. Anything was an excuse for a dinner, rijsttafel, or a dance.
St. Nicolas did not arrive that year on his white horse, but he and black Peter came to Tjepiring in a tank. They received the children and adults at the Soos, where everyone had a good time, as Black Peter played pranks on everybody.
No sooner had Anny and I met boys at the swimming pool than they visited us in the evening. Father was not too happy to receive the many daily visitors. Moreover, we often had regular guests over the weekend as well as for picnics, parties and swimming. After one of those weekends, the photo of me on father’s desk disappeared. Father was very upset, but we never knew who had taken the photo. As was always the case, too few girls attended the parties to dance with the many men. Irma V. and I were the only ones in Tjepiring, so we never sat still at the dances. In one of my letters to Albert, a friend of mine, I complained that, in the tropical heat, parties were very tiring. I preferred the tours and picnics where we could enjoy the beautiful environment.
Quite a fighter
Mr. Brand chaperoned one of our picnics to the silvery waterfall of Tjoeroeg, which splashed down a steep mountainside. Our group made its way down the slippery stones between ferns until we found a magic cave. From the inside, we had a magnificent view of the Java Sea in the distance. It seemed a perfect place for our picnic, since it was dry inside.
Semarang became very crowded with repatriating military, and rumours spread that Tjepiring would receive KNIL officers to be housed as well. Soon after the military arrived, Mother and I went by jeep to Gemoe to visit the tobacco emplacement. The employee in charge had just moved into his wonderful new house when he was asked to take in a Captain and two Lieutenants.
While In Gemoe, I learned that one of the two lieutenants was a very handsome, reserved young man who had studied Tropical agriculture, as had father, at the University of Wageningen. He was quite a fighter who, before the ceasefire, had been Commander of a peloton that had to patrol an area as big as a major province in the Netherlands. Soon the region was peaceful, allowing him to live like a Radja. The grateful population began bringing him fruits, vegetables and chickens, which he sold to restore roads and houses. He also bought medications, and as a small pox epidemic was prevalent at the time, he frequently positioned himself, or one of his men, along the road to the pasar to inoculate all the people who passed by. In the end, people even called on him to help with childbirths.
Quotation from a letter to Albert, January 27, 1950:
“The Civilian and Military Governors from Semarang, with a party of 80, paid us a visit this week. Before the war, the military Governor was a Sergeant Major in the Dutch Colonial Army. Most of the Tentara higher officers aren’t any older than 25 years of age. After a reception in Kendal, they arrived in Tjepiring. The whole population came rushing out, crying loudly `Merdeka, Merdeka.´
We received the group in the factory where they were offered snacks and long, cool drinks. I helped to prepare and serve everything. There were two officers who asked my co-helpers who I was and other particulars about me. I did not pay much attention, but today they have already called three times. It frightens and troubles me, as I don’t know how to rebuff them politely.
The big question is what is going to happen to us when the Dutch army has left Indonesia. All the Dutch military are being transported back to Holland speedily, and I think that they will all be gone by August. The situation for the Dutch colonials is very uncertain as to how the future is going to develop.”
End of quotation.
In the first week of May, 1950, we saw the Northern light Battalion march off to Semarang. The employees of Tjepiring had offered them a large farewell rijsttafel before their departure. We were all sad to see them go; we would miss the lively boys and their activities and, at the same time, the plantation would become very quiet.
Then, the Dutch colonial army, the KNIL was discharged. The Dutch colonial money was devalued. We were obliged to cut the bank notes in half; only the left part could be used as legal payment.
My parents had many worries about the future of Tjepiring and of our family. As a result, Father was often in a bad mood, but Mother remained strong and positive.