War is a barbaric evil stain on our past, but it happened, and the stories live on in its survivors and we owe it to them to retell and remember so that we never endure such suffering again. The Dutch East Indies campaign of 1941–1942 was the conquest of the Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia) by forces from the Empire of Japan in the early days of the Pacific campaign of World War II. Forces from the Allies attempted unsuccessfully to defend the islands.
Yvonne Winckel, local Pukekohe resident who lived through the invasion was asked to recall her memories from her experience for a book that was going to be published in 1992. The book was published to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the fall of the Dutch East Indies in World War II. The recollection dated in 1991 was recovered upon her death and we detail it below.
Jogging my memory – Surabaja and the Indonesian Bersiap Time… around September/October 1945. The male POWs from the several camps in Java returned to their home base, in this case Surabaja, also the women and children. There was big disappointment, their homes plundered, first by the Japs and then the natives (Ploppers), even doors and window frames removed.
Then a big silence over the city after the bombing raids by who knows. The Brits? Then the Ghurkas arrived. A lot of street shooting at anything that moved. Food almost non-existent.
Then all hell broke loose, General Mellaby murdered by the Indonesians in ‘Oranje Hotel’ his adjutant escaped to tell the story. Hundreds of Indonesians were armed with bamboo spears, chanting ‘Merduka’ (freedom!).
The weak Prisoners of War were once again picked up, put into trucks, this time by the Indonesian uniformed mob and then transported to the Dutch club ‘Societeit’, kicked and spat on before being murdered. Not many of the mean survived their ordeal to tell their tale.
I saw Dutch woman and children lef by the Rebels marching through the streets – destination unknown. Later we heard that they had been put into camps once again. A lot of shooting, looting and intimidation by the rebels. Bodies left were they were shot, also dead animals. The air putrid.
The Ghurkas fled and hid in the ‘Kunst Kring’ building behind our house. They fought until they ran out of Ammunition. The Indonesians then set fire to the building. We were lucky to survive. Then four trucks left from one of the Embassies with all the women and children. A little bundle under their arms, their sole possessions, hoping to get away to safety. I remember the face of one of the drivers, a Swiss boy, no more than 19.
The British were at Tanjung Perak, where the boats were waiting to take us all to Singapore. The first convey of trucks ran into an ambush, so many killed and wounded. Luckily there was no room for me and my sister. We had to wait for the second trip and that’s why I can write this story.
Poe-a, an Indonesian woman with a Chinese man, had a tiny warong (coffee shop) in our street. She was very brave, staking her life to bring us food every day – black steaming coffee, fried bananas and fried sweet potatoes. She was always well rewarded for the risk she took. We had buried jewellery in the back of our garden under the kedong dong tree. All was still intact and Poe-a did well and so did we.
I never made it to the Darmo camp. We stayed in hiding until the friendly troops arrived, liberating us with Brigadier Denholm Young in command. I am sure there were others with similar and different experiences to mine. There is so much more to tell but it is all past history now.