Friday, 10 December 2010

3: Java, Batavia to Surabaya and back again - Part 2.

His father, a Dutchman by the name of Berg and married to a Javanese lady, explained to us that Singapore had fallen to the Japanese, therefore the currency that we had was useless. He then offered Bill and I a loan until we received our next pay, which we readily accepted and were able to repay the following day. He also loaned each of us a change of clothing and the use of his large tiled bathroom with bath and shower which was situated in the garden separate from the house. We were then invited to stay for the rest of the day and have dinner with the family. Mr Berg told us he was a linguist in local dialects and a broadcaster on radio.

On leaving that evening we were invited back the next day to dinner, also to collect our newly laundered tropical uniforms and underwear, in fact I went along two further evenings on an invitation from the daughter.

We were confined to the school in the following days usually being told we were free to go out in the afternoon, but on the fifth morning, I took a chance and popped along for a visit as there were rumours that we might be moving on. I returned to the school later in the day to find everyone had disappeared, and my haversack had been left in the corner of the room. I decided to try to find the whereabouts of another school where I knew other airmen had been billeted. Fortunately for me I was reunited with my old crowd there.

The following day we were moved from the school to a tea plantation in the hills to a place I believe was called Buitenzorg, where we spent five days resting.

Back at Batavia RAF Headquarters we, the operations room staff, were told to go to Surabaya to start a fighter control centre to demonstrate to Dutch personnel there, how to set up and operate. I collected a few more items of what kit was available, packed my kitbag and along with the rest of the crew, caught the night express to Surabaya.

We arrived in Surabaya early next morning and were met by Dutch army personnel, then transported to barracks where we went to bed to catch up on some sleep. There seemed no urgency in getting us to work. Each morning at eleven o'clock we were told 'Nothing doing today, you can go out if you wish', which we usually did. We were accommodated at the barracks, but apart from the Dutch.

Our meals were brought from outside by lorry in aluminium containers and consisted of rice, green vegetables, peppers and meat or fried rice with shrimps and fruit, which was not to our liking. We eventually complained and asked if we could have meat, vegetables and potatoes. The next day the officer in charge was given money to pay us so we could buy our own food. After that we used to eat out in bars and restaurants. Our evenings were spent in the bars, there was no shortage of cash as we were being paid every other day. The only person I met who seemed concerned about air raids was a civilian  who operated the warning system. We used to meet up each night with some Americans who were flying out on patrol each day, and like us, were propping up the bars at night. They were operating three Catalina flying boats and kept us up to date with any news.

This went on for about nine days when our bubble burst. We went to our favourite bar that night, the Americans were there and greeted us saying we were just in time as they were leaving for Australia. They told us there was an invasion force about two days away with nothing to stop them, as the Dutch were not preparing any defence. They told the group of us they had room to take us with them and invited us along. We thanked them for the offer saying we had no orders to leave, it would therefore be desertion if we went. We said goodbye and returned to our barracks. At eleven o'clock two hours after the Americans had left, our C.O. came in and told us to pack, we were to return to Batavia on the night express. We hastily packed, had a count up and found six men still out. Jumping into a truck we rode round the streets shouting their names outside the bars and managed to round them all up except for two. Eventually we returned to the barracks, as time was running out, and found the missing two had returned and prepared for bed. They grabbed their clothes and boarded the train wearing just their pyjamas. We duly arrived back in Batavia next morning.

1 comment:

  1. Frank,
    The story about the Berg family is particularly interesting. I can't help wondering what happened to them during the Japanese occupation, and later, during the struggle for Indonesian independence. As a Dutch citizen, and involved with broadcasting, Mr. Berg would have been in danger during the occupation. Likewise, after the war.