Friday, 17 December 2010

4: Flee to Southern Java - Part 1.

At headquarters we met up with another twelve airmen who had prepared three trucks loaded with food, water and petrol. Our instructions were to make for Southern Java where we might possibly find a ship to take us away. The Dutch, we were told, were ready to capitulate under threat of bombing, possibly within forty eight hours. Without further delay we set off.

We had been travelling for about five hours over flat countryside passing a few banana plantations and rice fields when at about four o'clock in the afternoon a lookout spotted a plane coming towards us. Stopping, we dived for cover. It was a two seat light bomber with a gunner in the rear. It flew up and down above us twice without firing, he had most probably used all his bombs and ammunition on other escapees. As he flew off we dashed back into the trucks hoping to find cover before he or his pals came back to look for us.

Cover was found a few miles on. There was a banana plantation nearby. We pulled in among the trees and hastily cut banana trees down placing them in and around our vehicles. About half an hour later we heard planes approaching and dived under the trucks and lay listening to bullets pattering through the leaves. This continues for three passes, fortunately nothing caught fire, then they departed. We stayed undercover, had our evening meal and moved on after dark. The darkness cut our speed down but it was more relaxing than travelling in broad daylight.

By early morning the road became more of a climb and there was now a mountain range ahead of us. We stopped for a quick bite and a cup of tea, the general opinion being, we would have to continue our journey in daylight, as the mountain road had no barrier or curb and would be hazardous in the dark.

The Japanese aircraft were attacking the North and South of the Island so we were not troubled with any visits from them that day. We cleared the mountain, made our way down and headed for the south coast. At our evening stop we heard on the radio that the ships leaving ports were under fire from Japanese warships and the Dutch were going to surrender and set up roadblocks to stop movement of allied troops, we realised then that the chance of boarding a ship was very remote. It was agreed that we would turn inland at the next junction, find as remote a spot as possible and hopefully survive on our food until liberated. We didn't go much further that day.

Moving on the next day, we left the valleys of rice behind us and found ourselves in wooded scrub country with small kampongs dotted about with banana and coconut trees about them. By late afternoon we came upon an area completely covered by large trees and wide enough to drive the trucks off the road and under cover. There was a river nearby, the ground solid and well used which suggested this was possibly a watering hole for buffalo, goats etc of the local people.

Fires were lit for our evening meal, the usual tins of corned beef and tinned vegetables accompanied by hard biscuits. The smoke of one fire angered a swarm of hornets that had been hanging from an overhead branch around thirty feet above, unnoticed. Suddenly they swooped down and landed on one man, covering his head and entire back. It was impossible to beat them off, some shouted to him to jump in the river and as he ran, more hornets followed. He submerged himself completely, but the hornets still clung to him. Some of the men tried beating them off with towels but to no avail.

It must have been at least fifteen minutes before they suddenly flew off. Obviously the man was badly stung but we had nothing with which to treat him. Two of the chaps said when we were travelling on higher ground earlier in the day they had seen a military ambulance in the distance some miles ahead of us and thought it likely the driver had pulled in somewhere for the night. So one of the trucks set off with him and did manage to find the ambulance, but we heard later that he died the following day.

1 comment:

  1. Frank,

    You've told me something I didn't know, as I hadn't learned that the Dutch surrendered because they had been threatened with being bombed within a day or so's time. Also, the poor man who was stung by the hornets! What a stressful experience this whole time in the wilds must have been. Thanks so much, Melinda