7. Scheepspraet (Ship talk)
We were handed a booklet on the ship with the title “Ships talk”, full of interesting details beneficial to those soldiers travelling to the Dutch Indies. The booklet also explained things as Starboard and Port, places where we were allowed to go on the ship and where we were not allowed to go, rules on board of the ship and how the day was divided on board:
0600 hours wake up call,
0730 hours breakfast,
1000 hours inspection,
1200 hours lunch.
From 1400 till 1600 hours compulsory silence, which was very useful as we got closer and closer to the equator and we used this time to take a nap.
At 1800 hours dinner and
at 2000 hours we had to hang the hammocks and at 2200 hours it was “lights off”
We sailed past Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea, through the Suez Canal, across the Red Sea (where the heat was unbearable), past Africa and Ceylon to the Dutch Indies. In the Ships Talk booklet we had a complete description of how the whole journey was a tourist attraction. “Let me assure you that were not the case”. All those men in a small space and in the unbearable heat that we were not used to.
On the 25th of May 1947 we arrived in Sabang, a small Island above Sumatra where we were allowed ashore for a couple of hours. The next evening at 1800 hours and getting dark we arrived in Belawan in Sumatra. The senior officers came into the mess and pointed at several tables with soldiers around it and they were ordered to disembark. I was seated at one of those tables. They gave us “Bren machine guns” and loaded approximately 100 men into three landing craft just of shore outside the harbour of Belawan. Our ship was not able to sail into the harbour because of the ships that had sunk there and the sand banks growing larger by the day because of lack of harbour maintenance.
Sitting in the landing craft and looking up to the ships deck it looked as if the whole ship was heeling towards me because 1300 men were standing on one side waving us good by. They were to continue to Java
I will never forget the feeling of patriotism and camaraderie that came over me when all aboard the ship were singing the song: “Tabee wij moeten elkander groeten” (See you later, we have to say good bye). The voices rang out over the sound of the ocean.
I was sitting there, all choked up and very conscious of the strange surroundings where we sailed towards the shore in the fast approaching darkness
From Belawan we were transported in army trucks to Medan, the capital of Sumatra. It was a trip of approximately 20 kilometres.Those Dutch soldiers that served there will most likely remember that it was called the road of the death (de dodenweg) because there were constant fights and battles along the way. We were stationed just outside Medan in a tobacco factory in the Boolweg, next to the hospital.
We slept there on the floor.
At the parade, names were called and when all soldiers marched off I was left standing on my own. I was still unknown and did not belong anywhere…..
The next day I went to have a look in town. There were several places where soldiers could find entertainment, cinema’s, café’s and a mess on the base.
I went to the 2nd Lieutenant and asked him if I could drive a truck to take soldiers to town and bring them back again and do shopping for the mess, after all I had my military heavy truck and trailer licence. He gave me a chit for the sergeant who was to assign me a vehicle. This lasted approximately 2 months until the first “politionele action” was announced. According to the official papers send from The Hague I was attached to the 6th Infantry Brigade effective 1st of April 1947.
However I never found out until I returned to the Netherlands.
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