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Life without my father - while he was a POW of the Japanese

by CSV Actiondesk at BBC Oxford

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Archive List > Family Life

Contributed by 
CSV Actiondesk at BBC Oxford
People in story: 
Elisabeth Hall - Bakker
Location of story: 
Jakarta and Bandung, Indonesia
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
02 August 2005

My name is Elisabeth Hall-Bakker. I was born in 1940 in Indonesia, in Batavia now called Jakarta. I’m Dutch, my parents were Dutch. In 1942 the Japanese came and my father was asked to go to report to police station just as a formality but he was taken prisoner of war straight away. This was because he was the president of the seaman’s union in Indonesia and they were frightened that he was going to get everybody out on strike. I think my mother and I lived for a few more weeks at the house but then she had 10 minutes notice to move so she had to pack one suitcase and we moved. We stayed with friends because we had nowhere else to go. My mother told me she put her jewellery in a tin box and buried it in the garden of a friend of hers but when she went to dig it up to get something to sell it had already been dug it up. Someone must have seen her burying it!
We lived with many different friends moving frequently from house to house. My mother told me that while in the house of one of her friends the girls there had Japanese army officers as boyfriends. They said ‘What a nice little girl, can you sing a song for me?’ So I sang one of the Dutch national songs! Everyone was so frightened that they would want to have the song translated! But fortunately they didn’t.
While living in Batavia I remember we dug a large hole in the garden and every time a plane came over we had to run out of the house with a saucepan over our heads and duck into that hole. I don’t know what good that would have done if we’d been hit! I also remember Mother had a book about the House of Orange and she wanted to get rid of it to someone who could store it for her. I had to go on my own to another house with a coat on. As a small child I couldn’t understand why I had to have a rain coat on when there was no rain!
My father was then transferred from Batavia to Bandung and we followed him because my mother had friends in Bandung. I remember on the journey I put my head on her lap to go to sleep and felt a big lump. I asked ‘What’s that? What’s that?’ She said ‘Shut up! Shut up! Go to sleep!’ She had sewn money into her skirt and of course didn’t want the secret to be found out. In Bandung we stayed with friends again and frequently moved from house to house. We went to see my father; we went to wave at him through the barbed wire!
Food wise I had enough, I wasn’t starved but I remember I had to collect slugs for food and now every time I see a special type of bucket, slugs and the slime they leave behind I shiver.
We never knew why we were not taken in to the camp because we were Dutch. But people suffered just as much as those who were in the camps although we were not beaten by the Japanese.
Towards the end of the war my father was taken very ill in the hospital in the camp. The Japanese knew the war was coming to an end and thought he might be dying so I think they called for my mother. We went to see him in a little guard house.
The war finished in 1945 but we were still kept in Indonesia. My father came out of the camp and we were staying in someone’s house. My father was already very ill. We had been there for about 2 weeks when he was taken into the hospital and unfortunately died. He was mal nourished, I saw him, and it was a sight I will never forget. The blankets were off him, his legs and his arms were like a skeleton but his tummy was enormous.
After the war when the Indonesians started to kill the Dutch, that was not very pleasant. We were put in the camp my father had been in. During that time I remember going somewhere, possibly to visit someone but we were walking past another camp, one for the military and we saw a Japanese soldier on guard. When we walked back we saw him hanging in a tree. I don’t understand why but that is a vivid memory that will stay with me.
The Indonesians were rebellious and the Japanese had trained them and given them guns and equipment so we always had to walk in a group never on our own. I remember going along the road, a group of us and we had to lie in a ditch for over half an hour because across the train track were the Indonesians with their spears and big knives and we just had to lay still until they were gone and of course as a child I was told to shut up.
After the war there were over 200,000 people to repatriate. My mother had the choice of staying there or going back to Holland and she chose Holland. We were lucky because we went on, I think, the second ship to Holland. I don’t know whether it was a good choice or not. She chose Holland because there was some family from my father’s side but we never clicked very well. The lifestyles of the 2 places were completely different. There were also a lot of unpleasant remarks; the Dutch felt that they had suffered enormously during the war but didn’t realise how cruel the Japanese were. And when we arrived in Holland we were given extra tokens to buy food and the Dutch were quite against that.
Ironically my father had booked transport for us to go to Australia just before the war started. He had an inclination that something was happening, but 2 days before we were due to leave he was called in.

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