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Past and Present Touchingicon for Recommended story

by anak-bandung

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Past: Robert (Hab) Halberstadt (born 27-11-1918, died 03-02-1942) and Present: me (his daughter) (born July 1942)
Location of story: 
Past: Surabaya airbase, Java, Indonesia ; and Present: Utrecht, Netherlands
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
05 January 2005

Robert (Hab) Christiaan Halberstadt (27.11.1918 - 03.02.1942) This photograph was taken early 1939 in Utrecht in the Netherlands, just before leaving for Java as an aspiring fighter pilot in the ML-KNIL. When he was shot down in Surabaya on Java he had reached the rank of sergeant.

Present (October 2004)

Together with my sister, I am in my parents' house sorting out my mother's possessions. It is a sad task for due to illness and frailty she is no longer able to live in her own home. She has found a room in a care home and consequently can only take a minimum in furniture and other possessions dear to her. How can one shrink all those years into one little room which also needs to hold her bed?

We empty drawers first, making a small pile of what can clearly be thrown away and a large one of those items to be passed on to our mother for her inspection and decision of what to do with them. The task is long and slow but not arduous. We find old letters and drawings from our children to their 'oma', which melt our hearts. Photographs, loads of them, still waiting to be stuck in an album. Again our task is slowed by carefully looking through them. 'O look at that one!' 'Do you remember…?'

I open another drawer, a small one. In there, some old passports and other out-of-date identity cards for public transport. Right at the back a small, old and battered, brown wallet.

I open it curiously. A few old photographs. One is of my father, taken in Utrecht in early 1939 prior to leaving for the Dutch East Indies. He looks very serious, wearing his uniform as an aspiring fighter pilot in the ML-KNIL. I possess his letter diary between 19 May to 16 June 1939 in which he describes his journey on the transport ship J P Coen. The wallet contains some more treasures: small, folded scraps of paper describing his love to my mother, lovingly kept and which surprisingly survived the camp years. I start to feel as if I am intruding and I decide not to look any further. I am moved and excited at the same time.

Later on I take it to mum who stares at it for a long time. Memories must be chasing each other inside her head. She gives a deep sigh and then puts the wallet in her handbag. 'I will look at it later', she says.

The next day, when I visit her, she hands me the wallet and asks whether I have seen all its contents. I shake my head. 'No,' I answer 'this is too personal.'

'Did you see his identity tag?' she asks me then and removes it from the wallet.

I reach out to take it. 'Did he have a duplicate then?' I wonder.

Mum shakes her head.

Past (03-02-1942, Surabaya airbase)

Part of this can be read in Nel's Story: Part I: Looming War: Indonesia 1942, where my mother tells how she arrived at the airbase just before the planes all took off in a great hurry to meet the onslaught of a far superior Japanese force. She witnessed in great horror the uneven aerial fight with the Dutch planes diving… burning. She recognised my father's plane by its number. Saw how he shot down a Jap and then how he himself took a hit, went into a spin…

I can only imagine what must have gone through his mind those last few seconds, why he decided to take off his identity disc and throw it out off the plane. The tag was found the following day. His plane and body somewhere lost in a sawah (rice paddy).

Present (October 2004)

I am holding his identity tag now in my hand. I had never known of its existence before. It is an oval disc, divided into two parts and each holds the same information: on one side of the top part is his number NI 95406, his year of birth and another set of meaningless letters: BLG.A. At the back his surname, first Christian name and second initial, and the letters PROT indicate his religion as being protestant. All this information is repeated upside down on the bottom half of the disc. I find this curious but then notice two slots in the middle amidst a groove and then suddenly realise that in normal circumstances, when a body is found, the bottom part is snapped off and taken away, leaving the top part on its chain around the body's neck.

I guess, the reason why my father decided to remove his identity tag was that he fully expected to end up and disappear inside the mud of a rice paddy, never to be found again and wanted to leave something of himself behind. Maybe his last goodbye to his wife?

Past and Present

I, his posthumous daughter, am now holding this tag and chain in my hands and at this very moment I feel very close to a father I have never known. The last time he held this tag was just prior to his death. Now I am holding it in my hands. I have a very strange sensation that our hands are touching and I feel choked. We have met… finally.

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - The past is the present

Posted on: 05 January 2005 by rose-of-java


Dear Anak-Bandung,
You who know my story will understand when I say that I envy you. What we have in common is the death of our father at the hands of the Jap and the faint, illogical but persistent hope that he might not be dead, that one day he would turn up after all.
The story of how you have found closure is deeply moving and again made my spine ripple, just as it did when you first showed me the pictures of your mum and dad.

Did it strike you, during your journey into the past, that your father had died a hero's death?
It did me. What a way to die!

Meanwhile, another tragedy is unfolding in the east. Again people have lost their loved ones, and may never know if they are dead, or how they died.
May they too find closure.


Message 2 - The past is the present

Posted on: 05 January 2005 by elviraberyl

Dear Rob
Your latest story, 'The past and present,' moved me to tears. I can imagine how it affected you, holding your father's tag.
And what memories for your mother too.
I wish I could put into words the emotion I felt and the sorrow you and your brave mother had, with her having too short a time with him and you, none at all.
It is wonderful that you felt the closeness between you as if you were touching.


Message 3 - The past is the present

Posted on: 05 January 2005 by anak-bandung

my friends, your replies touched me deeply. I knew you would understand my feelings. I also wish to join you too, Roos, in hoping that for those, in this dreadful catastrophy who have loved ones missing, closure will come soon. To have hope is good, but sometimes it can destroy too.
love, Rob

Message 1 - Touching past and present.

Posted on: 06 January 2005 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Dear Roberte,
A wonderful well told story, as you went through those old things each one a memory to your mother and her children, you held a whole life in your hands.
Your Mother must be grief stricken having to give up everything she knows and move to a new place. It is something I hope never happens to me. How can you collect up your life as it was then condense it into some few items you can keep with you.
That is possibly why we write on this site and privately, the rest that cannot be put on the site, to be kept in folders with pictures and other things, for our children grandchildren and hopefully great granchildren to read.
As long as someone remembers us and who we were we are immortal. You remember your Father though you never met, the bond is there, he lives in your mind and you feel he can touch you, what more could he wish.
Finding those dog-tags was a miracle or a sign? who are we to know? at least you have something he touched guard it well.
Regards Frank.


Message 2 - Touching past and present.

Posted on: 07 January 2005 by anak-bandung

Thanks, Frank, for your kind and thoughtful words.
You are talking about 'dog-tags'. Were the British ID tags different in that there were two around the soldier's neck? As I described in my story my father's ID was one oval disc which could be snapped in two.
lobe, Rob


Message 3 - Touching past and present.

Posted on: 08 January 2005 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Dear Rob,
Our Dog Tags were two of different colours and we wore them everywhere, they were not removed for anything. You should have heard the girls complain.
Regards Frank.


Message 4 - Touching past and present.

Posted on: 08 January 2005 by anak-bandung

Thanks for the explanation, Frank. You know, you could have been a gentleman and worn the tags dangling from your back!:-)

Message 1 - Past & Present Touching

Posted on: 06 January 2005 by Len (Snowie) Baynes

Dear Rob
Your father, who never lived to see his younger daughter, was a handsome young man, and I can feel for your mother; how she must have missed him, and I assume she never married again.
Her whole life was changed; it is a story repeated thousands of times around the world through man's inhumanity to man, dictators and governments seeking to enlarge their territories, rival religious factions seeking to eliminimate each other, and the hatred of one race for another.
The Bible tells us that there will always be wars and rumours of wars, but in those days wars weren't global, and comparitively few lives were lost. Now, with ever deadlier weapons, the next conflict is indeed likely to be the last.
Putin seems to be assuming the rôle of dictator, North Korea is aggressive, to say the least, and there's plenty of other trouble in the world at the moment; it doesn't look a very stable place.
Prayers for peace are the only weapons, or armour rather, left for you and I.
Yours Len


Message 2 - Past & Present Touching

Posted on: 07 January 2005 by anak-bandung

Lieve Len
I need to put a few things straight here. My parents were only married late October 1941 and he died 3 February 1942. My mother only found out she was pregnant when she came to after she collapsed seeing him shot down. A doctor was called and diagnosed the fact.
She did get married again end 1947 to my stepfather, who I liked when he visited her one evening and I asked him to be my daddy and with that started the ball rolling. My stepfather has been very good to me and the sister in my contribution is actually my younger half-sister. My step-dad only died last April.

I suppose the world never has been very stable and we have to make the best of it. It is only now the world has shrunk with the ease of travel, technology and the media that we notice what happens all around us. If we despair of what the future will bring us, we have lost. Only by hoping and doing our own little bit to be a good person, may we contribute to a better world. Stay positive, my friend. The recent devastation of the tsunami has shown us that there is also a lot of compassion amongst us.
Lifes, Rob


Message 3 - Past & Present Touching

Posted on: 13 June 2005 by ODYSSEY

June 12,'o5
L. Rob,this is the first time I read your article: "Past and Present Touching".
I wonder why you did not tell us about it:it is
I read part of what you say here in other stories you wrote but putting it together is what it really needed!
I hope your mother read it:It would be of great comfort that you who never knew your dad and your father who never knew you are brought together in this moving piece and be united forever.
Thank you for sharing it with us.
Love Josephine.


Message 4 - Past & Present Touching

Posted on: 03 July 2005 by ritsonvaljos

Hello anak-bandung,

Having just read the article about finding your father's ID, I would like to thank you for sharing it with everyone. It is a small object perhaps, but what it represents goes far beyond its material value.

The WW2 accounts you have written are really first class. They must go some way towards the improving the knowledge and understanding of what happened in the Far East. What a family history you have had! Best wishes to all your family.

Well done on writing the articles!


Message 5 - Past & Present Touching

Posted on: 03 July 2005 by anak-bandung

Hello ritsonvaljos,
Thank you for your reaction. It was quite a surprise to me having had one of my contributions chosen to go on the front page. There are however quite a few more about the Far East and written by civilians, which deserve to be highlighted.
This site has been a good medium for many to tell their stories which otherwise would have gone unheard. If my mother's experiences have helped to bring some more understanding then I will be happy.
Thanks again for your kind words.
Regards, Rob

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