- 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 In there, some old passports and other out-of-date identity cards for public transport.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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