- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Nini hannaford-Rambonnet Anita-Daponte (Mother) George Francois (father) Robert Carel Rambonnet (Brother) Tecla van Rijswijk (close friend)
- Location of story:
- Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) Batavia (now Jakarta) Bandoeng (town in the mountains) All on the Island of Java
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 03 July 2005
MY PERSONAL STORY 1939 - 1945
In 1940 after the bombing of Rotterdam and the capitulation of the Dutch to the Germans in Holland, things did not change much in the Dutch East Indies. The Dutch government in the Dutch East Indies, interned the Germans and the German language was not allowed to be used.
I had been invited to apply as interpreter and translator for The Chartered Bank of Australia and China and was appointed in December 1941. This was amazing as I did not understand the new Dutch monetary regulations and my English was also not that good. I found out that I was appointed because of my low golf handicap. The Executives of the bank were all members of the Dutch Anglo Golf Club.
A censor centre was set up by the Dutch Authorites, and I was asked to join them to be a censor for the local mail. When the upper crust heard of my appointment they saw that I was removed.
In the meantime my mother was the Editor of a magazine for which she wrote various articles and also a contributor for the local newspaper 'Java Bode'. Later she became a broadcaster for the local radio station called 'The Nirom'. She received news in Dutch and translated it into English and French which was daily broadcast abroad, mainly to Australia.
By now I had joined the local Red Cross and was sent to a hospital in Batavia where I was taught to nurse women and lay out the dead. This was the first time I saw a dead person.
By now the Japanese had bombed Pearl Habour. This was followed by the sinking of The Prince of Wales and The Repulse. My brother Bob who was then 18, was called up to join the Navy. He left to join them at Tjilatjap (south of West Java).
Now things began to deteriorate and the bank decided to shut its office in Batavia and the staff packed their bags and went to Tjilatjap hoping to be able to leave the island for Australia. They did not succeed and returned to Bandoeng to the Allied Hospital, where I had by then been sent by the Red Cross.
At the Allied Hospital many British and Australian wounded, soldiers and airmen, arrived daily. The nursing staff, apart from us Red Cross members, were Australian soldiers. The doctors and surgeons were Australian, British and Irish.
The head of the hospital was Colonel Weary Dunlop, who after the war wrote a diary and was honoured by the British Queen. Some of us were billited in local houses near the hospital.
In March 1942 the Dutch East Indies government capitulated after the Japenese forces had landed in Java. The first Japanese soldier I saw was when I had to walk to and back from my accomodation to be billeted at the Allied Hospital. They never touched us. I think they were too tired as they had just battled their way from Batavia to Bandoeng. A room was vacated for all of us Red Cross nurses. Notlong after, Colonel Weary Dunlop was visited by a Japenese Colonel and was told that the Red Cross nurses had to leave and he and his staff and wounded soldiers had to get ready immediately to leave for a concentration camp.
I left and went home by train with my Babu (maid). The train was packed with people inside and hanging outside the train. The normal one hour journey to Batavia took 5 hours. I was met by my father, who had by then been dismissed from his Executive government job with 3 month's pay. The Japanese had confiscated our car. My mother also lost her job as broadcaster but was kept on with translating Dutch not only into English but also Malay. The Japanese did not speak Dutch and very few spoke English so conversations were mostly in Malay.
The Nirom, in the beginning, broadcast orders given by the Japanese authorities on a regular basis. This was then broadcast by the Dutch director who had the habit of playing the Dutch National Anthem after the broadcast. He was told by the Japanese to stop but ignored it and was finally executed.
The Japanese orders broadcasted several warnings. Anyone passing a sentry on foot had to stop and bow and when on a bicycle had to dismount and do the same. If this was not done punishment would follow. A girl I knew ignored this and was thrown on the ground, they filled her stomach with water and she was trampled on.
Any Dutch had to register with the police and had to bring their birth certificate. The cost was 20 guilders and we obtained an identity card. as my mother had an Italian birth certificate she did not have to pay.
Italy was then considered an Ally.
Life had now totally changed. Whenever the local people tried to loot, the Japanese chopped off their hands and strung them up in the middle of the city. They never had any trouble in all the three years they occupied Indonesia.
The Japanese were now arresting the Dutch men and went through each street in trucks. They caught my father who was under the shower and took him and other men to the local police station. Mies, a friend, and myself stood outside for a few hours but our fathers gesticulated for us to leave. I then heard that my father had been sent to Adek, a building the Japanese had made into a provisional concentration camp. We received Japanese instructions in Dutch about visits and bringing parcels to the internees. We had to stand in a queue and when our turn came, we had to go to the table attended by a Japanese soldier, bowed and presented the small baskets, with their names on it and with essentials. This was all stopped soon as the men were sent away to various concentration camps in and around Bandoeng.
My mother still went every day to the Nirom Broadcasting Station and was given the job of decoding and translating papers into English.
The head of the broadcasting station, a Japanese called Mr Muramaru who was a civilian in uniform, was quite reasonable.
In the beginning of July my mother was informed by Mr Muramaru that she had to report the following day at 10 am to the Kemptai (Police) headquarters. We both went to the headquarters on our bicycles. She insisted that I should not join her going into the building. I waited until 6pm and as she had not returned I telephoned Mr Muramaru to ask what happened to her. He was very nervous and told me that she was held by the Kemptai and not to get in touch with him again. I explained that she only had her handbag with her and he suggested that I went to headquarters the following morning with a small parcel of toiletries, which I did. I was slightly nervous to have to confront the Kemptai Militia. I bowed to the soldier who accepted the parcel. When I returned the following day again with a small parcel the Kemptai soldier threatened me with holding his sword at my throat and told me not to come back.
I went home and started to pack my mother and father's personal belongings and stored them in a friend's house across the road.
By now the concentration camps were getting established. One was called Tjideng and people in better areas were sent there first, but were allowed to go out daily, to do their shopping for provisions. They had to cook their own food and had brought small charcoal stoves with them. Some also brought their dogs!
After six weeks an Indonesian came to tell me that my mother would be released the next day. He had been in the local jail with her. I waited the following day and my mother arrived about midday. She was in a hell of a state, sobbing and being hysterical. A psychiatrist whom we knew, Professor Pieter van Wufften Palthe, and who had not been interned yet, came to see my mother. He gave her, I think tranquilisers, to calm her down.
During the following weeks she told me the whole story of what she had been through. She had been accused of espionage for the British and at having regular meetings with not only the wife of the Governor General but also with the three chief executives wives whose husbands had fled to Australia, as well as spreading items of news, which my mother had translated, to be distributed to anti Japanese organisations.
When she denied these accusations two Japonese soldiers slapped her face. Then she was tied to a rack with pointed nails in a kneeling position and was kept like this for about two hours. The torture, of being tied to the spiked rack was often repeated and she fainted more than once. She was then put in a chair to be interrogated. During the interrogation thin strings were tied round her thumbs to which heavy objects, such as typewriters and a towel rack were suspended.
On another occasion they set fire to her hair as well as breaking her nails. They went on to suspend her for hours by her fingers and wrists. Her wrists were so tightly tied that the blood circulation was severly obstructed. She was further beaten with bamboo sticks, car tyres and other heavy objects. Her face and eyes were beaten until she could not open her eyes.
All these tortures were inflicted to force her to admit that she had attended the meetings with the wife of governor General and the three Executive wives. The other accusations were dropped. She was again repeatedly tied to the spike rack and kept for hours in this position. She had an attack of fever and became delerious. To escape these severe tortures she then decided to tell the Japanese that she did have the meeting with the wives and others to pray for peace. She also told them she was worried about me as I was left on my own. Beating her with a stick they forced her to write down the names and the number of people attending these meetings. She was then sent away and kept at the local police station for another four weeks when she was released.
I saw the scars and bruises of her tortures and she was mentally very much affected and traumatised. She also told me that some Chinese were badly tortured by an Indonesian. All this information she told me gradually over several weeks.
Gradually she improved but whenever a Japanese would come by to try to persuade her to come back to work she went hysterical. Ahmad, our boy, who was a devout Moslem asked her to give him some of her cigarettes and he would pray over them. She then had to give the Japanese who called one of the cigarettes and she would never be bothered again. This did happen.
We had difficulty making ends meet and started selling our golf clubs to Japanese Naval Officers. One of these used to translate Shakespeare into Japanese and came to apologise to my mother for what his countrymen had done to her.
By now it was early 1943 and the civilian Japanese had been taken over by the military and started tightening up their regulations. Everyone who was Dutch should be in a concentration camp. People could still go out during the day if they could show identification. Professor Pieter van Wulfften Palthe signed a document that I could not leave my mother and I was supplied with an identity armband with Japanes letters showing that I was entitled to go to the market in town.
By October 1943 the Japanese ordered everybody who was Dutch had to be interned, and that the concentration camps would be closed. I was informed that I had to go to Tjideng. My mother and I went several times to the police station to ask if we could stay together, but as my mother had been Italian registered she was not allowed to come with me. We decided it would be better for me to go where she would know where I was than to be picked up by a truck and sent to heaven knows where.
So I went to Tjideng concentration camp and after having reported to the head of the camp who was a Dutch woman called Mrs Willinge. She told me where I had to go and when I unloaded my personal bits and pieces to come back and see her. I went to the address given amd found that the room I was given was one of a 4 bedroomed house. there were, after a while, about 30/40 of us in this house, all women and their children.
I and several other girls were given the job to collect all the rubbish from the houses and were given a cart and horse. One of us would be pulling the cart and my job was to stand on top of the rubbish.
Each morning and evening 6.00 am and 6.00pm we had roll call and had to stand in a row to be counted. As there were about 12,000 women and children this was a very long session. The Japanese soldier had difficulty counting us.
In the meantime I received regular postcards from my mother written in Malay. In one of them she wrote she had difficulties in letting a room in our bungalow. She was obviously getting short of money.
Thecla and I who became close friends when my mother was so traumatised, were in the same camp and as I by then had been called to nurse patients with dysentery when she joined me. We were allocated a room in a so called 'Nurses home'. this went on until the beginning of 1945 when we and about 30 ohter young women were called to receive orders from the Japanese Commandant, called Sonei Kenichi, to be told that we were going to be sent to a wonderful hospital at Meester Cornelis (suburb of Batavia). Thecla and I said that we were cousins and were able to stay together. We arrived at this 'wonderful' hospital called St Vincentius, which had been a Catholic Hospital and a Girls Orphanage run by nuns. There were beds but no bedding and no food available.This was eventually sorted out by the Dutch doctor in charge, and again I was sent to the dysentery ward and some women were given the job to start a large kitchen and we finally had something to eat late in the evening.
We lived uptairs where there were three wards with 10 double bunk beds in each. War and a Sergeant Foeikoei was in charge of us and we again had the usual roll calls in the morning and evening. There were about 800 of us with patients. Some of the girls were given the job to work in the garden and some of cooking the food.
By now patients were dying at the rate of ten a day. We had to lay them out and carry the bodies to a small mortuary. The Japanese used to have a ceremony for the dead, the coffins made of coconut leaves were placed on a trestle table. Each coffin was given a bunch of bananas, which was rather ironic as the patients had all died of malnutrition.They were afterwards taken to a cemetery outside the camp, and presumed buried. Thecla was in charge of one of the other wards and we again had to do night duty. Our meals were kept warm for us by the girls, doing the cooking, as we had to sleep during the day.
I was punished twice. First I tried to communicate with Indonesians living across the river surrounding the hospital and the Japanese doctor gave me a severe beating and let me stand on gravel, in bare feet in the midday sun, for six hours. Not very pleasant!. Then again when we were told that the Japanese had surrendered. Thecla and I, with another girl who did not mix very much with us, opened the windows and removed the black out and again tried to talk to Indonesians. The interpreter came and told all three of us to appear before the Japanese doctor and again we were badly beaten up. The Japanese doctor would not believe that the war was over. It was bad luck for the girl who rarely mixed with us and was not really involved with these antics of ours. When some men patients arrived I learned that my father had died of dysentery and malnutrition in a concentration camp in Bandoeng in February.
Then one day the head of the Dutch Red Cross, a friend of my mother, turned up and took me to my mother who had by then been interned in the Tanah Abang camp with mainly French, German and some Dutch people. I had to tell her that my father had died. The Japanese commander of her camp did not tell her.
Soon Thecla and I obtained jobs as secretaries for the Royal Air Force at the Kemajoran Airfield. I then met Bill Hannaford who had been in the Commandos and was an Armament Officer. He set up armaments tents on the airfield. these disappeared every day. Nobody touched the ammunition, nor the weapons but the cloth of the tents were so beautiful that they were made into little coats for the Indonesian women.
Bill and I eventually married in Scarborough in May 1946. After I had spent a little while in the Hague to get civilised. I joined his family in Broadstairs, who have all been absolutely fantastic and never let me know how useless I was regarding the life in England.
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.