"I think people here don’t realize that the Japanese also put people in concentration camps."
I came to Canada with my parents in 1926, when I was six years old, and so I had all my schooling in Canada. During the war, I read that the Allied forces were helping the Canadians, and that anyone who had been born in another country could join up with the Allied force of that particular country. First of all, I decided I would join up with the [Royal] Canadian Navy. The counselor there again mentioned that the Dutch were looking for recruits. And she said it was just down the street at the consulate and I could go. So the Canadians lost me and the Dutch [Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger (KNIL) - The Royal Netherlands East Indies Army] won me. And that’s how it happened.
It had been decided that we were going to go to the Pacific area and fight the Japanese. The only thing I remember of the trip, it took a month and that was because we were dodging submarines. It was beautiful weather; the sea was calm, we were very fortunate. And when we arrived at Guadalcanal [Solomon Islands], I remember hearing about that in the news, that there was a great deal of fighting, a great deal of killing. It was dreadful.
And it seemed so peaceful. It was evening. It was raining. It was pouring rain, and I guess there was just nobody out fighting. Maybe it was the other side of the island, I don’t know. It was just strange being there.
That would be 1944, I guess, the end of 1944. Then we continued on after we dropped off these men to Brisbane, Australia. The Dutch had an agreement with the Australians to teach the Dutch further, to have us based in Australia until we were ready to go to our colonies [The Netherlands East Indies], which is near Australia. It’s called Indonesia now. So we stayed there until the atom bomb went off. And that was in August ; and in the end of September, we were on our way to Indonesia.
I think they didn’t know what to do with a former schoolteacher. So I didn’t have very much to do at first. But then I was with the newspaper. I translated for the international press who wanted everything in English. I also worked with the intelligence. I had to identify the areas that the planes would fly over and spot something of significance, and I had to find out where it was. Then they would bomb that place.
One day that stood out was the author, Ernest Hemingway and his wife came there, because he was a war correspondent. He came in the office. And yeah, that was kind of exciting. Otherwise, it was just routine: getting the news, sifting it out and sending it to the typist.
When I was in the newspaper part of it, I heard all the reports, because I was with the intelligence, the news was not sifted. I heard everything, and it was quite disturbing to hear the atrocities. I think people here don’t realize that the Japanese also put people in concentration camps. They would separate the women and their babies, and the boys and men were put together. Boys and men. We do hear about the River Kwai in Thailand and the railroad track that was being built through Burma for the Japanese. And the women were separate in compounds; a city block was taken and fenced. And all the women from the whole city were pushed into that little block. It was terrible.
Because you were in the army, you were protected. And it was a dreadful feeling to see these women who had been maltreated for four or five years, to be in such a fearful state now. And if any of the Japanese who were guarding them, just that looked the other way, the women were massacred inside this walled, in this compound. You know, you feel guilty.
There was no police. It’s a strange world when there is no police at all, and people can just go around at night and shoot up any home or if you’re on the street. Even in the daylight, when I was on the street, walking from where I was based to the place where I worked, it would be past stores and the stores would be boarded up, but there would be little chinks between the boards and there would be guns there. And they’d be shooting at you as you walked down the street. There was just no feeling of safety at all.
Without police, people just go on a rampage. Yeah, you begin to realize how important it is to have regulations. Without regulations, it’s just so scary.