Sketch by Jack Chalker

Java
Letter-2
I did not wake until early next morning as we steamed into Batavia which is in Java. There were a small number of small craft scurrying around and on one of these I recognised a sailor we had known in Singapore. He was an unmistakable chap because he had a ginger beard and had been friendly with Wilf because they both came from Manchester. It was a coincidence because his father was a coal merchant and actually supplied Wilf’s sister.

When we landed in Batavia we were taken to a Barracks and were pleased to find the Regiment there. We were now an Ack Ack Regiment without any guns which is a useless thing. However all were issued with rifles and efforts were made to turn us into Infantry, but without much success. Early in the afternoons we went out to the town to enjoy ourselves and see the sights, visiting cafes and partaking of many a bottle of delicious iced beer.

In Singapore rickshaw boys conveyed people from place to place, but in Batavia these boys had become mechanised and used three wheel cycles with two wheels in front such as an ice cream man’s cycle. Between these wheels a comfortable seat is slung, just big enough for two medium people. For Walt and, I being slightly above average, it was tight and also made the boy sweat to get us along. By this means we returned to Barracks at night, and on one occasion our route was through a native bazaar, where little lights burned on the stalls around which the native could be seen sitting on his heels, which gave one a very uneasy feeling. It was a joke between us after because I kept my hand on my revolver, ready for anything unexpected which might happen in this quarter of such a big eastern town.

We enjoyed ourselves in Batavia, but it didn’t last long enough because on Saturday 21st February we boarded a train for Bandoeng in the centre of Java and high in the hills. This train journey was the most wonderful experience of the whole of my overseas service. The coaches were the same as those I described in Sumatra, and from the platform it was possible to get a good view of the countryside. The railway climbed hundreds of feet during the journey, appearing almost to go in circles, and the bridges across the ravines made even the bravest shrink back on the step. The railway was placed on top of a huge cobweb of steel which seemed ever so frail, and there must have been dozens of these bridges which made more than one hold their breath as the train crossed! It is impossible to fully describe the scenery but I shall always remember the terracing of the rice fields, which at that time were covered in water, and were like mirrors placed in steps from the valley almost to the tops of the mountains.

We were billeted in Dutch Barracks just outside the town. The barrack rooms were very long, and divided like a cow shed, with a large table in each bay on which two men were able to sleep. Walt and I slept together and I remember he nearly pushed me off the table one night.

On Saturday 28th February I went back to Batavia for stores, in a lorry with a few chaps. We stayed the night, returning on the Sunday.

There were plenty of rumours as to the progress the Japs were making and of course frequent air-raids. One unusual thing was that the native Tom-Tom could always beat the siren with the air-raid warnings.

On Wednesday 4th March we were again on the move. We were short of transport at that time, and the Battery Officer sent me into Bandoeng to try to pick up a car because he had heard that a number had been abandoned due to the shortage of petrol. I took Walt on the back of the motor cycle and away we went to town. We cruised around for some time but failed to find any abandoned. However there were plenty of cars about and we thought we would take one. Several times Walt picked a nice car but the door was either locked or else there was no switch key. Eventually we found a big Lagonda or Mercedes-Benz, I don’t remember which, in a car park, complete with switch key. Walt was just about to get in when the native driver walked up and beat him to it. In the end we gave up the search and returned to camp. As we passed the aerodrome the air-raid warning went and we debated whether to return to town, because the place would be deserted, but the sight of the usual flight of Japs probably influenced us as we continued our way back, and after a burst of machine gun fire, saw someone coming down by parachute. It was later learned this was a Dutch airman.

Later that day we left for Taskmalaja, arriving late at night, where we were billeted in a school, but only for two days. This was only a small place, but there was an aerodrome near, and this was to be the rendezvous for British troops in Java, and we were to act as ground defence. Our Officer acquired a car soon after our arrival, a beautiful new Chevrolet, and I was given the job of driving it. Then on the Friday 6th March we moved from the school out of the drome, and deployed to cover the roads approaching. Another Regiment with Bofors moved in later and next day were in action when the drome was raided by planes.

It was surprising how two of the biggest men in our Battery cracked up during the raid. One, an ex-guardsman, was manning a machine-gun mounted for anti-aircraft work, but he was so frightened that I believe he cried, while the other chap has an anti-aircraft gun in the ditch covering the road. When the raid was over the gun was still in the ditch, and shortly after when the chap returned he explained that he had been to the lavatory, in the jungle.

During the afternoon of Sunday 8th March 1942 a contingent of R.A.F. arrived at the drome, and from what I have gathered since, there were two from Narberth amongst them. The R.A.F. Officer in charge was senior to any of our Officers, and gave orders that there was to be no firing around the drome if any Japs appeared, because this was to be the rendezvous for all R.A.F. All of our men deployed around the drome were collected, and with me leading, driving the Officer’s car, and three Lorries following we were away!

I didn’t know where we were heading for, but we soon caught up with other units and formed part of a long convoy. Progress had been rather slow, with frequent stops, and shortly after darkness fell we pulled up again. The time went by and still the vehicles in front did not move, and then we received the great shock. An Officer came along on a motor cycle, and ordered Battery Commanders to destroy all ammunition, with the exception of a few rounds of .303 which were to be kept for self-defence, and he also said we were now Prisoners of War!

 

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Capitulation

 

 

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[Nevil Benham] [Empress of Japan] [Sumatra] [Java] [Capitulation] [Tandjong Priok] [Singapore] [Borneo] [Japanese Surrender] [Going Home]

 

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