Part 3: My father’s Dutch war service

Dad'sd photos 2_A

I’ve posted before about my Dad’s service record in the Dutch army during WW2 (see Part 1 and Part 2). Now let’s carry the story on to the late 1940s, and his part in the conflict in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).

But first, some background. According to Wikipedia, the Indonesian War of Independence was an armed conflict and diplomatic struggle between Indonesia and the Dutch Empire, and an internal social revolution. It took place between Indonesia’s declaration of independence in 1945 and the Netherlands’ recognition of Indonesia’s independence at the end of 1949.

Dutch forces were not able to prevail over the Indonesians, but were strong enough to resist being expelled. Thus, the Republic of Indonesia ultimately prevailed as much through international diplomacy as it did through Indonesian determination in the armed conflicts on Java and other islands.

Dad's service record 1

As you can see in his service record, after the war Dad came back from “groot verlof” (long leave) in 1946. Although long leave sounds leisurely,  in fact much of this ‘leave’ was after the 1940 surrender of the Dutch army and included his captivity in Germany as a forced worker. He was back in his hometown by April 1945, working as a radio technician.

Dad's conscription 2

Like many returning servicemen he was never officially demobilised from the Dutch army. So in March 1946 he received a letter calling him back up as a medical sergeant, and requiring him to report to the barracks of the Stoottroepen (shock troops) at Corrnputkazeren in Steenwijk.

stoottroepen rocker

The Stoottroepen were founded by order of Prince Bernhard on 21 September 1944, originating from the resistance against the German occupation during WW2. They were initially a very rag-tag force, lacking weapons and equipment and not trained as combat units. In March 1945 Queen Wilhelmina expressed her wish that the Stoottroepen would continue to exist for ever. The ‘Stoters’ went on to serve in the Dutch East Indies, Korea, New Guinea, Bosnia, Cyprus, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

kota baroe

In the late 1940s four battalions of volunteer Stoottroepen went to fight in the Dutch East Indies, later followed by five battalions of drafted men (including my Dad). He set sail on 23 July 1946 on board the Kota Baroe, crossing the equator in August, and disembarking at Tandjong Priok later that same month. He was based for a month at Meester Cornelis (a sub-district of East Jakarta, named after  one Cornelis Senen, a 17th century Calvinist schoolmaster, preacher and local  landholder – it is now known as Jatinegara).

On 28 September 1946 Dad left Meester Cornelis for Denpassar (Bali), where he was temporarily posted to the medical service of Y Brigade. ‘Y’ Brigade had been formed two months before by combining a number of Dutch units. The ‘Y’ Brigade badge depicted a demon’s head  because the Brigade was established on Bali, nicknamed “Demon Island”.


On 24 October 1946 the brigade embarked for Palembang, initially by landing craft and then transferred to the ship Boissevain. In his souvenir booklet, Dad pinpointed himself in a photo of a mass of soldiers on board landing craft N205. He used the word ‘Saja’ in the photo caption – as his initials were S.A.J., and he was a sergeant, I wonder if Saja was his nickname?

Dad's army souvenir booklet pic

My research shows that when  ‘Y’ Brigade got to Palembang, they took over from the British 1st Burma Regiment. On New Year’s Eve the battle of Palembang began and heavy fighting continued for nearly a week. A truce and the demarcation line was established on 5 January. I have no knowledge of any role my father might have played in this battle.

Dad'sd photos 1_A

Dad's reference from army

The next item in my folder is a note dated 4 March 1949 from the HQ of the Medical Service of South Sumatra,  praising Sergeant Hermans for ‘organising the administration of the Medical Service for the whole territory of South Sumatra in an excellent manner’. The note went on to say that he always excelled through his ‘very good zeal, ambition and skills’,  and he was ‘very favourably reported always and everywhere’.

Dad'sd photos 5

So whilst he wasn’t in the front line (at least, that I know), I’m sure his service as a medical sergeant helped save the lives of his fellow soldiers and civilians in South Sumatra.

Rank insignia for medical sergeant.

I suspect Dad returned to the Netherlands in 1949, because his souvenir booklet is inscribed on the cover in his own hand with the dates 1946 to 1949.

Dad's army souvenir booklet

On his return to his small home-town of Swalmen, he received a heavy bronze plaque from the ‘Swalmen Home Front’, commemorating his service in  the Dutch East Indies. This plaque has looked over all my hobby interests since I was a child, because it hung unremarked in our garage workshop where I did all my model soldier painting during my teens (often used as a heavy weight to clamp models whilst the glue was drying!). It eventually passed to me in my adulthood, and now hangs in pride of place over my study desk.

bronze plaque

Finally, if you’re interested in following my family’s military history, make sure you read about about my great-great-great-grand-dad who was a dragoon trumpeter in Napoleon’s army!

Pictures of badges in this article are from:

24 thoughts on “Part 3: My father’s Dutch war service

  1. Quite a delight to read the very first Dutch footslogger-level account I’ve come across in the English language. Bravo!

  2. And most of the time you just think of them as old ‘Dad’. Then you realise the crap they went through as young men and most of our troubles seem trivial by comparison.

  3. More info on ‘Y’ Brigade:

    ‘Y’ Brigade was formed in Bali of the 4(8) Regiment of Stoottroepen and the X and XI infantry battalions of the Royal Netherlands Indies Army (the latter better known under the name “Gadjah Merah”). The 3(7) Stoottroepen (of which I believe Dad was a member) also joined, but only at South Sumatra.

    After arrival in Palembang, ‘Y’ brigade was strengthened with the so-called “Calmeyer” units. These were cavalry and artillery units in support of the infantry brigades.

    On 24 October 24 1946 the Brigade embarked in Bali for Palembang in South Sumatra. On 29 October the ships were at the mouth of the Mausi, and the Brigade transferred to Palembang by LST (‘Landing Ship Tank’).

    Initially it looked as though the arrival of 3(7) Stoottroepen would take a few months, but contrary to expectations, they arrived five days later. After taking over the post of the British 1st Burma Regiment, the pacification of Palembang and area commenced. On New Year’s Eve in 1946 the battle of Palembang began. After heavy fighting, including in the Charitas hospital and the Java Bank, on 5 January 1947 a truce and the demarcation line was established.

    During the 1st Police Action, on 21 July 1947 the Brigade was ordered to occupy the major oil fields – in Sekajoe and in the Pendopo district by the “Gadjah Merah”; and the oil and coal fields respectively Praboemoelih/Talangdjimar and Batoeradja and Moeara Enim by the Stoottroepen (‘Plan Provincial’).

    The “Gadjah Merah” were also involved in actions west and south east of Palembang in which Pangkalan Balai and Indralaja were occupied. The oil and coal fields south of Palembang were the aim of the two Stoottroepen battalions. Beyond the city of Batoeradja they met strong opposition. It took until the ceasefire for the entire area to be occupied.

    After the repatriation of the volunteer battalions and the Royal Netherlands Indies Army in the first half of 1948, ‘Y’ Brigade was made up of conscripts, except men of the AAT, engineers and artillery.

    During the 2nd Police Action ‘Y’ Brigade occupied the oil fields in Mangoendjaja and Kemang, located on the Mausi River west of Palembang and Mesir and Paken Ratu, east of Batoeradja.

    After the ‘ceasefire’ peace returned to the region where ‘Y’ brigade was situated. At the end of 1949, ‘Y’ Brigade was wound up.


    1. I’m just so lucky that we managed to keep some of Dad’s papers. I only wish there was more information, as it is all so tantalisingly brief at present.

      And I wish that I had questioned my Dad more when I still could.

  4. If you ever need help translating Dutch-English or vv, let me know.

    Also, the Stoottroepen are now 13th Battallion Airmobile, part of the Dutch Airmobile Brigade. I was in the 11th Batallion Grenadiers en Jagers..:)

  5. My late Father served in the area around Merek from 1946 – 1949… I’ve tried to look up details of the Dutch forces in the area at the time but can’t really find anything to help me discover more details

  6. Unfortunately, Oborsawah01, what I’ve shown you here is pretty much all I’ve got, as my Dad never spoke too much about this part of his life.

  7. “He used the word ‘Saja’ in the photo caption – as his initials were S.A.J., and he was a sergeant, I wonder if Saja was his nickname?”

    I found your page while researching wargaming Indonesian wars. I’m not sure if you found out anything more in the last three years, but some speculation on my part: “Saya” means I or me in Bahasa Indonesia and Malay. With the “J” being pronounced like a “y” in Dutch and other Germanic languages, perhaps he was writing “Me” in Indonesian? In addition, historically Indonesian used Dutch spelling conventions (hence Soekarno vs Sukarno).

    1. That’s really interesting. It could also then have been a play on words, with his initials (SAJ) and the Indonesian (SAJA).

  8. Hi Roly,
    As you know we’ve recently had ANZAC day in Aus and that’s got me thinking about my own Dutch grandfather’s role in WWII.
    I’ve been researching online this week and came across your blog.
    We have a couple of interesting similarities.
    My grandfather’s surname (and mine) is Hermans.
    And he too was a Stoottroepen, but from Regiment Limburg.
    I would like to pick your brain about getting more information on my Opa, so if you could please email me that would be fantastic. It seems youv’ve done a lot of the legwork and know the best sources to ask.
    Kind regards, Anita.

    1. Hi Anita. That is interesting to read about your Opa Hermans.

      My main source of information on my father was from his military service documents that my mother still had. If your Opa’s papers are no longer existing, I am not sure how you will find more about his war records. Presumably there would be some record in the Netherlands, but where and how you get access from Australia I am not sure.

      About the Stoettroepen in general, and also the Regiment Limburg, a Google search shows a few sites – but of course they are mainly in Dutch.

      I am sorry that I am not as much help as you were hoping for – I was just lucky that my mother had kept my father’s documents.

      1. Thanks for your reply Roly, much appreciated.
        You are very fortunate to have original documentation.
        I will continue my research via my Dutch connections, but yes, it would help to speak the language!

  9. Hi! With interest I read your article about the stoottroepen. I have a hint on the SAJA nickname. It’s the malaysian word for I of myself. Maybe you know it already but if not, then it is a little addition of knowledge.

    Thanx foar the blog!

    Gr. Mike

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