Groups involved

27  The KNIL (Royal Netherlands East Indies Army) and Old Sores

Empty Promises and a Debt of Honour

Recruitment poster for the KNIL Recruitment poster for the KNIL
Being from the Indies and with a Dutch passport, one could be envious of things like this. To my mother especially this was an ordeal – my (late) father had after all been a public servant – as the Netherlands are the only country which have never paid out the three and a half years of overdue salary of their citizens who lost their lives during the war. The excuse given was that the Dutch East Indies became the state of Indonesia and Japan paid out the compensations to Indonesia. Therefore, Indonesia was to pay out the three and a half years of salary which my father had earned during the war, which of course was rejected immediately by the Indonesian government in all cases. Even KNIL soldiers who were taken prisoners of war never received their pay over that period of time!There are many old wounds to which the saying “Time heals all wounds” applies. For instance the faithful Ambonese soldiers of the KNIL, the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army. These soldiers originally came from the South Molucca Islands, a region that they themselves used to refer to as the 13th province of the Netherlands. Following the Japanese capitulation in 1945 and in light of the imminent independence of Indonesia, the Dutch government also promised independence to the Ambonese people in the form of a Republic Maluku Selatan, the Republic of South Maluku.

A bicycle brigade of the KNIL
A bicycle brigade of the KNIL
However, due to the political situation this turned out to be an impossible cause and the Netherlands could not keep their promise. However, Ambonese soldiers were allowed to come to the Netherlands with their families. Upon arrival they were discharged from military service and put up in Ambonese camps until they were assigned a place to live. Almost half of the Ambonese soldiers decided to go to the Netherlands; the other half remained in Indonesia as Indonesian citizens.
Ambonese soldiers of the KNIL (Royal Dutch East Indies Army) ( Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger )
Ambonese soldiers of the KNIL (Royal Dutch East Indies Army) ( Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger)
In the mean time on Java, the so-called “Indonesian Government in Exile” had appointed 1st Lieutenant Harris Nasution of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (i.e. the KNIL) to General of the various groups of Indonesian freedom fighters in West Java from 25 August 1945 till the independence on 27 December 1949. Afterwards, General Harris Nasution – a very pleasant man from North Sumatra – became General of the renowned Siliwangi division to which the Ambonese soldiers of the Pattimura division who had stayed behind, were allocated. As was to be expected, the former freedom fighters claimed the highest ranks in their national army, the Tentara Republik Indonesia, when compared to the better educated former KNIL soldiers of Ambonese, Menadonese or other ethnical backgrounds. This was beyond doubt a humiliation the former KNIL soldiers couldn’t do anything about – they were after all the former enemy.

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