Sunday, 14 December 2008

'Forgotten' war of early republic unearthed

JAKARTA: David Jardine is a well-known Jakarta expatriate who has, over the years, written frequent letters to The Jakarta Post, more often than not about politics. In addition, he has contributed articles to the paper and a number of other Jakarta-based publications, including Jakarta 24 magazine.

Jardine recently produced his first book, Foreign Fields Forever, a short, compact history of one of Britain's forgotten ‘little’ wars, namely the conflict with the new Republic of Indonesia from 1945-1946.

The catchy, alliterative title draws on a line from the famous British poet Rupert Brooke, and refers in particular to the 1,100 or more British, Indian, Australian and other Commonwealth servicemen and women buried at Menteng Pulo in Central Jakarta.

The conflict in question is a source of pride for Indonesians, as their poorly-armed forces took on the battle-hardened veterans of the world's largest empire. The U.K. forces included Army, Navy and Royal Air Force; Indonesia had none of these.

If it is a source of nationalist pride in Indonesia, this struggle is little known among the British, and Jardine set out to fill this gap - in particular, he had in mind the large expatriate community here, many of them thirsty for knowledge of Indonesian history.

The period covered in Foreign Fields is September 1945 through December 1946, during which an anti-colonial uprising took place. The period was marked by much spontaneous organization in the form of local militias, but was distinguished throughout Java and much of Sumatra by ferocious determination on the part of the masses.

Interestingly, the writer makes no mention of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) - was the party absent in the hour of the nation's greatest need?

He does, however, deal with a range of issues including the fate of the many, many thousands of POWs and other internees held in appalling conditions in Japanese prison camps in Indonesia. It was part of the function of the British forces to find these unfortunates and secure them.

What he has to say here is rather disturbing, as he alleges widespread attacks on the camps by Indonesians who also attacked convoys of released prisoners on the roads and railways.

Jardine has devoted a chapter to the POW question and what he calls "the delicate question of war crimes", alleging that these were committed by all sides. Jardine's treatment of the issue fleshes out what the famous British foreign correspondent Edward Behr said in his Anyone Here Been Raped and Speaks English?, part of which is devoted to Behr's memoirs of Army service in Sumatra at the time. Of particular interest to Indonesian readers will be the Bekasi massacre.

Also of interest to Indonesian readers will be the question: Who killed Brigadier Mallaby? Jardine has a special box dealing with this, in which he quotes Indian officer

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