Dutch Troops in Malvern Wells, 1945 - The KNIL Europe Detachment
The presence of Dutch troops in wartime Malvern Wells has been a well-kept secret for many locals in the Malverns. Based on the diary of Dutch war volunteer private F.J. Remmers (Military Aviation KNIL) and some additional research, I have tried to reconstruct their story.
The initial plan for these Dutch troops of a short transit visit to Malvern Wells en route to Australia was dramatically changed due to the unexpected capitulation of the Japanese on August 15th, 1945. The Australian Government was no longer willing to support the re-establishment of Dutch colonial rule in a liberated post-war Indonesia. By this time up to 3,000 Dutch troops had arrived in Malvern Wells and they became stuck there, mainly for political reasons.
Liberation of The Dutch East Indies
During March 1945 the southern part of the Netherlands was being liberated by the Allies. Within the liberated areas thousands of young Dutch men enlisted as war volunteers (OVW-ers) to fight against the Germans, or against the Japanese in order to liberate the Dutch East Indies and to re-install Dutch colonial rule. The majority of these initial volunteers during this period would finally end up in the “Gezagsbataljon voor Indië” (GBI).
The GBI was intended as a combat unit to fight the Japanese in the Far East together with the Allies. The initial plan was to raise 15 GBIs who would be trained for tropical warfare by Free-KNIL instructors in Australia (KNIL = Royal Dutch East Indies Army). During the war the Australian Government had opened its borders for Dutch troops in an attempt to halt a Japanese invasion.
In the summer of 1945 most European nations were demobilising their troops based in the United Kingdom, while the Netherlands started to increase troop numbers drastically. On May 4th, 1945 the first detachment of the GBI (94 men) departed from Holland to the training camp of the Free Dutch Army in Wrottesley Park near Wolverhampton, followed by a second group of 125 men on May 31st, 1945. Both groups merged into a single company (the so called First Detachment GBI) which left for Sydney Australia together with 320 men and women of the Netherlands Indies Civil Authority (NICA), Women’s Corps KNIL (VK-KNIL) and some planters on June 20th, 1945. This camp had its orders to transit the 15 future GBI Battalions and other volunteers.
On July 7th, 1945 KNIL Captain A.L. Nouwens visited Malvern Wells to take over Wood Farm Camp, a former hospital camp of the 93rd American Hospital. The Dutch Ministry of Overseas Territories (MINOG) had rented this vacant camp to serve as a transit camp for KNIL volunteers en route to Australia. Meanwhile, the Dutch camp at Wrottesley Park would also remain in use as a training camp for Dutch war volunteers.
The Wood Farm Camp in Malvern Wells
In the period July 25th to August 17th, 1945, over 2,500 troops arrived in Malvern Wells, consisting of over 1200 GBI-volunteers who arrived in four transports by train on August 17th, 1945 (the so-called second detachment GBI). The GBI was under the command of KNIL Major of the Cavalry E. Steenhouwer, who had been a teacher at the HKS (High Military College) before the war. A detachment of 400 men from the Air Force (LSK) also arrived by train on July 27th, intended as reinforcement of the Military Aviation KNIL squadrons within the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), as did 600 militarised persons for the Netherlands Indies Civil Administration (NICA), 260 KNIL Lieutenants and Cadets, and 42 women destined for the Women's Corps KNIL (VK-KNIL) which was founded in Australia in 1944. Some of the cadets and lieutenants were even married with members of the VK-KNIL detachment.
|'View from Camp to Malvern Hills'|
The KMA Cadets – a Special Group within Wood Farm Camp
When the Germans invaded the Netherlands on May 10th, 1940, there were 555 cadets in training at the KMA (Royal Military Academy) in Breda, of whom 243 were destined for the Royal Dutch-Indies Army (KNIL) and 312 for the Army in Holland (KL). On July 15th, 1940 the Dutch army was disbanded by the Germans. Despite the fact that no exams had been taken, the third year KNIL cadets (97 men) were promoted to the rank of second lieutenant. Because no Royal Decree had come to pass, the KNIL officers of the 1940 promotion soon received the nickname of 'the Kassian lieutenants' ('lieutenants out of pity'). The second year were now cadets-Vaandrig and the first-year cadets-Sergeant.
During the war, many KNIL cadets had to continue their studies at regular universities. Seven newly-appointed KNIL second lieutenants, four second-year cadets and a first-year KNIL cadet refused to sign the German loyalty agreement and were immediately sent to German Prisoner of War camps.
On May 15th, 1941, they had to report back in the barracks to be checked by the Germans, but they were sent home afterwards. On May 15th, 1942 all cadets had to report again. This time they were not sent home but taken away to a POW camp in Langwasser (Germany), later to Stanislau (Poland) and eventually to Neubrandenburg near Berlin.
On April 30th, 1945 they were liberated by the Russians and on May 28th, 1945 they returned to the Netherlands, after which they were temporarily sent on leave. In early August 1945 the KNIL lieutenants and cadets had to report in The Hague. Here they were told that they would be shipped via England to Australia with the first available ship to join the Free-KNIL in Australia.
On August 13th, 1945 a group of 160 KNIL lieutenants and cadets united in The Hague in British battledress. Here the group cadets was expanded with a group of KNIL officers who happened to be in the Netherlands during the German invasion. Of the original 243 KNIL cadets of what should have been the promotions of 1940, 1941 and 1942, 194 men would finally reach the Dutch East Indies, including those that had managed to escape during the German occupation.
Via the Allied transit camp in Ostende Belgium, the group was transported to Dover, from where the men continued their journey to Malvern Wells in a - by Dutch standards - luxurious English train. Here they arrived in the afternoon of August 14th, 1945.
Life in Wood Farm Camp, recorded by Private F.J. Remmers, No. 312700718
One of the Dutch LSK volunteers, private F.J. Remmers, prepared an interesting diary of his time in Malvern Wells. Remmers had signed up as one of the 400 volunteers for the Military Aviation KNIL and would join the 2nd Company LSK. After a beautiful train journey from Worcester the LSK men finally arrived at Malvern Wells Train Station on Friday July 27th, 1945 at 19.00.
|'Camp Entrance with British and Dutch Flag'|
|'Barrack No. 10'|
On Monday July 30th, 1945, the military training for Remmers started with drill exercises conducted by his new section commander Sergeant H. van Swol. As a typical Drill-Sergeant he shouted a lot, and obviously he had never seen such a lousy group of men before in his entire life. On July 30th Remmers would also get his first medical injections. Saturday between 09.00 – 11.00 hrs was typically used for cleaning up the barracks and the camp area. At 12.00 hrs the men were free to go and to leave the camp. Most men went out to look for some entertainment in Great Malvern (3.5 km) or Worcester (18 km). Many visits would follow. On Sunday morning most Protestant men typically attended the weekly Protestant church service in the camp.
|'Cleaning on Saturday'|
Later the more official Verlofpas was issued – permission to leave the camp. After one week Remmers and his mates still had no idea where they had touched down. Friday August 3rd at 17.00 hrs was the first opportunity to leave the camp. He decided to walk to Great Malvern along the main road so they could discover the area. The beautiful countryside made a great impression on the men.
Great Malvern was a nice town with two cinemas, a dancehall, a swimming pool and even 4 military canteens. Remmers decided to become a member of first military canteen they discovered, the United Services Club (W.V.S.) on Rose Bank. The membership was only 1 schilling per month, and as a member they would also get one bar of chocolate and 10 cigarettes every 2 weeks for free. The military canteens had been set up as entertainment for the many troops located in the Malverns. Back in the barracks the men would give feedback on their experiences. Some of the men had even made an appointment for the next evening with some local Malvern girls. They started to realise that the camp was not that bad after all, considering that the countryside was beautiful and the locals were very friendly.
Daily life in the camp consisted mainly of drill exercises, sport, marches, training in personal hygiene, medical checks and injections, etc. The latter could be very painful in case the injection was placed incorrectly, for example in a muscle. Various soldiers had to be brought to hospital after receiving an injection. Over a period of time each man would get 6 injections.
The life in Wood Farm Camp was starting to become boring. The LSK men would perform a daily march of approx. 4.5 hours through the beautiful surrounding countryside, visiting places like West Malvern, the Malvern Hills and Great Malvern. On one occasion the men walked to Worcester (18 km) and took the train back to Malvern Wells. Remmers' diary also contains various bus tickets for the Birmingham & Midlands Motor Omnibus Co. Ltd.
Japanese Surrender, 15th August 1945
At Wood Farm Camp, the residents received the news of the unexpected surrender of Japan on August 15th, 1945 due to the atomic bombs at Hiroshima (August 6th) and Nagasaki (August 9th). Now the wildest speculations arose about the destination of the Europa Detachment of the KNIL. The KNIL officers and cadets, most of whom had been born in the Dutch East Indies, wanted to go to the Dutch East Indies as soon as possible in order to check the fate of their family in the Japanese internment camps for European citizens. However, this was impossible because the Dutch Government did not have its own shipping space and had to wait for the Allied shipping pool before a large ship was made available.
For Remmers and his mates the Japanese surrender meant 2 days holiday and celebrations in town. The food and drinks in the cilitary canteens was free, so the soldiers enjoyed themselves. Soldiers of various nations would mingle and celebrate together in town. For many the Coca Cola drinks in the American canteen were a new experience. Remmers recorded, obviously with pride as a young man, that the Malvern Gazette had printed in bold letters in the evening edition that the Dutch had set the tone and had made it a great celebration.
New troops were still arriving at Malvern Wells. On Friday August 17th at 04.00 hrs in the morning 1,200 soldiers of the GBI (the so-called second GBI detachment) finally arrived by train at Malvern Wells. After a walk to the camp most of them had found a bed at 05.30 hrs. It seems that some of these men (or all) were later transferred to Blackmore Camp on August 29th. This was an army camp in the countryside 20-30 minutes walking distance from Malvern Wells.
In the meantime the Australian Government was starting to pull back her support for the Dutch, as she was against the re-installation of Dutch colonial rule in a post-war Indonesia. Unlike the previous Australian welcome for the first GBI detachment, it was unknown when the Europa Detachment KNIL would be able to leave for Australia. Eventually, the group had to wait another seven weeks in Malvern Wells before the green light to leave was given.
Killing Time at Wood Farm Camp, August – September 1945
The transit camp was never intended for a long stay. The facilities to offer a complete basic army training were limited, and a useful way of spending of the time had to be found. The KNIL-Cadet Company under command of KNIL Captain F.M.F. Claassen was made available for the task to lecture the GBI and LSK in Indonesian culture and ethnology, Malay language, marching and drill exercise. The latter however was unarmed, because the weapons were indented to be provided in Australia from KNIL stocks that had been created there during the war.
On Saturday August 18th the usual gathering started at 08.30 hrs. In the afternoon a new uniform (Canadian), 2 sets of tropical outfits and 2 sets of brown boots were issued to the GBI troops, followed by a medical check. In the evening most newly-arrived GBI soldiers went to Malvern to discover the town. It was a surprise for many to see children begging for money in the streets of Great Malvern.
Queen’s Day, August 31 1945
On August 31st the birthday of Queen Wilhelmina was celebrated. At 09.30 hrs the GBI troops located in Blackmore Camp first had to march to Wood Farm Camp. The Mavern Gazette made the following report on this event;
With the Malvern Hills as a background and British civilians as spectators, the Dutch Forces at Malvern Wells celebrated “Holland’s Day”, the 65th birthday anniversary of Queen Wilhelmina. This ceremony was observed by the Dutchmen for the first time in five years, and for the first time on foreign soil.The Dutch flag fluttered over the former US hospital camp, and another flag was used for a swearing-in ceremony of 39 young Dutch officers, former cadets of the KMA (Royal Military Academy) in Breda, who had been unable to take the oath in Holland because of the German occupation. They had all been in German concentration camps or had been members of the underground movement, and their courage during the years of enemy occupation was recognised in a speech by their Commanding Officer, KNIL Lieut.-Colonel of Engineers G.W.J. van Walraven, who said they had already given evidence of their loyalty to their high Sovereign Lady, the Queen.
The officers each held the flag in their left hand, and gave a salute with two fingers of the right hand, almost a Victory V sign, as they took the oath. One officer took the oath on the right of the flag because of requirements of his religion (he was a Muslim), and another promised, but did not swear, also on religious grounds.
After an inspection of the 3,000 Dutchmen now at the camp, including the 400 LSK staff in Royal Australian Air Force blue and members of a NICA unit, the commanding officer addressed the men as follows;
“Officers, warrant officers, sergeants and men, what was not possible in our Fatherland during the five years of occupation, an official public celebration of the birthday of our respected Queen, is what we have now lived to see again, though it be on foreign, but friendly soil. Five years of uncertainty, unrest, pursuit and for many, deportation and imprisonment, lie behind us. They could not break us. The war in the Far East seems to have come to an end, therefore the purpose of many people – fighting the hated Jap – must be revised. The Army, the Air Force and the Navy will now be obliged to work with the Civil Service in the pacification of our fine Indies. Do not think therefore that your task has been finished. It becomes one of co-operation in the restoration of order in our overseas possessions by which the situation necessary for the rebuilding of orderly society there is created. In this field a great task is also put aside for the NICA personnel, members of which are present here today. For you young officers this day is so important because you have already given evidence of your loyalty to our high Sovereign Lady. By swearing the oath you become part of the backbone of the army which is the instrument of authority in the hands of government. I am convinced you will honour the oath. I wish to all of you the perseverance, the dutifulness and the cheerfulness necessary for the accomplishment of the difficult task that awaits all of you. If you get into difficulties, which is inevitable, while performing your task, if you are in danger of losing confidence, then think of the shining example given in the dark years by Her Majesty our respected Queen”The Commanding Officer then called for three cheers for the Queen, which were honoured with enthusiasm. Afterwards the KNIL Lieut. Colonel of Engineers G.W.J. van Walraven took the salute at a march past of units headed by the band of the 1st Battalion Worcester Regiment, who also played the Dutch national anthem, the men following with a spontaneous cheer.
|Lt.-Col. G.W.J Van Walraven accompanied by his second in command Major AL Nouwens, inspecting companies of the GBI. (Malvern Gazette)|
|Men of the LSK in blue Air Force uniforms as reinforcements for the KNIL Military Aviation (Malvern Gazette)|
On Saturday September 2nd, 1945 the Commanding Officer G.W.J. of Engineers van Walraven expressed his appreciation in front of the troops for making Queen’s Day a success. He added that he was convinced that the troops would meet the high expectations of the KNIL after their arrival in Australia.
During the month of September, lieutenants and cadets were busy lecturing and training the GBI and LSK in and around the Wood Farm Camp. In September the soldiers even had enough time to help the local farmers for 4 shilling per man to cut the wheat or collect the hops. It surprised them to see that the farmers were all using tractors, when most farmers in Holland were still using horses. In September many visits to the local farmers would follow so they could earn some useful shillings.
Also, the contact with the local women seemed to be good as this even resulted in some marriages as indicated below. In this period there were still some late arrivals of cadets joining the detachment.
On September 14th, during the raising of the Dutch flag in Wood Farm Camp, KNIL Captain F.M.F. Claassen addressed the troops by indicating that after five years of suppression the flag was still there and had been a source of inspiration for them all. He indicated that the troops should think of this flag at all times. This flag would also be back again in the Dutch East Indies and make them all proud. In the Dutch East Indies the return of this flag would be of great symbolic importance.
On Saturday September 15th it was announced to the troops during a special gathering at 21.00 hrs that the departure for the Dutch East Indies would not be far away. On Sunday September 16th, everybody got up early for a march starting at 08.30 hrs to the church in Worcester to attend a memorial service. During the service a word of appreciation was spoken out by the Dutch, that in September 1940 the German attack was halted and that the British played a significant part in the liberation of Holland. After the service there was a military parade in Worcester with soldiers from various nations participating.
On Saturday September 29th food was provided twice. The second issue was already at 10.30 because the troops had the afternoon off. To prepare themselves for the long journey in the coming week, many took the bus to Gloucester for shopping. All kinds of items were purchased here, like cigarettes, soap, letter papers, souvenirs, etc. items useful for the journey. At the start of the evening the money had run out and most took the train back to Great Malvern which arrived at 21.30 hrs.
On Sunday October 1st , 1945 the last church service in England was held. Obviously the service was related to the upcoming departure for the Dutch East Indies. The next morning food rations were provided twice and a field exercise in anti-guerrilla warfare was conducted. That evening would be the last one in which the troops could leave the camp.
Departure for Australia, October 3, 1945
On Tuesday October 2nd it was announced that the troops would leave in the next day. On October 3rd after the usual gathering in the morning, the residents of Wood Farm Camp had to return goods such as blankets, etc. At 15.30 hrs there was a second gathering before 2,400 Dutch residents marched off to the Malvern Wells train station. At 18.00 hrs four trains left for the Dutch Army camp in Wolverhampton, where they would arrive at 19.30 hrs.
At midnight the train arrived at Liverpool with 1,600 troops of the GBI and LSK from Wolverhampton. With doubledecker buses the troops were then transported to the Canada Dock, where at 01.45 hrs they would board the British troopship “Stirling Castle” with 3,000 Australian and New Zealand RAF soldiers already on board for repatriation to their homeland. On October 4th the Stirling Castle left Liverpool with Australia as final destination.
On arrival in Australia the Australian Government did not allow the Dutch troops to disembark, and the journey had to be continued on the “Morton Bay” with the destination of Java. Finally the troops arrived at Penang, British Malaya because the British Authorities on Java didn’t allow the Dutch troops to disembark in Batavia. After 54 days on board of various troopships, the men and women could finally go on land.
It’s not clear when the Dutch stopped using Wood Farm Camp, but there is a newspaper recording the Dutch Government making use of the camp in January 1946. Furthermore I would like to know more about the presence of Dutch troops in Blackmore Camp.
I hope that elderly citizens of the Malverns who still remember the Dutch are willing to share this with me by providing useful verifications, additional information or photos. Many thanks to Martin Theaker, who has been so kind to offer me to help by publishing this account of events on his weblog. In case of any comments please use the comment function below. Thanks in advance !
Applied Literature and Sources
• Cadet Almanac 1940.
• Koster, L.P., With the LSK to the Far East (Private Edition 1988).
• Hartog, Leo de, Officieren achter prikkeldraad (Baarn 1983).
• Memorial book Korpps Beroepsofficieren KNIL 1940-1950, edition Dutch East Indies Officers' Association (Amsterdam, Z.J.).
• Article of Major BC Cats on KMA Cadets promotions 1940, 1941 & 1942.
• The Malvern Gazette, article on Queen’s Day August 31, 1945.
• De Heerenveensche koerier, 14-09-1945.