September 8th 2018: Speech John Deknatel and Poem from Jeroen Ward

Children 18 squadron speech Final John Deknatel
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A Poem Jeroen Ward English Version
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May 27th 2010 Speech by Otto Ward, Lieutenant-Colonel of the Royal Dutch Air Force


“Sir of The Military William Order,


Ladies and gentlemen


I have been asked to make a short speech on the occasion of the unveiling of this monument commemorating  the Military Air Force of the Royal Dutch Army. I accepted this as a kind of challenge, because it is easier to talk about an existing army division that is still active in its full glory than about  one that belongs to the past.

After all, the Royal Decree of July 20th 1950 stipulated that The Royal Netherlands East Indies Army would cease to exist on the 26th of July 1950 at 00.00 hours.

The fact that I’m standing here as a veteran of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army as well as the Dutch Royal Air Force may be considered a wonder...why?

Nearly 70 years ago when I was 20 years old I was mobilised by the Dutch East Indies Air Force to partake in the war against Japan.  And with me many others, among whom a generation of young men of similar age as me.

Nowadays this generation has diminished to such an extent  that I am one of the few who can tell you from personal experience about the war in the air above Batavia, now Djakarta, above Bandung in the plateau in western Java, above Tjilatjap,  the only harbour that remained free before the surrender of the Netherlands East Indies on the 9th of March 1942.

It may be considered a miracle that I can tell you from personal experience about the evacuation of the military air Squadrons by boat to Australia in February 1942 – straight through the maritime encirclement of the Japanese – to arrive safely in Australia, only to be transported shortly after to the US in order to be trained there on new equipment and be sent fighting either in the Pacific against Japan or to England to fight against Germany.

Did you know that a small part of this group of men, consisting of pilots from the ML- KNIL (Royal Netherlands East Indies Army) and MLD ( Military Air Force, part of the Marine), made the first attacks from a British air craft carrier against the German battleship TRIRPITZ that was stationed in a Norwegian fjord. And that this attack led to the eventual sinking of this battleship in that location.

And that this small part also launched attacks from the British fleet in the Mediterranean on German tanks in the Rhone Valley.

I am telling you all this to convey that the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army did not only fight in the tropics but also in Europe, and not only launched from England but also from British air craft carriers.

It may be considered a miracle that I can tell you from personal experience that two Dutch Squadrons – and I stipulate Dutch here, because the planes, in contrast to British ones, had the Dutch colours on their hull – fought in the Pacific with the Americans and the Australians. This was the No. 18 bomber squadron 0f 1943 – 1945 and the No.120 Fighter Squadron of 1944-1945.

I myself carried out 41 operational attacks with the No.18 Squadron, among which were many low attacks on ships in order to sink them.

I’m still alive!

Both squadrons have managed to play their part over there to repel the Japanese, be it paired with losses. The names of the fallen have been engraved in the columns behind me.

It may be considered a wonder that I found my country of birth again after the surrender of Japan in August 1945 and was not received with cheering and flags and flowers, but landed myself in a horrific and bloody civil war of which nowadays the cemeteries on Java are silent witnesses.

As I mentioned before, many names of those of the Dutch East Indies Air Force who died are engraved on the columns behind me.

But unfortunately not all of them are mentioned on these columns. And I find that a great pity. Because many died in the Prisoner of War camps of malnutrition, maltreatment and horrific circumstances, or drowned during shipping transports that were torpedoed by allied submarines, or died by beheading, execution and torture by the KEMPETAI, the Japanese Gestapo..

In this context I assume you are familiar with names such as : the construction of the Burma-Siam railway, the construction of the Pakan-Baroe railway, the sinking of the JUNYO MARU, the pitiful conditions in the Japanese copper mines, the construction of air fields by POWs in eastern Java. And I won’t even mention the bloody civil war after 1945.

It is also unique that those who are engraved on these columns, but also those who are not mentioned, are whispering to me, and I hear their voices say :

“Tell them and keep telling them what we did far away in the Pacific for Queen and Country. Keep telling them about our contribution and our fears when we were shot at, fell in action, died...because they don’t know that in the Netherlands...they’re not really interested!”

Here in the Netherlands we know the “Soldier of Orange” [1] (the House of Orange is the Dutch Royal Family). One of the bravest in our ranks, much written about and admired. They even made a film about him. He was bestowed with the highest distinction that can be awarded to a Dutch military : Knight of the 4th class of the Military Williams Order.

Did you know that Soldiers of Orange also fought with us- in the East? And that they were among the bravest in our ranks. And that they were awarded by the royals with the Knighthood of the Military Williams order. And some of them were even awarded the Cross of the Resistance  South-East Asia.

There is even one person who has distinguished himself in concerns to courage, conduct and loyalty and who has been knighted twice in this order, the first time with a fourth class and the second time promoted by Her Majesty to third class. He is the only serviceman in the entire history of the Dutch and the Netherlands East Indies land and air forces who has received this from Her Majesty the Queen. I am talking about Pilot Jaap van Helsdingen.

His name is written on one of these columns and you can find information about him in the Museum of Aviation and from the Air force personnel. A barracks has been named after him. But apart from the Air Force, regrettably not many people know about him.

The fact that at my age and 65 years after the end of the war I can be present at this homage to those who have died and fallen in action, and that I can even support this with a speech, fills me with gratitude to the initiators and organisers of this monument : in general terms the Royal Air Force but more specifically the Chief of the Air Force personnel  and Wing Commander of the Air Forces.

I would be neglectful if I didn’t add four more names:

Rob van Wijngaarden, who already in the year 2000 composed a list of victims which served as indispensable basis for the compilation of names;

Dr Peter Boer, who, with tireless effort, tracked down and interviewed veterans of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army from the period 1940-1942, because of which many names of the fallen escaped oblivion. After all, all records of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army were completely destroyed just before the Dutch East Indies surrender.

Gerard Cassius and Jan Pieterse, who, with their solid knowledge of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army were supporters and champions of the interests of the Army during many meetings, and especially when there was evidence of lack of knowledge regarding this group.

I would like to extend my warmest gratitude to them for their enthusiasm and their diligence, but especially for their devotion to the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army.

I want to end this talk by thanking you all for your attention and also for your reflections about all I have wanted to express in this short speech. I need your reflections in order to, also on your behalf, pay homage to those of the Military Air Force of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army who, during the war in the Pacific and the civil war afterwards, have fallen or died for Queen and Country”.


O.G. Ward U

Lt. Kolonel KLu. b.d.

May 27 2010


[1] Based on a true story of Siebren Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema RMWO DFC (3 April 1917 – 26 September 2007) was a Dutch wartime RAF-pilot, Dutch spy and writer. He was a Knight 4th class of the Military William Order.