The sinking of Her. Ms. De Ruyter in the Battle of the Java Sea.
Foreword: On Sunday, February 19, 2017 I had the honor to meet Edward Gilles Welcker. After a few telephone conversations, Ernest Welcker, the son of Ed, invited me to come to their home in Laguna Woods, Orange County. At their home I also had the pleasure to meet Yvonne, the daughter of Ed. Yvonne helped me to get the conversation going with her 98 years old father. She also brought with her written information and interviews, which she had saved over the years. Ernie made me copies of the interviews, which took place about 20 years ago.
The story here below is fully based on the information I received.
Ronny Geenen, Glendora, CA (20-02-2017)
Edward G. Welcker was born on October 15, 1918 in Magelang, on the island of Java, Indonesia. His father, a Practice Engineer (Pring), worked as Superintendent at the Dutch-Indies Railroad Company (NIS)
From 1924 to 1932 Ed went to the Catholic Elementary school in Jogjakarta. At that time the primary school had seven classes. Then he went to the Queen Wilhelmina School (KWS) in Batavia (now Jakarta) and studied for 5 years Construction and Hydraulic Engineering. In 1937 he continued his education for 1 ½ year at the Institute of Electrical Professional Training (IVEVO).Like his dad he then started working for the Dutch-Indies Railroad Company (NIS). In 1939 Ed was called by the Royal Navy to fulfill his military duties.
He received his first military training at the Marine base in Gubeng and became a sailor in one month. He received his professional training to become an Electrician at the Royal Navy in Ujung, which he succeeded to finish in just half a year. Then he became Sea Militiaman Electrician on Her Ms. De Ruyter.
The year 1942 was a turbulent time and the threat of war was felt well. Exercises with the squadron in the Java Sea, around Bali, etc. On March 27th 1943 and after he was called for the roll, Ed went to his post the front electrical power unit. His task was to distribute the electricity to various parts of the ship. The same was done by his colleague at the rear power unit of the ship. Around 16:00 hours was relieved by Sergeant Electro Mechanic Langendoen.
He was then instructed to go to Lighthouse I, in order to assist in the loading of the 15 cm grenades. Here he saw Indonesian sailors crouched as though they were struck with fear, totally upset, shaking and stiff. They could no longer load the shells. Most likely they are exhausted and overwhelmed by fear. Ed and others had to replace them until about 18:30, the time it began to get dark. Then Ed was instructed to go to the starboard searchlight. This workstation was located higher, but still below the commando bridge (see the picture of de Ruyter). Ed had a good view over the starboard side of the ship. The fleet was just engaged to carry out a sharp starboard maneuver and Ed how Her Ms. Java went up in flames and sank within minutes.
Ed also saw also the air bubbles of the torpedo that came to his ship under an angle of 45 degrees. Her Ms. De Ruyter was hit amidships and immediately lost speed. Apparently the gear transmission room to activate the ships propellers was damaged. The flames leaped across the deck and not long after the anti-artillery platform was on fire. Grenades exploded like fireworks.
Ed went to the crane to lower the lifeboats. However, there was no electricity, which he reported it to the boatswain. The lifeboats were then lowered with manpower.
Commander KLTZ E.E.B. Lacomblé ordered everybody to abandon ship. Standing on the bridge the Commander thanked everyone and said goodbye to them. There was no panic among the crew, everyone was able to accomplish his task.
Ed then went to the special location to get his life-jacket, jump on port side overboard and swam to the raft on which he was assigned. But the sea was so choppy that the raft capsized and Ed decided to keep himself afloat with his life-jacket on.
Ed spent the whole day in the blazing sun floating in the sea until he was rescued by the Japanese destroyer around 17:00 hours. He was well treated on the Japanese destroyer. His sun burnt skin was treated with an ointment and he was given soft food to eat. Around 19:00 hours the next day he was ordered to report to the Japanese commander who interrogate him. The commander saw his Mido watch that Ed had recently bought in Surabaya. The Japanese commander ask him if he could buy the watch. Ed hesitated a moment ————-they have treated him well on their ship———-
His answer:” No, you cannot buy it. I give it to you as a gift, you may have it”, and he handed his watch to the Japanese commander.
The next day Ed was transferred to another destroyer where he met other fished up Navy sailors from the life boat. Before he went on board of the destroyer he was handed a duffel bag and a note which he could show to the Japanese on the other ship. On the other destroyer they wanted to know what is in the duffel bag. Ed showed the Japanese in charge the note and the Jap politely step away. Ed have never find out what was written on the note. The duffel bag contained clothes, cigarettes (although Ed was a non-smoker) and Japanese biscuits.
During this transport Ed also met Adjutant Electro Mechanic Langendoen who showed him his injury; his stomach was ripped open. As well as possible Ed took care of his superior and used the new clothes out of his duffel bag. They all ended up in the garden of de Wedana in Kragan near Rembang. They had to camp in the garden, sleeping on the ground without a blanket or pillow. There was also no washing facilities. Adjutant Langendoen was housed in the garage, which was converted into a sickbay. There were no beds, no mats, and as a result the patients were laid on the concrete floor full of oil and grease. When Ed had no fatigue-duty, he nursed the Adjutant as good as possible. This chore was to unload the landing crafts on the landing Kalipang, about a 15 minutes’ walk from the house of the Wedana.
Three days later, just when Ed was on fatigue-duty, the Adjutant Langendoen passed away.
After the war a fellow inmate of camp Kragan, the recruit sailor mechanic K.L. Topee declared to a hearing committee:” In the beginning of our camp time Sea Militiaman Electrician Edward Welcker left the camp repeatedly and secretly risking his own life to find food for us all. He has saved several lives and we owe a lot to him”.
Ed got a lot of help from the locals during these food expeditions. The local population was sympathetic to the prisoners. They even gave Ed a bicycle to help escape from the camp. He does not want to do it for fear of reprisals against his parents. The Wedana was also in favor of the red/ white/ blue and did not want to remove the Dutch tricolor. For this reason, the Japanese locked him, his wife and daughter in a henhouse. Later on they were liberated by their own people. This same flag was later torn into pieces by a demonstrative Sergeant Machinist Soeratman.
Popular fatigue duties were:
- Getting water brought them in contact with the outside world and they could wash themselves at the well.
- Chopping wood for the Japanese kitchen, where the men occasionally got the leftovers from the guards.
Topee also reported that the Indonesians among the crew prisoners of war of Her Ms. De Ruyter almost all openly distanced themselves from the Dutch in Kragan. Earlier, they had been little co-operative when they tried rowing to reach the coast of Java. In the camp the native Sergeant Machinist Soeratman clearly showed his anti-Dutch feeling by shredding the Dutch flag while the remainder of the native crew was laughing and watching. Two native sailors did not join; the native nurse Mandalika and the native stoker-Oiler Boenandir.
Later, all prisoners from the Camp, which is home to the Wedana in Kragan, were transferred to Camp “Jaarmarkt” in Surabaya.
American Signalmen were also posted on Her Ms. De Ruyter. They had to maintain contact with the American, Australian and Britisch ships. One of them, D.S. Rafalovich had a close friendship with Ed, even when they were transferred from Camp in Kragan to Camp Jaarmarkt in Surabaya. Eventually, at the end of the year 1943 they were separated; the Americans were taken to Japan and Ed was transferred to Thailand to the Burma Railway.
After the capitulation of Japan a group of 7 sailors, including Ed, went with a KPM ship to Batavia (Jakarta). He was stationed in Semarang at the port for patrol service.
On February 27, 1947 Ed Welcker and Gusta, Cornelia Frieser got married and after the wedding the couple went on honeymoon to Bandung. A pilot friend provided them a couple of seats in a plane to their destiny.
At that time it was nearly impossible to travel by road from Semarang to Bandung. The marriage couple was just one day in Bandung when the MP shows up to take Ed back to Surabaya. He had to report aboard Her M. Abraham Crijnsen. They were in need of an Electrician. Ed was promoted to Corporal Electro Mechanic Sea Militiaman. To his knowledge, he was the only Navy conscript with this rank.
On March 5, 1948 Ed was granted leave from the Royal Dutch Navy, where he had server for 12 years and began a civilian career with the Billiton Company. Ed was now 30 years old.
Ed wants the following off his chest and feel the need to speak freely about it:
- In 1997 Ed read in the monthly “The Indo” magazine, which was printed in California, that the Royal Dutch Navy organized a reunion for the survivors of Battle of the Java Sea. He personally never received an invitation. In response to what he has read in “The Indo” he has registered himself as one of the survivors. He then went together with his daughter Yvonne to Rotterdam.
- There he met Niek Koppen, the producer of the documentary film about the Battle of the Java Sea, who dodge Ed. This documentary with stories told by the survivors themselves was shown on the Dutch TV. Ed was never approached to tell his adventures. However, the story went around that Ed has shown no interest in an interview for the film.
- A table companion, Mr. Van Zeeland, told Ed: “You lives so spread out, it is hard to find you”. At that time Ed was still a Dutch Citizen and was registered as such with the Consulate of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Los Angeles. Ed’s answer: “The inspector of taxes in the Netherlands has found me!” After this reunion Ed has never heard from the Royal Dutch Navy. Why Mr. Zeeland did concealed Ed’s story from the Navy?
- Until today two requests for discharge from military service for career-building in the civil society have never been answered. Eventually, at the request of the Biliton Company, Ed was able to leave the service.
- On the day Ed was leaving the Navy service, they asked him to stay for a few days longer. Then he was put under quarantine for three days. Ed was questioned by a naval officer and promised not to tell his experiences like the position of the ships. Was that the reason that Mr. Koppen and Mr. van Zeeland ignored him?
- Request for WUV support for him and his wife were denied.
- Ed was the star witness for Mr. Boenandir, who was recognized as one of the survivors of the Battle of the Java Sea and now also receive benefits from the WUV. (Mr. Tjip Boenandir died in 2009 or 2010 at the age of 90 years in East Java, Indonesia)
Epilogue: In the cozy living room of Ed and Corrie Welcker in West Covina, I Benno Apon decrease this interview. All those years above 7 points weights heavy on Ed. It was a relief for him to release above 7 thoughts.
As he says himself: His life has changed and I personally am glad that “Indo” Ed’s state of mind has turned positive.
Whittier, Ca (1997)