Saturday, 17 March 2018

FROM SKELMANTHORPE TO SUMATRA.- BY SUBMARINE 1944.



Extracts from the letters of Major Ernest Fisher Lodge MBE of SOE in Sumatra 1944-5 


Compiled by his nephew, David W Swanbury

Ernest Fisher Lodge MBE, (1906-1998) often known to his friends as Oliver, joined up in June 1940 after returning on leave from his rubber planter's job, to England from living and working in Sumatra and just in advance of the Japanese invasion and occupation there.  Lodge is the most common surname in Skelmanthorpe where his father and mother, Nee ‘Fisher’ originated, but he was born in Normanton.  He led a most adventurous life from beginning to end.

Originally in the desert, 7th Tank Reg't, 8th Army , where he was shot at Tobruk and taken prisoner, he escaped from the POW camp in Chieti, Italy as the Germans arrived to take it over, to walk down Italy through the allied lines and eventually get home.  See Blog post of 26th October 2014 'FROM TOBRUK TO CHIETI TO SKELMANTHORPE'  LINK


After a recuperative leave, mostly in Skelmanthorpe staying at School House where his brother, A.H. (Bert) Lodge was Headmaster of the local Junior and Infant school, he was assigned to SOE operations in Sumatra. 

This is a short and somewhat understated account gleaned from limited correspondence to the family, but best told in his own words.

FORCE 136 COLOMBO

22 May 1944 Embarked U.K. To Colombo, Ceylon for training in preparation for a return to Sumatra under the Japanese occupation.
           
(His posting was to Force 136.  This was a cover name for the Special Forces Executive to supply and encourage resistance movements in enemy occupied territory and mount clandestine sabotage operations.  From his previous life as a planter in Sumatra he was fluent in the languages and was accustomed to life in the jungle).


I arrived in Colombo at the beginning of June 1944

30th January 1995 – letter to DWS (nephew) extract

In early 1944 I was sent on a crash commando course including parachute drops, demolitions, codes, W/T, mayhem, along with French, Dutch and Belgian agents who were to be dropped into occupied Europe.  I had been transferred to Force 136 for operations in S.E. Asia and because of my previous life in Sumatra was seconded to a Dutch commando unit based in Colombo Ceylon, for operations on Sumatra.  We did quite a lot of jungle bashing with a couple of trips to India for further W/T course (Meerut) and more parachuting in Bengal.

7th June 1944 – Letter to brother Ron in Hawaii extract

I arrived here a few days ago not long after leaving home.  From England to Delhi I came by air and it proved a very interesting experience, especially as we passed over old battlefields in Libya.  Of all the territory we flew over, however, none of it can compare in the slightest with the first leg of the journey over England itself. The pattern of the fields, variety of colours from the various cultivations, and the lay-out of the roads and villages quite fascinated me and I had my nose glued to the window until we hit the coast.

From Delhi to Colombo was a different kind of journey – 5 days of hell in a train.  Temperature in Central India ranged up to 118F in the shade and the nights seemed almost as hot as the days, fans fitted in the compartments hurled a withering blast of hot air at you. Apparently this is the worst time of the year – just before the rains come.   The peasant types we saw from the train all the way down looked poor and dirty but hardworking.  Arriving in Ceylon we found that the monsoon was in full swing and compared with India, everything very cool.  Here because of the tropical climate and good paddy lands you get again the Hawaiian - Malay complex amongst the natives.  They work sufficient for their needs, never let anything worry them and seldom work for the European except in cushy jobs.  I understand that they are a lazy type, particularly annoying in war time when you want to get things done in a hurry.

We are pretty near the equator and the climate and vegetation is very similar to that of Sumatra.  At the moment I am 200 yards from the coast which has the real South Seas atmosphere of coconut palms fringing a sandy beach.  The surf is good and I am beginning to master a small surf board.

This country, in contrast to India is self governed by the Sinhalese. It seems that they are still in the early experimental stage and things are apt to go wrong.  It is a bit of a Casey Court, Comic Cuts outfit which would be amusing but for the fact that we are affected by it. The cost of living for Europeans is far higher than in India which is so near.  Many things are unobtainable here which are plentiful in India.  Labour is difficult to get, the best type being Indian Tamils who are only allowed to come in inadequate numbers.  As in Egypt, the British Gov’t is reluctant to step in to straighten things out as it might be looked upon as undemocratic.

Like England, America will now be living from one news bulletin to the next to see how the Second Front is progressing.  So far we have had very little news of it and don’t expect much until the allies have had time to get large forces ashore.  Then I hope that things will move quickly and think that they will do.  I have great faith in Montgomery and Eisenhower, not to mention the Navy and the combined air force.  It is a relief to know that at last we are on the way to ending the war in Europe.

28th August 1944 to brother Ron in Hawaii from Ceylon – extract.

The Yanks have put up a good show in Europe and done wonders in the Pacific.  It is going to be many years before they finish talking about it.

It is now three months since I arrived here and am just about acclimatised again.  We have just come back from jungle exercises up in the wild parts of the island and your eyes would have popped at the easy meat floating around in the way of game.  We weren’t allowed to shoot anything, particularly as part of the time we were in a jungle reserve, but I spent quite a bit of time up a tree with a pair of binoculars for company.  Deer, two varieties, and pig were common animals coming down to drink, with occasional wild water buffalo.  There were plenty of elephants around, as shown by the tracks and droppings all over the place and I seemed to be one of the few who were unlucky enough not to see one.  Jungle fowl, mouse deer, pythons and giant lizards are all to be met with occasionally along the trails and we had leopards around the camp at night.  Actually one came right into our bivouac and a sergeant shot it by torch light and reckoned that this case was covered by self defence.  The river itself was teeming with life.  From my perch it was always possible to see two or three turtles touring along under the surface, apparently scavenging oddments from the bottom.  I came across six of them sitting side by side on the trunk of a tree which had fallen into the river.  The maximum size seems to be about two and a half feet and some of them have flat shells, others quite steep ones like the tortoise.  Odd crocodiles appear but they are small and didn’t bother us: we swam in the river every day.  The water was alive with fish of all shapes and sizes and in consequence there was a great variety of wading birds to be seen on the small sand banks that occurred in the river.  Storks, herons and cranes and many small types with long thin legs and fancy feathers were a common sight, also a type of cormorant and a red fish hawk.  Kingfishers flew around almost like sparrows. Doves, hornbills and several kinds of vividly coloured green and blue birds could be seen crossing the open space caused by the river.  Small and lesser fry could be seen drinking at the water’s edge.  Then of course, the commonest bird in Ceylon was there – the black crow.  There are no sparrows and this bird takes the sparrows place.  It is the cockiest, cheekiest bird that I have ever seen and hangs around the houses in hundreds kicking up a most terrific din.  It eats anything and everything and will steal stuff from under your nose.  You can practically walk up to it and kick it yet if you make the least motion towards picking up a stone or gun it is off like a shot.  We have shot one or two when they have been off their guard but it is surprisingly difficult.  Altogether I found the wildlife far more prolific than in Sumatra and I often thought what a great enjoyment Dad would have got out of a place like that.  In addition to what I have mentioned there was all the insect life – some very beautiful butterflies – and the whole plant life representative of the jungle itself.  Amongst the small animal life which I forgot to include were porcupines, civet cats, jungle cats and even rabbits.

It happened to be the dry season and so leeches were rare and we were not troubled at nights by tropical rain; but we did have hell with ticks!  These blood sucking brutes are very small and hang on to any vegetation waiting for some animal to pass.  We collected them in large numbers, all over the body and the irritation they set up – even after they have been removed and killed – is maddening.  Any vegetation in this climate causes sweat to pour out and you can reckon on being completely wet, sticky and smelly and uncomfortable most of the time.  The evenings however are very pleasant and I consider myself lucky in having found a place like this while in the army.


29th October 1944 from Force 136 - letter to niece Ronda in Hawaii extract

In the Mess here we have an English bull terrier which is two years old and needs about two men to keep it out of trouble.    It is a dog which is enormously strong and very brave but has practically no brains.  Its ambition in life is to kill all the other dogs and cats in Ceylon and it already has a big score.  I have thrashed it several times for attacking local cows, which it grips by the throat or ear, but it doesn’t seem to feel pain even if you beat it with a lump of wood.  In his quiet moments he is very friendly.  I guess that it isn’t his fault that he goes around looking for trouble as bull terriers were bred for fighting.

11th March 1945 Letter to sister-in-law Criss from Force 136 – extract

The weather on this island is divided into two seasons,- the SW monsoon from mid May until mid October and the NW monsoon for the rest of the year.  Colombo is protected from the latter by the mountains in the interior and so this time of the year we have no surf and very little rain.  Today it has rained for the first time in months and everything is looking a rich green.  Coconut palms are the commonest plants on the island, apart from tea and rubber, and another common tree is the Bread Fruit tree.  This week I had a flight over the island and was struck by the large uncultivated areas and by the number of large muddy shallow lakes.

We continue with our training and three weeks ago I had a rather unpleasant experience whilst forcing my way through some thick jungle.  I must have accidentally released some tied up combination of branches by my movements as a large branch suddenly whipped out from nowhere and caught me a solid smack in the mouth.  Although my teeth are pretty well rooted I lost four of them, one on the spot and the others driven so far back that they had to come out.  This leaves me with two large canines on top with a space big enough to back a car through.  Odd bits of broken bone still work their way out and I even pulled a bit of wood out.  The army dentist is fixing me up with new teeth pretty soon.  During the same exercise, another officer from our mess had three toes crushed by a boulder falling on his foot.

About a month ago I had a letter from Mackinnon. (His ex-plantation manager in Sumatra) He is now employed by the USA Gov’t. and is in charge of native rubber production for the whole state of Paro, Brazil.  Although this should carry with it some enormous salary he is not happy there and says that he will be glad to get back to his old job.  His wife and two boys live in the States, having tried Brazil and found it wanting.  I occasionally get some news of some of the planters who were taken by the Japs when they over-ran the East Indies and I guess that they have had a very rough time. Some were killed during the fighting and some have died since.  I was lucky to get out when I did.

When I think of Hawaii I cannot help regretting that it has had to be made into a military and naval base.  I have seen what happens in localities which become inundated with troops and I often feel sorry for the civilians who have to live there.  It seems to be human nature that when man is shifted from his own birthplace and put in uniform he loses half his sense of decent behaviour and carries on as he never would at home.  Many men also assume that because they are in uniform they are outside the law.  From what I saw of the American Military Police in London they were very good and the American troops were far better behaved than Australian or Canadian. I hope that you in Oahu have been lucky in this respect and that it will not be long before you can get back to normal life.  The progress of the war in the Pacific has been better than we could possibly expect and it is not going too badly in other parts.


1st June 1945 Letter to sister-in-law Criss in Hawaii  from Force 136 – extract

Letters from England are very cheerful now that the war in Europe is finished.  Incidents are bound to occur with types like Tito and other guerrilla leaders and I have no doubt that they were expected by the Allied governments and that they will be able to cope with them.  What I find particularly annoying is the attitude of France.  They have let us down badly from the beginning of the war.  They packed in after only half a fight against the Germans and not only surrendered their army on French soil but seriously jeopardised our position in Africa by surrendering there too.  In addition we had to sink some of their fleet to prevent it operating against us.  They wouldn’t fight the Japs in French Indo-China.  Then we had to fight a war against them in Syria.  Now because they won’t stand by their treaty made with us on that occasion it looks as though we shall have to take them on again in the same area.  They are a rag-bag, unprincipled rabble and it is depressing to think that having settled the Germans we still have to deal with neighbours and so called allies of this level.  If Russia shoots out her neck we cannot complain as she has earned the right to do a lot of neck shooting. For all that it is not pleasant and I suppose we have to draw the line somewhere even with Russia.

Colombo has now got rid of its blackout and many of the blast proof walls which were set up along every street have been taken down. There is not much to buy in the shops, however, and it can only be bought at a terrific price.  Black markets abound in all sorts of commodities.  The Sinhalese are not very long risen from barbarism and every day one sees plenty of examples of savagery amongst them.  Because of the shortage of transport for civilians there are long queues waiting for buses at certain times of the day.  As soon as a bus draws near the queue disappears and a mass of primitive humanity surges towards it.  Women are trampled underfoot and find themselves still waiting when the bus has gone. The procedure is repeated when the next bus comes along and the women may be hours getting home.  No policeman dare come near such a scene and would be quite useless if he did.  Screeds have been written in the papers about this animal conduct but to a Sinhalese it seems a natural thing to do.  It is the same on the trains.  In addition to this complete lack of manners they are stupid.  They persist in hanging on the running board of trains with the carriage doors open in front of them.  Consequently, when two trains pass, and all the doors rattle alongside each other, numbers of Sinhalese are ripped off, run over and mangled.  This is not an uncommon occurrence as can be seen when travelling by train – many of the doors are completely torn off and are never replaced.  Every daily paper contains some account of murder, violence and theft.  Last week there was an interesting case of a man found running around with a human head tucked underneath his arm.  On investigation it was found that he had just dug up a two day old grave and severed the occupant’s head.  It appears that he was a married man with three children.  His children were ill and he had consulted the local magicians regarding a cure.  The head was required as part of the prescription but no account was given of the other ingredients.  Local soothsayers and fortune tellers are allowed to advertise their trade in print.

Near the shore here where we bathe and do some surfing there are several fisherman’s huts.  They are clever fishermen at all types of fishing and are very good in their own particular type of outrigger sailing boats.  When the season is unfavourable for boats they fish from the shore with large nets which require from thirty to forty men to handle.  One day when it was raining heavily I dropped into one of the crude huts for shelter.  They are made of palm fronds and I should have been almost as well off standing in the rain.  This hut had two rooms, one for each wife.  The owner explained to me that he was a good catholic but he had two wives.  One of these, an old one, he referred to as his ‘good wife’ and the other as his ‘playing wife’; whatever he meant by that he did not explain.  Some days later I saw him chasing his ‘good wife’ with a piece of wood as big as a table leg with which he caught her crack over the head.  This could easily have been a scene enacted ten thousand years ago.  It seems that here the man is still the boss.  The average Sinhalese woman seems fairly clean and dresses very attractively, especially on religious days.  They are mostly Buddhists and patronise their saint days in a big way with processions, elephants, drums, fireworks etc..  The children run about almost naked and are just like any other kids.  The Tamils from India are the most populous race after the Sinhalese.  There are lots of Malays or descendents of Malays who were brought here by the British as soldiers some three hundred years ago.  There is also quite a large population of what are known as burghers, a product of intermarriage of the Sinhalese and the former Dutch and Portuguese owners of the island.  Especially noticeable in Colombo too, are numbers of Afghans.  They wear a distinctive dress, something like an Arab, and specialise in money lending or any other shady sideline.  I can never understand why they are allowed to carry on their trade in the middle of the street.

LANDING IN SUMATRA

30th January 85 Letter to DWS (me) from Penang – extract

My first submarine landing (February-March 1945) was on the North west coast of Sumatra.  A Dutch captain was in charge and we had eight Chinese in the party. 

The British submarine Clyde



It was decided that the Dutch captain and I should go ashore alone the first night to recce the site which was a rocky promontory backed by solid undergrowth and flanked by a long sandy beach.  A party of six ferried us in a rubber boat with an outboard motor and paddles for near approach.  The plan was for us to establish a post overlooking a near-by aerodrome.  We spent an hour or two cutting our way through the bush and being eaten alive by mosquitoes.  On returning towards the sea we missed the promontory and hit the beach, thinking that we were unobserved but being fairly quickly disillusioned by some loud shouts followed by automatic fire.  Being only armed with a revolver each we beat it hot-foot towards the promontory where our landing party were already paddling furiously away from the shore.  We plunged in after them and luckily escaped without casualties.  Shooting at night, when one cannot see the sights, is almost always too high, as we learnt in training.  A tropical storm then burst on us, our walkie-talkies had been under water and would not work, an infra red gadget which was supposed to show our position to the submarine failed to work.  Two hours later the submarine accidentally ran us down or we should have been paddling around still.  That put an end to the operation and when the submarine completed its own operation, with the sinking of a couple of coasters, we returned to Colombo.

The next operation consisted of myself and three Chinese being successfully landed from the British submarine ‘Torbay’ in a mangrove swamp on the East coast of Sumatra, facing Malaya across the Straits of Malacca.



Ref Getty Images

HMS Torbay departed Trincomalee on the 5th August 1945 for this mission.

.

We managed to stay there until the war finished, collecting information from the local people.  Sumatra is more than 1000 miles long and 163,000 square miles in area.  We found out later there were 70,000 Jap troops in the country, many based in strategic centres and the remainder spread very thinly over the remaining area.  When Japan surrendered I received orders on my W/T to proceed to a large POW Camp in central Sumatra where the POW had just completed laying a railroad across the country under the usual grim conditions.  It took us nearly two days by boat, to arrive at the Jap garrison situated on the banks of the large river.

Hank Neumann’s book, 'The Sumatra Railway' is the definitive account of life there, originally in Dutch, which was extensively researched from the Dutch archives when they became available.  He and Ernest Lodge corresponded regularly once he had found Ernest’s details in the archives including all the messages that he sent and received from HQ in Colombo.  The Jap top men on the railway were tried and executed as war criminals.

It was night when I strolled into the Jap officers’ mess, in jungle green with a carbine over my shoulder.  

 It was a Jap Guards Regt. and they were all smartly dressed.  Fortunately they knew the war was over and I was driven out to the POW camp some two miles away, being the first Allied officer that they had seen.  

In a book,  'It Seems like Yesterday', by Jack Saunders who was a POW who worked on the Sumatran Railway describes his arrival as follows -  'A few days after we had been given the good news of the end of the war, A small party of commandos arrived at the camp headed by Major Lodge.  He looked just like one of the desperados one sees on the films.  He was a very thin man dressed in a dark shirt and shorts with a civilian cap set at a jaunty angle on his head. He had very slim features, a sharp prominent nose (a Lodge trait) and a dark moustache.  He had a wide belt round his waist holding a revolver and plenty of ammunition.'

'He told us that they had landed on the island by submarine some weeks before the Japanese surrendered and had watched us working.  He was absolutely horrified at the state we were in and also the conditions under which we were living. He told us that Lady Mountbatten would be paying us a visit very soon.'

Interestingly the author Jack Saunders lived in or near Oulton Broad and before he died, somehow met Ernest Lodge's sister, my mother, who also lived there. So he was able to recount his experiences to her and thus she found out about his book.  

Many people know only of the Burma-Siam railway but the suffering on the Pakan Baroe railway was of a similar order. Not being the subject of a film  and also in a former Dutch possession, the horror of this enterprise is little known not least as the definitive book on the subject by Hank Neumann was in Dutch: though there is an English translation.  Sumatra was part of the Dutch East Indies at the time and is now a principal part of the 2000 mile long string of islands that make up Indonesia.  

Another book where Major Lodge is mentioned with excerpts online is -

The Sumatran Railroad: Final Destination Pakan Baroe. 1943-1945
A book by H Hovinga -   LINK


See Page 290  Relief of Pakan Baroe railway prisoners 25th August 1945. by Major E.F.(Oliver) Lodge

Excerpt from Page 290 -

There were some 5,500 POWs, all Dutch except for 500 British.  The last survivors of the Prince of Wales and Repulse in this camp had died before I arrived.  There were 40 Dutch doctors there and only one British with no medicines, who told me that the men were dying at a rate of about 10 per day.   First priority was to draw up a list of medicines, top of the list being Emetin for Amoebic Dysentery, which I sent off at once on my W/T set to Colombo.  About 36 hours later Liberators were dropping containers over the camp.  A few more days later more Allied back-up personnel arrived to take care of the POWs and my unit ordered me back to Medan, the Capital, which was now HQ of a British Division sent to take over Sumatra.  It had three Brigades, each having one British Division and two Indian Battalions.  One brigade stayed in Medan, one went to Padang, and one went to Palembang, and no British troops moved from these centres.  The Jap General was ordered to continue policing the country.  This situation lasted for some months, much to the consternation of the natives.  Because of my local knowledge, including languages, I was sent off on various forays into the country, being in a Jeep with my three Chinese.  It was necessary to liaise with the Jap HQ in Medan which I did through a Capt. Nishimura, a very solid character who was born in Hawaii, represented the US in the Olympic Games, but happened to be in Japan when war broke out.  His superior officer was a Colonel Tojima whom I also knew well.  The Indonesians became restless, wanted independence before the Dutch got back in, and set up road blocks manned by spearmen.  I then took with me an escort of 20 Jap soldiers under Capt. Ito, following behind in a lorry.  I soon got to admire these Jap soldiers, one of whom was killed by an Indonesian whilst guarding a roadblocks village HQ where I was sleeping.  This went on for 5 months after the finish of the war and my last job was to go as liaison officer to a Dutch Commando Battalion which the British Navy transported to the island of Bangka.

I had 3 British Sgt. W/T operators and a Cpl. Driver attached to me and one of my jobs was to count the 1000 Jap troops and hand them over to the Navy.  Capt Nishimura was also with me, with his own Jap W/T team.  There was some desultory firing before we landed, from Indonesians, which soon subsided and we disembarked on to a long narrow wooden jetty.  Whilst the Dutch troops moved inland Nishimura collected the Jap troops which were already gathered in the area of this small port called Muntok.  At the end of the jetty was a large square platform.  We sat on the rail nearby and counted the Japs off two by two, until some 20 officers were left.  Suddenly someone gave a scream in Japanese and all the officers whipped out their swords and held them in the air.  When I asked Nishimura what was going on he told me they were saluting me, so I acknowledged same.  It was right here that I thought it was about time I had a Jap sword and said so to Nishimura.  He said don’t bother with that lot I will get you a better one when you return to Medan.  With that he went on aboard the Navy to return to Medan, his job in Bangka finished.  It was five weeks before I got back to Medan by which time the Jap troops were being shipped home.  Nishimura duly brought me the sword.  My W/T Sgts. and Cpl. Then asked me if I could do the same for them. No trouble said Nishimura, we have a room full of Sgts. swords taken from Jap POWs.  He brought along four fine Sgt’s. swords, quite a bit bigger and heavier than an officer’s model.  My corporal, Scully by name, sustained a deep cut in his finger-tip whilst fondling his weapon.

An interesting incident is what happened to my wife Mursiah who had to endure Japanese occupation in Sumatra.  Early after they surrendered I had collected her and put her in what I considered a safe place, some 300 kilometres south of Medan.  Slowly the Indonesian revolution began to simmer; attacks were made on British garrisons and a British major and British nursing sister were brutally murdered in Padang.  The Brigadier in Padang took drastic retaliatory action.  As news of this reached the area where Mursiah was staying, with Yusni, three years old, the locals arrested her and confined her to a kampong hut, guarded by their spearmen.  The news of her plight only reached me as I was about to leave for Banka.  I told Nishimura to see Col. Jojima and arrange to bring her down to Medan.  On the second day of my stay in Bangka, Nishimura came to me with a grin with a Jap W/T signal in his hand to inform me that she was now safe in Medan billeted with a Dutch ex-POW.  Later I found that the Japs had already pulled out their troops from her area, being recalled to Medan for repatriation.  He reversed the order and sent a convoy of lorries back a distance of 150 miles just to fetch her out.  Ineffective resistance was squashed without any casualties and the Jap convoy under Major Omura, brought Mursiah and daughter Yusni safely back on the two day journey to Medan, plying them with food and drinks on the way.

During the occupation his wife Mursiah had to survive under the Japanese.  They had met when Ernest was at a rubber estate in Panigoran.  Pani means water in Batak and Goran means mountain. 

She says she wept frequently as she did not know where Ernest was and no one could tell her.  A friend suggested that she should see an old German woman who was a bit of a fortune teller. This woman told her not to worry as he was all right but not on the land.  ‘Where is he then?’  In a submarine between Malacca and Singapore was the answer.

Under the Japanese Mursiah lived in her kampong but had to live by her wits to survive.  Amongst other things she had a bicycle and used to smuggle rice in the tubes to sell in the town.


One of her three Kampong houses.

Mursiah was eventually put in a concentration camp with other European ladies because she said that she was a British citizen being married to one.  If she had said she was Indonesian she would have been freed but her pride in her husband would not allow her to do this and the conviction that he would eventually come for her.  She could cope with the hard work of planting rice and chores that had to be done there but may of the European women broke down under the strain.  She was sympathetic towards them as most of them were not used to hard work and were in dire straits.  Many of them smoked and as cigarettes were in limited supply, these women used to pick up the discarded Jap soldiers’ butts. 

At the end of the war the Indonesians took Mursiah and Yusni and put them into a house that had been owned by a Dutch planter, with several other women.  They were pretty antagonistic and accused her of being a British spy, asking her where her husband was.  It was really house arrest and they were given no provisions.  The house had no food and they had no utensils but were eventually given a bit of blackened rice that was full of sand.  She found an old tin can and went to the stream to get water, managing to catch some shrimps as well.  With these and the rice they contrived to separate from the sand they managed to get something to eat.  Later she saw some Dayak people who had rice growing in their forest clearing and asked if they needed help to harvest it in exchange for some food.  They did and so they were gradually able to feed themselves although she didn’t rate the other women much as they seemed pretty helpless.  But Mursiah has always been a strong resourceful character and survived in her life where others would have given up.

When Ernest sent his Japs to collect her, the news of Japanese arriving in force and asking for her filled her with fear and trepidation and Yusni was asking if she was going to be shot.  Transporting her to Medan was a slow job and they had to stop overnight three times due to the road being ambushed by Indonesians.  Arriving in Medan she was put in a house with other people.  Mursiah was given rations in excess of her needs and so she organised a kitchen and started selling food with people coming every day to place orders.  Eventually she and Yusni were put on an LST (Landing Ship Tanks) and taken to Singapore, being horribly sea sick on the way.  LST’s are flat bottomed and have a terrible motion at sea.  From there they were eventually all reunited on the estate Ernest had gone to manage when he was released from war service. 


Mrs Mursiah Lodge and Yusni much later in Malaya.

The Jap troops and officers were fine soldiers and we would have had a tough job retaking Sumatra from them had there been no surrender. Amongst the other experiences I flew on their planes, fighter bombers, with their crew, for longer forays.


25th September 1945 Letter to brother Ron in Hawaii from Singapore – extract

I left Ceylon on the 14th June and have had no chance to write until now; I am in Singapore for a couple of days.  When everything is cleared up I suppose that I shall be able to tell you what I have been doing during the last three months but at the moment am not allowed to do so.

From what I have seen myself the Japs are responsible for the deaths of thousands of prisoners and internees, mostly through deliberate starvation and withholding the necessary medicines.  There has been continuous cruelty and barbarous beatings of Europeans but many of the atrocity stories are journalistic inventions.  Newspapers around here are a menace and often a great hindrance to the occupation authorities.  The native population has suffered even worse than the whites, especially the Javanese slave labour brought over to Sumatra for constructing roads and railways.  They seem to have brought over mostly youngsters of 16 or 17.  At a generous estimate only 50% have been able to live through their slavery and those who are left are skeletons.  They are left dying all over the place as they wander around looking for food.  Estate coolies have done pretty well as each estate had to fell a certain area of rubber to plant paddy.  The estates themselves are not looking too bad and the trees should simply pour rubber after their long rest.  Engines have been removed from most of the factories but it should be easy to replace them.  I guess I shall stay on here when my job in the army is finished.  It was quite a pleasure for me to go around my former haunts and to meet in the camps a lot of my former friends.


3rd January 1946 Letter to brother Ron in Hawaii from Force 136 H.Q. 26 Div – extract

During the last seven months whilst I have been in Sumatra I have only received two batches of mail from England, the first one containing letters and the second one containing one letter.  Even allowing for the fact that I have been moving around a lot this shows how bum the army postal system is.  I have got to the stage where I never want to see a soldier again.  You see them at their worst in a conquered country where what is commonly known as thieving goes under the name of looting, and on no mean scale.

This country is in a hell of a mess.  When the Japs surrendered, the first reaction was one of rejoicing and a desire for the Dutch to come back.  Then those types who had been heartily sick of co-operating with the Japs realised that if the Dutch did come back they were doomed, so they started intensive propaganda for independence.  They found all the support that they needed in various youth groups trained by the Japs and they all smacked their lips at the prospect of unlicensed lawlessness and loot.  As no troops arrived, either British or Dutch, they began to get cracking and the movement grew like a mushroom.  By the time British troops arrived they were real cocky and had managed to get some arms.  They paraded through the streets of Medan with spears and these weapons were being made all over the country.  The Japs when they first came to Medan lopped off half a dozen heads at random and stuck them on poles just to show they meant business.  This killed Indonesian tendencies to freshness.  We came to Medan and tried to be decent to the Indonesians – something that they have never understood – with the result that things got worse and worse.  Murder and looting became common and not only murder but variations of horrible mutilation.  Because of the feeble mindedness of the Govt. at home and ridiculous attitude of America and Australia, this sort of thing went on for along time before a British general here was allowed to cut loose.  Then when he had let the troops get cracking there were more screams from old women and parsons at home.  Believe me the people of England and America know nothing about this country or the state of unrest throughout the country or its people.  I am pretty easy going but after what I have seen during the last six months I am convinced that the only method is the Jap one and I am quite wiling to try it.  Because of the state of unrest throughout the country the Japs have still been allowed to retain their arms and in fact are working under British orders to maintain the peace in areas unoccupied by us.  They have also been told that they can use their arms in doing so.  Some day I will tell you what happened in a place called Tebing Tinggi when these Indonesians were foolish enough to murder a Japanese colonel.  The retaliation of the Japs on that occasion has probably contributed more to peace in this country than any other factor.

I have a lot to do with the Japs since they packed in and was in fact one of the first allied officers to contact them.  In Sumatra they behaved extraordinarily well and the more I have seen of them the more I have liked them.  They have wonderful discipline, are always willing to do the lousiest jobs, and are afraid of nothing.  They have a fine physique, are good soldiers and altogether a body of men that commands respect.  I have travelled with them as a bodyguard to various parts of the country and in fact one was knifed to death by a bunch of Indonesians whilst guarding the house in which I was living.  He kept on firing until he died with most of his stomach out.

The mass of Indonesians here are heartily fed up of the whole show and would like some European or American influence back.  However, they are entirely intimidated by the extremists, who have nothing to lose and everything to gain.  Since the Jap lesson at Tebing Tinggi the country has been fairly quiet but in the last six months the Indonesians have certainly made monkeys out of us and gullible American public opinion.

28 March 1946 Letter to brother Ron in Hawaii - extract.

Here is complete and utter chaos.  The French Revolution has nothing on this.  Apart from now commonplace murder, loot and butchery, which we have come to look upon as normal conditions, there has lately been a wholesale massacre of royal families in the northern province of Sumatra known as Atjeh. (Aceh).  The local aristocracy - known as 'Hoeloebalangs' - have been paraded in front of the mob, insulted and exterminated, he process being carried out to the last woman and child..  In some families this entailed fifty deaths.  British troops only occupy three towns in the whole of Sumatra - Medan, Padang and Palembang. - and are not strong enough to maintain law and order in those very small territories.  Outside of these towns is unbridled anarchy and terrorism.  Originally there was some semblance of freedom of movement, but former leaders, without any force of law to back them, have either been murdered or replaced.  Now the criminal class has muscled to the top and whilst making fools of the world outside carries out heavy programmes of murder, loot and thuggery.  Nobody's life is worth a button.  The Japs had introduced a large scale planting of rice to ensure that Sumatra should be self supporting.  Most of this has already been stolen in the fields by bands of starving coolies brought their present condition by the complete breakdown in the economic life of this country under this rule of cut-throats.  There is horrible starvation for hundreds of thousands in the near future.  As always the wretched peasant classes will be the sufferers as the thugs will make sure they themselves will have plenty of food.

There are now still more than forty thousand fully armed Japs in Sumatra, having been kept for so long to deal with any large scale uprisings in the interior.  They have done quite a good job since the surrender and have shown themselves capable of dealing in a sort time with situations which leave the British administration baffled.  The country under their control  was incomparably better than it is at the present moment.  They were pretty rough and cruel but believe me there was law and order.  Having seen what has developed since the peace, the people of this country would be only too pleased to have the Japanese back.  By the people I mean the peasant classes, on whom all the suffering falls.

As I am still of use here I am putting off my demobilisation for the time being.  My old firm have offered me a manager’s job either in Malaya or Sumatra so I suppose I shall end up planting again sometime. 



Unfortunately the only information of these exploits are his words in the few bits of correspondence remaining, limited by reason of security at the time.  He wrote extensively to his brother, the Headmaster, who being more interested in the stamps only kept the envelopes, so I got no information there!  

Subsequent to the above, he eventually took the family to live at Cheroh Estate in Raub, Pahang, Malaya as manager of rubber and palm oil plantations there.  There are more tales to tell of an interesting life there and surviving the Malayan Insurgency if someone else could tell them.  His daughter Yusni could write a wonderful book of her life as a child under the Japanese occupation in Sumatra and of Cheroh Estate in very trying times if she put her mind to it.  Finally he and his wife retired to Penang.  Both lived a long, full, and eventful life and were kind and generous to a fault. So many enjoyed their benevolence and support and owe them a very great debt of gratitude.


Incidentally, Yusni settled in Wales.

There are more related posts listed below that are of his life as well as other bits of the family, such as his brother Ronald Harry Lodge who emigrated when young to Canada and finally ended up in Oahu, Hawaii, where he witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbour.  During their lifetime it was an era of dangerous turmoil and fascinating events that involved many ordinary people surviving in exceptional circumstances.   If only it were not too late to discover more as so much information died with them.   


For those interested in the outcome of the East Sumatran revolution, which lasted one way or another until 1950, a readable potted history is here - Wikipedia

On YouTube there is a good video about the Sumatran Pekanbaru Death Railway - LINK with other related works listed on the researcher Jamie Farrel's website ( pekanbarudeathrailway.com/) - OTHER WORKS 
Copyright – David Swanbury

Some other posts on this blog specifically related to Ernest Fisher Lodge -


SURVIVING THE GREAT DEPRESSION IN AUSTRALIA

FROM TOBRUK TO CHIETI TO SKELMANTHORPE



Indirectly family related -







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