Arie Den Hollander

Arie's father was a member of the Royal Dutch East Indies Army, and he spent a happy childhood in Indonesia, until the war with Japan and his family's incarceration by the occupying Japanese Army.

Arie Den Hollander

Arie's father was a member of the Royal Dutch East Indies Army, and he spent a happy childhood in Indonesia, until the war with Japan and his family's incarceration by the occupying Japanese Army.

Arie Den Hollander, a Dutch national now living in Plymouth, was playing at his home in an orchard in Java, Indonesia (then the Dutch East Indies) when the orchard came under fire from a Japanese aircraft. Thankfully he escaped unharmed.  

Children had to witness extreme violence

"My father was in the Royal Dutch East Indies Army (KNIL) and was captured and sent to a men's camp after a long battle in the jungle.

“My mother and I were taken to Tjihapit women's camp, in Bandung and stayed for about three years. We had to share living space with strangers in a small house. As more and more prisoners were forced into the camp, conditions deteriorated. We would sleep in cramped spaces, 12 to 18 inches wide.

“The sanitation became inadequate. There were so many internees the waste system would overflow. "During monsoon season we were forced to walk bare foot through raw sewage as drains overflowed. In the intense heat and humidity, the stench was unbearable. Disease was rife and many adults and children became ill and died.

“The lack of food made us more susceptible to disease. Rations were limited. I have a vivid memory of my mother teaching me how to use my teeth to scrape the soft inside layer from a banana skin just to have some extra sustenance.

“She also taught me how to bow by making me push my nose between my knees. We quickly learned that failure to bow deeply to Japanese soldiers would result in punishment.

"Long 'tenko' (roll call) sessions would take place where us children had to witness extreme violence. The Japanese camp command needed only the feeblest of excuses to make everybody stand for hours in the baking sun dishing out verbal and physical abuse for minor transgressions.

“Sadly, my mother was unwell during most of our time at the camp, so I spent a lot of my time alone roaming, looking for things to steal even as a very small boy."

My belly swelled up, although virtually empty of food

In the latter stages of World War Two Arie and his mother were moved to Tjideng Camp in what is now Jakarta, and the misery did not end there.

"In Tjideng camp I suffered beriberi, a condition caused by an acute shortage of vitamins. My belly swelled up, although virtually empty of food, and standing and walking became very difficult, since my muscles were severely weakened."

After what must have felt like an eternity, Arie and his parents were freed and reunited when the Japanese surrendered in 1945. They were sent to Singapore to recover and put on weight.

“I remember being in Singapore with my mother walking down a road and a British military truck drove past. The driver slammed on the breaks, opened the door and passed me a bar of chocolate. I didn’t know it was a bar of chocolate as I’d never seen one before. My mother said thank you and he drove away. I stood there with it in my hand and it melted in the heat. I’m not sure why he did it, it was the first time I’d met a British soldier, and he was very kind.

I wasn’t an easy child after the camp years

In the spring of 1946, Arie and his mother boarded RMS Alcantara, a merchant ship bound for Southampton, before going to Holland. His father came home by military transport.

“I met a group of merchant sailors on the way to England and they looked after me. They taught me how to put grease on an anchor chain. They shared treats with me, like fruit and biscuits and they taught me songs. When I returned to infant school in Holland aged five, I volunteered to sing for the class. The teacher stood me on a chair and, with great gusto I sang, 'Cigarettes and whisky and wild, wild women, they drive you crazy, they drive you insane!'. Those British sailors gave me some of my most treasured memories and I will never forget them. I followed in their footsteps and joined the Merchant Navy in the Netherlands".

Arie and his family were deeply affected by their time in the camps and Arie’s parents divorced a year after they were released, after the birth of another child, Hans.

"They were not the same people they were before the invasion by Japanese forces. Hans and I moved in with the in-laws of one of my father's colleagues. One of their daughters later became my stepmother. This wonderful young woman turned out to be an angel who really took care of me. She made no distinction between Hans, me, and her own little boy Eric who was born in 1953. I am eternally grateful to her for her love and dedication to all four of us."

“It wasn’t an easy childhood after the camp years. Months after our repatriation I would still only speak in whispers so as not to anger the person I spoke to. Any aircraft, passing overhead would send me running indoors in a panic. I would lie, steal food and store bits of bread in my pockets and would get into bother and cause a lot of friction at home.

“At the age of 12, I was placed with a different family by social services for three years and then I went back home. I joined the Merchant Navy at 17, where I progressed and became an engineer."

The countless women and children in the camps all went through what no-one should ever go through.

After eight years in the merchant navy, Arie moved to England and qualified as a teacher. He is now part of the F.E.P.O.W. (Far East Prisoners of War) group to make sure those who suffered in camps during the Pacific War, soldiers and civilians, are remembered.

“My story is not unique. The countless women and children in the camps all went through what no-one should ever go through. They too suffered the hunger, the disease, the trauma, and the nightmares."