Dutch guerilla’s memoir of WWII in Netherlands (West) Nieuw Guinea

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Henri Licht, a Dutch-Australian writer, was the key speaker at the Federal Republic of West Papua (FRWP) Open Day in Docklands on 4 August 2019. Henri had just finished translating Vij Vochten in het bos a WWII memoir by Sergeant Maurits Christiaan Kokkelink (We fought in the jungle) which was published in Amsterdam in 1956 but never reprinted. Henry found the last copy in the world in a second-hand bookstore in Ljouwert, capital of the northern province of Friesland, and translated it for the West Papua Womens Office in Docklands to publish.

We fought in the jungle: my guerrilla struggle in New Guinea in the Second World War is an extraordinary story of courage, ferocity, and the determination to fight and evade the Japanese in West Papua from April 1942 until the dramatic and devastating arrival of MacArthur’s US-Australian taskforces in April 1944. In the beginning there were 62 men, a teenage-girl and her aunt; thirty months later when they made contact with a Dutch-military search party there were just fourteen men, the girl (Coosje Ayal) and her uncle.

FRWP Womens Office (Docklands) organised and published the translation because it is a West Papuan story as much as a Dutch story; about a time when ‘self-determination’ over-rode the benevolent paternalism characteristic of Dutch governance before the war, and colonizer and colonised worked together for a more equitable future.  Kokkelink, Isaac Kijn, Freerk Kamma, Vic de Bruijn, Jan van Eechoud, Joseph Luns, are just some of the Dutch men and women who influenced the West Papuans’ shift from a nation of tribes to the nation-state they are today, and worked with them against Indonesia’s colonization of an indigenous Melanesian people.

Maurits Kokkelink was scratching a living farming in Manokwari on the north coast of West Papua when Hitler occupied his father’s homeland in 1940 and when Japan bombed his little hut in April 1942. Refusing to surrender, he rejoined the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army, and learned the guerilla art of freedom-fighting on-the-job: surviving on roots and leaves, shooting and seizing weapons, hiding in mud in mosquito-infested mangrove swamps with no potable water, organising a marriage-based military alliance with a Papuan chief. One night he and two of his men had to jump from a cliff into a river thirty metres below to elude a posse of eleven-hundred Japanese armed with a ten-thousand guilder bounty to capture him. 

It was not until 4 October 1944—after Macarthur’s taskforce had thoroughly bombed West Papua’s north coast—that Kokkelink permitted a Papuan runner to contact a Dutch-military search party. Tired and malnourished he nevertheless went onto to find and liberate 170 Dutch women and children from an internment camp in the jungle; led a taskforce cleaning up Japanese troops on Noemfoor Island; crept into occupied-Manokwari dressed like a Papuan and found the enemy’s radar station that was still intercepting Allied air traffic between Brisbane and New Guinea.

On 6 August 1945, at a military camp in Brisbane (Australia) Kokkelink was awarded the Militaire Willems-Orde, the Netherland’s oldest and highest military honour (left). Then he returned to Manokwari to rebuild his home in the land he’d learned to love and had done so much to defend. However, a few years later, the United Nations gifted West Papua to Indonesia, and the Kokkelink family was forced to seek refuge in Holland, then Suriname (a constituent country of the Netherlands) and ultimately in French Guiana where Kokkelink died in 1995.

Henri Licht, who translated the work, is a Tolstoy scholar, regards himself an anarcho-socialist, and was once the Vice-Principal of Lilydale High School and lecturer at Victoria University.  He lives with his Sikh wife Ubdesh, his water tanks and large garden in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and is writing a novel about English convict boys sent to Point Puer in the Tasman peninsula between 1834 and 1849.  His 2015 memoir By the scruff of the neck; a suitcase of memories captures his family’s migration to Australia in 1952 and life in the Bonegilla migrant camp. He has always been a strong advocate of Australia recognizing West Papuans’ sovereignty over the magnificent land they have called home for centuries.

Media Statement: We fought in the jungle FRWP Office (Docklands), 8 August 2019 [click to read] Media, We fought in the jungle, FRWP Open Day, 8 Aug 2019

Henri Licht, launch-speech: We fought in the jungle FRWP Office (Docklands), Open Day, 8 August 2019 [click to listen]

Henri Licht, 3CR Radio: Radical Australia with Joe Toscano, 31 July 2019 [click to hear]

CANBERRA LAUNCH, Netherlands Australia War Memorial, 9 September 20109. The Australia West Papua Association (Melb) hosted a special ceremony at the Netherlands Australia War Memorial in Canberra to launch We fought in the jungle and honour the friendship and work of Dutch, Australians and West Papuans during World War Two.  Speakers included Babuan Mirino (President, Australia West Papua Assoc-Melb) and Henri Licht and Harold Wilkinson (United Nations Association of Australia) who read a review of the memoir by Professor John Langmore (who was instrumental in the founding and funding of the memorial).

Professor John Langmore’s review of We fought in the jungle [click to read] John Langmore, Review, We fought in the jungle, 09:09:19 

Photo-essay of the ceremony at the Netherlands Australia War Memorial [click to view] Powerpoint, 21 Sept 2019, Netherlands Australia War Memorial

King Willem-Alexander’s endorsement of We fought in the jungle [click to view] King Willem-Alexander’s endorsement, letter.jpg

Reference details for photographs of Sergeant Maurits Kokkelink:
i) Award Ceremony, 6 August 1945: Lt-General Van Oyen pins Militaire Willems Orde on Sergeant Kokkelink. Camp Columbia, Queensland, 6 August 1945 (Dutch Ministry of Defense, Institute of Military History, Collection: Photographs, Royal Dutch Army, Item No 2155_022832) 

ii) In the mess after the award ceremony: Lt-Gen. Van Oyen, Sgt. Maurits Kokkelink RMWO, Lt-Governor General Dr. Van Mook (Ministry of Defense, Institute of Military History, Collection: Photographs, Royal Dutch Army, Item No 2155_022826) 

The Courier Mail, 9 August 1945  https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/50272909

Painting from New Guinea by Maurits son Coen Robert Kokkelink

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