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Friday, January 13, 2012

The Universe works in mysterious ways!

My step father was a machinist engineer on the SS Boschfontein.We, my half brother, and sister did not know much about his life as a sailor. He never talked about it. We knew when he retired from sea, that he missed it terrible.Not a day went by that he did not go to the blvd to look at the sea.We lived in Zandvoort which is on the North Sea.and  it was here that he passed away at the age of 96, 6 weeks after the death of my mother, in 2003.


At the age of 90 he was interviewed by a newspaper, which I still have. In this article it was said that in World War 2 he had sailed the dangerous waters in the Pacific.At the time I did not think much about it. But after his death I liked to know more about his life as a sailor.He was never home, which we hated. Most of the time he would be three months gone and two weeks home, sometimes just a few days, because he always seemed to sign up for the two weeks Antwerpen(Belgium)or the Hamburg trip.Sailing was in his blood.
Three years ago when I retired I had some more time on my hands and I started to dig into the past from both my parents.My moms life in Indonesia and my birth father's death on the Burma Death railway, which I have written about in a book, and some of it I wrote on this blog. Now it was time to write about my step father.
 A few months ago I found the newspaper clip again from my father's interview when he was 90 years old.I read it again and I decided to dig into the journeys the Boschfontein had taken. Once he had told me that the Boschfontein had pilots on board in 1941, and they had sailed them over the Pacific oceans to their destination. All he said that it had been a dangerous time.Sometimes he thought he would never see The Netherlands again. But I was lucky, the Boschfontein was lucky'; he would say, and that was all.I remembered that he once had mentioned the name 'Flying Tigers', and that they were pilots on a secret mission, and they were on board the Boschfontein.
So one day I google Flying Tigers and Boschfontein, and to my surprise I stumbled on all kinds of information.I noticed lots of books have been written about these Flying Tigers, and the Boschfontein was mentioned in all of them.So I like to write about these trips.
My step father was oh so proud that he had a social security number from the U.S.

We knew that he had spend time in San Francisco and had worked there for a very short time maybe for two weeks or three weeks in 1943.I have no idea why he had worked there, because he was a sailor on the Boschfontein. Maybe the ship was in dock for a while and he decided to earn something extra, who knows?
Looking at his medals I see that he was sailing the Pacific. He received a  buckle for being a War-Service Merchant from 1940-1946, a buckle that he sailed the Java Sea from 1941-1942,and a buckle that he sailed the East-Asia-South-Pacific from 1942-1945.He received 5 stars.All in all three buckles and a medal.

This is one of the journeys the Boschfontein made in 1941, and which I found on the internet. Why is it that some people never talk about the past? My step father did not. I think it is so important for your family to know.My half brother and sister will be so proud of him when they read this story. They never knew their father very well and what he had gone through in World War 2. So this is for them;Leendert and Sietske, my (brother and sister) I love you.

On September 24 1941, two and a half month before the bombing of Pearl Harbor stunned the nation into War, my step-father left from San Francisco for the long ocean voyage to Burma on the ss Boschfontein.
It was 1 pm and the ship left the dock and the ocean liner steamed beneath San Francisco's famous Golden Gate Bridge, and veered out into the Pacific, and set course toward Hawaii.
The Dutch crew and Javanese stewards and waiters made every effort to ensure that each passenger-(AVG men made up only a portion of the ship's manifest)-enjoyed the trip.The pilots were listed as everything but pilots-they were manifests as- acrobats, artists, musicians, salesmen, teachers, and undertakers.There were other passengers on the Boschfontein and the pilots mixed with them and wore civilian clothes. It was a secret mission.
The conditions aboard the Boschfontein made the lengthy ocean voyage for these warriors(Flying Tigers) appealing.
As soon as the Boschfontein left the United States nightly blackouts from sunset to sunrise darkened the transport to shield it from prowling Axis submarines. Crew members extinguished all the lights on deck and stretched tarpaulins over the hatches. This was a precaution against Japanese submarines. The trash was refrained from dumping overboard until sunset. Any submarine patrolling the area would not spot the trash floating on the surface until daybreak at the earliest, by which time the Boschfontein would have put twelve hour's steaming time between the ship and the refuse.
At all time the American, Australian, and Dutch navies, were within two hours of the Boschfontein in case of trouble, and the ship adopted a course- usually zigzagging to make it harder for a submarine to track its course- set by the consulates of those three nations.
They had heard that the Japanese had sent additional troops to Indochina, which meant more risk for the Boschfontein, when they arrived in Burma.
On September 20 1941 Hawaii came into view.The ship docked in Honolulu, but at 4 pm the Boschfontein left again for it's lengthy leg across the Pacific, this time to Surabaja, Java.
Hawaii docks, Honolulu.
Once the ship was beyond Hawaii, the war drew closer. On October 1, the U.S. cruisers Northampton and Salt Lake City joined the Boschfontein to escort it across the Pacific.
The passengers listened to an English-language broadcast and the Japanese radio reported the departure of American pilots for China. The radio commentator boasted that despite the dearest hope of Chennault and Chiang Kai-shek, the Japanese navy would sink the ship long before it reached Burma's shores. As often in War however Tokyo's boasts failed to materialize and the first and second groups safely found their way to the Far East.
On October 6, 1941 the ship crossed the International Date Line and jumped from Sunday to Tuesday.
When the Boschfontein reached the Coral Sea off Australia's coast the following week,the old salts on board conducted the traditional King Neptunes ceremony. The weather had been bad so the ceremony had been delayed by a few days.
October 13, 1941. The Pacific voyage was straining frayed nerves as each day brought the ship closer to combat, for the pilots on board.
The American cruisers were no longer escorting the Boschfontein. The ship was now unescorted and zigzag-ging all over the Pacific Ocean. The pilots on board began to snarl at each others, and nerves was setting in.

At last October 19, The Boschfontein reached Surabaja, Java an important Dutch Navy port.

The Boschfontein was sheduled to depart Java on October 23. On board the ship crew members installed 3-guns on the bow of the Boschfontein. Once the ship had steamed beyond Java and headed toward Indochina, the prospect of encountering the Japanese multiplied exponentially.I guess at that time people were getting serious about the Japanese, the feeling of War felt all of a sudden so close.

On November 4, the Boschfontein arrived in Singapore, the powerful base for the British Far Eastern fleet and the final stop before Burma.
The Boschfontein had all these Flying Tiger pilots on board and the Japanese had warned the U.S. state Department that any American pilot captured while flying for China would lose all rights and be shot without delay.
On November 9, the Boschfontein pulled out of Singapore and set course for the Bay of Bengal.
After 50 days at sea, the ship steamed up the Irrawaddy River and docked at Rangoon.
Now the Boschfontein return voyage began again over these dangerous oceans.

On their return voyage they had just left Hawaii when on December 7, Pearl Harbor was bombed. How lucky the Boschfontein had been and of course my step father.

Flying Tiger plane
This emblem were worn by the Flying Tigers which said:
Flying Tigers Blood Chit. Worn by the Flying Tigers during WW2 in several Chinese dialects to take care of the wearer and return him safely to the U.S Forces, and offers a reward for doing so.

I am very proud of you.
The sea he loved so much!

Our father was buried at sea, that was his biggest wish.

You sailed the seas, your journey ends,
We know you would have liked to sail forever,
But your time had come, you could not fight it anymore.
Little by little you left us,
The look in your eyes was so hurtful 
You were not the man anymore you were before
Thank you for the father you have been for me
I could not have wished for a better father then you
You always made me feel, like I was your own.
You left us before to go to sea, but now you left us forever.
This journey is your last, but well deserved.

Your always thankful step- daughter.

May 15, 1907-May 2, 2003. Just 12 days short of his 96 birthday.


10 comments:

  1. Elizabeth van Kampen liked this.Story read on facebook

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  2. Ita Juta from Indonesia liked my story, she wrote on facebook. Thank you Ita, I hope to visit you one day in Indonesia.

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  3. Thank-you for keeping the memories alive for our children and grandchildren.

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  4. Hi Thea ~ This is your Hong Kong Facebook friend.I really enjoy reading this chapter.It would've been wonderful if your stepfather had shared some of his adventurous journeys at sea with his 3 children or kept a daily joiurnal.

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    1. Hallo friend from Hong Kong. Thank you for reading my blog. Indeed it's a shame my parents never talked about their past. They were always told; 'Get on with your life, and forget about the past.'I think our parents liked to spare us from all the atrocities they endured during world war 2. You probably found that out from your parents and grandparents. They probably never talked about it either.They must have suffered tremendously.Even after the war the nightmares were always there.They think their children don't know, but we feel it.I tell my kids always talk about things what bother you, it's not good for your health to keep it inside.Thanks again for reading my blog. Thea

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    2. All throughout my adolescent years ~ my parents rarely discussed how life was for the family in explicit details during WW II when me and siblings were around.I guess they didn't want to expose their young children to war horror stories.Not until in my 20's ~ I found out from my maternal grandma that she and one uncle's wife went hiding up the hills when the news came that " Japanese are coming !! " and grandfather stayed alone in the house when Japanese troops finally shown up in their village.They came and ransacked my grandparents' home ~ one hit my grandpa really hard with the butt of the gun.One tragic story about a well-known actress was savaged gang raped inside movie studio during Japanese troops rampaign of Hong Kong.Her actor husband couldn't deal with it ~ divorced her.She committed suicide.I need to note this ~ NOT all so-called Japanese ground troops or " Japs " were real native Japanese.Some were Koreans ( and Chinese bandits they recruited and trained for invasions of HK. and other parts of mainland China ).Navy and Air Force should ALL be THE JAPANESE.

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    3. typo > " savagely " gang-raped

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  5. My father was a maschinist on the Boschfontein during WW2 in the Pacific theatre. I do remember he talked about Surabaya. He has same royal decorations you showed. His name was Adriaan Colpaart. I now live in Austin, Tx. Feel free to contact me, my name is Dirk Colpaart.

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    1. My Opa was Dirk's father, my middle name is Adriaan. :-)

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    2. Hi Dirk, How interesting our father's were together on the Boschfontein. Surabaya is on the island of Java and there was a harbour. My stepdad was Leendert Jacobus Molenaar. Was your father Dutch too. How interesting we live in Canada and are snowbirding in Florida right now, I would like to know if your Dad ever talked about WW2, if you have more information I would love to know. Sincerely Thea.

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