Peter H Le Mare
At the outbreak of World War 2, I was manager of a gold and silver mine in South Bantam, Java. The mine was known as Tjikotok Gold Mine, though its real name was the Mining Company of South Bantam. Anyway, the company was established on 19 May, 1934, in Batavia (now Djakarta).
The development of the mine itself took quite some time. The hamlet of Tjikotok was chosen as the centre; it was at an altitude of some five-hundred metres in a sparsely populated, infertile and mountainous area north of Pelabuhan Ratu, which was on the Wijnkoops Bay.
Initially, materials, machines, and whatever else we needed were supplied by ship from Batavia. There was no harbour in the bay, so the ships had to be unloaded while lying in the roads off the seaside village of Bajah. From there, transport was by either pack-horse or porters, along a footpath up the mountain. In addition, some goods were brought to Pelabuhan Ratu by road, and transported from there to Bajah in proas, those swift outrigged boats that are so typical of Indonesian waters.
Later, a number of Caterpillar tractors and drilling machines were brought up to the Tjibareno River, along with large quantities of dynamite and other road-building materials. There, a bridge was built, together with thirty-two kilometres of roadway, suitable for motor vehicles, to Tjikotok.
Bajah, no longer wanted as a supply point, returned to the quiet fishing village it had previously been.
Another road was built to Pasir Gombong, about five kilometres west of the main yard at Tjikotok, on the Tjimadur River. The ore-processing plant was constructed at Pasir Gombong. Some kilometres upstream was a hydroelectric station, which produced the power we needed.
Still later, two other mines were made accessible to motor vehicles: at Tjipitjung to the south west and Tjirotan to the north. Eventually, all three mines were connected by cableway with the processing plant at Pasir Gombong. The cableway facilitated the transport of ore.
I should add that hardly any gold was found on the surface in Bantam. The ore could be won only by tunnelling. The deepest mine was Tjirotan, where the ninth level, 900 metres into the Earth, had been reached by the time the war forced us to halt the operations.
The ore itself was largely one of silver, though contained a few other minerals including a small percentage of gold. However, it was the high market price of gold that made the exploitation commercially attractive.
We had started off with small bamboo huts for the employees, though gradually replaced them with stone houses. Tjikotok boasted a well furnished hospital with twenty-eight beds, a large recreation hall with a cinema, barracks, a pasanggrahan or small guest-house for visitors and newcomers, and last but not least a tennis court.
All in all, the project was a gigantic job, and realized in only a few years. It took a great effort. The barracks were meant for the native police. They included an office and housing for the chief, plus housing for a score of the constables and their families. There were also eight cells and large stables.
The local police chief was a so-called outer-Baduj, a member of an ancient Baduj community that had long led a very isolated life in the inhospitable area to the north of Lembak Sembada. But more of this later.
The official opening of the mine took place towards the end of 1939. Many dignitaries were present, though they did not include A.W.L. Tjarda van Starkenborg Stachouwer, Governor of the Dutch Indies. Sadly, he was unable to be with us that day, and though he did plan to visit us on a later date the war made the visit impossible.
As for production, our first results were published on 31 December, 1940. Unfortunately, I no longer have those results in my possession. I can give only those of the second, and last, period: from 1 January, 1941, until 21 February, 1942, the profits totalled about 503 000 florins.
Our personnel included 65 Europeans and about 1000 natives. The whole area, of course, profited by the development.
When the Japanese invaded Java, early in 1942, most of the Europeans were called up for military service. The ensuing shortage of sufficiently skilled technical staff eventually led to the closure of the mines.
An emergency formation was set up by the Government, consisting of reserve militia and staff who were thought vital to the establishments on which they worked. Exemption from military service was granted to those of us in the emergency formation, at least until the situation in Java dictated otherwise.
My function was apparently thought quite important, and I was enlisted in the emergency formation, for the time being.
On many of the Javanese establishments, territorial forces were formed. So that we could form our own at Tjikotok, I underwent a training course for territorial commanders, in Bandung. When I had completed the first part of the course, I was promoted to the rank of sergeant, first-class. Circumstances changed, and the second part of the course could not be started.
I was an enthusiastic hunter in those days, and familiar with the use of weapons. Most of the territorials had to be taught how to handle a gun, and needed intensive training. Some useful exercises were staged around Tjikotok, together with troops from the Royal Dutch-Indies Army and under the command of a colonel. For further training we acquired the assistance of some professionals, including Sergeants Sieraad and Plaisir.
In October of 1941, I was offered the position of general manager of the mining and shipping department of Erdmann & Sielcken in Batavia, who managed several mining and shipping companies in Java and Sumatra. I accepted gratefully.
My temporary administrative successor on the mine was E. Kuonie, a Swiss, who would later succeed G. Tauw Jr on Lebong-Tandai (Simau-Sumatra). My military activities were taken over by Ir G. Goekoop, my close friend and colleague.
The board of directors had appointed Mr Tauw as my successor, but the fall of Singapore to the Japanese and subsequent events on Sumatra affected him so much that his doctors in Batavia advised him to rest for some time. For that reason, Mr Tauw took up his work in Tjikotok only after the territorial forces had been disarmed by the Japanese.
When the Japanese invaded Java, the women and children living in Tjikotok were evacuated to Tjitorek, a refuge in the woods of Tjitjatrap, near Lembak Sembada, where our geologist, Paul Vogt, was working. The spot was isolated, and inaccessible by car. From Tjirotan, 18 kilometres distant from Tjikotok, one went on horseback or by foot along a narrow path that climbed steeply up a mountain to a large forest. The refuge was built by Paul Vogt, by a clear stream. The journey took about three hours on foot, and a few of the men went along, armed with rifles and revolvers, to protect the women and children against the gangs of robbers who frequented the entire area.
Vogt, a Swiss national, lived not far from the refuge, with his wife and children. He would come down to Tjikotok at weekends to discuss the results of his activities, and he would then stay in our pasanggrahan.
My own wife and children had been with friends in Bandung for some time, and I meant to join them there. The board of directors planned to move the company’s headquarters to Bandung, where I was to be manager. However, despite numerous efforts, I was unable to obtain the necessary residence permit. I returned to Batavia alone, and was sent back to Tjikotok by the general military staff in Bandung a few days before the capitulation of the Dutch to the Japanese.
I had been made a member of the home guard in Batavia, but as I was in the emergency formation my duties were very limited. I had to wear a uniform to the office, and take part in light exercises after office hours. When the general mobilization was ordered, on 21 February, 1942, I had to live in barracks, downtown, where I was given command of a ‘raid truck’, an open, canvas-hooded truck seating sixteen men. Our orders were to patrol downtown and the road to the harbour, during the day or evening.
One day, early in the morning, I was summoned by my commanding officer, Captain Hoonstra. General headquarters in Bandung, he said, had ordered him by telegram to send me back to Tjikotok, at once, where I was once again to take command of the territorials, from Goekoop.
Back to Tjikotok! Not easy in that chaotic period. All troops were withdrawing to their bases in Bandung… traffic was in confusion as cars, buses, and other vehicles were being confiscated… but luck was with me.
Having completed all the formalities, handed over my command to sergeant Eland, and said goodbye to my fellow home guards, I went to Erdmann & Sielcken’s office to explain the latest developments to my boss, H. Fechner.
He told me that Ir A.van Damme had arrived from Tjikotok the day before, bringing with him a load of gold bullion. Knowing that the city would soon be occupied by the Japanese, neither Van Damme nor Fechner could decide what to do with the gold, until we finally agreed it was best returned to the mine and hidden.
I made use of the opportunity, and went with Van Damme and the truckload of bullion. We reached Tjikotok the next day.
The situation was confused and everybody seemed rather nervous. Rumour had it that the Japanese were advancing,
and that there was not enough transport for those of us who wanted to get to Bandung. Among such would-be travellers were members of the demolition brigade and some civil service officers who had orders to report there.
The truck in which Van Damme and I had arrived solved the problem. The eldest of the civil service officers handed over to me the civil command of the district and, despite the possibility that the ceremony was purely symbolic, I was very moved. If nothing else, it was a sure sign of the gravity of our situation. Moreover, I was suddenly burdened with responsibilities that made me realize normal authorities, including the police, had ceased to function.
Our territorial force was left to look after Tjikotok, with two raid trucks and two ordinary motor cars. And we had the problem of what to do with those thirty-two bars of gold bullion.
Eventually, we took them back into the ground from which they had been won. We hid them in an old, abandoned mine shaft, and flooded it.