April 15, 2009

3. Anna (1939-1940)

Han Samethini Collection

It was during a gig in Surabaya, perhaps on such a starlit tropical evening as Frank described, that Han Samethini looked out onto the dance floor and glimpsed a flash of blond hair. A second, more attentive look detected a slender, graceful Eurasian girl dancing to the strains of his music. This was Anna Caroline Gunthardt. He fell in love with her, but she became the girlfriend of one of his band mates. That relationship ended unhappily and Han caught Anna on the rebound. [1]

The orphanage in Surabaya where Anna grew up (click to enlarge)
Photo taken in 1999 by Margie Samethini-Bellamy

Anna's early life is obscure. She was born in the East Java town of Lumajang on August 26, 1915. Her parents died in the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, leaving herself and three siblings to be raised in orphanages.[2] This harsh upbringing, so different from Han's youth of relative affluence and privilege, left its marks. Her green eyes never shone without a trace of sadness. Yet she shared his delight in melody and, when happy, she hummed or sang in a mellifluous soprano voice. She took ballet classes at Emma's dance school, performing well enough to be promoted to a teaching position.

Anna demonstrates the Battement Tendu Fondu Devant Cambre
Han Samethini Collection

Children's ballet performance put on by Emma's studio.
Possibly Anna was their teacher.
Han Samethini Collection

The shadows in the world lengthened during the young couple's courtship. Over the radio and in the papers came the bulletins: Hitler's speech on January 30, 1940, in the Berlin Sportpalast, declaring that Poland's destruction ended only the first phase of the conflict, and that the second might open with "a war of bombs"; the German slaughter of merchant ships in the Atlantic and the North Sea, over 1 million tons sunk by the end of March; and, on April 9, the German invasion of Denmark and Norway.

Frank Samethini saw no cause for alarm. Hadn't Germany respected Holland's neutrality in the last war? And though Japan was nearer to the Indies, she appeared none the more menacing for it. As far as he was concerned, 1940 would be a year like any other, albeit more busy than usual:

In the Dutch East Indies there is no mobilisation but the call to report for military drill comes time after time. I am hardly back in civvies before I have to put on my uniform again for duty at another depot. They say we have to be ready. For what? For the Japanese, they say. For the little fellows with spectacles, barbers, watchmakers, you know, them!

They must be joking! The Japanese of all people, they must be aware of the terrific naval power Britain packs in Singapore. It would be madness! [3]

Frank Samethini (circa 1940)
Frank Samethini Collection

Frank's outlook was particularly bright on the evening of May 9, the 18th birthday of his girlfriend, Elisabeth Boerman. The party held in her parents' home proved to be a memorable occasion. As the festivities continued well past midnight, the music and merry conversation gave way to a new sound:

Suddenly army trucks come rolling by, full of soldiers, and more come, the heavies with powerful, growling motors. Where are they going to at this time of night? Everybody gets on their feet. A glass smashes on the floor followed by a nervous, giggled apology. Her mother says it is nothing, it will bring luck. Then no more trucks come and the agitation dies. Returning to the lounge room I notice that the radio has ceased playing music. Instead I hear a single voice saying over and over again through the crackling of static, "The code word is Berlin!" [4]

In Europe the sun rose on May 10 to reveal 136 German divisions pouring into the Low Countries. Hitler's forces overwhelmed Holland in five days. Queen Wilhelmina took refuge in Britain, forming a government-in-exile and vowing to continue the fight. Apart from impounding a few German merchant vessels, the colonial government could do little to help.

The outlook in Western Europe is dark indeed, but the sun is still very much shining in the colonies, the only remaining strongholds. The tricolour proudly flying from the mast gives strength to the cry that "Holland shall rise again!" Yes, the four words grow into a dictum, an epigram stamped across postage stamps, flashed across the screen in the cinemas, engraved on buttons. In the meanwhile, the radio and tabloids warn, we must realise that the defence of our so profitable colonies rests now entirely in our own hands. Remember, they say, that we must be prepared to stand up and fight with everything we have. True, this "everything" is not much; alarmingly small indeed are our military forces. But isn't it the spirit that counts, the old Dutch fighting spirit when the call comes to go to war for Queen and Country? [5]

On June 6, Han reported once more for militia duty. Now that war with Japan had become a distinct possibility, the ground forces needed non-commissioned officers in quantity. Han was not conscripted into the regular army, but when he left on extended leave on June 30, he'd been promoted to sergeant.

Dutch morale rose that summer at the news of England's defiance to the aerial might of Germany's bomber force. "Parties for the benefit of the British war machine are the order of the day," recalled Frank. "Parties where lots of fun is to be had....The Battle of Britain, comfortably distant, is applauded and toasted upon."[6] Even in the East Indies the Spitfire, premier fighter of the Royal Air Force, became a symbol of resistance to Nazi aggression.[7] By the end of autumn it was clear that the Luftwaffe had failed to achieve air superiority over the British Isles, a necessary precondition for any German invasion. Britain stood as yet unconquered, a safe haven for the exiled Queen and her cabinet, and a base for the future liberation of Holland.

So it was with hope than Han Samethini and Anna Gunthardt wedded on Wedensday morning, December 11, 1940. They spent their honeymoon in the district of Sawiran, East Java. As they strolled through the highland coffee plantations, or picked their way among the rocks of the small stream behind their bungalow, the European war and its miseries must have seemed especially distant. One honeymoon photograph shows Han by the bungalow porch, pipe in hand, grinning from ear to ear like the happiest man alive.

The Wedding

Wedding Announcement
 Han Samethini Collection

The wedding party poses for a photo at 35 Brantasstraat
 Han Samethini Collection

The wedding party sets out for the Stadhuis (Town Hall) 
Han Samethini Collection

On the grounds of the Stadhuis 
Han Samethini Collection

Just married! Photo taken inside Town Hall following the civil ceremony.
The bridesmaid at right is Elisabeth Boerman, Frank Samethini's future wife.

Han Samethini Collection

The Bubutan Church (Boeboetankerk) in Surabaya.
The wedding service was held here, following the civil ceremony.

Photo by Nikola Drakulic
Han Samethini Collection

 The Honeymoon

Newlyweds in the garden by their bungalow in Sawiran, Java
Han Samethini Collection

The happiest man alive
Han Samethini Collection

Gathering fresh ingredients from the garden
Han Samethini Collection

Preparing a meal in the bungalow kitchen
Han Samethini Collection

Posing by a mountain stream
Han Samethini Collection


[1] Caught is perhaps too passive a term. Many years later, Han told his granddaughter, Mylene, that he marched into his rival's home and left with Anna in tow. This man must have been something of a rake, for Han declared in wonderment and disgust, "You would not believe the things I saw in that house!"

[2] The will stipulated that the orphans, Maggie, Godfried (called Piet), Anna, and Thomas, be kept together. Apparently none of their relatives was willing or able to take on four extra mouths to feed. The sisters grew up in the same orphanage (Protestant Meesjes Weeshuis on Boeboetan-weg in Surabaya), and it seems that Maggie died of tuberculosis at age 18. The boys were sent to a different institution. Anna lost track of her brothers during World War II. Through a member of the Gunthardt family in Holland, who telephoned me in January 2011, I have learned that Thomas died in Japanese captivity sometime between 1942 and 1945. Godfried survived the war, became an Indonesian citizen, and fathered ten children. So a flourishing branch of the Gunthardts remains on Java to this day.

Godfried Gunthardt and his family, circa early 1950s
Photo courtesy of Nancy and Thomas Gunthardt (niece and nephew of Anna Gunthardt)

[3] The Sky Looked Down, Chapter 4: The Darkening Sky[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Images of the Spitfire even graced collection boxes for a scrap aluminum drive in Tanjong Priok, Java. T.Y. Hobma-Glastra, Bandjr: Een Indische Kroniek 1935-1950 (1988 Uitgeverij Lunet, Naarden), p. 37, photo plate 58. (Click the thumbnail image below to enlarge)


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