When I embarked on the 'Oranje', in the harbour of Tanjong Priok, it was 31 January 1947. I was 11 years old and I had spend my pre-war years in a quiet neighbourhood of Batavia. During the war I, together with my mother and sister, was an inmate of the Japanese camps Cideng, Tangerang and ADEK. After the war, during the Bersiap period and later, we lived with my uncle's family near our former home.
My father, who was a geologist/mining engineer for KPM (Royal Shipping Company), successfully applied for a job with his former employer and was furthermore able to find temporary housing for the four of us in Holland. At that moment he booked passage for my mother and her two daughters on the 'Oranje'. Apparently, his assignment - writing the history of the shipping company during the devastating war years - allowed him to send his family to Holland on the very best of conditions. He booked us 'semi luxury class'; which implied a roomy cabin for three persons and an adjoining bathroom, with a tub (seawater), shower (drinking water), basin and toilet. Meals for my mother were served in the first class dining room: a marvel of oval form, ceiling lights in pink, green and orange and impressive dining tables. Forgive me if I am mistaken, but this is imprinted in my childhood memory. Much to my disappointment, the children had their meals in separate children's dining rooms, in the care of professional supervisors.
We could amuse ourselves in a beautiful swimming pool; play games on various decks and spent an absolutely wonderful time after the hardships of World War Two. The 'Oranje' was the most beautiful ship we had ever seen; and she was guaranteed to be free of rolling - or so we were told. At the first high winds, however, the rolling of the 'Oranje' became almost unbearable and we were very sick indeed. The ship sailed to Colombo, Aden, Suez, and the Suez canal. Camels moved with the same velocity as the ship; the 'Oranje' was so huge that it was not possible to see the shores. In Port Said the climate changed and we had to don our woollen winter clothes - every POW had one set handed out prior to the voyage.
It was a severe winter. In Port Said the temperature was only 10 Centigrade and further North our journey became very grim indeed. Storms raged in the Gulf of Biscay, the ship rolled heavily and the English Channel was covered in ice. In Southampton we children saw the first snow in our lives and to cross the Channel to the port of IJmuiden a small ice-breaker had to cut the ice in front of the bow of the 'Oranje'. After our passage, the ice shoals closed upon themselves in a matter of seconds. IJmuiden's youth marvelled at the sight of our beautiful ship; we begged them for snowballs, which they threw at our decks. We returned oranges in exchange. In the old port of Amsterdam heavy guns were roaring: a Royal Princess was born. It was 18th February, and on that same date the 'Oranje' had broken all records, sailing from Batavia to Amsterdam in eighteen days!
My father was waiting on the quay. He was happy to close us in his arms again, but, on the other hand, he did not particularly like the story my mother told him about our bathroom. She told him that on the first occasion she wanted to use our luxurious bathroom on the 'Oranje', the door was closed and she heard the splashing of a happy bather. He lived in the cabin next to our bathroom and discovered to his delight that the purser had left the adjoining door unlocked. So we had to share our private bath with a stranger. "But I have paid for it all!", my father cried and discovered once again that his wife was more tender-hearted than he. "The gentleman was so fond of bathing!" my mother exclaimed. And this is the story as remembered by an 11 year old war victim who lived three unforgettable weeks on board of the 'Oranje'.