National Geographic : 1942 Jan
Java Assignment BY DEE BREDIN National Broadcasting Company Correspondent in Batavia With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author I FLEW to Singapore last spring, on the first passenger flight to Malaya. On that ten-thousand-mile flight the only overnight hop is from San Francisco to Honolulu.* The next jump is to Midway Islands-the last stop before crossing the International Date Line. Here, you skip a day going west and repeat a day coming east. This causes no end of confusion. It makes it seem that you can fly in four days from Singapore to Honolulu, and the same distance in the oppo site direction takes six days. But, of course, it's all done with calendars! Because weather conditions were ideal, the captain practiced instrument flying around Wake, and we all had a jolly good look at this barren little island between Midway and Guam-a tiny dot in the Pacific, 1,500 miles from either base. The clipper curtains were carefully drawn before approaching Wake. The United States was not sharing its new military secrets with clipper passengers. On arrival at Wake, pas sengers were quickly herded into the little hotel and not allowed to leave the premises. Uncle Sam lets no strangers count his troops and defense equipment! (Page 92.) The next stop is Guam. It is a pretty island, covered with palm trees and other tropical vegetation, which bravely bears the brunt of the severe Pacific typhoons. It is populated by American subjects called Chamorros pleasant, light-brown natives, with fine Span ish features, many of whom speak English as well as their own garbled dialect. Manila, our fifth stop, is, of course, much more modern, and living conditions show the benefit of many years of American influence. There are excellent hotels, with air-cooled rooms, good food, and fine service. I spent only one night there this trip, and went to the popular jai alai games at the luxurious casino, where we also dined and danced. Flying from Manila to Singapore in the comparatively peaceful days of last spring, * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Flying the Pacific," by William Burke Miller, De cember, 1936, and "Guam-Perch of the China Clip pers," by Margaret M. Higgins, July, 1938. t See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Life Grows Grim in Singapore," by H. Gordon Minnigerode, November, 1941; and "Behind the News in Singapore," by Frederick Simpich, July, 1940. we soon sensed that we were entering a war zone. We saw a Japanese airplane carrier on the calm Pacific, and one of the pilots re ported that we had passed seven Japanese reconnaissance planes off the China coast. And we learned that in the thoroughly mined harbor of Singapore explosions had occurred when merchant ships struck mines. Singapore Hot Spot of Vital Area Today Singapore is no longer just part of the Pacific war zone; it is the hot spot of the entire region.f Military restrictions are taut; troops are grim and eager; the "ever ready" Australians stationed there are pray ing for action! From Singapore to Batavia, the capital of Java, is only four hours by plane. The one stop en route is Palembang near the southeast coast of Sumatra, where the Standard Oil and Dutch Shell refineries are located. I was looking forward to the Netherlands Indies with keen anticipation. My father owned a tobacco plantation outside Medan, in Sumatra, and that was my birthplace. When I was quite young, we moved back to The Hague. Once before, in 1924, I had visited the Indies and met my many relatives there. As we got out of the plane at the miniature airport of Palembang, I thought the long threatened invasion had already come to the Netherlands Indies, for green-clad soldiers with fixed bayonets immediately surrounded us. We were quickly herded into a fenced-off section of the waiting room while the plane was being refueled. After the take-off, the little red-roofed town revealed itself comfortably occupying the river bank. Across the stream the chimneys of the refineries were belching smoke, disclosing that production was going full speed ahead. At Batavia armed guards escorted us to the immigration offices, where each passenger's identity was thoroughly looked into. My passport, return ticket, and photographic equipment were taken from me. My express checks were recorded, and every letter of in troduction, including those to the Governor General and other officials, was scrutinized. All around the airport were pillboxes, ma chine-gun nests, tank traps, and antiaircraft guns. Java was prepared for invasion (pages 95, 99, 112).