Family StoryPre-WWIIStoriesJacobus Haarlem and Erna Filon in our garden in Assen, ca 1984

by Grieko Enter

A Family Connection Inspired by TIP

To her surprise, my wife Henny Haarlem recognized “Oma Filon” in the Indo Profile of Charles L. Pieters from April 20, 2021 TIP story. When her husband Maurits Pieters died in 1954, Erna Madeline Filon married Opa Dirk Kuipers (the second Opa in the Indo Profile), a former police commander. When Opa Dirk died, Oma Erna Filon and Henny’s father, Jacobus Haarlem, got into a relationship and moved to Gouda. Almost forty years ago, Henny and I visited Oma Erna in Alkmaar when still living at the time with her youngest son Humphrey.

Jacobus Haarlem and Erna Filon with his daughter Henny Haarlem, ca 1984
Jacobus Haarlem and Erna Filon with his daughter Henny Haarlem, ca 1984

Oma Erna Kuipers-Filon died on December 16, 2002—four years later followed by Jacobus Haarlem on October 13, 2006, both at the age of 94.

East Indies Verlofgangers: A Sponsored Trip to the Homeland

In 1936, Charles L. Pieters’ grandparents Maurits Simon Pieter and Erna Madeline Filon and four children lived at Hendrik van Deventerstraat 81 in The Hague for a six month visit. The young children included: Julius Edward, from a previous marriage with Dora David, was ten years old; Charles Robbert, was four years old; Augustinus Ferdinandus, was three years old; and Maurits Edwin was one year old.

In the 20th century, Dutch East Indies civil servants and employees of colonial business were entitled to eight months leave and a visit back home every six years (with reduced leave of absence pay)—there individuals were often referred to as verlofgangers. When your employer offers you a free return passage “home”, with eight months reduced pay, you happily bundle your family on a boat and go with an open mind to this often-unknown homeland. Six weeks at sea and six months in Europe: to renew ties with the fatherland, to enjoy a long holiday in the Old World, or to satisfy homesickness. Not so much for the Pieters family, all were born in the East Indies and none of them had ever been to Holland.

The leave of absence could be quite beneficial for a social career in the East Indies. It proved that an employee and his family in the colony belonged to the elite. Life in East Indies very much revolved around status, and their status may actually increase after a stay in Europe.

Based on the registration date of the Pieters family at the Municipality of The Hague and considering the usual travel time, we expect the family to have travelled with the M.S. Modjokerto of the N.V. Rotterdamsche Lloyd. Once on board, a trip at the highest level in terms of reliability, comfort and punctuality started.

Handboek Verlofganger Cover, 1923
Handboek Verlofganger Cover, 1923

Journey to The Netherlands

The atmosphere on board was mostly pleasant. The day on mailboats was largely determined by the meals: breakfast, the eleven o’clock broth, the dejeuner, the afternoon tea and in the evening the formal dinner. The meals service and other services was mainly provided by Mandoerese djongossen. Children were mostly trusted in the care of the baboes. If a family did not have its own baboe, a so-called ‘zeebaboe’ could be hired for the trip or the mother would take the task on herself.

One of the first transitions on board to Holland was the interest in its atmosphere, guided by the daily weather reports: “Moderate to strong southeast to southwesterly wind: heavily cloudy; frost and snow.” Another transition was the change of colors, specifically the clothing. The farewell at the quay in Tandjong Priok was in the usual bright white. The six months in Holland however would require a different set of clothing. On the way, somewhere before Port Said, the suitcase was opened and the tropical clothing swapped for a casual European attire.

Port Said was a port that the passengers were looking forward to. They had an opportunity to go ashore for a few hours to visit the duty-free shops and visit the internationally acclaimed Simon Arzt’s department store. Port Said also made passengers aware that the journey was approaching its destination. A few days later, the ship arrived at Marseille.

On the morning of arrival at Marseille, the passengers quietly sniffed into the dense, chilly fog off Europe’s coast. The cool, calm welcome of a strange “other” and “temporary” environment, compared to the well-known, steady place called home.

The Lloyd Rapide train at Den Haag Hollands Spoor station in 1939
The Lloyd Rapide train at Den Haag Hollands Spoor station in 1939

The Rotterdamsche Lloyd, in consultation with the French railway authorities, started a Marseille-Holland train transport for the mailboat passengers and cargo. The train, Rotterdam Lloyd Rapide, runs directly from Marseille to The Hague in twenty hours. Couchettes and a restoration wagon were part of the train. The route was fast and traveling comfortable. It also gave the travellers the opportunity to see something of Europe immediately upon arrival. In addition, some people were afraid of seasickness on the last stretch of sailing: wary of the rough seas of the Bay of Biscay. The train shortened the journey by eight days.

Locked in a velvet couchette, the verlofganger crossed France and Belgium without stopping. The night seemed endless—only the train rushed on, noisy in frantic speed over switches, roaring across bridges, hissing and whistling through stations, feverishly heading north through tunnels and cities.

Poster for the train service Marseille - Den Haag
Poster for the train service Marseille - Den Haag

Until the Lloyd Rapide stops at dawn, next to unusual crowds on a platform. Passengers take a peek out of their couchettes: running, shouting, stuffing in the corridors and then moving forward again, slowly this time as if the engine has grown tired. Not long after that, the train finally slips across the Dutch border to the customs exam. Here the tropical authority of the verlofganger gets its first crack: “Passports”, “Open suitcase”, “Declare this, customs”, and “Hurry up, the train won’t wait”.

The fields hum of a very different beauty than the Tropics. Beautiful pastel shades stretch across meadows and fields, shades, competing with the lavish East Indies in the mind of the verlofganger.

The Hague

In the years between the two world wars, most verlofgangers settled in the provinces of North Holland, South Holland, Utrecht and Gelderland. They initially returned to the places from which they had once departed. It’s a matter of family ties. As far as the cities are concerned, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, but above all The Hague stood out. That city had the highest population from the Dutch East Indies in the Netherlands for most of the 20th century. On average, 30% of all verlofgangers ended up there. 

It was a crisp morning, around freezing point to light frost, when the Pieters family arrived at The Haque Hollands Spoor station. The family had taken the train at Marseille and reached their temporary residence in about twenty hours. Maurits Simon Pieters, being an employee of de Staats Spoorwegen in the East Indies, may have enjoyed some perks from his employer. And finally took up their temporary residence at Hendrik van Deventerstraat 81.

Arrived in the hospitable Netherlands! Hospitable? The day after arrival, a gentleman from the Shipping Company appears at the door to ask which boat you think you are going to take back to the East Indies—closely followed by a taxman to remind you of the duties of your temporary citizenship and an invitation to spend a morning at the population office. Agents of Life Insurance Companies, with memento-mori faces and the fairest rates, and several salesmen of fridges, stoves, and razorblades come knocking on the door. Like hungry vultures, all prying.

Many municipalities did their best to get the East Indies verlofganger. It was assumed that the families had a lot to spend. That image was not always in line with reality. Leavers came from all walks of life. As consumers, they certainly formed an interesting target group and they noticed that. On the other hand, some verlofgangers were quite demanding. In the colony they were used to servants and that behavior did not suddenly change after arriving in the Netherlands. Despite such mutual misunderstandings, the image of the verlofganger is positive, ‘familiar’, but still ‘different’. Something like a tropical fruit in the Dutch garden.

Between 1920 and 1940, the absolute number of verlofgangers in The Hague was around 600 to 700 a year. Because there were so many people with Dutch East Indies connections in The Hague, tropical shops, trading houses and the Ministry of Colonies were established there.

On October 1936, the Pieters family had themselves deregistered as residents of The Hague with the comment “left for Bandoeng.”

The author and publisher disclaim any liability in connection with the use of the information and content of this article.

Were you inspired by the author’s story about Dutch furloughs from the Dutch East Indies? Please share with The Indo Project with comments below.

4 Comments

  1. Thankyou for penning such an interesting story of the journey and other related details. It reminds me of my mother’s story of her father’s furlough for six months to Amsterdam around 1927 when she was six years old. My mother, now 101, remembers the ships they travelled on but has never mentioned any train travel being involved so their travel itinerary was obviously different. Financially they were not very well off so life was simple.

    Her family of six children stayed in Amsterdam with her father’s strictly religious parents who, on meeting the grandchildren apparently remarked in Dutch “Oh so they’re white!”
    [I found their names recorded on the Residents Registration Card during a search of the archives in Amsterdam.]
    My mother recalls that, unfortunately, they even had to go school during this ‘holiday’. I believe they were all quite happy to return to the warm weather of Java and subsequently the journey was never repeated.

    • Hello Bonnie,

      You are quite welcome.
      The Lloyd Rapide between Marseille and The Hague started in 1927.

      Perhaps the next quote relates to your family? The ms. P. C. Hooft leaves Sept. 27 and is expected to arrive at Tg. Priok on Oct 30, 1927; on board fam. J. Boon with 3 children.

  2. The story enlightened me with regard to when and how long Europees Verlof was and the reduced salaries they received during this period. From the information I developed a time table of my fathers furlough, which took place in 1931 after serving 5 years in Banjarmasin, Borneo as Gezaghebber(Gov. empowered civil servant) he finished HBS in 1924 and spend 1 year in training for his government job, studying Bahasa Indonesia and Adat(Regional and Gov. Laws).
    He met my mother in Holland. She was a clerk in civil service and born in Indonesia and must have travelled to Holland at her own expense. They got married in The Hague and moved to Leok, Sulawesi for my dad next assignment. There I was born in 1931 as well as my sister in 1933. They moved to Batavia(Jakarta)in 1934 what was more to my mother’s liking. In 1947 we also moved to The Netherlands on his 2nd furlough where he took retirement when things went south for Indos in Indonesia and subsequently emigrated to the US in 1948.

    • Hello Walter,

      Thanks for your comments.
      They indeed married in The Hague in April 1931. Albertien, being a spoorwegambtenaar, perhaps may have been entitled to paid leave.

      A bit more information on their respective trips to and from the Netherlands:
      A miss A. de Witt was on the passengers list of the ms. Sibajak, leaving Batavia on 30 July 1930 for Marseille / Rotterdam. W.C. Klein is on board of ms Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft, leaving Batavia for Amsterdam on October 30, 1930 and Belawan on November 2.

      The family W C Klein leaves with ms Dempo Rotterdam on June 17, 1931 and are expected to arrive on July 13 at Belawan. They transfer on July 8 at Batavia to ms Christaan Huygens and leave Belawan on July 11 for Deli.

      The family may have stretched their furlough somewhat, paid or unpaid.

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