My Opa – Johannes Hubertus Theodorus Gerardu

Continuing the story from my previous post – 1921: The Decision to Join KNIL

This young Dutchman began a new chapter in his life on March 6, 1921, when he boarded the S.S. Wilis, destination Batavia, Dutch East Indies.

However, before I go there, in an effort to imagine what life was like when he left the Netherlands, I found this video that gives a peek into city life in Groningen. While this is not where Hubert lived, it gives you an idea of what he was leaving behind.

Stamboek Entry: 3/6/1921 Geembarkeered te Rotterdam “Wilis”

Fifty-five days. At sea. In 3rd class or steerage. Now that’s a long trip!

It was a cool, damp March morning in Rotterdam, when, along with a handful of other new KNIL recruits, Hubert first stepped aboard the S.S. Wilis. This 4,731-ton steamship, built by the shipping company Rotterdam Lloyd in 1905, was not one of the fancy steamboats popular during this era. It was more likely a small cargo vessel (cargo capacity of 181,000 cubic feet) that happened to carry some passengers.

SS Wilis
Rotterdam Lloyd S.S. Wilis 1905-1924
Passengers as built: 1st: 60, 2nd: 37, 3rd: 34, 4th: 30

Prior to this day, he had never been far away from home. The extent of his travels was most likely limited to Germany, Netherlands, and Belgium. Undoubtedly, excitement and a little fear gripped him, but he was 20 years old and ready for something new.

Of the 156 passengers, most made their way up to the 1st or 2nd Class areas of the ship; however, Hubert and his fellow KNIL soldiers headed down to 3rd Class, or perhaps, all the way down to steerage.

3rd class cabin
An example of 3rd Class quarters on a German steamship built in 1897, a few years earlier than the S.S. Wilis.

I try to imagine spending 55 days in close quarters with strangers, limited facilities, and poor ventilation. It doesn’t sound like a good time. In my search to learn a little more, I came across a Holland Line blog post where the author discusses this era aboard their ships that confirms my suspicions, “In bad weather these lower decks were [sic] often awash with overcoming sea water and then the immigrants would then be kept inside…which it quite often was on the North Atlantic especially in the winter, then everybody had to stay below. With most of these people located in the worst place of the ship (the bow) the atmosphere could be………… let’s [sic] say quite distinctive. So serving meals away from the sleeping place made good commercial sense.”

Sounds like fun, eh?

1921 World Map
The route – depart Rotterdam, Netherland, across the Atlantic Ocean, through the Panama Canal, across the Pacific Ocean, and arrive in Tanjung Priok, Dutch East Indies (now North Jakarta, Indonesia)

Well, it may not have been a comfortable ride, but he made it. The journey took him across the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal (where he got his first glimpse of a tropical climate), across the Pacific, and into Tanjung Priok (a port in North Batavia, now Jakarta).

It was the start of an experience so very different from what he had known thus far. Alone in the tropical world, far from home. Here is where his KNIL service officially began.

Stamboek Entry: 4/30/1921 In Ned. Indie aangekomen and In Priok aangekomen

View the Gerardu Family Tree on

Stories in this blog are created from historical information available to me at the time, which means there are some assumptions made to fill the gaps. If you have corrections, other information, or it ties to your stories, I would love to hear it, so please send me a message here.