My Opa – Johannes Hubertus Theodorus Gerardu

Continuing the story from my previous post – A Very Long Trip – Rotterdam to Tanjung Priok

When someone decides to make a momentous change in location, one must ponder the pros and cons of such a decision. In this case, the pros were the adventure, advancement opportunities, and financial gain, whereas the con was moving away from everything he knew. It is hard to prove what Hubert considered an adventure, but I do have his military record documenting his compensation history, which may give us a peek into this aspect of his life.

J.H. Gerardu ~1921
Johannes Hubertus Theodorus Gerardu in 1921 prior to his departure from the Netherlands to the Dutch Indies

To give a little context, established in 1814, the Koninklijk Nederlands-Indisch Leger (KNIL) or Royal Netherlands Indies Army, was a separate military organization from the Netherlands Koninklijke Landmacht (KL) or Royal Army. It fell under the governance of the Ministry of Colonies whose mission was to oversee all matters regarding the colonies. In 1921, when Hubert arrived in the Dutch East Indies, the KNIL’s purpose was primarily policing of the colonies, so he was now a part of the system that supported colonial rule.

To understand what life was like for him, in my last post I included a video of a city in the Netherlands around the time he left, and so now I present a video from Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia) a few years before his arrival. It is always surprising when the image in your head does not match reality. In my case, I imagined Indonesia was nothing but jungle and my father grew up in a tropical house on stilts; however, it did happen to include servants (I know, duh!), so when I saw videos like this one I was surprised. It looks so very European but set in a tropical climate, they drive on the left side of the road (in the Netherlands it is on the right), and native culture is evident in the markets. Take a peek.

Now that you have seen what it was like around the time of his arrival, it is obvious the Dutch were the ruling class. From conversations with my father, it is my understanding that there were four general classifications of people – Dutch, Dutch-Indo (from a Dutch sanctioned union), Dutch-Indo (from a non-sanctioned union), and native. Formal education was available to the Dutch and sanctioned Dutch-Indos. However, in many cases the natives were illiterate. This alone created a divide. I am not saying this to take a position on the colonial system, but rather to describe how it worked. With this in mind, Hubert was now in a world where just because he was Dutch his position in society changed. In the Netherlands, he was a cook with little opportunity for advancement, while in the Dutch Indies he was automatically in the ruling class, albeit at the bottom of that class, but his prospects were excellent.

Which brings us to his compensation. At this point, the KNIL was struggling to get recruits from the Netherlands, so it is a reasonable assumption the pay was pretty good. In Hubert’s case, the compensation noted in his Stamboek (military record) was as follows:

Stamboek entry on March 10, 1921:

  • De verbintenis als een vaste bekrachtigd (The commitment is a fixed contract)
  • f.100 – op heden en telkens (100 guilders annually)
  • f.50. na ommekomst van elk dienstjaar van af 15 Feb. 1921, totdat een bedrag van ten hoogste f400. – is bereikt (an annual raise of 50 guilders at the end of each year of service starting on 15 Feb 1921, until an amount not exceeding f. 400 is reached)

In other words, he received 100 guilders the first year of the contract, his pay increased 50 guilders each year, and in the last year of his contract he made 400 guilders. That’s a 300 percent raise over six years. I assume this compensation plan was enough to entice recruits, but not too much cost for the KNIL when new troops first joined, in the event they didn’t work out. It also supports my theory that Hubert saw opportunity in this move.

400 guilders does not seem like much money today, but, according to my father, it was. I tried several value-of-money calculators online, but none accurately made an approximation of the guilder’s value in the Dutch Indies, so I rely on my father’s word. It appears that it was enough to house, feed, and start a family. It is also reasonable to assume the guilder went a lot further in the Dutch Indies than in the Netherlands.

Career opportunity, money, and setting down roots in a new country was a brave move on his part. I try to imagine how he felt – excitement, uncertainty, pride, and anticipation – are a few words that come to mind for me. Taking all of this into consideration, undoubtedly his decision to join the KNIL and service in the Dutch Indies was a pivot in his destiny, and it was the start of the Indo branch of my family tree.

View the Family Tree for Johannes Hubertus Theodorus Gerardu.

Stories in this blog are created from historical information available to me at the time, which means there are some assumptions and imbelishments 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.