Dutch East Indies

Republic of Indonesia

After the capitulation of Japan, Soekarno proclaimed the Dutch East Indies on 17 August 1945 as the Republic of Indonesia. This brings to an end the freedom that Hugo Wilmar had found in America. Hugo Wilmar is sent on November 17, 1945 with the first 2000 Dutch marines to the Dutch East Indies.

SS Noordam

Hugo Wilmar is assigned to the Marine Information Service. He has since been promoted to Lieutenant. As a film operator, Hugo films the departure of the Dutch Marines from Camp Davis. The 2000 men board the SS Noordam, which will take them to the Indies.

The tour leads via the Mediterranean sea past Port Said and Aden, towards Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Then the Noordam leaves for Batavia. However, the English reported that a course should be set towards Malacca (Malaysia). On December 17, 1945, the Noordam arrives in Port Swettenham.

“It was here that everyone began to realize very clearly that we were really at the mercy of the English, who are not mistakenly called 'Focking Limeys' by the Yanks. We were not allowed to go to the Indies and not even on land.” (letter dated 2 Jan. '46)

It was not until March 1946 that the Noordam received permission to build in Indonesia. The Marine Brigade is stationed in Surabaya.

Fighting in East Java

The Marines attacked early in the morning
The Marines proceed to attack early in the morning in Gedangan, East Java. (Source: Louis Zweers, Front Indië, photo: © NIMH

Hugo Wilmar records the battles of the Marines with the Indonesian freedom fighters from the front lines. The situation is life threatening. The resistance of the Indonesian freedom fighters is greater than expected. In addition, the supply of troops is insufficient. Soldiers are killed every day.

To the great anger of Hugo Wilmar, only his "good news images" are released by the information service in the Netherlands. The dire conditions under which the Marines have to live and the bloody battles remain in the dark room. For Hugo, this censorship embodies the oppressive and petty-bourgeois character of Dutch culture. With some disillusionment and irritation, Hugo retires as a soldier in May 19476.

(…) As for the publication – it is blocked and countered as much as possible. Disgraceful! The Dutch people live there in the firm conviction that we are lucky enough to be here in our beautiful Indie.” (Letter to parents, May 26, 1946)


Hugo returns to the Dutch East Indies as a journalist in the service of Uitgeverij De Spaarnestad. On July 21, 1947, Hugo photographs the landing of the Marines in Pasir Poetih. This landing, Operation Product, marks the beginning of the first Police Actions or Decolonization War.

In December 1957 Hugo Wilmar travels to Djocjacarta (now: Yogyakarta). He uses the press card of the American photo agency International News Agency. With this he goes zig in the den of the lion. He manages to shoot a photo series of the Republican leader Soekarno. Publisher de Spaarnestad publishes the report, as an anonymously purchased American report, in the Dutch magazines.

Photos Dutch East Indies 1946-1948

The photo gallery below is an overview of the photos of Hugo Wilmar from the family archive. More pictures can be found in various Dutch Archives. The majority of the photos of the violence in Indonesia from the family archive was taken by Hugo Wilmar in the service of Spaarnestad. There is an overlap between the photos from the family archive and the collections of the Netherlands Institute of Military History (NIMH) and the Spaarnestad archive.


On the way to the Dutch East Indies

Hugo Wilmar embarks on board the Noordam together with the first 2000 Marines. He departs from Camp Davis (NC) towards India

Delay in Malaysia

December 14, 1945. The Noordam leaves from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) towards Batavia. The English report that the Noordam must set course for Malacca (now: Melaka, Malaysia). The Dutch Marines are not allowed to go to the Indies.

Debarking in Batavia

The Noordam arrived in Batavia on 1 January 1946. The Marines are not allowed to debark from the English. The Noordam must return to Malacca. The Marines Brigade camps at a Dunlop rubber plantation near Ladang Geddes.

Front line photos
Dutch Marines during a shootout, covered by a natural elevation, Indonesia, 1946.

Hugo Wilmar photographs the battles of the Dutch Marines against the Indonesian Freedom Army. The photo was taken in Ploemboenang on East Java (Source: Louis Zweers, Front Indië page 19 - photo: © Spaarnestad)

Gedangan - East Java
The Marines attacked early in the morning

The Marines attack early in the morning. An unpublished photo by Hugo Wilmar. (Source: Front Indië - Louis Zweers, Photo: ©NIMH)

Hugo Wilmar waves as a Soldier

In May 1947, Hugo Wilmar retired as a soldier. He disagrees with the censorship of the Dutch Naval Information Service. Only his "good news" photos are published in Dutch. The photos of the true (and harsh) conditions in which the Dutch Marines have to operate remain in the dark room

First Police Actions
First Police Actions

The First Police Actions begin on July 21, 1947. Hugo Wilmar records the landing of the Marine Brigade in Passir Putih. He is an (independent) journalist employed by De Spaarnestad Publishing.

Signal Corps     Spaarnestad>