Writing Conflicted Loyalties: An Indian Journalist's perspectives on the dilemmas of Indian troops in Indonesia, 1945

Heather Goodall (UTS), Professor (History)

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Des Alwi was a young nationalist in Surabaya during the battle. He later became a prominent journalist and speech writer. His diaries of the battle were published in 2012 in Pertempuran Surabaya November 1945, a book which contained many memoirs and has been well received by Indonesians. Alwi’s section relating to Mani has recently been translated by Dr Frank Palmos, whose own extensive work on the Battle for Surabaya, Surabaya 1945 Sacred Territory, will be published in 2014. Des Alwi wrote:

We were secretly preparing a city-wide attack on the British at 5pm onSunday 28 October, because they had broken both promises to (a) keep within 800 metres of the harbour – they had now occupied the city with 22 outposts – and (b) not to bring in Dutch military personnel – we had proof several had come in as part of the British landing party…

From a distance I felt the truck looked familiar. I had frequently seen it in the British (Command) Headquarters. It seems I was not mistaken. As the truck approached I recognized Jenkins, the Daily Mail journalist, and Shri Mani, the public affairs officer for the British forces, and a few other foreign journalists whose name I now cannot recall.

I jumped onto the road shouting, ‘Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot! They’re not British, they’re journalists!’ I kept running hither and thither waving my arms up and down to indicate they should hold their fire. Whew! They held fire. Saved by the bell!

Later that afternoon, at 5 pm, 28 October, the first phase of the Battle for Surabaya took place…by the end of three days fighting more than 600 British and British-Indian troops had been killed. [34]

Mani’s dispatch of November 6 covers the rest of that terrifying night of October 28, the earlier part of which had been described in the diary entry of the same date. This dispatch was written after he had been evacuated to Singapore. It is a sombre document which is very different in tone from almost all of the other official dispatches Mani posted either before or after.

Mani recounted the increasing pressure which the journalists and troops in the hotel came under. With casualties increasing, and knowing from the radio that the situation was extreme for others all over the city, they realised there was no help coming. They decided to surrender to the Indonesians.

They were driven to a jail in an open backed truck and jeered along the way by the crowds lining the streets of Surabaya. The next morning, on October 29, Amir Sjarifuddin came to visit them in the cells. He, Sukarno and Hatta had flown into the city early in the day to try to organise a truce. Sjarifuddin, with whom Mani had become friendly in Batavia, arranged for the group of journalists to be moved into ‘protective’ internment, where they were kept for four days as this dispatch describes.

While they were in this protective custody, the situation worsened dramatically. The ceasefire held for a short time, but then outbreaks of fighting led to an attempt at negotiation between the local Indonesian leadership and the English late on October 30. T.D. Kundan, the leader of the Indian community, was there as interpreter for the Indonesians. Mixed messages from the British led to firing erupting again before Kundan and others had completed negotiations. In the melee, Brigadier Mallaby was killed.

Over this time, the Indonesians holding Mani and his group tried to evacuate them by train from the town but were unable to do so safely so had brought them back to the internment site.

In the tense days after Mallaby’s death, the British Indian troops had worked together with the regular Indonesian army personnel to evacuate to ships in the port, the 6,000-odd European internees whom the British had previously moved into Surabaya. The British did NOT evacuate the far greater number of Eurasians and Chinese residents of the city who had also been interned and were being held by the Indonesians. [35]

When Mani, and other journalists were finally released, they spent a day or two gathering their belongings in Surabaya before they were evacuated on November 5 to Singapore. Only then did Mani write this long dispatch and post it on November 6. The surviving Indian troops – who had lost more than 500 comrades – had retreated into the port area of Surabaya to regroup. There they were reinforced in large numbers when the British moved in a further two brigades of the Fifth Indian Division. After a week there was an unmistakable massing of troops around the docks.

Mani returned on November 10. As well as finding the greatly increased numbers of troops, he found there was a new commander, Major-General Mansergh, whom many believed to be determined to take revenge for the humiliation of the British forces on October 28 and afterwards.

Before he was evacuated from Surabaya on November 5, amidst the chaos, Mani had made the time to write one dispatch. His determination to write this and have it posted as soon as possible must have been because he felt it was urgent. This dispatch documented the role of local Indians and in particular of TD Kundan, in attempting to save as many lives as possible during the awful battle on October 28. The fact that the dispatch was written at all reflects Mani’s deep respect for Kundan and his recognition of the courage Kundan had shown over the whole difficult period since the British landing.

Mani began it by outlining Kundan’s Sindhi background and his role as a spokesperson for the 500-strong local Indian population and as Chair of the Surabaya Indian Association. Then Mani sketched the many ways Kundan acted to try to save lives in the days of the fiercest fighting.

A number of Indonesian nationalist fighters and local authorities have recalled their experiences of these days, in publications like the 1998 Pertempuran Surabaya: The Battle of Surabaya, where Des Alwi’s recollections, quoted above, were also published. [36]

Kundan is notable in each account. Trusted by the Indonesians, Kundan was invited to be their interpreter to the British on a number of occasions. Like the Indonesians – and like Mani – Kundan was shocked at the British rudeness and intransigence. Kundan astutely warned the Indonesians against trusting the British officers, whom he had heard giving conflicting orders. Kundan was proved right: it was British miscalculation which appears to have contributed to the chaotic situation in which the British commander Mallaby was killed and Kundan himself was injured.

The final Surabaya episode: Indonesia 1945 – 1946

There was one event from that terrifying Surabaya night of October 28 which Mani was not able to write about until late in 1946. By then his situation had changed but the different types of writing he was doing show again the wide disparity between his personal observations and what he felt he could write for the public.

Mani had returned to Surabaya on November 10, after his brief evacuation to Singapore. This day saw the outbreak of an extended and bitter conflict in the city between the Indonesian republicans and the British army – made up largely of Indian troops, either the survivors of the October 28 battles or the many reinforcements from the Fifth Division who had been brought to the port area. The new commanding officer, Major-General Mansergh, had issued an ultimatum to the Indonesians which he knew they could never accept, demanding that they disarm and surrender the city to the British. On November 10, the leaders of all Indonesian groups in the city met and decided to fight to the death rather than surrender. The battle went on for over 100 days of bitter, street-to-street fighting in which many thousands of Indonesians died, as did hundreds of Indians and some British troops. The details of this struggle from the Indian perspective can be read in documents in the Mani Collection. There are several publications by Indonesian fighters, such as the 1998 Pertempuran Surabaya: The Battle of Surabaya and Alwi, (2012) and non-Indonesian sources which have drawn on Indonesian memoirs and oral histories, principally those compiled by Palmos (2014). There are further detailed accounts, drawing largely on SEAC and British sources, although with some Indonesian sources, from historians like Frederick (1989), McMillan (2005), Bayly and Harper (2005, 2010) and the military author, Doulton (1950). None of these published works, however, discuss the Indian perspectives, although most perpetuate the misapprehension (which continues held by Indonesians) that all the South Asian troops were Nepali Gurkhas.

Mani stayed with the Indian troops at Surabaya during that long battle, sending dispatches most days which documented their tenacity and courage, particularly in freeing and caring for the many Chinese, Indian and Eurasian internees of the Indonesians whom the British had left behind. But when Mansergh declared the battle officially ‘won’ in December, Mani had had enough. ‘Much grieved with events in Indonesia’, he requested a transfer back to India where he resigned from the army early in 1946. [37] He was immediately employed by the Free Press Journal of Bombay as a Foreign Correspondent. Returning to Indonesia, he found the hostilities continuing but this time he could negotiate with the British and the Dutch military authorities to gain access or information, rather than being silenced within the British Army. However, as his diaries show, he found he was still trapped by the need to bargain with the British Army about how much he revealed to the readers of the Free Press Journal.

In a continuation of his commitment to the troops with whom he had travelled, Mani wanted to follow the stories of the Indian soldiers who had decided to act on their sympathies with the Indonesian nationalists and had crossed the lines to join the Indonesians. Yet, in order to try to protect these men from pursuit and prosecution by the British, he agreed to delay writing their stories for the Indian public.

Mani did eventually publish his views about the Indians fighting alongside the Indonesians in a large article published on October 30, 1946. He was spurred on by the decision taken by SEAC, under intense pressure from Nehru and the Nationalists in India, to finally withdraw all Indian troops from Indonesia. He feared that these Indians who had ‘deserted’ would be left behind. His article in the Free Press Journal was headlined:

A New Unity Forged Abroad Among Indian Soldiers:

They Fight For Their Country Out There In Indonesia. [38]

And in this article, Mani finally wrote about an event which had happened when he and his colleagues were under attack at the hotel from Indonesian forces on October 28, before they decided to surrender:

In the raging battle of Sourabaya, a ribboned Rajput hero of Burma who lay dying with an Indonesian bullet in his heart exclaimed to me:

“Ham Dutch ke liye kion marna hai, Sab?” – “Why should we die for the Dutch, sir?” [39]

It had taken a year for him to feel able to write about this powerful experience and he did so here in order to explain the political motivation of the hundreds of Indian soldiers who had joined the Indonesian Revolution. For Mani himself, this was the key question of the whole experience.

His decision to draw on this particular incident is also important for the perspective it offers on the changes occurring in what had been a ‘colonial army’. The man whose death Mani witnesses had been decorated for valour in battle (‘ribboned’), he continued to respect his officers (he called Captain Mani ‘Saab’ or ‘Sir’) and he was from the group, the Rajputs, who had for decades been favoured by the British as ‘martial’. And yet, as Mani described in this vignette, this soldier was no longer satisfied to go unquestioningly to his death – in fact, it was not just death but the defence of colonialism which he was questioning with his dying breath. Mani was describing not just the death of one brave soldier, but the death of the compliant ‘colonial army’.


In trying to understand the writing of journalists in warfare, we can look at the published press articles of war correspondents but we have to assume that the war correspondents themselves were in touch with other journalists, just as T.G. Narayanan, writing for The Hindu, was in close touch with Mani, inside the army.

For those enlisted and commissioned journalists, while we can assume they were fulfilling military orders it is important to recognise that, like Mani, they may have had very different goals and strategies from those that the British commanded or even realised. Mani’s dispatches from what he described as ‘the Battle of Manipur’ were not included at all in his published book, which focused only on Indonesia. Yet these Manipur and Burma dispatches reveal an approach to fulfilling ‘orders’ which allowed Mani to celebrate the courage and tenacity of Indian troops in ways which were far from British intentions. This is a very different view of the ‘public relations’ role than that conveyed in the formal histories like McMillan (2005) or in Doulton’s military account (1950), The Fighting Cock. Beyond this again, Mani was pursuing an investigative role as a journalist which put him far outside British interests. Certainly much was happening in complete secrecy like the Narayanan and Mani research into the INA in Manipur and Burma in 1944. While in the absence of a document, it may be hard to verify the contents of their report, it was nevertheless clearly consistent with the approaches of both journalists to their job and to the conditions at the time.

To understand the roles and dilemmas of journalists in the severely conflicted times after the Japanese surrender, even documents may not be enough. The evidence of memory as it is gradually revealed in oral histories, may be needed to finally unravel the web of knowledge and reporting which was occurring.

Even Mani’s writing on Surabaya, however, makes it clear that Indian troops faced dilemmas which were simply not visible in the many military histories of the momentous Battle of Surabaya. Nor are they visible in the Indonesian accounts, which have had little interest in the Indian perspective. Doulton in The Fighting Cock is effusive about the courage and fighting ability of Indian troops, but has nothing to say about the dilemmas they faced. Bayly and Harper (2005, 2007) and McMillan (2005) were taking far more careful approaches to archival research, but despite McMillan’s interviews in Surabaya, these studies have relied on British sources to discuss ‘morale’ among Indian troops.

To learn about Mani’s perspective, his diaries are crucial. Most of his dispatches give only the most bland assessment of events in Surabaya yet the diary entries show Mani to have been deeply critical of and alarmed by the British commander’s actions as well as being acutely aware of Indian troops’ unease at the hostility directed towards them by the Indonesians.

Mani’s diary entries make this difference visible because they are records from the time about alternative views. Even more, they show the struggle Mani himself had to grapple with the emotional dilemmas he and the troops faced. The battle of Surabaya was intensely brutal and the killing of people on all sides was merciless and often gruesome. Coming to a sense of continued support for the Republicans despite the Indians’ sadness and anger at the terrible deaths of so many comrades was a difficult path. Mani’s diaries allow some way to follow that tortuous route.

Only two of his dispatches are different: those from November 5 and 6, the two which Mani wrote after his detention by the Indonesians. They raise important questions. Why was Mani at last prepared to reveal in dispatches even a little of his horror and anger? It suggests the scale of the fear and terror which he and other Indian troops had gone through. And why had he made time in the chaos of the evacuation to write that one dispatch about Kundan from Surabaya itself? Mani was clearly making strategic decisions about how urgent it was to make the British recognise both the severity of the situation and the importance of the local Indian community in this crisis situation. What is also evident from Mani’s own views and those he describes reflected in Kundan’s actions is that the neat racial and ethnic categories favoured by the British, from ‘martial races’ to ‘natives’ were unstable. They had never reflected insurmountable barriers: both soldiers and merchants – as well as journalists – could step outside the neat categories into which the British had assigned them.

Finally, Mani’s diary pages from 1946 again give insights into the behind-the-scenes negotiation which created the published ‘news’ which audiences saw as ‘fact’. The censorship Mani had had imposed on him by his enlistment in the British Army during 1945 had been replaced by a self-imposed censorship which he could use as a bargaining chip as he tried to protect the Indian troops once more. His thoughtful assessment of the complex motivations of those Indians who had joined the Indonesian Revolution made it clear that he had no romantic illusions about them, yet he was convinced by his meetings with them that for most, it was political motivations which drove them to what the British called ‘desertion’. The role of radio – another often-invisible source of ‘news’ and political power at the time – was highlighted in these accounts of how the British were seeking to undermine these Indians who were seen as a further threat to the morale of the Indians who remained at their posts. Without his diary entries, we would have to guess at the layers of meaning in Mani’s impassioned article of 30 October 1946. His diary entries – and his earlier writing as well as his later book – show that this 1946 article suggests much not only about those Indians who had acted on their anger at what the British were making them do – but also about Mani’s own goals and visions for the people across the region who were taking such risks to stand together – across religions and across new national borders – against colonialism.


Heather Goodall is Professor of History at the University of Technology Sydney. Her PhD from the University of Sydney investigated the social and political history of Aboriginal people in heavily-colonised south eastern Australia. Her current research is focussed on 20th century histories in the eastern Indian Ocean. She is continuing her collaborative projects with Australian Aboriginal people, on themes including environmental history. At the same time, she is reaching the links between India, Indonesia and Australia during the dramatic campaigns around decolonization at the end of WW2.



Archival sources
• Imperial War Museum, UK, images and film online
• National Archives of India, Ministry of External Affairs, White Australia papers, IANZ/1949.
• The PRS Mani Collection, held in hard copy and digitised form at the University of Technology Sydney, Blake Library.

• The Free Press Journal of Bombay (Bombay/Mumbai)
• The Hindu (Madras/Chennai)
• The Hindusthan Standard (Calcutta/Kolkata)
• The People’s War (later The People’s Age) (CPI – New Delhi)
• The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, Australia)

Oral History Transcripts Nehru Memorial Museum & Library
• Gouri Sen
• Lakshmi Sahgal

• Dr S. Padmavati, 2014, interviewed Heather Goodall and Devleena Ghosh, New Delhi, Indian Heart Institute.

Published works
• Alwi, Des 2012: Pertempuran Surabaya November 1945, PT Bhuana Populer (BIP Kelompok Gramedia) Jakarta 2012 (The Battle for Surabaya, November 1945 by Des Alwi) (cited here as translated by Dr Francis Palmos)
• Anderson, B. 1972: Java in a Time of Revolution; Occupation and Resistance, 1944-1946, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
• Bayly, C. and Harper, T. 2005: Forgotten Armies: Britain’s Asian Empire and the war with Japan, Penguin.
• Bayly, C. and Harper, T. 2007: Forgotten Wars: The End of Britain’s Asian Empire, Allen Lane (imprint of Penguin).
• Choudhry, I. 1950: The Indonesian Struggle: The Freedom Fighters of Indonesia, Ferozsons, Lahore & Peshawar, (not yet consulted)
• Doulton, Lt.-Col. A.J.F., 1950: The Fighting Cock: being the history of the 23rd Indian Division, 1942-1947. The Naval and Military Press, Uckfield, East Sussex.
• Fay, P.W.: The Forgotten Army: India’s Armed Struggle for Independence, 1942- 1945. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995.
• Frederick, W.H. 1989: Visions and Heat: The Making of the Indonesian Revolution, Ohio University Press, Athens.
• Hills, Carol and Daniel C. Silverman, 1993. “Nationalism and Feminism in Late Colonial India: The Rani of Jhansi Regiment”, Modern Asian Studies, 27, no 4 (July), 741-760
• Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI) History and Traditions Editorial Team, edited, 1998: Pertempuran Surabaya: The Battle of Surabaya, published by Balai Pustaka, Jakarta.
• Lebra, Joyce C. 2008: Women Against the Raj: The Rani of Jhansi Regiment, ISEAS, Singapore.
• McMillan, R. 2005: The British Occupation of Indonesia 1945 – 1946, Routledge, London.
• Mani, PRS, 1986: The Story of Indonesian Revolution, 1945 – 1950. Monograph 6, Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Madras, Chennai. Translated into Bahasa Indonesia and published as Jelak Revolusi in 1990.
• Omissi, David, 1994: The Sepoy and the Raj: The Indian Army, 1860-1940, Macmillan. London
• Palmos, F. 2014: Surabaya 1945 Sacred Territory, forthcoming. (based on “Surabaya 1945: Sacred Territory, The First Days of the Indonesian Republic,” unpublished PhD, University of Western Australia, 2012)
• Rettig, Tobias and Karl Hack (eds) 2009: Colonial Armies in Southeast Asia, Routledge, London.


[1] Peter Ward Fay, The Forgotten Army: India’s Armed Struggle for Independence, 1942-1945 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995).
[2] This firm belief, demonstrated across the Indian accounts of the time (The Hindu, the Free Press Journal of Bombay, the Hindusthan Standard, is confirmed, despite recognition of British dilemmas, in Richard McMillan, The British Occupation of Indonesia 1945 – 1946 (London: Routledge, 2005).
[3] Tobias Rettig and Karl Hack, eds., Colonial Armies in South East Asia (London: Routledge, 2009); David Omissi, The Sepoy and the Raj: The Indian Army, 1860-1940 (London: Macmillan, 1994).
[4] Omissi, The Sepoy and the Raj.
[5] While some Indians held English officers’ status, the Viceroy’s Commissioned Officers (VCOs) and ‘Other Ranks’ among the Indians received lower pay and were accorded lesser status on all occasions than British soldiers. (Deborah Nixon, personal communication). According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission: ‘These ranks were created to facilitate effective liaison between the British officers and their native troops. The soldiers who were promoted to VCO rank had long service and good service records, spoke reasonably fluent English, and could act as a common liaison point between officers and men and as advisers to the British officers on Indian affairs.’ http://www.cwgc.org/foreverindia/fact-file/what-were-the- ranks-in-the-indian-army.php
[6] The biographical details for Mani’s early career are taken from his own outline, prepared probably in 1947 for his application for employment to the newly independent India’s Foreign Service, PRS Mani Collection, Series 20, UTS Blake Library.
[7] It was of great significance for colonizing powers to be able to recruit troops from the colonized peoples. Not only was this less expensive than using troops from the UK, but more important, it added legitimacy to colonial armies by apparently demonstrating the colonized people’s endorsement of their colonizer. The British were never fully confident of the Indians in their service – after the Rebellion in 1857, the British took a ‘divide and rule’ approach, putting Indians into regionally and ethnically defined units to ensure ease of control. The motives of colonized people who chose to enlist in colonial armies were complex, as discussed in several chapters in the collection edited by Tobias Rettig and Karl Hack, Colonial Armies in Southeast Asia (London: Routledge, 2009), see in particular chapters by Karl Hack (1, 2 and 10) and by Taylor (8). These mixed motives were to be severely tested – and ultimately frayed – in the conflicts in Indo-China and Indonesia.
[8] Included in the text in the cover of the note book provided for PR officers in which to draft their dispatches. An example was found in Mani’s papers and in was in this notebook which he named ‘The Battle of Manipur’, that he drafted his 1944 dispatches.
[9] PRS Mani, The Story of Indonesian Revolution, 1945 – 1950. Monograph 6 (Chennai: Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Madras, 1986), x, 65-66. Translated into Bahasa Indonesia and published as Jelak Revolusi in 1990.
[10] Gouri Sen, born 1923 in Rangoon, member of Rani of Jhansi Unit of INA, interviewed in 1996 for NMML, transcript held in NMML.
[11] Mani, A.: “Indians in Jakarta”, in Indian Communities in South East Asia, K.S. Sandhu, A. Mani, (Singapore: ISEAS, 1993), 105.
[12] Mani, Indonesian Revolution, x, 33, 65-66.
[13] Ibid, 65; transcripts of radio broadcasts in PRS Mani Collection, UTS.
[14] Gouri Sen interviewed 1996, transcript, NMML; Dr. S. Padmavati, (born in Burma and sister-in-law of PRS Mani) interview with Heather Goodall and Devleena Ghosh, January 2014.
[15] Mani, Indonesian Revolution, 33.
[16] Free Press Journal of Bombay, September 29, 1945, 1; Hindusthan Standard, September 29, 1945, 1.
[17] Mani, Indonesian Revolution, 59.
[18] See his diary entries for October 25 – 28, discussed below.
[19] Mani, Indonesian Revolution, 59-61.
[20] Mani, Dispatch, from Batavia, October 18.
[21] Mani, Indonesian Revolution, 24-31.
[22] See for example the Sydney Morning Herald, November 2, 1945, 5.
[23] Mani, Indonesian Revolution, Introduction, x.
[24] Bylined ‘Our Correspondent’ T.G. Narayanan, The Hindu, November 18, 22, 24, 27, 1945.
[25] McMillan, British Occupation. See ch. 2: ‘The Battle of Surabaya’, and ch. 6: ‘Morale’.
[26] Diary entry, October 25.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Diary entry, October 26.
[29] Diary entry, October 27.
[30] Ibid.
[31] Invaluable advice on detail from Dr Frank Palmos, Surabaya 1945: Sacred Territory, forthcoming, 2014.
[32] Interviewed by Richard McMillan for British Occupation, 2005, p45
[33] Diary entry, October 28
[34] Translation by Frank Palmos, from Des Alwi, Pertempuran Surabaya November 1945 [The Battle for Surabaya, November 1945] (Jakarta: Bhuana Ilmu Populer, 2012), 248.
[35] McMillan, British Occupation, 56.
[36] Edited by the Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI) History and Traditions Editorial Team, and published by Balai Pustaka, Jakarta 1998.
[37] Mani in “Supplement to his Application to the IFS”, October 1947, PRS Mani Collection.
[38] Free Press Journal of Bombay, October 30, 1946.
[39] Ibid.