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The 'Oranje'

The 'Oranje' was a Dutch 20,166 ton passenger ship built for and operated by Stoomvaart Maatschappij Nederland of Amsterdam and was launched in 1939 by Queen Wilhelmina. It was a passenger liner meant for the route between Amsterdam and Batavia (Jakarta), Indonesia. Her maiden voyage was to Batavia in September 1939.

The 'Oranje' was part of a Singapore reinforcement convoy, convoy DM1 which arrived in Singapore on the 13th January 1942

She remained in Sourabaya following the outbreak of war and provided valuable service to the Allied cause as a troop ship and later sailed to Australia where she was converted to a Hospital Ship for the Royal Australian Navy, though remaining under the Dutch flag. The diesel-engined'Oranje' was a fast ship capable of 26 knots and used her speed to advantage on numerous wartime voyages.

'Oranje' re-entered the Amsterdam-Batavia service in 1946. In 1950 she began a round-the-world service via Panama, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and Suez. In 1964 she was sold to the Greek shipping magnate Achille Lauro, who renamed her 'Angelina Lauro'. Her conversion was seriously delayed by fire, but she started the second phase of her career with a sailing from Southampton to Sydney, Australia, on 7th March 1966. In the next few years she carried thousands of emigrants to the other side of the world.

Sadly she was destroyed by a galley fire during a Caribbean cruise in March 1979.

Albert Morrell, grandfather of COFEPOW member Paul Morrell was brought home on the 'Oranje' after the war with hundreds of other Far East Prisoners of War.

Many thanks to Albert Burman, Paul Morrell and Joan Chesters for extracts submitted on the 'Oranje'

Memories of the 'Oranje'

This well written account by COFEPOW member David Wilson of his sighting of the 'Oranje' in 1945 certainly brings one's emotions to the fore, particularly if you were on her or know someone who was.

The White Ship

In 1945 1 was serving on the cruiser 'HMS Caradoc' based in Colombo Harbour, Ceylon. A buzz had gone round that the first batch of Allied prisoners of war, repatriated from the Far East, were on their way home and would be calling at the port before noon. Being off watch at the time, I sauntered up to the fo'c'sle deck hoping to obtain a glimpse of them as they sailed by. Idly I peered round the harbour and was very thrilled to observe that all the ships, large and small, were decorated with flags of welcome to those gallant but unfortunate fellows.

After waiting an hour or so, that grand ship of mercy, the 'Oranje' was sighted. As she came closer I held my breath in admiration. She was the loveliest and most beautifully streamlined craft I had ever seen afloat. From her masts down to her plimsoll-line, this magnificent floating hospital was painted a spotless white, reminding me of a gigantic dove. The vivid red crosses painted on her sides could be seen for miles. As she came nearer, I could hear strains of music from harmonicas drifting across the water, and happy voices singing in chorus; 'It's a long way to Tipperary', 'Land of our Fathers' and 'Glasgow belongs to me'. Every deck was crammed with seemingly thousands of maimed and broken men; some were minus arms or legs, many with so little flesh on them that they looked like human skeletons. Others could be seen on crutches, stretchers or propped up in hospital beds and amongst those with heavily bandaged heads, were a number with white strips of bandaging across their eyes which told a most tragic tale. Forgetful of their sufferings, these courageous men laughed, chaffed and sang, and those who were able waved their arms in joyous greetings as they passed alongside.

I recall trying to visualise the kind of hell those men must have endured in captivity and something stirred inside me and a lump rose to me throat. Suddenly a voice behind me bawled,"Hip, Hip" and many more shouted "Hooray". I filled my lungs to the utmost in an endeavour to give those heroes a hearty cheer. I was so overcome with emotion and feeling, although my lips moved no sound escaped my throat. A bos'un's whistle piped, ships' bells clanged, hooters and sirens screamed and blared all over the harbour in welcome. When the terrific din had subsided, I turned to flick away the moisture which had gathered in my eyes. It was then that I saw a sight that will remain for ever in my mind. All around me, rooted to the deck and gazing in the direction of the 'Oranje', were nearly a hundred officers and men, many of whom had fought in some of the fiercest battles on the high seas. Yet so moved were they by the shocking state of these unfortunate comrades of ours, that few were able to hide the tears which course freely down their cheeks.

Plate with picture of the 'Oranje'Photograph kindly submitted by COFEPOW member Shirley Simpson

The following two stories have been submitted by two of our Dutch friends.

A Journey to Holland on the 'Oranje' 1947

When I embarked on the 'Oranje', in the harbour of Tanjong Priok, it was 31 January 1947. I was 11 years old and I had spend my pre-war years in a quiet neighbourhood of Batavia. During the war I, together with my mother and sister, was an inmate of the Japanese camps Cideng, Tangerang and ADEK. After the war, during the Bersiap period and later, we lived with my uncle's family near our former home.

My father, who was a geologist/mining engineer for KPM (Royal Shipping Company), successfully applied for a job with his former employer and was furthermore able to find temporary housing for the four of us in Holland. At that moment he booked passage for my mother and her two daughters on the 'Oranje'. Apparently, his assignment - writing the history of the shipping company during the devastating war years - allowed him to send his family to Holland on the very best of conditions. He booked us 'semi luxury class'; which implied a roomy cabin for three persons and an adjoining bathroom, with a tub (seawater), shower (drinking water), basin and toilet. Meals for my mother were served in the first class dining room: a marvel of oval form, ceiling lights in pink, green and orange and impressive dining tables. Forgive me if I am mistaken, but this is imprinted in my childhood memory. Much to my disappointment, the children had their meals in separate children's dining rooms, in the care of professional supervisors.

We could amuse ourselves in a beautiful swimming pool; play games on various decks and spent an absolutely wonderful time after the hardships of World War Two. The 'Oranje' was the most beautiful ship we had ever seen; and she was guaranteed to be free of rolling - or so we were told. At the first high winds, however, the rolling of the 'Oranje' became almost unbearable and we were very sick indeed.The ship sailed to Colombo, Aden, Suez, and the Suez canal. Camels moved with the same velocity as the ship; the 'Oranje' was so huge that it was not possible to see the shores. In Port Said the climate changed and we had to don our woollen winter clothes - every POW had one set handed out prior to the voyage.

It was a severe winter. In Port Said the temperature was only 10 Centigrade and further North our journey became very grim indeed. Storms raged in the Gulf of Biscay, the ship rolled heavily and the English Channel was covered in ice. In Southampton we children saw the first snow in our lives and to cross the Channel to the port of IJmuiden a small ice-breaker had to cut the ice in front of the bow of the 'Oranje'. After our passage, the ice shoals closed upon themselves in a matter of seconds. IJmuiden's youth marvelled at the sight of our beautiful ship; we begged them for snowballs, which they threw at our decks. We returned oranges in exchange. In the old port of Amsterdam heavy guns were roaring: a Royal Princess was born. It was 18th February, and on that same date the 'Oranje' had broken all records, sailing from Batavia to Amsterdam in eighteen days!

My father was waiting on the quay. He was happy to close us in his arms again, but, on the other hand, he did not particularly like the story my mother told him about our bathroom. She told him that on the first occasion she wanted to use our luxurious bathroom on the 'Oranje', the door was closed and she heard the splashing of a happy bather. He lived in the cabin next to our bathroom and discovered to his delight that the purser had left the adjoining door unlocked. So we had to share our private bath with a stranger. "But I have paid for it all!", my father cried and discovered once again that his wife was more tender-hearted than he. "The gentleman was so fond of bathing!" my mother exclaimed.And this is the story as remembered by an 11 year old war victim who lived three unforgettable weeks on board of the 'Oranje'.

Marian Bruinvels

Nursing on the 'Oranje'

I was contracted as a Red Cross nurse and started my work in October 1941. All the nurses, doctors and crew were certain that the 'Oranje' was most beautiful: all white with a green band and red cross, also the one funnel.

There were two operating theatres (if I am not mistaken), a dentist, and a large chemist. There were, low down in the ship, several cells for mental cases (bombhappy as they were called) and many very nice wards - I cannot remember how many. The wards were roomy and very clean and very clearly arranged for us to get at the medicines and all you needed to help your patients. The beds were hung up between two poles so that when the ship was rolling because of the rough sea the beds remained still.

There were all sorts of wards for all kinds of illnesses and wounded and disabled men. I was placed on ward P2 ; the wards P1 and P2 were for those men who were not able to walk - shot legs or backs - all in plaster.

The 'Oranje' then sailed from Java (Batavia) to Suez where we collected the wounded servicemen - Australians and New Zealanders - to take them back to Australia (Perth - Adelaide - Melbourne - Sydney) then on to New Zealand. I cannot remember the ports there, as I never came that far. When we were on our way to Australia, in December 1941, the Netherlands declared war to Japan. So when we arrived at Sydney we, the Dutch medical staff, were ordered to go back to Java. The 'Oranje' however, now with an Australian staff, kept sailing all through the war.

Unfortunately, I have never found a book or more special information about all her travels. After the war the 'Oranje' was changed back into a passenger ship. It was, after some years, sold to Italy; in an accident got burnt out and sank, a very sad end to a beautiful ship with a great history.

Cornelia N. Hulswit