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14: Moving from Italy to Java

Orders from The Hague became more flurried and contradictory - then there were no instructions at all, Holland had been invaded by German troops and Schiphol was bombed. Soon also Italy entered the war. Naples became a turmoil of people wanting to get away.

On Ivan's definitively last flight out of Naples, in a DC3, en route to Batavia in the Far East, Margot was among the passengers. A DC3 was normally fittet with 21 seats, but to increase passenger comfort on the long runs, these aircraft had 12 sleeper seats instead.

Nevertheless, on this last flight some complications arose....

The Italian agent said: "I regret, it is impossible for Captain Smirnoff's wife to travel. Every place is taken."
Ivan responded: "This plane carries twelve, how many places have you booked?"
"Eighteen," admitted the agent, huffily.
"Then nineteen doesn't matter."
"I regret - your wife does not travel"
"Right!" said Ivan blandly, "and I regret I do not travel without her."

After five minutes the agent walked across the lounge - all was arranged, he muttered, ungraciously, Signora Smirnoff would travel.

Trying not to grin Ivan shepherded Margot out and at once they were engulfed by a sea of chattering schoolgirls, entranced that they were to fly with the famous Captain Smirnoff. When they were all weighed and their scanty baggage loaded, Ivan politely handed his 'harem' on board.

Caring little for international flight rules, Margot assured the girls: "My husband knows everything, just open that little door and ask him."

Nothing loth, the schoolgirls poked as many heads as possible into the cockpit, "like a hundred little twittering birds", said Ivan.

It was Margot's first trip to Java and Ivan wondered in dismay what she would make of conditions east of Suez. He was thankful when the long flight was over and he drove Margot to a hotel.


Bragastraat, the main shopping street in Dutch Bandoeng


But this was not Naples. The noise and the oppressive heat exhausted her. She was unaccustomed to the ways of the East, and there were no other woman to keep her company. The hotel was in Bandoeng, a smaller city close to Batavia, where KLM had their facilities and hangars.

Like all the other KLM pilots, Ivan was flying all round the clock, taking on all sorts of extra duties to help the new miniature Schiphol organization going. He was apprehensive about leaving Margot so much alone in a strange environment but she assured him that she was all right, that things were not as bad as she had feared.

Finding, unexpectedly, that he had an afternoon free, he hurried to the hotel, hoping that Margot would feel well enough to go out. At the bedroom door he stood, stock-still, in horror. Margot, half-undressed, lay on the bed, a whisky bottle in her hand. Under the dressing-table rolled two more bottles, empty. "Don' like it ... makes me forget ... tha's all," mouthed Margot and burst into helpless, wailing tears.

...As the life of KLM grew more settled Ivan began to look for a house. He found one in a spacious hillside bungalow a few miles out of town where the air was fresher and the life more peaceful...


View of Bandoeng from the hillside bungalow


Margot loved the bungalow with its wide verandah and splendid view of the distant town. Her general health at once improved when they moved in. She decided they must give a house-warming party. It turned out to be the biggest and gayest party Bandoeng had seen for some time. Every pilot not actually on duty was there and the music, laughter and popping of champagne corks increased as the night advanced.

He was very busy at work. He was operating a very successful service, always fully loaded. He noticed that when Rommel was getting close to Cairo his DC3 was crammed with rich Arabs flying east, and that when the British were pushing Rommel back along the coast of North Africa the DC3 was full of the same Arabs, this time flying west.

On 7 December 1941 Japan attacked the US fleet in Pearl Harbor and USA went into WWII. But before anybody could stop the Japs, they were about to invade the whole Pacific area, including attacks on Australia. They appeared to be unbeatable.

Ivan flew east from Tel Aviv in December 1941 to find that war in the Pacific had disrupted all the pleasent, prestige service he and the other Dutch pilots had been building. In just one day the character of the passenger list had changed. Holiday flights were banned; business men were allowed to fly only under permit. The biggest air evacuation the world had ever seen was starting.

The call on KLM for military transport was unceasing. The scattered islands of the Netherlands Indies Archipelago made fast air contact of paramount importance when troops, supplies and defence materials had to be brought to isolated garrisons with regularity and speed.



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