Time to Love, Time for War, Time to Heal

– David Bebelaar

Searching for information about my grandparents led me to a box of letters they had written to each other, as a young couple with all of life’s experiences ahead of them. Relocation from the Netherlands to Dutch East Indies to start a new and great life was soon changed by the start of World War II.

Letters my Oma received post war from Prisoners Of War who were with my Opa in Burma give great insight into the man my father never knew. War ending brought other struggles to a widow and young mother. Doing the best for her family was hard during this period, so she sought the best options for the two of them.

Final recognition of the war efforts of my Opa in 2015 helps the family heal the wounds that passed down through the generations.

“Time” is a tribute honoring the memory of my grandparents and father, and all those that endured the horrors of Japanese internment.


By David Bebelaar



DAVID BEBELAAR is the eldest son of Walter (Wouter) Bebelaar. Walter and his mother were interned in Japanese Concentration camps in Sumatra during WWII. Walter’s father Jacob (Jaap) was a POW of the Japanese and died working on the Burma railway. David has sought to honor the memory of his father and grandparents by telling their stories, through their letters, and has received a posthumous war medal for his grandfather. He has also assisted other families in acquiring posthumous war medals for their loved ones.


David Bebelaar

I was born in Toronto in 1963. My father was 23 years old when I was born. When I was 3 years old, my Oma passed away. My dad, now 26, has lost both his parents. My childhood was influenced by the experiences of my father, and the scars he carried. 

In 1973, I had my 10th birthday in The Netherlands.  This trip was the first time my father had been back to The Netherlands since coming to Canada in 1957…


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Batavia, 20 November

My darling Bebetje, Tonight I am going to write early to you. Your last letters were so very cheerful, my wifey. That is, of course, because you see that time is really marching on. Don’t you think that after all it goes fast? When I think about it, it seems a long time ago since you brought me to the train and we were making love to each other in the train to Utrecht. Oh, my angel, I will never forget that!! To be true, initially I had never been burdened by the thought of leaving Holland, but when it came to the point I felt so miserable about it and I did feel how we had absolutely grown together in that time: We truly belong to each other, my Bebetje. I believe we couldn’t be without each other. I feel quite distinctly in the time that I am here now, even though we write each other so often, that I miss you, my dearest. That feeling will never go away. We must make our marriage so that it will be an example here in Indie.

Batavia, 1 December 1936

My precious girl, This will be the last letter I address to Miss Oltmans. The next one I will write to my own little wife. I find it almost like a dream. I get just so, without any ado, a little wife without noticing anything. It is really as if I fell asleep at night, dreamed that I was marrying, then woke up, and when I woke up and boom, it was true. My dearest Bebetje, I know for sure that we will be very happy together and stay that way.

Eindhoven, 11 Dec. 1945

Darling Bé and darling Woutertje, When we heard about a year and a half ago that Jaap had died and heard that he died a year earlier we were totally shocked and upset. We always loved Jaap very much. He was still so young. We couldn’t believe it. And for you, it must be terrible and dreadful. We can imagine it because here in Holland terrible things have also happened. Many died in concentration camps or were executed.

Bé, we wish you strength. We always thought of you and Woutertje. And Jaap, we remember as a fine and warm man. We hope that Woutertje has that same sunny and friendly character from his father.

Friday 14 August 2015

Dear Bebelaar family and guests, I would like to start this decoration ceremony with the playing of the National Anthem of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

(playing of “Het Wilhelmus”)

Tomorrow, 15 August, 70 years ago, the Japanese armed forces capitulated, and with that the second World War officially came to an end.

Today, we are here together to award a decoration of honour, posthumously, to Sergeant Jacob Bebelaar and Private Maurits Cornelis Cramer

Oma and Wouter

Medan- Oma bringing her newborn son Wouter home from the hospital, 1940.

My Opa’s Drivers License

My Opa’s Drivers License from Sumatra. Expired August 15, 1945, the day the Japanese surrendered. How did this survive the war?

My Opa’s Drivers License

How did this survive the war?

Opa's POW Spoon

August 1948 my Oma received a package from the Red Cross with the spoon my Opa had while a POW of the Japanese in Burma.

My Father - 1941

Photo of my father in 1941 that had been colored and given to my Opa’s parents as a gift.

The burma railway

Follow Some Tracks

The Thailand-Burma Railway Centre

The Thailand-Burma Railway Centre

The Thailand-Burma Railway Centre is an interactive museum, information and research facility dedicated to presenting the history of the Thailand-Burma Railway. You can also visit the Death Railway Museum – Thanbyuzayat and the Thanbyuzayat World War II Cemetery.

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The Death Railway

The Death Railway

The Burma Railway, also known as the Death Railway, the Siam–Burma Railway, the Thai–Burma Railway and similar names, was a 415-kilometre (258 mi) railway between Ban Pong, Thailand, and Thanbyuzayat, Burma, built by the Empire of Japan in 1943 to support its forces in the Burma campaign of World War II.

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The Bridge on the River Kwai & The Railway Man

The Bridge on the River Kwai & The Railway Man

Two extraordinary films based on the Burma Railway. “The Bridge on the River Kwai” is a 1957 British-American epic war film directed by David Lean. “The Railway Man” tells the extraordinary and epic true story of Eric Lomax, a British Army officer who is tormented as a prisoner of war at a Japanese labour camp during World War II.

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