Sunday, 22 January 1950. Turk Westerling was the most casually dressed warlord the press men had ever met. Reuters and Australia’s The Herald had a man each at this exclusive interview with Indonesia’s public enemy number one. No guards, no guns, just an old-fashioned colonial bungalow somewhere outside sweaty Bandung and a tough, sun-tanned Dutchman crushing the life out of one cigarette and lighting another.
Westerling wore a white polo shirt and khaki trousers. One journalist noted the brown socks and street shoes. The other jotted shorthand about the expensive gold watch and the gold ring set with a black stone.
The Turk had spread himself all over the international press with his threats to the new United States of Indonesia government. The country was independent, the Dutch had gone home, and everything was supposed to be peace and liberty. Then Westerling (‘a mystery man‘ according to local politicians) came out of nowhere and tore the place apart. The news agencies wanted a closer look.
Darul Islam was on the run in late 1949. The jihadist army’s jungle camp was a hive of soldiers in short-sleeved shirts and Dutch army helmets. They slept in bivouacs under the palm trees and leaned their old rifles in tripods. The perimeter was strung with rattling tin cans strung on wire.
Down time was spent crouching around cooking fires watching cassava boil. On a good day the jihadists would get an extra pinch of sugar or salt but sometimes food was so scarce they ate leaves. A pack of Escort cigarettes was the kind of luxury that could make a man feel like a king.
The 15,000 strong Islamic army was trapped in a shrinking triangle of territory down in Pasundan’s south-east, a state in newly independent Indonesia. Some locals supported them. Others waited until the green Darul Islam flag with its crescent moon wrapped tight around a star had passed out sight, then contacted the authorities. If the soldiers of Darul Islam discovered the disloyalty they would return and exterminate the village, leaving houses in ruins and crops polluted by bodies and blood.
The Frenchman in the passenger seat pointed out the house. It was early evening in the Friesland village of Marshum and the house windows glowed warm and yellow through the falling snow. François Brigneau had been hunting Westerling for days.
Brigneau was a Paris-Presse journalist with a shelf full of awards and a murky past. His wheelman was a handsome journalist called Henri Gault. In a decade’s time Gault will invent the term nouvelle cuisine. Right now he is a cheerful Paris-Presse restaurant critic with enough time on his hands to drive Brigneau round Holland looking for a mysterious Dutch adventurer. Until yesterday they were not having much luck.
“Where is Westerling?” Brigneau asked his contacts.
“Who is Westerling?” said his contacts innocently.
Turk Westerling was the most notorious man in the Netherlands.