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Guest blogger: Sally Brandle

12 September 2021

Hello ARRA members

Have you listened to fascinating how-we-met stories from your parents, other relatives, or friends? Record them! I’m a storyteller at heart, but enjoy tales of the past. For twenty years I heard tantalising bits about life in 1939 Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia) from my dear friend, Iris, who began her path to devoted love on Java. Tears wet her eyes while she spoke. As a bored fifteen-and-a-half-year-old quarantined in her bedroom with mumps, she spotted a handsome soldier crossing her family’s expansive yard. She vowed to marry him and spent several more days of torment before meeting him—a delightful account she recalled with clarity decades later. Snippets of the unfolding events in her life amazed me. Few of us have ridden a horse through the jungle with a pet monkey sharing the saddle.

Iris turns 98 on 8 December—a day after the 80th Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. That horrendous bombing changed her life in wonderful and horrible ways. When Iris trusted me to pen her romantic, exciting, and uplifting memoir, I was honoured.

But many details were long forgotten, and every story needs to flow smoothly. Because Sapphire Promise depicts six years in Iris’s life, I strove to use a light touch to enhance scenes containing fictional parts. Accurately describing her dating in pre-WWII Batavia challenged my research skills. Luckily, Iris remembered the name of her father’s elite social club, The Harmony Society. I googled the name and photos appeared that were submitted by Dirk Teeuwen from Holland, a contact who excelled at uncovering unique events that Iris might have experienced. I’d relay his suggestions to Iris, and often her vivid memories were triggered. One of my favourites occurred when Dirk discovered that a young woman was allowed to wear a flapper style, short dress to certain social functions in the Dutch East Indies due to the heat and humidity. I quickly realised this very different time in history mandated rigid social constraints. Do you have relatives who mentioned long-ago dances at Batavia’s Harmony Society or Society Concordia ballrooms?

Many wealthy young women from around the globe enjoyed Iris’s privileged lifestyle on Java prior to the Japanese invasion. Dirk’s research indicated about 5,600 Australians were interned in POW camps by the Japanese in 1942.

Iris was one of the Dutch POWs. Fortunately, she speaks five languages and had begun nursing training. To this day, she remains grateful to those who taught her and the fulfilling life she’s lived. Iris chose the name, Annika Wolter, for the young woman’s name in the book.

The story exposed racial issues that needed to be addressed. Iris’s family employed live-in Indonesian servants, as did other colonists. Based on true incidents that Iris shared, which occurred near the end of WWII, I felt that her family treated their staff respectfully or I wouldn’t have written the story—inspiring or not.

Looking for validation that I’d been sensitive in representing the role of the Indonesian people, I sought the help of The Indo Project (Indos are folks who have Indonesian and European heritage). Three board members endorsed Sapphire Promise and one wrote the following remark after reading the book:

‘The words take you there. Sapphire Promise is truly a gem that will transport you through time, to a place from long ago. The details honour the wonder of the Dutch East Indies—a place where European structure and grace met the natural beauty and warmth of the Tropics. These vivid details captured the essence of what my dear Oma deeply yearned to return to, but never could. This coming-of-age story occurs during a time of great turbulence. The author takes such care in reminding the reader about what it means to be human, love, care, survive, and heal.’ (Jamie Stern, Member at Large, Director of Research, The Indo Project, Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, Associate Professional Clinical Counsellor, Doctoral Candidate)

You can find Sally here: Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter

Sapphire Promise

Loyalty to family. Trusting instincts. The will to survive. These virtues are deeply embedded in a mature Dutch teenager, Annika Wolter. Her attributes prove useful as she navigates typical coming-of-age insecurities and a blossoming romance with a handsome lieutenant in 1939 Batavia, Java.

Nothing prepares her for the distress of Hitler’s attacks on European countries followed by Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor, toppling her idyllic life in the Dutch East Indies colonial society and separating her from the man she loves. Uplifting events from a true story showcase how determination, nursing basics, and language skills keep a young woman and her mother alive in the worst Japanese internment camp in the Pacific. If you admire clever women and unfailing love in a tropical wartime setting, you will be captivated by Sapphire Promise.

  1. AnneGracie permalink
    15 September 2021 8:07 am

    This was fascinating, Sally. Thank you

    • Sally Brandle permalink
      15 September 2021 8:23 am

      You are so very welcome. Iris’s story continues to inspire me as she recalls encounters and episodes. Learning how Pearl Harbor impacted someone in Indonesia opened up a new world for me. Thank you for reading my post.

  2. Sally Brandle permalink
    13 September 2021 1:39 am

    Thank you for hosting me again. I hope all of you are safe and healthy. Happy trails, Sally

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