Portrait of lieutenant pilot Guus Hagers of the Military Aviation of the Royal Dutch East Indies Army (ML-KNIL) with the 18th (N.E.I.) Squadron RAAF, with his dog – 1942. Source: Militaire Luchtvaart KNIL Fotoarchief

One of the greatest pilots of the 18 Netherlands East Indies Squadron RAAF was Gerson (Guus) Hagers.

In February 1942 he was part of the group tasked with receiving newly acquired B 25 bombers from the USA at Archerfield Airport in Brisbane. The planes didn’t arrive in time and in the meantime the Japanese invaded Java and the Netherlands East Indies Government surrendered. As a consequence he became one of the original pilots who got stuck at Archerfield.

Despite their determination, the Dutch pilots in Australia encountered insurmountable obstacles in their efforts to form a squadron and join the conflict. Meanwhile, their concerns for loved ones in the Dutch colony grew as high-ranking officials secured safe passage for their own families, leaving the pilots feeling helpless.

Back in Java, Guus’ young wife Lienke, ended up in one of the notorious Japanese internment camps, where she endured unimaginable hardships. Through unwavering determination and an unbreakable will she managed to survive. The camp’s overcrowding and sadistic commandant exacerbated the horrific conditions, with any rule infraction leading to collective punishment for all prisoners.

Guus eventually gained the opportunity to take flight, earning recognition for his success in daring missions. He was also a pilot on the propaganda flights, where pamphlets were dropped off over cities and the Japanese camps in Java. He famously was also able to include a large number of small notes with ‘Lienke’ on it when flying over the camps where women and children were interned.

Guus wrote a war diary that also details the revolt against Boot, the drama with his colleagues who wanted to fly to Netherlands East Indies (NEI) to pick up their family and the politics of the NEI Government and military, the latter was often not very flattering. 

Guus had never really been able to re-adjust to life after his after his demobilisation. He emigrated to the United States where he found work as a ‘crop spray pilot’. In 1952, he died in Oregon in an air crash while at work.

Lienke wrote her own memories. A novel has been written based on this, Guus’ diary and interviews with Lienke. The book is titled: Het Vergeten Verhaal (The Forgotten Story).

Lienke later remarried and lived in California as Linda Duncan-Buriks.

‘Lienke’ the B-25 Mitchell flown by Gus Hagers of the 18 Squadron NEI in this picture at Potshot WWII airfield in WA.  The plane is named after his wife, who he had to leave behind in Java. Source: Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie.