A Tribute to the Late W.A.S. Ouderland, Bir Pratik - Mirza Shamsuzzaman
Mr. W.A.S. Ouderland was born on December 1917 in Amsterdam, Holland while Europe was in the grip of the third year of World War I. He was conscripted for national service in 1936 shortly after he had commenced employment with the Bata Show Company. Shortly before his motherland was invaded by Germany, he was called up to serve as a sergeant in the Dutch Royal Signals Corps. In the face of the might of Adolf Hitler’s German Junta, equipped with sophisticated Tanks and other massive weapons his platoon of 36 men then were simply armed with short rifles and twelve rounds of ammunitions each. As he went out to face this enemy, flying overhead was the huge fleet of German warplanes headed for Rotterdam where, in the space of half an hour, 30,000 innocent Dutch citizen died as a result of their massive air attack. Following this blitzkrieg of Rotterdam the German Junta issued an ultimatum to the other cities of Holland, Belgium and France. Within weeks the Dutch, Belgium and the French people came under the domination of the German Junta. Having escaped from the POW camp after short internment, he joined the Dutch underground resistance movement. As he spoke fluent German and several Dutch dialects, he befriended the German high command and was thus able to help the Dutch underground movement as well as the allied forces with vital information. Therefore, when the event of March 1971 started with tanks of Pakistani forces rolling in to Dhaka, he was reliving his experience of his younger days in Europe. He could fully appreciate the predicament of the Bengali people and this motivated him to spring in to action on their behalf. As a result of indiscriminate and cruel actions of the invading Pakistani Junta, thousands of Bengalis died in the ensuing weeks. He felt that someone had to make the world aware of what was happening. Since he was able to move freely, he took photographs of the atrocities committed by Pakistanis against the innocent Bengali people including young children. He then passed these photographs to the world press to highlight the plight of the Bengali people, being deeply touched and moved by the unbearable sufferings and atrocities being committed by the cruel and oppressive occupying force. In addition he secretly began to train the Bengali youths that had in the meantime started to wage a Guerrilla warfare against the Pakistani forces around the Tongi area in sectors 1 and 2. As the Chief Executive Officer of an international company, he had the advantage of befriending the occupying Pakistani high command stationed in Tongi. This enabled him to pass on to the Bengali freedom fighters every vital information that he could collect from them. Whatever action he took during those fateful days was because of the deep love and affection that he felt for the Bengali people. He also took extensive photographs of the carnage that was being perpetrated by the Pak Army. He passed on these information and documentary evidence to the Bangladesh Freedom Fighters and the International Community. Later he sent his family home and actively joined the liberation struggle. Needless to mention that this was an exceptionally brave thing to do because if the ruthless Pak-Army had the slightest hint of what he was up to, he would have been summarily shot on the spot. Whatever action he took during those fateful days was because of the deep love and affection that he felt for the Bengali people. He was therefore a humanist par-excellence.
The Government of Bangladesh accorded state honour to the funeral of Mr. Ouderland in deference to the exceptional role that he played in our Liberation War in 1971. We paid our last respects to the departed soul by way of draping his coffin with the Bangladesh flag during the funeral rites. Our Hon’ble former Prime Minister and former Foreign Minister sent condolence messeges to Mrs. Ouderland. I attended the funeral services held in Perth, Western Australia to pay my last respects on behalf of the people and Government of Bangladesh.
I firmly believe that as long as the Bengali nation would survive on the face of this earth, the name of late Mr. Ouderland would be written in the annals of Bangladesh history in golden letters. Today late Mr. Ouderland has become a household name in Bangladesh by being the lone foreign national to actively join in our liberation war and to be awarded the gallantry award of Bir Pratik for his indomitable courage and valour.
Australia recognized Bangladesh on 31st January, 1972, one of the first few countries to do so. Since then, Bangladesh have enjoyed excellent relations bilaterally, regionally, internationally and as members of the Commonwealth. Late Mr. Ouderland has cemented this relationship even further. He was the lone foreign national, an Australian, who actively took part in our Liberation struggle and was given a gallantry award for doing so. We can never exaggerate the contribution and the indelible impression he has left in the psyche of the people of Bangladesh during his lifetime and now for generations to come. We are a people who never forget any good deed done to us. This is the reason why the ethnic Bangladeshi Australians has thought it fit to commemorate Late Mr. Ouderland in a befitting manner. In Bangladesh, steps are being taken to immortalize Mr. Ouderland’s name in various ways. The Museum dedicated to the Freedom Fighters in Bangladesh is in the process of opening a Wing in honour of Mr. Ouderland.
In the Bangladesh High Commission, Canberra a Library was named as the Ouderland Memorial Library.
Apart from dedicating a library in the High Commission on Mr. Ouderland a website was launched on 26th March, 2001. This ceremony was inaugurated jointly by myself and Mr. Kamrul Ahsan Khan, Convenor of Ouderland Memorial Committee. This ceremony was attended by a large number of diplomats and Government officials as it was held on our national day. Dr. Abed Chowdhury spoke on this occasion.
In addition to this a Condolence Meeting was also held in memory of Late Mr. Ouderland on 25th August 2001. The programme included a short discussion on the contribution of Late Mr. Ouderland in our liberation war followed by a documentary film show, a cultural programme and refreshments. This function was also very well attended and was appreciated greatly by the audience. A number of speakers spoke highlighting the role of Late Mr. Ouderland. The speakers,apart from myself, inter-alia,were a representative from the Australian Government, Members of Diplomatic Missions, Syed Hasan Imam(freedom fighter and artist, Maj.(rtd.) Rafiqul Islam, BB, Mrs Laila Hasan (renowned artist), Mr. Shahriar Kabir (a renowned activist), Mr Forhadur Reza Probal, Sirazus Salekin. Mr Quayum Pavez, Mr. Kamrul Ahsan Khan and other community leaders. The cultural programme was presented by a musical organisation called Protiti based in Sydney and another group called Udichi Australia.
Very recently a road has been named in Gulshan, Dhaka. The inauguration of the road was attended by a cross-section of our people who thought it fit to pay homage to this valiant war hero as well as some high luminaries such as the Australian High Commissioner in Dhaka, the Mayor of Dhaka city, former Ambassadors like Barrister Haroon Ur Rashid, lt General Haroon, myself and many others. However, with a view to giving due honour to Late Mr. Ouderland as well as to immortalize Bangladesh-Australia friendship for eons to come, I would wonder if the friendly Government of Australia may consider to erect a bust of Late Mr. Ouderland at a convenient spot, say the War Museum or the National Museum of Australia in Canberra or some such spot in Perth, Western Australia.
The funeral ceremony of Bir Pratik W.A.S. Ouderland took place on 24th May at 1300 hours local time in Perth, Australia. The ceremony was conducted by the Church Pastor and was attended by late Ouderland’s family members, i.e. his widowed wife, his daughter, grand-daughter, great grand-daughter, other close relatives, his friends, well wishers, four of his fellow soldiers who fought with him during World War II, our Honorary Consul General in Perth and around 20 Bangladeshi nationals living and working in Perth.
The Pastor conducted the ceremony, which lasted for about 45 minutes, in a solemn manner, but with grace and great reverence. The Pastor introduced the past background of late Mr.Ouderland in a few sentences and then invited me to recount the life and the great contribution that Mr. Ouderland had made in the War of Liberation of Bangladesh. Taking the podium I narrated in details the exemplary contribution of late Ouderland in our War of Liberation during 1971, delineating in details as to how he took photographs of the inhuman atrocities that were being perpetrated by the Pakistani occupation forces in Bangladesh and passed those out of Bangladesh for the information of the international community and later how he befriended the high command of the occupation army stationed at Tongi, collected valuable intelligence and information and passed those to the Bangladesh Government in exile. Finally after witnessing the relentless oppression of the occupation forces, which was increasing by the day he sent his family members home and then joined the liberation war directly by imparting guerrilla warfare training to the budding freedom fighters. I also informed the audience that since late Mr. Ouderland was a humanist par excellence he felt it his duty to come to the aid of the helpless Bengali population who at the time were completely at the mercy of the brute Pakistani occupation forces. For Mr. Ouderland this was a rerun of the experience that he had undergone during World War II when he had joined an underground guerrilla fighting force to fight the Nazi army. I informed the audience that Mr. Ouderland by his actions in 1971 had put his life on the line because if the Pakistani occupation forces had come to know of his activities they would have surely shot him summarily. I mentioned that as long as Bengali nation would survive on the face of this earth, the name of later Mr. Ouderland would be written in the annals of the history of Bangladesh in golden letters. I also stated that late Mr. Ouderland’s name has become a household name in Bangladesh by being the lone foreign national to join our liberation war and to be awarded the gallantry award of Bir Pratik for his courage and valour. I mentioned that our Hon’ble Prime Minister, the Hon’ble President, the Government and the people of Bangladesh, the Bengalees living in Australia as well as in all the other parts of the world were deeply saddened and shocked to lose such a dear friend of Bangladesh.
After concluding my contribution on Mr. Ouderland I invited my fellow Bangladeshi nationals attending the ceremony to join me to sing the national anthem of Bangladesh in front of the Bangladesh flag bedecked coffin of Mr. Ouderland and then to salute him in unison. After this part of the ceremony the Pastor performed the religious rites by singing hymns and verses from the Bible.
After the conclusion of the ceremony I personally handed over to Mrs. Ouderland the letter of condolence from our Hon’ble Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister personally. Mrs. Ouderland and her family members became visibly and emotionally touched by this kind gesture of our Hon’ble Prime Minister. The family members were also tremendously moved by my presence at the funeral ceremony and also because of the presence of a large number of Bangladesh nationals in the ceremony. Tearfully she acknowledged that the fact that even after all these years the Bangladeshi people have not forgotten Mr. Ouderland is a moving spectacle for her and as such she felt that Mr. Ouderland’s life was not in vain.
The whole ceremony was video-taped and sent to the Bangladesh Foreign Office and the Bangladesh Television as per their request.
Previous page: বীর প্রতিক ওভারল্যান্ডঃ কৃতজ্ঞতা বিপরীতে শ্রদ্ধান্জলী - অজয় দাস গুপ্ত
Next page: Symbol of freedom - Abid Rahman