of the questions surrounding the death of British Brigadier AWS Mallaby
in Surabaya have not yet been answered. For example, it has never been
clarified in which car this British officer was driving - a not
unimportant detail, isn't it?
By Bert Immerzeel
I do not really consider myself a big car enthusiast, and I am certainly not the type that will quickly get into a conversation with other men at birthday parties about the pulling power of the new diesel engine of the VW Passat or the design of the Alfa Romeo. But still, I have to admit, the subject sometimes touches me. And I think that has everything to do with my own 15 year old BMW. My wife regularly sighs: "Buy a new car, it's getting too old!", To which I keep coming up with the same defense: "but he still works, right?"
The funny thing is, the longer I drive my own car, the harder I find it to part with it. And well, if that may be called 'loving', then that's just 'loving'. And so I slowly but surely start to become more interested in the stories of others, assuming that they (of course: men) also have such a connection with their car.
So it happened that recently I suddenly became curious about Mallaby's car.
Perhaps a brief explanation is in order here. Historical events or periods are sometimes better explained by a single photo than by dozens of books or articles. When it comes to the war period in the Dutch East Indies, some photos always stand out because they have a more symbolic value than others: for example, that photo from the Japanese era with women bowing in an internment camp, or the photo from 1945 of the car of British Brigadier AWS Mallaby in Surabaya (another photo is known of that car, probably from a few days earlier).
The flame in the pan
Much has been written about Mallaby's death on October 30, 1945, but not all questions have been answered. The assassination of the British army commander was one of the crucial moments in Surabaya that gave rise to the Battle of Surabaya. Mallaby, who hoped to relieve some of his troops in the Internatio building at Willemsplein through negotiations with the Indonesians, had gone almost unarmed among the people in a car driven by an Indonesian. With him in the backseat were Captain RC Smith and Captain TL Laughland. According to a later report by Smith, the men were disarmed at some point, but Laughland managed to hide another hand grenade. The driver got out and left the car in the midst of the crowd. As darkness fell, the British in the Internatio building fired at the crowd and a firefight ensued between the two sides. The disarmed Mallaby was shot dead at close range by an Indonesian while he was still in the back seat. The other two men threw out the grenade and jumped into the Kali Mas. A few hours later, and with a wet suit, they were able to establish communication with their troops in Tandjoeng Perak.
So much in brief is happened on Willemsplein. Because it has never been known who actually killed Mallaby, nor because it could not be established with 100% certainty that the British were the first to open fire, hundreds, if not thousands, of research pages have been devoted to this event. And most of this material is still "classified" in British government safes. What has been published, however, focuses entirely on the question of the actions of the protagonists involved, and reveals little or nothing of the technical details. And, surprisingly enough: not even an article about the car itself!
The LaSalle Sedan
What brand is that car actually from? - I wondered when looking at the famous photo. In search of the answer, I could not come up with much else than to compare the car with images on the internet. After some surfing I thought I had found the answer. It looked very much like a 1940 or 1941 Chevrolet Sedan. At the same time, I knew this was wrong. Some details (the grille, the headlights, the window bars) were slightly different from that Chevy. But then what was it?
Because I couldn't figure it out, I put the question to a friend who I knew is such an automan-man. And yes, less than an hour later I had the answer: Mallaby was sitting in a LaSalle 1940 series 52 Sedan when he was shot dead. Without any doubt!
The LaSalle, like the Chevrolet and Cadillac, is a chic car brand from the General Motors factories. And this immediately explains why they look so similar at first glance. The brand was launched by GM in 1927 to fill a price gap: the American middle class needed a better car than the Buick, but did not yet have enough income for a Cadillac. The cheapest LaSalle was still a hefty investment with its price of $ 2685. The name - like that of the Cadillac - came from a French 17th century explorer. In 1940 the brand was withdrawn from the market because it was outstripped by other models and sales figures had fallen too much.
Gray, dark gray
Even though we now know which car Mallaby was in, many other questions of course remain unanswered. Who owned this car? It is well known that the LaSalles were imported into the Dutch East Indies before the war. However, were cars still shipped from the United States to the Dutch East Indies in 1940? If the latter was the case, then this car would of course have been confiscated in 1942 and used by the Japanese for three years.
The strength of the photo is of course largely in the contrast between the pathetic car wreck ('the colonial power') and the proud Republican sign behind it. This also begs the question of whether the picture was not directed for political reasons.
The image shows few other details. We even have to guess about the color of the car. However, given the outcome of the vehicle and its occupants, I stick to gray, dark gray.
Thanks to Gjalt van der Molen, the man who knows so much about cars!