A tribute to a Dutch war correspondent

A forgotten past. Often the work of a war correspondent who reported back then and brings the past back to the present. It is often not known that war correspondents, and certainly those who worked in the past, had an important task. Today, in this technical world full of social media and modern techniques, today\’s people are quickly being confronted with the news and news reports. And often those who worked as pioneers are forgotten in very different circumstances.

One of these war correspondents was Alfred van Sprang.

Ronald van Grinsven en Antoinette van Grinsven-Raijmakers


From the collection O.Spronk / van Grinsven

From the collection O.Spronk / van Grinsven

Alfred van Sprang was born on 27 april 1917 in Middelburg. The Netherlands. From the marriage of Willem Adriaan van Sprang and Eva Sara van Emden.After the HBS Training in Rotterdam, he started his journalistic career with the newspaper “Het vaderland” at the age of 22. This was based in The Hague.His first book appeared in 1939 under the title “Camp adventures of a cheerful couple”.Around December of that year he travelled to America, where he did journalistic work for various Dutch magazines there.

When in the summer of 1940 the Netherlands was occupied by the Germans, Alfred left for the Dutch East Indies, where he worked as a journalist for the Java Bode and at the Dutch Indian Radio Broadcasting Company. After the Japanese invasion of 1942, Alfred stayed in various camps. Where he makes himself useful, for example as a caregiver. 

Source: Google

Source: Google

After the capitulation of the Japanese in August 1945, he became employed by the American press agency United Press. Where he reported on emerging nationalism, among other things. After staying in the Netherlands for a short period of time, he returned to Java in 1947. Where he mainly wrote about the first police actions. In 1948 Alfred picked up with the 7th December division. He recorded his experiences and findings of this division’s period in the memorial book “We were called”. Because Alfred’s reporting on the Westerling case was not well received by the Indonesian authorities, he was denied access to the Republic of Indonesia in 1950.

Badge U.N. Collection O.Spronk / van Grinsven

Badge from 7th december division. Source: Google

Alfred van Sprang presented his first report for radio to the NCRV. (a Dutch christian broadcast company) This report was about the balloon tour of Scheveningen in 1947. (The Netherlands). Following this report, Alfred was invited to come and work for the radio. This led to the NCRV’s current affairs programme in 1949. (Today, radio newspaper for the Netherlands)

At this item Alfred became their reporter abroad. Using the technique at the time, he used a “portable” recording device.

The recordings were recorded on tape and then transmitted to the NCRV.

 In the autumn of 1950, van Sprang was present in a number of countries behind the Iron Curtain. During his defeats there he gave the impression that it was a grey atmosphere behind the curtain. At the beginning of 1951 he went to Korea as a war correspondent under the banner of the Dutch detachment of the United Nations. Where he saw a number of fights with his own eyes. He reported on his experiences with various parts of the American army. These reports can be found in the book “Hevve No”. When, between 1951 and 1952, the conflicts in French Indo China ( Vietnam) began.In December 1951, he and the French armed forces moved to the border area where French control continued and the Vietminh ruled. Somewhere in that time he was trained as a parachutist in Hanoï. This resulted in him being allowed to wear the desired “Red parachutist” barrette with the “wing”. Between 1952 and 1954 his activities were in Persia (Iran) and Egypt. In 1955 he visited the Spartakiade in Prague. In this report he talks about the daily life of the inhabitants of the city. Shortly afterwards he headed for Budapest where work was made almost impossible for him. This was the high point of his career. When the Hungarians rebelled against the Communist regime on 4 November 1956, Russian tanks and troops moved into the city. This resulted in a miraculous report on the dominating invasion of the Russians and kept many “NCRV” radio listeners stuck to their radio.

Hungarian Press photo Resistance (Collection O. Spronk / van Grinsven)

In his journalistic career he also participated in the expedition to the Stars Mountains. This took place in April 1959 in what was then still Dutch New Guinea.  Under the guidance of Dr. L. D. Brongersma. In this period he also used the film camera and so he recorded the expedition. These recordings were broadcast by the NCRV later that year. And Alfred’s first television report was a fact. Shortly afterwards, Alfred made a three-part report for the weekly magazine “De Spiegel”. And it was entitled “With van Sprang on patrol” and was published in 1960.

Source: Google

The sudden death of Alfred van Sprang is still questionable today. The adopted date of death was supposed to be 24 November 1960, when suicide was soon discussed. After an NCRV employee could not get in touch with van Sprank, he warned the police who gave him access to the house and found him lifeless.  The police gave up a natural cause of death, but reports of a conspiracy or poisoning theory appeared in the press. Even in the later 1980s, the Volkskrant published an article from Sprank and in this report he brought out the fact that his head was popping his head in a noose and that he died of fatal stranglesex. According to sources, Alfred would have been homosexual what was not desirable in the 1950s, especially in the Protestant Christian environment of the NCRV. It is not yet known whether these speculations and whether or not their death are related to them.

His funeral took place on 29 November 1960 and his last resting place was in the cemetery “Oud Eik en duinen” in The Hague, where he was placed with his parents. In 2004 the rights of this grave expired. At that time it was already in a miserable state. If I ever come to the scene, I will see if the grave has indeed been cleared.

Cemetery “Oud Eik en Duinen” Door Ellywa uit nl, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1762380

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