William Ouderland – A ‘Bir Protik’ From A Distant Land

William A.S. Ouderland (1917-2001) was a Dutch-Australian commando officer who actively took part in the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. He was awarded the fourth highest gallantry award, the Bir Protik, by the government of Bangladesh. He is the only foreigner to receive this honorary award.

I was wondering about him for a while…found some information on the internet. Below are my finding. It is not all and enough. Hope someone, someday may be more interested in his life and find more information about him!

In 1936, William Ouderland he was conscripted for National Service shortly after he had started working with the Bata Shoe Company in Netherlands. On the eve of Nazi invasion in 1940, he was called up to serve as a sergeant in the Dutch Royal Signals Corp. During the war, he was taken prisoner by the Nazis, but soon escaped from the POW camp and joined the Dutch underground resistance movement. He spoke fluent German and several Dutch dialects, which helped him to befriend the German high command and was thus able to help the Dutch underground movement as well as the allied forces with the vital information.

After the war, he returned to work for Bata. On the eve of Liberation War of Bangladesh, he came to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) as the General Manager/Production Manager/CEO of Bata Shoe Company. (seems like no one is sure about his exact title)

Repression, occupation and brutality of Pakistan Army on unarmed Bengali people reminded him of Nazi occupation in Europe. He wrote in a letter  – ‘I was reliving my experience of my younger days in Europe.’ He felt that the world should be aware of the extent of genocide. As a foreigner and top executive of a multinational company, he used his position to take pictures of atrocities committed by Pakistani regime and passed them to the world press.

He also used his close relationship with higher echelon of the occupation forces including general Tikka Khan and General Niazi, to avail sensitive information and passed them to the Mukti Bahini (Liberation Force).

William A.S. Ouderland, Ouderland and General Osmani
William Ouderland, Ouderland and General Osmani

He secretly trained and assisted local youths in guerrilla resistance tactic around Tongi. After sending his own family back home (Netherlands?), he made his residence a safe place for freedom fighters (whom he considered as his sons) and gave them food, medicine, shelter and advice – trained the guerrilla in the premises of the Bata shoe factory. He also planned and directed a number of guerilla operations.

Ouderland remained in Bangladesh until 1978. Then he was transferred to Australia to work and eventually settled there. This uncommon, unsung, less known hero of a nation died in Perth, Western Australia on 18 May 2001. He was 84.

In 2010, a road in Gulshan, Dhaka was named after him – ‘Ouderland, Bir Pratik Road’, a Bangla biography was published in 2010. In 2011, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh visited his cemetery and paid homage while she was on a visit to Australia.

I wish I could know more about W.A.S.O. Why did he risk his life AGAIN when he certainly knew that it was extremely dangerous to do so? Who wants to go in front of death – twice! When most of the foreigners left a country what was ravaged by one of the most brutal genocide in human history, why did he remained there and risked his life? What was his reaction after receiving the award of Bir Protik? What his family and friends think of him? What kind of person was he?

He took pictures during the war. I wish some day soon I will be able to see all the photos he took.

History makes us and moves us all – he may not be a hero to others, but for Bangladeshi people he is – at least, he should be.

4 thoughts on “William Ouderland – A ‘Bir Protik’ From A Distant Land”

  1. Dear editor,
    I passed mr. Ouderlands memorial on 80st street several times, have made pictures and tried to clean up a little bit but to no avail. Are you aware that the monument is now almost destroyed and soon nothing will be left anymore. So sad to see that his memory is not recognised. I would like to help to clean and repair where possible as this can not stay as it is. I also would propose to put his monument on another place so people can see it on a daily bases and local people will learn who he was. Thanks for you attention.

    • @Frans Hartman: Bangladeshis are not careful about the caring they create! Why don’t you post some picture of online? and thanks for your posting. Hope the editor also do something.


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