Your pension, your future
Love your future. Shell Pension.
Your pension, your future
Love your future. Shell Pension.

November 2020

Interview with 103-year-old participant Mrs Boesterd-Poll

“It’s hard for me to fathom that I’m so old”

Suus den Boesterd-Poll from Naarden is 103 years old. She retired in 1971.
Her first job with Shell was in the staff department of the Bataafse Petroleum Maatschappij (BPM), which later became Royal Dutch Shell in Surabaya, in what was then the Dutch East Indies. “I have various acquaintances in their 90s who say they’re done with life. I can’t relate to that at all.”

A dish of shortbread biscuits lies on the small table in the sitting room. Next to it is a tin with the earpiece, into which the interviewer first inserts a battery. Suus says that the swamp cypress trees in front of her house still turn rusty-red every autumn. She finds the sight enchanting. Paintings on the walls depict ships on the Java Sea and a kampong (village) amid the rice paddies.

1918, the jungle

“I was born on Moeara Teweh, at the heart of Borneo. In the middle of the jungle, among the original inhabitants of the island, the Dajaks. The place was so remote that there were no schools taught in Dutch. My father was an army officer, my mother taught us at home. It wasn’t until I was nearly six years old that I went to school for the first time, in Kota Radja in North Sumatra. Although I’ve forgotten many words over the years, I still speak Indonesian.”


“I started working at Shell during a strange period in time. Australia was at war with Japan and the Dutch government was naive enough to think that the Japanese would simply pass over the Dutch East Indies. My father knew Mr Oudraad, who was then in charge of Shell in the Indies. I started at the main office in Surabaya (East Java), where my job was to record and translate letters. But I was quickly let go, because I married my first husband, who was a Dutch naval officer. In those days, it was completely normal for women to be dismissed from their jobs when they got married. I was able to come back because the Second World War broke out and there were no new employees from Holland arriving in the Indies.”

The enemy

“When the Japanese army invaded Surabaya, hundreds of Indonesians and Europeans lined the streets to watch. My mother and I were among those staring agog at the marching soldiers. Crazily enough, we didn’t fully realise that this was no show, but reality: the arrival of the enemy. Soon after, that same enemy would lock us up in Banyubiru, a women’s prison near Yogyakarta with over two thousand prisoners. There, you slept on wooden boards with 90 centimetres of space for each person. We survived it. My father came back from the Burma railway in one piece too. My husband managed to get away. Two days before we were taken captive, he escaped to Australia by boat.”

“During all those years of the Japanese occupation, Shell took wonderful care of me”


“During all those years of the Japanese occupation, Shell took wonderful care of me. Someone from the main office even came to the prison the day after the Japanese signed their surrender to personally give me an allowance of 45 guilders per month. The money came with a note encouraging me to keep my spirits up and saying they had continued to pay my salary for the past four-and-a-half years. Because we didn’t have a place to live, and the Indonesian war for independence had started, we continued to be held in the camp for months after that.”

To the Netherlands

“Shortly after we were released and reunited with my father and husband, my husband was killed during combat operations on Java. The only thing I wanted at that point was to get out of the Indies and go to the Netherlands. I finally arrived in Rotterdam by boat. In Amsterdam, I found a job in the staff department of the Shell Laboratory on the IJ. Those were good years. My colleagues showed me the city. It was a chance for me to catch up on all the culture I had been missing in Indonesia.”


“At the end of my career with Shell, I moved to Overhoeks, the current Amsterdam Tower. I didn’t care for it much. The executive wing was eleven storeys up, and all you could see was the sky and the ferry. And it was also eerily quiet there because of the thick carpets. After I retired, I travelled around the country visiting family members that I’d never met before, and because I’m an only child – my little brother died of measles when he was nine – I took care of my parents every day.”

Living together

“After the war, I stayed in touch with a good friend who was also from Surabaya and had been a witness at my wedding. When his wife died, and after some time had passed, we started living together. My new partner was a loyal churchgoer, and I was immediately embraced by his social circle. Even now, six ladies from the Remonstrant Church in Naarden take turns coming to visit me each week and help me with the shopping. I’m grateful for every visit.”


“I turned 103 in February. It’s hard for me to fathom that I’m so old. I have various acquaintances in their 90s who say they’re done with life. I can’t relate to that at all. I’m still much too curious and interested in things. There are times when I think, oh dear, I won’t be around to see that. The first lunar launch was amazing, now they’re headed to Mars. I probably won’t live long enough to experience it.”

Back in time

“Whenever I have trouble sleeping, a great deal from the earliest years of my childhood comes back to me. The house in Borneo, most of the places in the Indies where we lived, the small encampments in the jungle. Every detail. I can literally summon them up. For a moment, I’ve gone back in time. It’s not nostalgia, because I’ve never missed Indonesia nor felt the need to go back there. It’s so different now, and I feel at home in the Netherlands. A lovely and free country. We should all be glad to live here.”


“I love to read and enjoy going to museums and concerts. I played tennis until I was 78 and drove a car until I was 98. The only problem I had was pulling into the garage. I don’t cook any more either. I get ready-to-eat meals, and the home carer comes by to help me every evening. My late partner’s two sons take really good care of me as well.”


“I hope I can keep living here in my own house until I’m gone. An old-age home is my idea of a nightmare. And anyway, people like to come here and visit. I think it’s because I’m interested in their lives. I can empathise with my visitors and their whole families. A lot of the older people I talk to seem to only be interested in their own little streets.”