Jump to content
Edward Willis

75 Years On - No. 2 Independent Company Departs Timor

Recommended Posts

75 YEARS ON

Picture3.png.58faa369262c571b8959017487d8e1b9.png

NO. 2 INDEPENDENT COMPANY DEPARTS TIMOR

December 15 1942

5a2f6b8521063_Evacuationareamap-ASPT.thumb.jpeg.dae09d29a7ba62cc15a74b54e5786bf1.jpeg

Introduction

Following the first tragic failed attempt to evacuate the No. 2 Independent Company (2/2) involving the ships Armidale, Castlemaine and Kuru’ recounted in the previous post in this series, another mission was rapidly organised, this time using the Dutch destroyer ‘Tjerk Hides’.  The 2/2 men had an anxious time moving from their frontline positions to the new evacuation site at the mouth of the Quelan River, in contact with advancing enemy troops; one man was killed in action during a Japanese ambush.  Additional Portuguese civilians were also escorted to the evacuation site.

Cyril Ayris continued his account of the, this time, successful evacuation in Chapter 40 ‘Emotional Farewells’ including the moving goodbyes of the 2/2 men to their creados on the beach.

Most of the locations mentioned in this story (including Same, Betano, Alas and the mouth of the Quelan River) will be visited during the forthcoming ‘Timor 1942 Commando Campaign Tour’ (April 23 – 2 May 2018).  There has been strong interest from the 2/2 fraternity and it’s not too late to register your interest and book for the tour.  Contact Ed Willis if you would like more information about the tour (0438907480, ew988662@bigpond.net.au). 

 

Another Attempted Evacuation

Timor Callinan belatedly received news from Darwin of the attacks on the ships and of the loss of his Dutch reinforcements.  Because he now had to reorganise his defences, he requested a delay of twenty-four hours before another attempted evacuation.

Darwin agreed.

Callinan was told that the ship which would take them off would be the Dutch destroyer Tjerk Hides.

All platoons were notified of the change of plan and were ordered to remain in their areas pending further instructions.

5a2f857023504_Same1946.jpg.12a293822f8d7a17c049961268684efe.jpg

Same, Portuguese Timor, December 1945

D Platoon Ambushed

Preparations for the second evacuation had been progressing fairly well considering the circumstances, when Doig’s D platoon struck trouble.  The platoon, along with the sick, wounded and the remaining Dutch and Portuguese, was to have been taken off in the first stage.  It was in Same when, on the morning of 10 December, its rearguard withdrew from the saddle above the town in readiness for the long march to the Quelan River.  Also in the town was a pack train loaded with weapons and supplies for a small group of 2/4th men which was training and arming the Timorese.

DSC09373.thumb.jpg.95cf632e8ce204d550f8603e14f08dc2.jpg

Same, Timor-Leste, May 2014

The pack train’s escort had just finished breakfast with the 2/2nd rearguard and was about to move off when Japanese troops opened fire on them from concealed positions, killing Spr L.C. Moule.

The horses bolted with the weapons and supplies on their backs, leaving the rest of the rear party and the escorts to fight their way out of the town.  Spr D. A. Sagar was wounded in the withdrawal.

This surprise attack was a tragedy for the Australians who had now lost a man the day before he was to be evacuated, not to mention an entire pack train of valuable weapons and supplies.  Code books had also gone, forcing the Australians to adopt an emergency code.

5a2f90e23c12a_Betano-QuelanRiver-Googlemap.thumb.jpeg.4ae6dd771381e5e6f38c79d871b2a5a7.jpeg

Map showing Betano and the Quelan River mouth

Evacuation Point Moved to the Mouth of the Quelan River

Realising the enemy was now dangerously close to Betano, Callinan moved his evacuation point five kilometres east, to the mouth of the Quelan River.  C Platoon meanwhile had O-pipped Maubisse and reported few Japanese there.  However, No. 9 Section was attacked by about forty Timorese, some of whom were killed.

The Travails of Sgt Hopper in Same

Later in the day the Japanese occupied Same.  They had not been there long when Sgt Hopper (2/4th Signals) lived up to his name – and proved in the process that the reputation established by the 2/2nd was in good hands.

Hopper and his new creado had ridden into Same on a pony, quite unaware that the town had new tenants.  When he was confronted by a Japanese soldier he yanked his pony around and was at full stretch when the soldier opened fire on him from less than ten metres.  Hopper leaped from his alarmed steed and ran for his life, his creado at his heels and bullets whistling past his head.  Signaller and creado made it to some scrub where they remained in hiding for the rest of the day.

The Night of 11 December 1942

On the night of 11 December 1942, at the mouth of the Quelan River, the darkness was briefly punctuated by two winking pinpoints of light, the first from the beach, the second from the sea.  A ripple of suppressed excitement passed through those on the beach.  Among them were Doig’s D Platoon, the sick, the wounded and some Dutch and Portuguese women and children, all deep in their own thoughts.  For some there was the promise of medical attention, for others there was the fear that even at this late stage the evacuation would be called off, or that the Japanese would arrive.  For the Australians, there was the knowledge that they had survived and that they were going home.  They could almost smell the wattle.

Almost.  They were not out of the woods yet – every man on the beach knew that.  The Japanese were only a few kilometres away and even if the evacuees reached the ship, there was still the voyage across the Timor sea where enemy planes and submarines could send them to the bottom.

Doig later described the evacuation:

The signal fires were lit and when the ship was in sight and acknowledged the flares, the operation began.  The first sign the waiting troops had was the sound of the vessel’s motorboats chugging towards them, towing flat-bottom boats manned by one sailor.  These came ashore after being set adrift from the motorboats.  Personnel immediately scrambled aboard them.  When fully loaded they were picked up by the motorboats and taken rapidly to the destroyer which had scrambling nets over the side.  We climbed the nets and were assisted aboard by the crew.  Several trips were required to pick up the intending passengers.  Within seconds the anchor came up and we were on our way.  There was no music we would more gladly have heard than the grinding of those anchor chains as they found their way onboard.

Phase Two of the Evacuation

Back on Timor preparations for phase two of the evacuation were being hampered by the enemy’s occupation of Same, which was uncomfortably close to the Quelan River.  The remaining platoons took up positions around the town from where they could keep an eye on Japanese movements and, if possible, lead them away from the river mouth.

As expected the Japanese moved east to Alas, arriving on the morning of 15 December 1942.  The second evacuation was planned for that night.  There now began a game of cat and mouse, though who filled which role is arguable.

The Bull’s platoon at Fatu-Cuac, only ten kilometres from Alas, was warned of the Japanese move as was Nisbet’s platoon between Fatu-Berliu and Alas.

The 2/2nd had no idea where the enemy would go from Alas and, as they were supposed to be pulling out that night, there was little they could do anyway.  With the rest of the 2/2nd (apart from Turton’s platoon) centred around Betano and Fatu-Cuac it was decided to draw the enemy towards Betano until it was dark, then make a headlong dash for the Quelan River five kilometres to the east.  With a bit of luck, they would be on their ship and away before the Japanese caught up with them.

Laidlaw’s headquarters opened fire on the Japanese as they approached Fatu-Cuac inflicting some casualties.  The Australians withdrew the moment the enemy deployed for action.

Callinan said later:

The Japanese were not very happy about their position; they seemed to sense the continuous observation and presence of our troops.  They pushed into Fatu-Cuac then hurried northwards again to Same.  Dexter, on a reconnaissance along the Same – Fatu-Cuac track, heard approaching footsteps and concealed himself in a clump of bamboo alongside the track.  From there he counted two hundred Japanese march past.  He could have reached out and touched some of them.  The danger had passed but it was a narrow escape.

Doc Wheatley Recalls

Doc Wheatley recalled his evacuation: “I remember when word came through that we were to go home and that we were to make our way to Betano as unobtrusively as possible.  We tried to keep it secret but the Japs came out in force to stop us.

“It took a couple of days to move in close to the beach then we heard that the Japs were already there.  We were told to circle around them and come out on the beach about three miles further on.  There were a couple of skirmishes behind us but we didn’t get involved.  We hadn’t eaten that day.  Somebody arrived with a pot of rice and put a spoonful in our hands; it was gratefully received.

5a2f91a310a05_DocWheatley.thumb.jpg.b258226850fa8e822bff85fa2ec62064.jpg

Doc Wheatley

“When we arrived at the river we could hear the Sigs talking to the ship.  We were told to pile our weapons on the beach.  I was reluctant to do that as I had developed a real affection for my sniper’s rifle.  Then the boats arrived to take us off.

“Saying goodbye to Montelo (his creado) was awful, I couldn’t find any words to say to him.  In the end, I just gave him a hug and ruffled his hair and said, ‘Thanks, kid.’  When the boats pulled away I felt like crying.  He was just standing there, watching us going out of his life.  We had told all our creados that the 2/4th troops would be glad to have them.  I hope that was what happened to them.”

Harry Sproxton Remembers

Harry Sproxton said that his No. 9 Section had set out for the beach after dark on 14 December.  Light rain was falling making the track slippery and dangerous.

“We walked until just after daylight then had a spell, knowing we still had more than half way to go,” he said.  “We stopped for a bite to eat at Alas, still with six hours’ walking ahead of us.”

At one stage the platoon had to cross a raging river which threatened death to anybody venturing into its rock-strewn course.  The platoon halted, totally dismayed at the seemingly impossible crossing.  Some struggled across but others knew it was beyond them.  Even Ron Dook, a top-grade swimmer, declared the river almost impassable.  It seemed that the remainder of the platoon was doomed to miss the ship.  The day was saved by Pte Tom Crouch who waded out as far as possible, grabbed a protruding rock and, bracing his feet, held out his rifle to the first in line.  He pulled him towards the rock then pushed him to the other side. In that way, he got the rest of the men safely to the other side.

Sproxton: “It was dark when we finally reached the beach. Everyone was in a state of complete exhaustion.  I’m sure it was only the thought of going home that had kept us going.

“I can still see Munlalo’s (his creado) sad eyes as I gave him all my belongings except my Tommy gun.

“When we reached the ship, burly sailors reached over and dragged us onto the deck, then others ushered us below.  There was standing room only.  We were seeing faces we hadn’t seen for months, it was an emotional time we will all remember.”

Ray Parry’s No. 5 Section

Ray Parry’s No. 5 Section was fortunate to have made the river mouth rendezvous.  About a week earlier Parry had led a two-man reconnaissance patrol to a village near the north coastal town of Manatuto, to check out forty armed pro-Japanese Chinese who were said to be in the area.  They reached the village after a long trek across mountains and through steep-sided gorges, only to find it ominously quiet.  The Australians were creeping up on an administration building when they were confronted by about forty Chinese-Japanese, all carrying weapons.  It was a tense moment which was relieved only when the two Australians turned about and returned to their section.

A few days later the eighteen-man No. 5 Section led by Ted Loud had returned to the village, this time as a fighting patrol equipped to do business.  They were carrying Tommy guns, rifles, bayonets and hand grenades.  The section positioned itself along a ridge behind the administration building and settled in for the night.  Loud’s plan was to hit the village just before dawn.

At 11.30 p.m. the section came to alert – somebody was moving towards their position.  The No. 5 men silently merged into the shadows as the footsteps drew cautiously closer.  It was not until the figure was almost on them that they recognised it to be that of a soldier from their platoon.  He had been sent to find them and to suggest that they call off the attack as the company was to be evacuated.

“I can’t remember who brought the message but he did a magnificent job in finding us,” said Parry.  “Ted Loud addressed the section telling them they were to vote on whether they wanted to continue with the planned attack.  The vote was unanimous – WE GO HOME.

“When we got back to Alas we moved to a deserted village several hundred metres above the trail linking Same, Alas and Viqueque.  We had not been there long when a big party of Japanese arrived.  We took cover while they had a good look around and settled in for a rest and a cigarette.  They eventually headed out towards Same.  They were doubtless heading for Betano where they believed we would be carrying out the evacuation.  We made no attempt to engage them; we didn’t want to draw attention to the Alas area.”

The Civilian Refugees

When the civilian refugees eventually reached the south, they were “accommodated” in a make-shift camp near Fatu Cuac which had been organised by Eric Smyth.  “Accommodated” is something of an over-statement given that there were no oomahs or facilities, just low scrub to protect them from the sun and observation from the air.

“They came in from everywhere,” said Smyth.  “We took only the women and children, escorting them to the beach with their little bundles of possessions.”

Parry said the trek from the main track to Viqueque and along the coast was a nightmare journey across crocodile-infested waterways.  “There were no villages – nobody lived there,” he said.

The platoon rendezvoused with two elderly Portuguese nuns from a mission in the interior who were to be evacuated with their unit.  Teams of mission boys had carried them along the coast in beautifully woven chairs fitted with bamboo poles through the arms.  There were four boys to each chair with several more in reserve.  With them were another eight nuns, twelve sisters, eleven priests and a small group of Timorese teachers.

Sgt Tomasetti, who had been responsible for the party, said: “Some of the Order members were riding ponies.  Most wore white hats and habits which they stubbornly, though politely, refused to discard or conceal.  This strange party formed a long and cumbersome line as it moved on foot or on pony and palanquin, to the embarkation point.

“Shortly after moving off a Japanese plane flew low over the line but the pilot failed to see us, despite all the white clothing.”

It was only then that the nuns and priests agreed to “dirty-up” their garments with some Timorese soil.  In the resulting confusion several palanquin bearers, deciding that there were more rewarding ways of spending their time than carrying nuns across Timor, took to the bush and were not seen again.  Two Timorese teachers were asked to take their place but haughtily declined, saying that such duty was beneath their calling.  The by-now short-tempered Australians convinced them otherwise, but as the teachers reluctantly bent to their task the nuns climbed from their chairs, declaring that they would rather walk than be the cause of disharmony.  The Australians again turned threatening.  The nuns resumed their seats ...... the teachers took their positions on the poles ...... and the party wobbled away to its promised salvation.

The cavalcade picked its way between the rocks and crocodiles arriving in plenty of time for the evacuation, though Parry said he was never able to discover how the ship’s crew managed to haul the nuns up the vessel’s side from the assault craft.  “They were large ladies,” he said.

Saying Goodbye to the Creados

Parry spoke fondly of Berracauly, his creado whom he had to leave behind.  “Saying goodbye to Berracauly was one of the hardest moments of my life,” he said.  “My nine-year-old friend and teacher of his language and customs – I have always remembered his friendship and courage.”

All the Australians found this abandonment of their creados on the beach at Quelan, nothing short of gut wrenching.

Fred Growns said: “As we prepared to leave, I told Berimou what we were doing.  I wrote out an ownership receipt for the horse I had been using, a surat for his help and I gave him everything I had – gear, money, everything except a small haversack with personal papers.  I said goodbye to him and swam out in the darkness to the waiting boats.”

Eric Smyth, who was still responsible for the nuns and refugees, had to carry one of the nuns to a waiting boat.  “It was very dicey,” he said.  “A stiff on-shore breeze was whipping up what was quite a heavy sea for that part of the world.  I don’t know how we managed to get her into the boat.  We had to hurry.  The ship was leaving at a certain time and anybody who was not onboard was to be left behind.”

(When Smyth returned to Timor with his wife twenty-five years later they accidentally met up with the nun he had carried to the boat; she could remember every minute of it.)

The Evacuation Ship Tjerk Hides

The evacuation ship Tjerk Hides, which was based at Fremantle, was practically a new ship with a Dutch crew and a British liaison officer on board.  The Australians would remember the crew’s hospitality long after the war, mainly it appears because of the bread and jam which the sailors placed before them.  It was the first time they had tasted bread since leaving Australia.

The destroyer arrived off the Quelan River on time and after another exchange of signals, the last of the 2/2nd were ferried out to climb the scramble nets to the deck.  They were on their way back to Australia within two hours of the ship’s arrival.

One of the last to board the ship was Ken Monk who stood outpost duty with a Bren gun until everybody had left the beach.

Stan Sadler said: “It was a wonderful feeling to know we were going home after so many months of strain and anxiety.  Many of us had thought we would not see home again.”

3790177.jpg.0e7b9e393be4729370c2f8b8a15441fb.jpg

Fremantle, WA 1942.  Port Side Aerial View of the Dutch Destroyer ‘Tjerk Hides’

A naval officer who was in charge of a landing party, whose name has been lost in the passage of time, wrote a wonderful descriptive account of the evacuation:

The engines stop.  There is an eerie silence save for the sound of the surf.  Spicy scents drift out from the shore.  Then all is bustle as the big assault boat is slid into the water over the stern, and weapons, ammunition, food, medicines, and kerosene tins full of two shilling pieces are hurriedly loaded into it.  We climb down the scrambling net over the side and into the boat.  Four sailors are at the oars and there is a long sweep oar for steering.  We grab it and give the order to shove off.  The sailors are mostly bearded.  They are armed with knives or revolvers and wear heavy boots in case they have to take to the hills.  They look like extras for The Pirates of Penzance, but none is singing.

The small ship looks large as we pull away from her in the darkness.  The first surge lifts the boat, carries her forward, slips from under her bow and breaks inshore.  The surf is low, but it still needs care to keep the boat running straight.  In a few minutes, there is broken water all around and about a dozen large, wild-looking figures, some naked, rush into the water, grab the sides of the boat and haul her up onto the sand.  There are handshakes and low-voiced greetings.  The cargo is quickly unloaded and then there is an astonishing sight.  Men with knives and bayonets are hacking open some of the tins of meat and wolfing it down like half-starved dogs.

Ponies appear on the beach and are loaded.  Figures emerge from the dark and crowd into the boat. These are the Portuguese men, women and children we have come to rescue.  Some are weak and ill and have to be half carried.  They push around the boat – there are too many for safety – and more keep climbing in, despite our efforts to control them.  The boat is low in the water, not room for another body.  At last she is off, pushed into the deep by the commandos.  It is hard to row out to the ship, where the human cargo climbs the scrambling nets or is lifted onboard.

The turn-around of the boats seems to take ages.  At last the anchor is in and after midnight, with the engines roaring at full power and consuming ninety gallons every hour, we fly along at seventeen knots (31 km/h), the heavy assault boat bouncing on a bar-taut line in our wake.

Daylight reveals a sad sight on deck.  Some of the Portuguese lying around the guns are in a very bad way.  Having left all that they held dear on the island, it seems that some are soon to leave life itself.  They are violently seasick and are lying in their filth.  We wipe their faces and give them tea in our chipped mugs.

A Tall, Old Man in a White Suit and a White Panama Hat

The writer described a meeting with a Portuguese which has haunted him over the years:

Things were tense on the beach that night and the Japanese believed to be close by.  I was standing up to my waist in the low surf beside the boat, trying to control it and keep its head into the waves.  We were about to push off when I glanced back at the beach.  There, standing alone in the shallows, was a tall, old man in a white suit and a white panama hat.  I cannot forget him; after all these years, I can still see him standing there motionless, dignified, authoritative.  He was not calling out to me, or beckoning, or making any effort to save himself and come to me.  He was just standing there, looking at the boat and his departing people – just watching us go.

I could not leave him. I waded quickly back and grabbed him.  He was very frail and thin; his hair was white.  He just looked at me. Neither of us spoke, there was nothing to say.  Hampered by my weapons and our soaking, clinging clothes, I dragged him through the surf to the boat, pushed him over the side into the stern sheets by my sweep oar, jumped in and ordered the sailors to pull hard as the commandos shoved us forward.

Once we were safely through the surf I saw the old man turn and look back for a long time at the island in the starlight.  Then he took something from his hand, gave it to me and spoke for the first time – in elegant English. “If you go to Portugal, show this,” he said.

It was a handsome silver ring with a rampant golden lion on a field of jade green, perhaps the armorial bearings of some ancient Portuguese family with centuries of services in the East.  Nothing now for him but memories.  Everything he had owned on the island he had lost, except for that ring and he gave that to me.  I did not ask his name and I have never been to Portugal, but I still treasure that memory and his ring.

Heading to Darwin

When morning broke some of the men went on deck.  The Tjerk Hides was powering through a flat calm sea with every ounce of speed her engines were capable of delivering.  White water curled majestically from her raked bows, a creamy wake briefly marked her passage.  Later in the morning two Beaufighters began circling the ship in case enemy bombers and fighters launched a last desperate attack from Dili.  They did not appear – in fact the only excitement was when the ship’s gunners opened fire on a mine towards the end of the voyage.  They failed to detonate it.

The men watched in silence when later in the day, a thin brown line appeared on the horizon, indistinct in the tropical haze.  Slowly it took shape.  Low hills could be seen.  The soldiers could smell the land of their birth.

“I cannot describe our feelings,” said Ray Parry.  “After what we had endured it was a beautiful and welcome sight.”

Arrival in Darwin

A crewman from HMAS Arunta watched their arrival.  He said: “They looked like figures in an atrocity propaganda film – starved, gaunt and as overgrown as a brushwood patch.  Haggard and emaciated they stood there, clad in anything the sailors had been able to give them.

“An order cracked out.  As one man, the lines snapped to attention, heads held erect.  In their eyes was a light that brought a lump to your throat.

“Their officer stepped aft and saluted the captain.

“‘Carry on, Sir?’

“‘Yes please.’

“Only when the officer came back, was his limp evident.

“The lines turned and filed over the gangway.  One grizzled old sergeant spoke to the coxswain: ‘If only we could have saved our gear and marched ashore as a company, instead of like a crowd of bloody scarecrows.’”  Ray Parry said: “Men and women of the three services were present when our destroyer entered the harbour and tied up at the wharf. Exhausted, bearded men with the mud of Timor still on their bodies, moved off the ship in single file, watched from the rails by Dutch crewmen.  I think the people waiting to meet us were in a state of awe or shock at seeing Australian troops in such a state, wearing tattered uniforms, many without hats or steel helmets.  There was not a sound from them.  It was so quiet.”

Perhaps the sight of Darwin’s half-destroyed wharf and bomb-shattered buildings had sobered their elation.

Conclusion

In another time, there would have been a groundswell of remorse over the twenty-six young men who had not come back.  But this was wartime – the 2/2nd had killed hundreds of Japanese.  As a result, national remorse gave way to a sense of profound pride for what they had achieved.

In November 1942, a month before the withdrawal of the 2/2nd, Sparrow Force was renamed Lancer Force and given the task of continuing to tie down the Japanese, denying them a base for any operations in the Pacific.  However, the relief 2/4th Independent Coy was evacuated from Portuguese Timor only three weeks after the 2/2nd.  Callinan explained that twenty thousand Japanese had squeezed him to the point where he had only thirty-five kilometres of south coastal country open to him.  He said the air was becoming a little stuffy.

 

 

 

Edited by Edward Willis
Change title to include date

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×