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Escape From Timor – How Four Men Made It Back To Darwin After The Japanese Invasion of Portuguese Timor – Arnold Webb's and Des Lilya's Stories

Edward Willis

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Col Doig has provided a summary of this amazing adventure story that usefully serves as an introduction to this post:

‘A party comprising certain members of the reinforcements who came on the ‘Koolama’ and who were at a loose end and not at the time attached to any of the Sections, decided to try and get to Australia by boat and advise that the 2nd Independent Coy was still intact and fighting on.  This party comprised Ptes Larney, A. Webb, D. Lilya and ‘Curly’ Freeman.

They had wandered firstly to the west but were frustrated and had many adventures before heading to the east of Timor. They started their movement late in February; they ran in with a patrol of 2nd Coy who questioned them but as these boys were reo's [reinforcements] they did not know them.

Arriving at Lautem on the east end they obtained a boat going to Kisa and they made a landfall on this island and finally arrived at Leti.  After many efforts they left Leti and got to the island of Moa and from there to Sermata. Here Webb got sick of the bickering and tried to drown himself and was dragged back by Freeman.  They ran in with a large vessel that was probably some sort of smuggler, which took them to Teepa where they broke up.  Freeman and Lilya went on their own and Webb and Larney went on their way and were eventually picked up by an Australian lugger that took them to Darwin.  There they met Alan Hollow and Keith Hayes.  This was the last week in May.

Their journey was in vain as contact had been made by Timor with Australia.  Their treatment by Australian authorities was terrible and they were put in the worst type of boob and got it real tough.  Eventually Lilya and Freeman arrived.  The first two were interrogated by Intelligence who did not believe their story.

After a lot of crook treatment Webb and Larney boarded the ‘Voyager’ and were returned to Timor and Lilya and Freeman who had been sent south on leave were also brought back and went with the others to Timor where they all rejoined Sections.

This was an epic journey and the lads deserved a better fate at the hands of the Australian Administration in Darwin’. [1]

There is more to Lilya and Freeman’s travails after they separated from Webb and Larney than was recounted by Doig and what happened to them will be revealed below.


Two of the men who escaped, Des Lilya and Arnold Webb, have left their recollections of this remarkable adventure. Lilya’s account was first published in the April 1991 issue of the ‘Courier’. [2] David Dexter had asked Lilya to prepare it when they were both serving as members of Z Force in late 1944 or early 1945.  Arnold Webb’s account was sympathetically recorded by Paddy Kenneally probably sometime in the early 1990s and has not been published before. [3]

This post includes both men’s stories displayed side by side so that their recollection of particular events can be compared up until the time they parted company during their journey back to Australia.

When it became known by the senior officers of No. 2 Independent Company what the four men had done the initial reaction was that they should all be treated as deserters when they made it back to Australia.  Webb and Larney were taken into custody and treated very harshly.  Freeman and Lilya who had made it home separately and had demonstrated their soldierly qualities along the way were not incarcerated.  All four avoided court martial by agreeing to return to Timor with the No. 4 Independent Company on the ill-fated ‘Voyager’ in August 1942 and served out the remainder of the campaign with the No. 2 Independent Company.

It is apparent from what follows that no long term ‘hard feelings’ were harboured against the four men who were well-regarded by their fellow soldiers, both officers and other ranks.


This is an account given to me by Arnold Webb [4] of the journey undertaken by himself and Bob Larney [5] when they left the 2/2nd Independent Company, with the object of reaching Australia and reporting the 2/2nd still operating as a force in the mountains of Timor. It is important that conditions in Timor at this time be known and appreciated, to understand why these two men would leave their unit to attempt such a hazardous undertaking. [6]

Briefly, the 2/2nd Independent Company had been sent into neutral Portuguese Timor in December 1941 to forestall an intended Japanese base being formed there in the guise of establishing a civil aerodrome at Dili.  This company was to be withdrawn to Dutch Timor when Portuguese troops from Mozambique arrived to reinforce the small garrison of Portuguese troops already in Timor. Nothing went according to plan. The Japanese advance down through Malaya and the subsequent surrender of Singapore and the speed with which they accomplished the conquest of all the East Indies, changed all previous plans for the 2/2nd in Timor.  The Portuguese prudently turned back.  The Japanese quickly arrived on 19th February 1942.  A section of 2/2nd men held the air strip through the night.  At dawn they blew up the runway and made their escape out of Dili.  The Dutch and their H.Q. had already left.

The main body of the 2/2nd dispersed in the mountains, did not even know the Japanese had landed until late next morning.

Then the fun and games began. Rumours, rumours and more rumours, men being sent everywhere on patrols and coming back with more rumours, ammunition being moved to various dumps, other stores such as food was no worry - we didn't have any.  The Company had landed with one month's supply of rations.  There were Dutchmen and Javanese wandering everywhere, mainly west for Dutch Timor until they found out that was gone too. Stragglers coming through from Dutch Timor, were bringing further rumours and little else.  The 2/2nd H.Q. was desperately trying to establish the true position.  2i/c, Captain Callinan, was on the go day and night all the way down into Dutch Timor attempting to get a true picture of the position and trying to sift fact from fiction. It is easy to follow the ordinary Private's reaction; in Army parlance, 'Who's up who and who is paying?'

With this background, many of the men were doing a bit of planning on their own.







On January 16th, 1941, I sailed from Darwin as a reinforcement to the 2/2 Independent Company which was stationed somewhere in the NEI [Netherlands East Indies].  After three days at sea, we arrived at Koepang, the capital of Dutch Timor.  Our party for the 2/2 AIC [Australian Independent Company] consisted of 50 ORs [Other Ranks] and 3 officers.  We were immediately transferred to a Dutch gunboat, and after half a day wandering through the dusty, yet somehow picturesque street of the small capital, we sailed for Dili the capital of Portuguese Timor.


Three Spurs – Railaco – Vila Maria

On arriving the following day, we moved straight out to the Dili drome and I was taken on by truck to Three Spurs camp.  There we were made into "D" platoon, and after about a week we moved on to occupy Railaco.  Here we stayed about 3 weeks digging AA [Anti-Aircraft] defences and building Water Pipe Camp.  Then a subsection of us with Mr Laffy in charge, moved on to make the first ·staging camp at Villa Maria.

Here, our fine leader became deeply infatuated with a Portuguese by the name of Brendalina de Silva. [7] But on the night of February 19-20th, news came through that the Japs had landed at Dili in force, and our movements were much faster from then on.  Major Spence came through and detailed us all our jobs and patrols.

‘The subject came up about the possibility of making an attempt to reach Australia …’

We left Railaco with Company H.Q.  Some days after the Japanese landing in Dili, we crossed the Glano River and headed for Vila Maria.  H.Q. was established here.  Patrols were coming and going, and ammunition dumps were being established over a wide area of mountains.  The wet season was in.  Up in the mountains we were shivering from cold or malaria or both.  Food was extremely short.  At this time, I, with some other men including Bob Larney were assigned to H.Q.  We knew little of what the position was.  All kinds of stories were circulating as to what was happening elsewhere as we were constantly patrolling.  We certainly knew the position in our own area.  We talked about prospects amongst ourselves.  We knew we had no contact with Australia and were cut off.  Any news we gleaned came from the Portuguese who had wireless receiving sets, or just plain rumours.

The subject came up about the possibility of making an attempt to reach Australia.  Bob Larney was all for it as were some of the H.Q. originals, but no one wanted to be the one to attempt it.  Bob Larney was willing but finding a partner to 'give it a go' was a different matter.  Bob finally convinced me it was worth a try.  We left that night.  Some, if not all of those H.Q. men, knew we were going.  However, little did we know what we were letting ourselves in for over the next three months.  It would have been at the end of February or very early in March when we left the Company somewhere in-the Ermera, Vila Maria area.

West to Memo

Once again with Laffy in command we set out but this time we kept to the hills and after two days hard going we came to Atsabe.  Here we procured horses and moved to Bobonaro and were given excellent treatment by the Controller, Sousa Santos and his pretty wife.  Here Mr Laffy told us of his plan of going to Suai and procuring a boat and heading for Australia.  But he changed his mind and we left for Memo and on arriving at Memo he said that he was not going on with it.

It was then that Sgt. Freeman, Pte. J. Keenahan, Pte. Coles and I decided that we would go to Atapopoe and take a native prahu to Koepang in the hope that we could tell the whole location of our present area, as we had no communications at that time.  From Memo we travelled a day and came to Rusa.  It was about 3 hours out of there when we met a Javanese, Sgt. van Ligton [Van Linken], who informed us that Atamboea had been taken by the Nips, and we returned, accompanied by him, to Memo.

First Move to the West – Linking Up With Des Lilya and Curly Freeman

We moved west for a few days depending on the natives in the various villages for food and shelter.  We stopped travelling for about three days to rest up and think over our own position.  We built a rough shelter.  The local Timorese suppled the food.  We knew no Tetum so we could not get any information.  We moved on but progress was very slow.  We were wet, cold and hungry and our shoes were wearing thin.  It was about this time we met Des Lilya [8] and Curly Freeman. [9] They were heading back east after being to the Dutch border.  They told us they were heading east to keep a rendezvous with a Dutch Sergeant van Linken whom they had met down on the Dutch border.  This sergeant seemed to have a good knowledge of the eastern end of the island, Freeman told us.

Van Linken had gone ahead to arrange for a boat.  We decided to combine our forces and attempt to reach Australia together.  Next afternoon we ran into a small Australian patrol heading towards the Dutch border.  The leader of the patrol was both curious and suspicious of us.  He wanted to know where we had been, what we knew, where we were heading for and whose command we were under. Freeman did all the talking saying he was acting under the orders of Lieutenant Laffy, he was in charge of the patrol and he was heading back to report to Laffy. [10] He must have convinced the patrol leader. [11] They continued west in their efforts to find out what the position was there.

East to Com

From then on, I will more or less skip through my journey on Timor.  We went to Tilomar, then to Maucatar, Bobonaro and at Bobonaro there were only two of us left, Sgt. Freeman and me.  Our next stop was Mape and then to Alas.  On that trip we met Pte. Larney and Pte. Webb.  At Alas. Sgt. van Ligton joined our band again and we then proceeded through Fatu Berliu, Beaco [Beasso], Viqueque, Vatahudo [?], Baguia to Laga.  Here we stayed a few days and learnt that a prahu from Kisar was at Com, a small bay at the end of Timor.  We obtained a car and boarded the prahu at night, and at dawn we landed on Kisar.  Sgt. van Ligton stayed behind on Kisar when we left.

To the Eastern End of the Island

We continued east.  That patrol was the last Australian troops we met before leaving Timor.  Who they were I cannot recall.  They were 2/2nd men and as we were reinforcements, they didn't recognise us.  Quite obviously they were from a section whose members had only heard of us and hadn't met us prior to then.

We eventually met up with Sgt. Eddie van Linken.  He and Freeman talked about the extra men.  The Sgt. was quite friendly, told us we would meet up with this man Hoffman and he had arranged a car and driver to take us to where we could get passage on a boat to Kisa.· He told us he would not be coming with us.  He was remaining on Timor.  Whether he changed his mind because of Bob Larney and myself adding to the party and causing overcrowding on the boat, I do not know.

Next day we met Hoffman somewhere on the Baucau-Beaco Road and stayed that night with him.  He had a big receiving set and had all the latest outside world news.  He said nothing about Timor or what was happening there.  Next day his driver drove north through Viqueque.  On passing through that posto we had to crouch down in the car.  For some reason the Chinese driver did not wish us to be seen in the car.  On reaching the north coast, we turned east and followed the north coast.  Arriving at a point near the end of the road quite close to what I now believe was Lautem, we boarded a small boat which was preparing to sail for Kisa.  By dark we were well on our way and arrived at Wonreli, Kisar before noon next day.


Kisar was a small but pretty island and the people treated us very well.  After three weeks there we were able to obtain a boat of about 25ft to take us to Saumlaki.  Our first attempt to leave the island failed, as we were driven back by a storm.

When we first landed at Kisar we immediately sent a message to Australia to Melbourne, in fact it was worded as follows: 



And we were rewarded on the second night following the message by hearing over the radio that news was received through a small radio station in the NEI that the Australian troops in Timor were still fighting on.

Our object achieved, we decided on reaching Australia and bringing help back as soon as possible.

On to the Island of Kisar

We reported to the Dutch Administrator.  He allowed us to stay and live in spare quarters attached to the administrative offices in the building.  He also ordered that daily rations be supplied to us while we were there and the kitchen staff to attend to the cooking.  We in turn volunteered to man an observation on high ground overlooking the town and the adjacent coastal waters.  Spotting for aircraft and shipping was to be our main activity whilst we were on Kisar.  I added to our rations by building an oven from a drum, rocks and dirt and baking bread for all the staff and ourselves. There was a transmitting set and wireless operator in Wonreli.

We arranged through the Administrator for a message to be sent in the hope that some service station on the Australian coast would pick it up.  This message was to the effect that Australian troops were still fighting in the mountains of Portuguese Timor.  Whether this message was received or not I do not know as it was never acknowledged.  Everybody knew we were looking for a boat to continue our voyage.  The wireless operator suggested his uncle may be able to help us.  We accepted the offer with thanks and great relief that this problem could soon be solved.  He sent a message by boat to his uncle on the island of Leti.

Keep Going or Return to Timor?

A boat finally arrived from Leti.  The weather by now was most unfavourable.  The two crewmen were not very keen on attempting the voyage back to Leti under the present conditions.  We now had a boat but could not utilise it.  We were keyed up and the least little thing made us irritable.  The waiting was becoming unbearable and we constantly squabbled and argued amongst ourselves.  I wanted to return to Timor, but Bob Larney said 'no' pointing out that if 'we can't leave here for Leti, it is equally impossible to leave for Timor.'  It was frustrating.  Our store of dried fish, coconuts, sweet corn, dried buffalo meat and some rice was all stored.  These stores were standard fare.  Our water consisted of about five full stoneware jars holding about fifty gallons in all.  These stores and water supply we intended to replenish at all our stops on the trip.  We had no intention of dying of thirst or starvation.

We talked to the Administrator once more about the trip.  He gave Freeman a letter to each Administrator at each of the islands we were to call at on the way.  They advised that we were transporting rice to the garrison at Soumlankin on Yamdena Island and to render us all help possible on our voyage.  Twice more at the least abatement in the weather, we tried to leave but had to return.  Everybody was advising to wait; wait until later in the season.  We couldn't wait.  The longer we stayed, the greater the risk of the Japanese turning up.  We had no wish to be prisoners or killed in a hopeless fight, or worse still, being executed.

Leti – Moa

We made another attempt on the following day, and more by the cleverness of our crew, which consisted of four natives, than by good luck, in three days we landed on Leti.  This island was even smaller than Kisar and had a small population whose main occupation was fishing and roaming from one island to another.  If you look on the map you will find it is one of a small group of three islands, separated from one another by about a mile of water.  We stayed on Leti a day and then with the tide we lifted anchor and were on our way again.

It took us half a day to get on to the shallow reef surrounding Moa and here we had our first shot of bad luck.  On striking a hidden rock below the surface, we saw our rudder torn away, and we were forced to aid our crew by diving down and trying to tie our rudder back on with strips of bamboo.  We succeeded just before sunset and so we downed sail and propelled the boat along the reef with the aid of long bamboos.  It was a fairly hard job and I was relieved when we came to a house on a small beach.  So we dropped anchor and slept in a soft bed given to us by the Island Headman.

On to Leti, Moa then Lakor

At our third attempt we succeeded.  We were on our way to the Island of Leti.  This was quite a long trip.  Weather conditions were extremely bad, high winds and high seas.  We were fearful of being swamped.  All were happy to reach our destination.

The usual formalities with the Administrator at Serwaroe and presenting our letter of introduction. This was to be the procedure up to and including our arrival in Soumlankin.  After attending to loading stores and water we set sail for Siota on the Island of Moa.  This was a far shorter trip and not too far from land at any time.  The weather treated us more kindly.  Here we were fortunate.  We picked up two natives at Siota who wished to return to their homes on the Island of Sermata.  They were expert seamen.  We sailed for Werwaroe on the Island of Lakor.  The weather was getting worse by the time we arrived off the north-east tip of Moa our sail and jib were torn to ribbons and we were drifting south in Lakor Straight. We finally ran aground off the northern tip of Lakor.


On the following morning we shoved off again, but we did not make much headway as owing to squally rain our backsail became too heavy and ripped down the centre.  We then pulled into shore and repaired it.  Next day the weather was again favourable, and we cleared the island and made a short run into the island of Lakor.  This island was a coral island and also very small. We were able to procure some good meat and we shot a few sea birds which helped us greatly on our next jump, as we had been living on corn and coconuts.  Here also we were forced to beach our boat and scrape all the barnacles and seaweed, etc. off the keel and rudder.

Our first attempt to leave the island was a failure and our backsail was torn completely in half about 6 miles offshore.  So by coming back with the aid of the jib and the strong waves and current, we hit a reef and were forced to wade ashore, getting natives in their canoes to tow our boat back to the bay.

We again patched up both boat and sail and using the bamboo poles we were able to get clear of Lakor.

Boat Troubles and a Marriage Offer

We had to take turns in diving and doing what repairs we could to the rudder.  We then poled the boat to deeper water and closer to the island.  We anchored the boat and left it in charge of the natives.  We waded ashore and set out for the settlement of Werwaroe.  We were barefooted and as it was a trip of twelve or so miles across rocks and coral, my feet were badly torn.  The rock face was sheer to the sea and the whole area honeycombed with blowholes and water gushing up all over the place.

On arrival at the settlement we told the head man of our plight and he soon organised a working party.  The main difficulty was getting the Chinese traders to supply another sail and jib to replace our lost ones.  We finally had to convince them by cocking and pointing our rifles in their direction.  This was the only time we had to resort to this tactic. Elsewhere, help had been generously and cheerfully given.

My feet were too badly torn to return to the boat.  I stayed with the headman who spent most of his time trying to convince me I should stay on Lakor, marry the local chief's daughter and inherit the clan. I came in for a lot of ribbing from the other three when they returned with our boat.  The natives sent to do the job had under the directions of the crew, speedily repaired the damage.  The new sail and jib were set, and they sailed her to Werwaroe.

Lu Ang – Babar

The wind was favourable and after 4 days we were sailing over the huge reef that surrounded Lu Ang.  We awaited the incoming tide and landed that night.

Lu Ang was formed in the shape of a large mountain with hardly any flat ground on it whatsoever.  The population was small, and their main occupation was fishing and pearl shell diving, but the latter had ceased since the Japanese schooners had left the area.  They are a tall race and excellent seamen.

The Controller was a native from Amboina and he treated us with the utmost courtesy and was very sorry to see us leave.  He gave us a guide to sail us through the reef and with a strong wind our small craft travelled at a fair pace.  We had no intentions of putting in at Sermata, a long narrow high strip of land which at the time was very badly off for food, but on having sailed half the length of it, bad weather once again drove us into the shore.

As soon as the weather cleared up we made another start for Babar, a long heart shaped island.  After sailing for approximately four days we struck an early morning calm, and while idling lazily in the deep water a school of sharks started to play around the boat.  We had an old chicken leg and fixing it on to a bamboo our crew caught two of them, and although the situation seemed far from pleasant, it provided us with some fresh meat.

On to Metatra then Sermata Island

Here our departure was again delayed by bad weather.  A couple of attempts were made to leave but it was hopeless and after our experience in Lakor Straight, we were reluctant to push our luck.  A few days more and we were able to depart.  The weather was now much better with a fair wind which was unfortunately not behind us.  We were sailing directly into it.  Consequently, progress was slow as we were tacking back and forth.  However, it was a relief to get a spell from the continuous bailing which we had to do from the moment we sailed from the island of Kisar.  Metatra hove in sight.  Whether that was the name of the anchorage of the island I can't recall.  The inhabitants gave us a great reception, produced an old gramophone and a few records.  The only one we recognised was "when the Moon Comes Over the Mountain".

We rested up here for a couple of nights before sailing for Le 'Ang Bay in Sermata Island.  All seemed to go well with us now.  The wind was favourable, and we made good time to Le 'Ang Bay.  We sailed up the bay to the settlement bearing the same name.  Here we saw a big Chinese lugger anchored close in shore and not far from the Administrator's house and offices.  We anchored close by ourselves and went ashore in an out-rigger canoe.  Here we said goodbye to our two passengers from the Island of Moa.  They had given the crew and us enormous help in our difficulties.  It was a sad parting for us.  However, we were pleased they had reached their home island safely and hoped it was a good omen for us.

Becalmed … ‘Boredom was our worst enemy now’

As always, our first duty was to report to the local Administrator and present our letter of introduction.  A brief glance and he asked us how best he could assist us.  We explained the sail and jib on our boat had to be returned to the Chinese in Werwaroe on Lakor Island and our stores and water needed replenishing.  He quickly organised the sails to be procured from the Chinese lugger.  We gave our borrowed ones to him to be returned to Lakor.  The stores were put aboard, and we rested for a couple of nights in a safe anchorage.  Our morale was now much better.  The wind held fair for a few hours and then deserted us altogether.  We were totally becalmed.  This was far worse than the bad weather.  Then at least we kept busy bailing and working for our lives.  Here we just sat, absolutely nothing to do.  Boredom was our worst enemy now.

After a day of doing nothing, bickering and arguments broke out once more and the situation became very intense.  I could stand it no longer and jumped overboard hoping I'd drown.  My wish would have been granted had it not been for Freeman.  I could not swim and was sinking.  An oath and a roar from Freeman (I was told later) and Bob Larney and Des Lilya were overboard and grabbed me.  I remember little of this.  They got me back aboard and revived me.  Freeman was furious.  "You mad bastard, why die now after all you've been through?  We are all well on the way to making it". Then to the three of us. "That's the finish of these stupid arguments.  We bite our tongues from now on''.

Encounter with the ‘Somoa’

In the afternoon of that same day on nearing Babar I noticed a rather large sailing boat leaving the island and approaching us.  It was using motors and a jib.  Previous to this, we had heard that there were some Fifth Columnists running away on the best boat from Saumlaki.  So we decided to board their boat on the high seas.  When it was fairly close to us, I gave the order to turn about and we raced after it.  It was a boat of 60 ft, so our small boat gained swiftly, and when only 100 ft from it, a man sitting on a chair on the deck with a tommy gun levelled at us, commanded us to come aboard one at a time.  So the position was reversed and on boarding we found that he was a Dutch Intelligence Officer who had come straight from Darwin on board the ‘Somoa’, which was the name of the boat.  He gave us 50 guilders and a packet of Australian tobacco and told us that if we stayed on Babar at the village of Tepa which was the capital of the Island, he would send the ‘Somoa’ back to pick us up. [12]

Intercepted by a Mysterious Patrol Boat

That night the wind came in gently and to our favour.  We made our way slowly, but we were progressing in the right direction. Towards next day, we were surprised to see a fairly large boat heading towards us at high speed.  We thought "What's this and more importantly who is it, one of ours or one of theirs".  I felt and I'm sure the others did do 'is it to be captured or saved'.  As it turned out it was neither.  She quickly closed the gap between us and hove to.  A big blond man, standing at the stern, told us to lower our main sail and jib.  He threw us a tow line and invited us aboard.  We were amazed at what we saw.  Big brown men wearing bangles and rings on their fingers which appeared to be gold and smart looking wristlet watches.  More amazing still was the armament.  About six belt-fed machine guns, mounted on tripods which were bolted to the deck.  These guns could be used for ack-ack or horizontally.  They had a 360 degree swivel.

After all these years he is still a mystery to me.  Was he German, Dutch, English, a disguised patrol boat, a Yank or just a straight out pirate.  He gave us a meal and changed his course to one that we had been on, towing us towards our objective, Babar Island.  He gave each of us two two-ounce tins of Log Cabin tobacco and two packets of papers.  He told us if we stayed on Babar Island, he would return in 40 day’s time and send the boat's motor boat to pick us up.  He told us he would not go to Saumlakin which was to be our final destination for delivery of the rice.  He also gave us 40 guilden to pay for our keep in Teepa.

While we were waiting for his return, after a couple of hours towing he let the tow ropes go and reversed course, heading west.  We were relieved to see the last of him.  One thing we were not going to do and that was wait forty days in Teepa for his return.

Parting Company at Tepa

That same night we pulled into Tepa and woke the police up who looked after our needs and brought the Controller before us.  Larney and Webb ran amok on some wine and so we sent them on to Saumlaki with the agreement that if they were able to obtain a boat there they were to come back for us and if we got one, we were to take it on to them.

After they left, Freeman and I made a tour of the island and at Tutuwawang, a village at the back of the island, we found that the Controller had been robbing the churches and taxing the people for his own foolish ideas, whenever he felt fit.  So on our return to Tepa we had it out with him, and he offered to put us in jail.  He sent four policemen to get us, but we turned tables on him and nearly put him and his harmless police in jail.

The Arab boat that had taken Larney and Webb to Saumlaki had returned and the skipper told us that they had both gone to Darwin by an Australian lugger that came in the day they arrived.

Then we left everything and ordered him to take us straight back.  He at first declined but we had a way of persuading him.  So we said goodbye to the isle of Babar and its notorious controller and sailed for Marsela where we took on water and headed for the open seas again.  Once again we struck heavy seas, but the Arab boat was strong, although small. We had a native woman and child on board and the woman with the crew, asked me to lodge a complaint to the Controller about their overlord.

A Party at Teepa

We made Teepa before daylight next day.  As soon as it was daylight Freeman and I approached the Administration offices to pay our respects and present our safe passage letter.  The guard told us to wait.  We certainly waited, about three or four hours outside a massive steel gate which however was not closed.  The Administrator eventually arrived, a short tubby man in immaculately clean whites from head to foot.  Freeman handed him our letter of introduction.  He glanced at it and told us to bring the other two up.  He showed us where our quarters were and ordered the kitchen staff to prepare a meal for us and to attend to our needs while we were there.

Once more I went down with malaria.  It had been recurring regularly after I had contacted it in Timor.  Strangely, none of my three companions had been afflicted with it. I was very ill for a couple of days.  It ran its usual cycle leaving me weak and lethargic.

The garrison threw a party for us.  There was lashings of food, buffalo, pork, goat, sweet potatoes, banana fritters, coffee, Java beer, wine and brandy.  A feast we had never sat down to at any time previously in our lives.  There were two guitarists from Ambon, good music and good companionship.  I gave a couple of tunes on a violin they had.  A great night.  No one abused the hospitality and there was no trouble.

Webb and Larney Split Ways with Freeman and Lilya

Unfortunately, that was not to last.  Bob Larney wandered down to the Arab quarters and got on the arrack.  He started to break out in large red blotches.  He sat on the steps leading to our quarters and started to shoot coconuts off the trees.  His aim was erratic.  The Arabs headed for the hills.  The garrison guard discreetly stayed out of sight.  Curley Freeman showed up and dressed Larney down and told him he was on his own and to get to hell out of there next morning.  Des Lilya stayed with Curley Freeman at Teepa.  I decided to go with Bob Larney.  Two more natives joined our crew.  Unknown to Bob Larney and myself we were sailing into trouble.



In about four days we stood off Selaru. The natives of this island were hostile, and we were forced to put a few holes in their canoes before we headed for Tanimbar of which Saumlaki was the capital.  We were now sailing down between small coral and mangrove islands and we were greatly relieved when, after a rough voyage, we landed on the pier at Saumlaki.  There was a small Dutch force of Javanese soldiers, 13 all told, with an Ambonese, Sgt. Tahia in charge of them.  A Dutch radio officer, and a Dutch Chief of Police also were there.  They all treated us well and we were told that an Australian boat would be in in about a week.

Japanese Assault

This news was something to rejoice over, but it was far too good to be true for on our fourth day at 4.30am we were awakened by a native who was banging violently on the door.  He said that two Australian cruisers were lying off the pier.  I walked down and saw two cruisers, but I told them they were Japs.  As we watched 6 boats were lowered and all we could hear was the dip, dip of their oars as they came towards the pier.  Sgt. Tahia had his men in dug-in positions covering the 500 yard pier.


Saumlaki town plan at the time of the Japanese attack [13]

The Japs came down the pier after having landed at the end of it four abreast with their rifles· slung over their shoulder.  When the column was about 150 yards from Sgt. Tahia he ordered them to stop in many languages and then opened up with his twelve tommy guns and while the tommy guns reloaded, the Lewis gunner opened up.

Freeman and I were back a little from this trying to get a tommy gun each.  The cruisers then were using their searchlights and six inch guns plus point five machine guns, and the situation was rather sticky.  The radio officer raced up to Freeman and I and said we had to go with him to try and get a message through.  We then had the job of forcing our way through about 1¼ miles of screaming Chinese and natives.

The searchlights picked us a few times and were followed by shells.  On reaching the wireless station we managed to get out SOS once before the wires were cut.

RV (Rendezvous)

The firing at Saumlaki had then ceased and so we wrecked the set and carried the magnetos away and took them into the swamps.  We headed for our RV (Rendezvous) which was quite a fair distance away.  After trudging through swampy jungle for half a day we came to the RV.  Here we waited until Sgt Tahia and his men joined us.  Our party now consisted of Freeman, Sgt Tahia, the Dutch Controller, the Dutch Chief of Police, the Controller's manservant and seven soldiers plus me.

At the RV we stopped long enough to eat a fine handful of red rice and then pushed on as fast as possible.  One of the Javanese soldiers had a piece of shrapnel in his back, so travel was slow.  Continuing on after dark we had to light torches of half wet wood.  We then reached the village of Makatiandol at 10.30 pm tired and owing to lack of boots my feet were sore.  This village was at the end of the track across the island.  Next night, we left by a large canoe and sailed up to the next villages.  Our only danger now was from the sea and air.  Every day, two Nip single-seater planes flew up and down the coast.  I had one of my many attacks of malaria here.

Here Sgt Tahia left us to go to the island of Larat on a reconnaissance. Meanwhile the rest of the party sailed to a small island called Teinman, on which lived an old German who had served time with the Darwin mounted police.  His island was only about a mile square and he used it for a copra plantation.  He knew nothing much of what was going on outside.

Sgt Tahia returned to us then accompanied by about 12 Javanese soldiers from the Kei Island who were stationed at Tuai.  The Japs had attacked them the same night they had attacked us, but with eight cruisers instead of two.

Larat - Vordata

We planned an attack on Larat which we still believed had a few Japs on it.  This time we had a two-masted boat of about 30 feet.  We planned to land at dawn, but fate was against us.  We hit a reef about midnight and leaking badly we had to wait for the tide.

We landed on Larat at 10 am and stormed the town.  Not a Jap was in sight, so we proceeded to haul the lugger off the beach.  The job took us two days.  When we left, we took the controller and his wife and son with us because two spies had already left to inform the Japs at Saumlaki of our stay there.

Our new boat was much faster, and for the first time we seemed to be really sailing.  It was a boat of about 45 feet and 10 ft beam with two masts. We dropped anchor off the island of Vordata.  Here we had to wait for one Javanese soldier who had been left behind on Tanimbar.  He turned up after 2 days and we fixed all our water casks and that was our main worry as we had plenty of food brought from the Kei Island.

We Set Sail for Australia

The people of little Vordata wished us well and we set sail for Australia.  Our first mishap was off the west point of the island where a huge wave nearly overturned our heavily laden boat which now had 33 persons on it.  We circled the island, and with half our water knocked overboard by the seas, we headed down the east coast of Tanimbar and hoped for the best.  Luck was with us and as we watched Tanimbar fade away, all of us saw a convoy of ships going towards Saumlaki.  The seas were kind and we made fair headway.  We were very cramped, but that was the least of our worries.

The Dutch radio officer and Sgt Tahia took charge of the navigation, using an oil compass and a school atlas.

Melville Island

It took us eight days to sight the coast of what we guessed was Melville Island and we sailed along the coast heading west for two days until we struck Anstey Strait which divides Melville Island from Bathurst Island.  As we turned into the mouth of the strait, a Hudson bomber flew over us.  We waved and shouted like mad and it circled us twice, gave us a wave and then headed in the direction of Darwin.  At this spot we had run aground on a sandbar and an Australian waved to us from the shore and in an old dugout canoe brought us a sugar bag of turtles eggs which were most welcome.  He offered to guide us through the channel to Fort Dundas.  We lifted off the sandbar with the tide and at sunset we landed at Fort Dundas, where there was a missionary.  He gave us a real Australian welcome and sent a native runner to the radio station at Bathurst.

The next day we set sail down the Strait and after grounding a number of times we reached the radio station.  A Moth plane came in and took the Dutch radio officer straight to Darwin.  The next morning they sent an old trawler manned by the Navy, which we all boarded, and it towed our lugger to Darwin.  We were met by Intelligence Officers and all sent to Darwin Hospital. [14]


Freeman and I had made notes of everything important on the different islands and it proved quite useful.

We offered to lead troops back to Timor, but it was of no avail.

The Javanese and their native friends left us, and we remained in hospital until we returned to our Company. Larney and Webb [were] less fortunate, had been taken to jail for causing a disturbance on Babar.

And so ends my storey of a trip which taught me many things.

L/Cpl D.L. Lilya.


In Australian Hands at Saumlankin


HMAS ‘Chinampa’

HMAS ‘Chinampa’One of these new natives had a letter to the Commander at Saumlankin.  We had good wind behind us and made good time.  We made Saumlankin in the middle of the afternoon about the third day out.  There was an Australian lugger tied up at the wharf.  It was skippered by an Australian naval officer and had a navy crew.  We reported to the garrison commander, gave him our letter of introduction, and delivered our cargo.  Unfortunately, the native delivered his letter too.  What it contained I can only guess but it was most certainly connected with what happened at Teepa.  The commander passed the information on to the naval officer. Next afternoon we boarded the lugger. The Commander soon started on Larney who wasn't slow in answering back.  He was detailed to cook for the crew.  This he did but did not relent his feud with the skipper.  He couldn't win of course but he handed out all he could, piling up more trouble for himself later. [15]


Back in Darwin

Next afternoon we arrived in Darwin. We were immediately taken to hospital. There we met Alan Hollows and Keith Hayes who had been evacuated from Timor.  It was then we found out that contact had been made with Australia sometime towards the end of April.  Our journey was in vain and more than likely more trouble was coming our way.  It was either the last week in May or the first week in June when we arrived.  I know this through one of my friends whom Alan Hollow told he had landed in Darwin exactly twelve weeks after he was wounded and had stayed there for two weeks before being sent south to hospital.  If this is correct, Alan landed in Darwin on May 25 and left on June 8 so somewhere between these two dates, Bob Larney and I landed in Darwin.

Interrogated by Intelligence

Next day Intelligence commenced questioning us concerning the places we had been to and what we had seen.  Timor was not even mentioned.  We told them we had only seen odd Japanese planes and then only in singles.  They were, we told them, quite obviously on reconnaissance patrol.  However, on one occasion one had strafed Wonreli in Kisar. We informed them that we saw no Japanese troops whatsoever during our voyage.

We told them of the Chinese lugger in Le' Ang in Sermata.  We also told them of the strange heavily armed boat with the blond skipper and unusual crew and what he had told us concerning waiting for him at Teepa and finally delivering the cargo and boat to Saumlankin and our voyage thence to Darwin with the Navy.  The men from Intelligence returned next day and told us they had no records of the boat, skipper or crew which we had seen between Sermata and Barar.  At the hospital we were given a medical check and remained there for some days.

In Detention – ‘The guards were sadistic bastards’

A Provost arrived to take us away. He said, "I don't know what you've done boys, but they are putting you in a crook boob".  He certainly was right.  The guards were sadistic bastards.  On some occasions they marched the prisoners all night, taunting them with "We can get relief, you bastards can't".  On one occasion a guard named Masters fired shots from a pistol over our heads.  On another occasion some Yankee soldiers came up to the compound and threatened to come back and shoot 'every goddam son of a bitch of guards'. [16]

Bob Larney was back in the cook house. I was serving in the staff mess. I collapsed and was taken to hospital and was placed in a section of the ward that was completely mosquito proof. I was its first patient and underwent the full malarial treatment course there.  Some days later the second patient arrived.  He was a crew member from the lugger that had brought us from Saumlankin to Darwin.  I enquired about the Skipper. "Dead" he said. I asked how. "We returned to Saumlankin and the Japs had captured the place.  They opened up and the Skipper was killed.  We got the boat out and back to Darwin" he told me. [17] On hearing this news, I wondered how Des Lilya and Curley Freeman were faring.  I had finished my malaria course.  No effort was made to discharge me or return me to the detention camp.

Reunited with Des Lilya and Curley Freeman

Up at the canteen I bumped into Des Lilya and Curley.  They told me their story.  As far as I recall, here it is.  They remained in Teepa awaiting another boat to Saumlankin.  One at last set out and they were on it.  How long they were there I do not know how long they were in Saumlankin before the Japanese arrived I cannot recall.  It's enough to say that when they did arrive, Curley and Des were with the Dutch garrison.  The Dutch guns engaged the Japanese gunboat.  Whether it was a destroyer or cruiser I do not know.  The Japanese fire was far heavier, so the Dutch withdrew, Curley and Des with them.

They headed north up the island, blowing up a transmitting station on the way.  On reaching the north-east tip of Yamdena they rafted across to the island of Larat.  There they found a Japanese boat.  It was two masted and all its sails and lanyards were in good running order.  The Dutch soon had sails hoisted and they were heading for Darwin.  An Australian patrol boat took them in tow at Melville Island. [18]

Back to the ‘Boob’

They were surprised to hear we had been placed in detention.  I told them I was going back there to let Bob Larney know they had made it.  I asked to be returned to the 'boob'.  They said, "no fear, you stay where you are". I insisted they get a provost to escort me back.   They thought I was mad however, they did as I asked.  I returned to my job as mess waiter to the staff.  I gave Bob Larney the news about Curley and Des, also about the death of the skipper.  He didn't waste any tears for the Skipper.  Once more marching all night and shots over our heads.  Without doubt, army prison guards must be brought up from the cesspits of hell.

About 10 days after I re-entered the detention camp we were released.  We went to a staging camp which I think was Winnellie.  Surprisingly Lilya and Freeman had been sent south on leave.  They were intercepted somewhere south and returned to Darwin.

Return to Timor on the ‘Voyager’

We boarded the ‘Voyager’ in September 1942 to return to Timor with the 2/4th Independent Company.  We landed at Betano on the south coast, so did the ‘Voyager’.  She ran aground and is still there.  She also brought the Japs out once more.  This time they achieved what they had never previously been able to accomplish, reach the south coast of Timor.  Even though we now had two companies there, either they were getting better, or we were slipping.  Des Lilya and I went to 'A' Platoon, back where I was in February 1942 but in a different area.  I went to 2 section, Des went either to No.1 or 3 Section.  Curley Freeman and Bob Larney went to 4 Section in 'B' Platoon.  We saw out the remainder of the Timor campaign.

Home on Leave then New Guinea

Back to Australia on leave then six months.  Later to New Guinea where we fought in the Ramu River campaign from June 1943 to its finish.  We were the first unit in there and the last one out.  Curley Freeman had left us after Timor.  Des Lilya went to Z Force and was killed in a plane shot down over Timor in 1945.  He died over the island where he had first fought four years before. [19] After New Guinea Bob Larney and I were still with the unit.

Transfer to the 2/2nd Forestry Company on New Britain

On to New Britain, still with the 2/2nd. Whilst at Jacquinot Bay, I wandered down to a sawmill run by the 2/2nd Forestry Company.  It was like being home in Hill End, Victoria.  I saw so many men I had worked with falling timber and in the mills.  They told me their C.O. was Major Benallia.  I ran into him at the mill.  We shook hands and he asked me what I was doing.  I told him I was with the 2/2nd Commandos and told him the story. He said, "I could do with you here".  I said, "I'll see".  I saw Major Laidlaw, C.O. of the 2/2nd Commandos and told him the story.  He said, "Right Arnold, if that's what you want, I'll sign the transfer".  Within 48 hours of lodging the transfer, I was in the 2/2nd Forestry Coy.  I started in the mill as a sawyer.  After a short period 

I was promoted to Lance Corporal and put in charge of the second shift.  Trouble arose with the native fallers in the bush.  Major Benallie asked me would I take over the supervising of the native fallers as I had had much experience with native carrier when a member of the 2/2nd Commandos.  I consented and was promoted Corporal and went out to the felling gangs.  We got over whatever difficulties that had arisen. I was fortunate in that some of the natives had known me in the Ramu.

Wars End

Work proceeded smoothly after that and we had no difficulty in reaching our target.  I collapsed from malaria, pleurisy and overwork and was taken to hospital in Jacquinot Bay.  After a couple of weeks, I returned to the Unit.  Within a few days I was informed that I was being sent back to Australia on discharge.  The war was over.  I was home for Christmas and returned to Royal Park for discharge on 8 January 1946. Nearly five years of my life was spent in the army.  It was a way of life new to me.  It wasn't all that hard to take, even the worst of it.  Being placed in detention in Darwin, guarded by thugs masquerading as men, I did not take kindly to.

Reflections on Lilya, Freeman and Larney

As stated, Des Lilya died over Timor in 1945, Curley Freeman was heard of no more after ill health forced him out of the unit on our return from Timor in December 1942.  Men who served with him held him in high regards as a soldier. He had qualities of leadership which he displayed on numerous occasions during our trip from Kisar to Babar.

Bob Larney served right through with the unit until it was disbanded in 1946.  In 'B' Platoon or ‘B’ Troop as it was later known, he was considered a tough, hard soldier.  If there was any fear in his make-up, it never showed.  After overcoming his initial wildness and lack of discipline, he was a first class reliable man and soldier.

Paddy Kenneally also recorded this tribute to Bob in 1984: ‘Bob Larney was killed in a motor car accident on 13th December 1974.  I was lucky and managed to find where his widow lived.  We had not seen Bob for years, and then only once.  I caught up with his history.  He married a Land Army Girl from Roma while the war was still on, raised four girls and one son - the son was a long time behind the rest, he was only eight when Bob was killed.  A fine boy, [he] finished school last year after his finals and has a good position with a future.  All the girls are married and spread around the country.  Looking and listening to Mrs Larney, I reckon she was the best luck Bob ever had.  She is a fine woman.  Reckon that's what turned the rough, wild tearaway from Redfern to reasonable mellowness. There was one hell of a lot of good beneath that wild exterior, as Norman Thornton could testify.  If Bob was about when Norman arrived at the end of his track it would have been a happy reunion.  They had a friendship, understanding, and a high regard for each other hidden under the guise of rough humour and banter’. [20]


The facts concerning the voyage from Timor to Darwin undertaken by Curley Freeman, Bob Larney, Des Lilya and Arnold Webb, are given in simple language by Arnold Webb.  Any departure from that simplicity occurs because of my inability to adequately describe the events in like expression.  It is not a departure from the veracity of the facts as such.

I have spent many hours in his company. I believe he has understated rather than exaggerated events on that trip.  Arnold Webb was raised on a dairy farm in Victoria during the hungry thirties; like most of his generation raised on similar farms in that era, he was raised on a diet of wholesome food, strenuous work and hardship.  The apparently impossible, was to people like him, slightly more difficult that the ordinary.  Just a matter of finding a way around it.  Consequently, the difficulties experienced were no more than expected on a voyage as was undertaken by them.  He is to be complimented for the time and thought he put into recalling events that took place 40 years ago.  He is the only survivor still alive who took part in that trip. [21]

Des Lilya died over Timor when as a member of Z Force, the plane in which he was travelling, was shot down over Timor in I believe, 1945.  Bob Larney was killed in a car accident on 13 December 1974.  Curley Freeman is almost certainly dead; no one has heard of him since he left our unit after its return to Australia in 1942.  If he is not, and anyone knows of him or his whereabouts, I for one would like to hear from them. [22]

Should there be any errors in Arnold Webb's account, it is understandable.  Recalling events that happened over forty years without benefit of diaries, notes, or some other participant to help jog the memory is quite a feat; to expect it to be free of error is to yearn for the miraculous.  My only wish is that some person with far more ability than I possess, would take hold of the story of that voyage bring it to life and make the reader live every moment of fear hope, frustration and at times despair, but at all times humour and courage.

My thanks to Arnold, at least four men to liked and respected, no matter what their faults or virtues, will continue to live in our minds more vividly and for a little longer.



[1] C.D. (Colin D.) Doig. - A history of the 2nd Independent Company and 2/2 Commando Squadron. - Carlisle, W.A.: Hesperian Press, 2009: 74-75.

[2] ‘Des Lilya's Story - Via Dave Dexter’ 2/2 Commando CourierApril 1991: 7, 11-13.

[3] The original document is contained in the 2/2 Commando Association of Australia archives.

[4] Arnold Samuel Webb, VX58984 - https://doublereds.org.au/history/men-of-the-22/vx/arnold-samuel-webb-r731/

[5] Robert Sydney (Bob) Larney, NX39586 - https://doublereds.org.au/history/men-of-the-22/nx/robert-sydney-larney-r408/

[6] Paddy makes reference to only Webb’s account in his opening words but they are also applicable to Lilya’s account.

[7] On Brendalina de Silva, see Appendix 1.

[8] Desmond Laurence (Des) Lilya, NX48987 - https://doublereds.org.au/history/men-of-the-22/nx/desmond-laurence-lilya-r410/

[9] Johnny (Curly) Freeman, NX41543 - https://doublereds.org.au/history/men-of-the-22/nx/johnny-freeman-r219/

[10] John Phillip Laffy, NX77257 - https://doublereds.org.au/history/men-of-the-22/nx/john-phillip-laffy-r407/.

[11] The leader of the patrol was Captain Bernard Callinan who recorded the encounter in the unit war diary as follows:

2 Mar[ch] Left CAILACO  approx. 0800 hours arrived MEMO approx. 1700 hours. Was surprised to meet Lt Laffy and A/Sgt McCabe whom I thought were carrying out a patrol around LETE FOHO (NOVA OBIDOS) area.  He informed me he had been sent there by the Administrator at BOBNARA [Bobonaro] as being a safe place.  His four men, he informed me had been sent back to Coy H.Q. at Villa Maria as runners. I instructed him to return to CAILACO the next day …

3 Mar[ch] I discovered that Lt Laffy’s four men under A/Sgt Freeman had come into the town during the night; they had come in from DUTCH territory and were accompanied by some fugitive DUTCH soldiers from DILLI [Dili].  I ordered Lt LAFFY to take the AUSTRALIANS  back to CAILACO ….  AWM52 25/3/2.

[12] Operation Lion was formed to establish an intelligence centre on central Sulawesi (called Celebes at the time). First Lieutenant I.H.T. Hees, 1st Cl. B. Belloni, a telegraphist and Sailor J.L. Brandon comprised the party which left Darwin by the prahu ‘Somoa’ on 24 June 1942, to land near Wotoe, 60 kilometres (37 miles) west of Malili, on Celebes.  Lieutenant Hees had previously worked as an engineer for the department of public works and it was hoped he could contact one of his "mandoers" (overseers).  The party was contacted by radio on 7 November 1942, however their signals were too weak to be received. [a]

[a] National Archives of Australia (1946) – [The Official History of the Operations and Administration of] Special Operations – Australia [(SOA), also known as the Inter-Allied Services Department (ISD) and Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD)] Volume 2 – Operations – Copy No. 1 [for Director, Military Intelligence (DMI), Headquarters (HQ), Australian Military Forces (AMF), Melbourne: 6.

On 14 December 1942, two Dutch NCO's (from the NEI Section) were in Darwin awaiting movement to LION party, but it was suspected that LION had come under Japanese control they were not dispatched.

National Archives Australia (1942–1945) – [SRD (Services Reconnaissance Department) HQ] NEI [Netherlands East Indies] Section IASD [Inter-Allied Services Department]: 4-5.

On 5 January 1945, a party of five Indonesians under the codename of Operation Apricot left Darwin to ascertain the fate of Operation Lion.  The leader was captured; the remainder were evacuated by Catalina flying boat on 31 January 1945. [c]

[c] National Archives Australia NEI Section, p. 5.

[13] Julius Tahija. - Julius Tahija, entrepreneurs of Asia horizon beyond. – Singapore: Singapore Times Books International 1995: 45.  For more on Tahija and the defence of Saumlaki see Paul Anthony Rosenzweig Ziarah: the Gull Force Association pilgrimages to AmbonMaster of Arts by Research (AMA), Northern Territory University, 1999: 43-47. https://espace.cdu.edu.au/eserv/cdu:6343/Thesis_CDU_6343_Rosenzweig_P.pdf.

[14] Staff Officer (Intelligence), Darwin, report to NOIC Darwin, 20 August 1942 and Preliminary report by Colonel Sandberg GHQ SWPA, 30 August 1942, Australian Archives Series MP1587/1, Item 120A "Saumlaki, Japanese invasion of Tanimbar".  Tahija's escape party comprised 21 KNIL soldiers, 5 Dutch officials, 5 policemen, one woman and two children, and 2 Australians - Sergeant Freeman and Private Lilija [Lilya], who had escaped from Timor and had joined Tahija at Saumlaki.

[15] The Australian lugger was the ‘Chinampa’ commanded by Commissioned Warrant Officer (WO) Frederick Henderson, RANR. http://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-chinampa

[16] A harsh attitude by the military staff towards detention prevailed; military prisons and detention compounds were to be an effective deterrent to errant behaviour and the sort of place that men would not prefer over the front line.  Many of the Provost guards or ‘screws’ as they were more popularly known were ill-educated and poor character and the harsh regime they imposed on the inmates was condoned by their supervising officers.  The Darwin detention centre was especially notorious in this regard. See Glenn Wahlert ‘The other enemy?’ Australian soldiers and the Military Police. -Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1999: 127-139.

[17] ‘Chinampa’ anchored in Saumlakin harbour 30 July 1942 and, expecting a small Dutch force to still be in control, her commanding officer, Bob Larney’s nemesis WO Fred (Chick) Henderson, went ashore but after being fired upon, rejoined his ship.  When the more heavily armed ‘Southern Cross’ arrived the next day, ‘Chinampa’ proceeded to the jetty to attempt to land her troops but was forced to withdraw after coming under heavy fire which killed the 34 year-old Henderson and wounded two others. ‘Chinampa’ and ‘Southern Cross’ consequently withdrew without landing their troops and returned to Darwin where they arrived on 2 August 1942.  See Paul Anthony Rosenzweig ‘Ziarah: the Gull Force Association pilgrimages to Ambon’ Master of Arts by Research (AMA), Northern Territory University, 1999: 39-42.  https://espace.cdu.edu.au/eserv/cdu:6343/Thesis_CDU_6343_Rosenzweig_P.pdf

[18] For the full story from Des Lilya’s recollections see the latter part of this post.

[19] For Des Lilya’s remaining story including his death on Timor see Appendix 2.

[20] Paddy Kenneally ‘Letter’ 2/2 Commando CourierAugust 1984: 10.https://doublereds.org.au/couriers/1984/Courier%20August%201984.pdf.  See also https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/190034831/robert-sydney-larney.

[21] See also, Col Doig ‘Vale Arnold Webb’ 2/2 Commando CourierOctober 1992: 5 https://doublereds.org.au/couriers/1992/Courier%20October%201992.pdf

[22] Lionel [sic] (Curly) Freeman’s death ‘in early April 1969 after a long illness’ was in fact reported in the 2/2 Commando CourierMay 1969: 14. https://doublereds.org.au/couriers/1969-05%20-%20Courier%20May%201969.pdf


Brandolinda da Silva


Brandolinda da Silva (left rear) with her family in Portugal, June 1945

Ray Aitken recalled the attractive and feisty Brandolinda da Silva and her relationship with Lieutenant John (Jack) Laffy:

“The small party made the climb into Hatu Builico the following morning and spent the night there.  At this time the Chef Posto was da Silva whose daughter Brendalina was the most personable eligible young European on the island.  Brendalina had been in Ermera when the Japanese had paid their first visit to the town shortly after "B" Platoon left Ifoo (Ai-Fu). The Japs made themselves at home and their senior officers had demanded and received hospitality at her own.  The Jap officers were courteous enough but did not prevent their troops from commandeering furniture for fires as it was raining heavily, and the furniture provided a ready source of dry fuel. Brenda was a hot-tempered young Latin who had accepted the loss of chairs and tables with rising anger. When she discovered that the Japs had wrenched the lid off her piano, she 'did her block' as the Australians say. Without thought of the consequences, she appeared on the verandah beside the officers who were still dining, with a sixteen gauge shotgun.  The two Japanese carrying the piano lid ran hurriedly down the slope but Brendalina 'browned' them with both barrels of quail-shot in their meaty parts.  The officers roared with laughter and admiration. One of them quietly disarmed Brendalina and wrapped the shotgun around a verandah post then still writhing with mirth they rose as one man and bowed to her in appreciation.  Their manners were wasted on Brendalina.  She was finished with Japs for all time as her face flushed with rage and her eyes flashed when the story was retold.  She saw no humour in the situation and was cross with herself because in her haste and anger she had snatched quail instead of buckshot.

At this time, Brendalina had a 'thing' about one of our reinforcement officers known as Tenenti Jack [Lieutenant John (Jack) Laffy].  The Tenenti was a plausible rogue of considerable presence and carriage.  Brendalina's image of him was that he was the individual hero of the Company and that while he stayed on the island the Japs were in imminent danger of defeat.  This was not at all our opinion of the Tenenti, but emotional interest is notoriously blind.  Charlie and Ray had a morning dip in the creek which coming from the peaks was icy cold.  They found it rather disconcerting to have Brendalina conduct a conversation with them from a short distance away while they bathed. She removed herself a little while they dried and changed and then conducted them to breakfast.

Hatu Builico at about eight thousand feet had many acres of splendid peaches.  Despite Brendalina's supervision of the Posto culinary department, it was peaches and cream which claimed most of the attention of Charlie and Ray.  They had eaten them for dinner and now they had them for breakfast to the utter astonishment of the omelette eating da Silvas”. [1]

[1] Ray Aiken Tales of the Second Second, privately published: 60-61.


Des Lilya’s Death on Timor


SUNBAKER aircraft crash site indicated on map top left

Des Lilya transferred to from the 2/2 Commando Squadron to Z Force in September 1944.  He was a member of the Operation SUNBAKER team that was tasked with establishing a shipping observation post on the eastern end of the island of Flores – i.e. west of Portuguese Timor.  The SUNBAKER party of four Australians conducted an aerial reconnaissance of the area on 17 May 1945 – a few days before their planned parachute insertion, in a RAAF B-24 Liberator aircraft of 200 Flight.  However, the aircraft did not return, and the party and RAAF crew were posted as “missing” on 22 May 1945.  The wreckage of the aircraft was found in mid-September 1945 by the SRD GROPER party in the mountainous Maubisse area of Portuguese Timor – about 45km south of Dili.  All onboard the aircraft (totalling 15) had been killed in the crash.  The bodies were subsequently recovered and buried in the Ambon War Cemetery; see Ernest Chamberlain. - Forgotten men: Timorese in special operations during World War II. - Point Lonsdale, Vic. : Ernest Chamberlain, 2010: 31.
The crash site has been located but all that remains now is some of the undercarriage.


Undercarriage from the wreck RAAF B-24 Liberator aircraft of 200 Flight in which Des Lilya died


 Des Lilya’s memorial plaque, Lovekin Drive, Kings Park


REVISED 14 September 2019.


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From: www.verzettimor1942.nl: We think Javanese Sgt. Van Ligton as mentioned by Des and sergeant Van Linken as mentioned by Arnold is the KNIL (Royal Dutch-Indies Army) conscript sergeant Edu(ard) van Ligten, born  13 January 1916 in Probolinggo, Java. His friend and also sergeant Paul de Vrijer wrote down his Timor Guerrilla-story in Stabelan, Periodiek van de Stichting Vriendenkring oud KNIL artilleristen 11e jaargang nr. 3 van 15 december 1984,  nr. 4 van 15 februari 1985, nr. 5 van 15 april 1985 en nr. 6 van 15 juni 1985, blz 31 (Periodical of KNIL artillerymen). Peter, the son of Paul, stated that the evacuated European conscript soldier 100215 van Ligten is not Eduard van Ligten, but another van Ligten.

Paul spoke with Edu for he last time on the wharf in Dilly, about 2 days before the Japanese landed nearby Dilly. 

Before the KNIL toke over Tilomar in April 1942 Paul recieved several greetings from Edu.

In the Dagboek Nederlandsche troepen te Timor (Diary Dutch troops in Timor) on 5 July 1942 it says: Incoming messages: L.A. 27 about van Ligten.

In October-November 1942 Paul was working under Captain Broadhurst, Lieutenant Frank Holland and Sergeant telegrapher Smith, East of Kalikai at the Lautem and Mata Bia plateau. The chefe de posto over there spoke French and told Paul that “ Edouard”, after he met him, traveled to the East and then went to the Island of Kisar. Edu later returned to Timor with an aggregate. When Edu left again he told the chefe de posto he would try go by sail proa/prahu to Java.

Eduard van Ligten is mentioned in the register of the Dutch War Grave Foundation (https://oorlogsgravenstichting.nl/personen/94622/eduard-van-ligten),  but unfortunately his place of death remains unknown.  

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