Jump to content

Commando Campaign Sites – East Timor - Manufahi District - Turiscai

Edward Willis

Recommended Posts

  • Committee



GPS: 8°49'25.36" S 125°42'16.34" E

TURISCAI is a town in the Turiscai district of the Manufahi Municipality.  The district had a population of 7,718 at the time of the 2015 census.

Turiscai lies 87.5 kilometres south of Dili by road via Maubisse.  If road conditions are good it can be reached by vehicle from Dili in approximately 3 ½ hours.


Map - Dili to Turiscai by road

Turiscai was a significant campaign site particularly between July 1942 and January 1943, being frequently occupied as Section and Platoon headquarters by both the No. 2 and No. 4 Independent Companies.  The indigenous population of Turiscai revolted, attacked, and robbed the government posto there in July as a result of Japanese propaganda.  The rebellion was brutally suppressed in August 1942 by 700 moradores(Timorese troops serving the Portuguese) from Laleia, Laclo and Laclubar.  From then on Turiscai was on the front line of the action as the Japanese controlled ‘black columns’ of hostile Timorese warriors frequently probed the area and created mayhem.



The 1937 report of the Allied Mining Corporation provided the following description of the Manufahi district that, to a large extent, is still apposite:


The Manufai District is located on the southern slope of the Central Divide Area, in the C.C. de Suro and Manatuto.  It embraces practically all the land drained by the Sue, South Laclo and Cler River systems, consisting of a roughly shaped trapezoid with the southern base at the Timor Sea, 24 kilometres (15 miles) long.  Its northern boundary running along the Central Divide is approximately 16 kilometres (10 miles) in length, while the two sides are 40 kilometres (25 miles) long.

The District is reached by motor road from Dilly [Dili] through Vila General Carmona [Aileu] to Maobisse [Maubisse], thence four hours by horse to Turiscai, which is on the northern extremity of the area.  A new motor road is under construction between Maobisse [Maubisse] and Turiscai. [1]


The Area Study of Portuguese Timor provides this description of the terrain:

The Central Divide Area is the most elevated, and the watershed follows a NE/SW trend.  The mountains are extremely steep and high, but the foothills are gentler and more fertile than in the northwestern region. Transport is extremely difficult, both roads and tracks having normally to follow the ridges when possible and to zigzag over the mountain passes and cross deep valleys. [2]


The following notes were prepared for participants in the 2/4 Commando Squadron Association’s pilgrimage to Portuguese Timor in 1973:

Maubisse to Turiscai and Fatu-Maqueric

Turning off east a short way north of Maubisse the road to Turiscai generally follows the old Kuda Trail along which 6 Section advanced under Bob Fleming to raid Maubisse, passing the tortuous route followed by Steve Stevenson, John Dalton and another couple of 6 Section to make a close daylight recce of the town - finding the Japs had moved out the previous night.  Some excellent examples of vertical "Dallan Timor" [track Timor] on the way which follows closely the top of the backbone ridge of the island, now through scattered stunted Eucalypt forest of the type to be found on the south coast plain north of Betano on the road to Same.

The country is very precipitous and Tata-Mailau is often in view until the road dips into the Turiscai Valley.  The beautiful old posto on the knoll on the Fatu-Maqueric side is now a burnt-out shell surrounded by a big coffee plantation.  The new one is a mile or two away on another knoll bare of trees and not so attractive. [3]


When visited in May 2019, it was noted that road conditions seemed to have recently been improved between Maubisse and Turiscai.  The road ascends in gradual fashion, is wide, mostly graded gravel, bituminised in parts and seems to be well maintained.  There is a new plant for the preparation of surfacing material by the roadside not far out of Maubisse. 



‘Turiscai (see Photo No. 53) is 13 miles (21 km.) at a bearing of 126° from Aileu.  It is at an elevation of about 3,500 feet (1,075 m.) in the central mountains and looks south down the valley of the Sue River.

It is a small posto town with the typical posto on a high hill surrounded by wall and gardens.  There are some Chinese shops and houses and a few native huts.  The town was heavily bombed by the Japanese in August 1942 and several houses have been damaged.

The surrounding country is fairly heavily timbered and good air cover is available’. [4]


Location of Turiscai shown on map from the Area Study of Portuguese Timor [5]


The town has grown since WWII but the main thoroughfare leading up to the ruined posto that can be viewed on the following aerial photo from December 1942 is still extant.  The once elegant posto building is positioned centrally in a large elevated expanse that was terraced and landscaped in its heyday. [6]




Aerial view of Turiscai, June 2019


March 1942

Turiscai first came to the notice of No. 2 Independent Company in March 1942:

In March a small patrol under Lieutenant H.J. Garnett had left Villa Maria to report on the countryside and towns of Suro Province.  The patrol had travelled to Villa Maria, then through Ermera and south to Atsabe.  From there it had moved to Ainaro, then on to Same carrying out a thorough reconnaissance of the country, noting the attitude of the local Timorese towards the Australians.  Finally the patrol had moved north through Mindelo and Turiscai towards Dili. [8]

In the following months Turiscai was a rear echelon position behind Laidlaw’s B Platoon that in the last weeks of April and the beginning of May had moved into the area around Remexio from which they could cover Dili.  The following map of the Australian positions in July 1942 show the Japanese were pressing south and east from Dili but with Turiscai still not on the front line – that situation changed dramatically in July and remained so for the remainder of the campaign.

July 1942

According to Joao da Cruz Caleres Junior, the administrator of Manatuto District, the indigenous population of Turiscai revolted, attacked, and robbed the government post in July as a result of Japanese propaganda. [61] In this incident, though, no ‘Dutch native’ or Japanese officer was found to be involved.  The rebellion was suppressed in August 1942 by 700 moradores (Timorese troops serving the Portuguese) from Laleia, Laclo and Laclubar.  It became the first war between two Timorese groups during the ‘foreign occupation’. [9]

Alfredo Pires recalled these events:

War allows a lot of evil.  I was with my father in Laclubar late in 1942 when the people from Turiscai revolted.  The Japanese let out all the prisoners who were in gaol in Dili who fled to Turiscai, as many were from there, and raised the area up, wanting vengeance on those who put them in prison.  So all the other districts went against Turiscai to restore order.  The Portuguese troops were mainly young Timorese with a gun between two or three, the rest with traditional weapons.

The Turiscai people live high in the mountains and it is very hard to get there.  No roads, only tracks around the mountains, but even the children are so used to it they never fall, and people make gardens in places flattened out up high.

The authorities captured one of the leaders of the revolt and brought him in to question.  He told a long story in Portuguese to the administrator who replied, 'I don't believe you, and if you don't tell the truth you will have your head cut off.'  Two Timorese guards were on each side of the prisoner with their big swords.  One guard didn't understand Portuguese very well, but he understood that phrase 'to chop off the head' and without a pause he just did it, quickly sliced through.  For one moment the head and body still stood together.  Then on one side fell the body and on the other side the head.  Everyone stood amazed.


I saw the people of Turiscai being brought through Laclubar.  They were mainly women and children.  They were not crying, they just looked very serious.  Their cattle and horses would belong to the victors.  This was the main reason Timorese had wars in the past, to steal those, but the Portuguese administration had stopped them until order broke down when the Japanese came.

The Turiscai people had to go and be the slaves of those who won.  To be a slave in Timor was at first like a servant; you work for that family but you are not paid, but after a while the slave usually marries into the family.  That is something I admire about the Timorese: slavery is not like it was in Europe or America or is now in India.  The slave, after a time, if they are a good person, is accepted as part of the family and they or their children can marry in or inherit property from their new family. [10]

August 1942

The Japanese advance [at the beginning of the ‘August Push’] had forced Dexter and Turton's platoons back to positions covering the tracks from Atsabe across the terrible 3000-metre Ramelau Range to Hatu-Builco and thus to Ainaro.  Enemy forces had moved around Boyland's platoon into Maubisse forcing it to fall back to the Maubisse-Ainaro saddle covering the approach to Same.  In this position it would be able to slow any Japanese attack to enable Laidlaw's platoon and the Platoon Headquarters to fall back from Liltai to positions between Liltai and Turiscai, leaving a small party forward to watch the Japanese movements. [11]

Japanese pressure was forcing the Australians inexorably eastwards but Callinan, conscious that an eastwards move would end in the Australians being bottled up with no room to manoeuvre, was determined to resist the pressure for as long as possible.  The platoons were ordered to hold every ridge and spur until forced from it. [12]

Another problem facing the Australians was the increasing hostility of the Timorese.  Those in the frontier areas were decidedly pro-Japanese, or, perhaps more accurately, anti- European.  As the Australians moved away from the frontier areas the Timorese were noticeably less hostile, but their morale had been badly shaken by the Japanese bombings of Same, Hatu-Udo, Maubisse and Turiscai.  They were no longer as ready to support the Australians as they had been before when the 2/2 Independent Company had had the run of Portuguese Timor. [13]

The ‘Black Columns’

The ‘black columns’ of 1942, the frightening columns of smoke and the dark- skinned Timorese warriors with their Japanese military support, were a critical part of the war in Timor during 1942.

The fractured ethno-linguistic situation in Timor meant that the Australians were based with several different ethno-linguistic groups, some of whom harboured ill will towards the Portuguese administration who had subjected them to hardships or indignities, especially after the Boaventura Revolt in the 1910s, or against other Timorese ethnic groups who had been allied with the Portuguese.  Turiscai was one such area, having been a central part of the 1911-12 revolt, and an early ally of the Japanese.  The aforementioned Maubisse area, located across the provincial border in Suro Province, was an early anti-Portuguese, pro-Japanese area, and Portuguese observers describe this area as always having been bad. [14] Indeed, as many Australian authors have taken care to note, many Timorese may have initially supported Australians in the mistaken belief that they would assist them in removing the Portuguese.  On the other hand, not every conflict can be explained by reference to the Portuguese, as traditional rivalries between Timorese groups may have had even deeper roots.

The situation in Portuguese Timor was a rather complex one during 1942, with many native Timorese changing sides during the course of the year.  As was acknowledged by Australian observers, this was in part due to the changing balance of power in the area.  As a result, whole villages would switch sides, and suddenly cease to support the Australians, and even begin to aid the Japanese.  Before that time, some Timorese were cooperating with both sides, withholding eggs from the Australians and kicking them out of the villages before Japanese troops would arrive in search of food.  However, the revolt against the Portuguese illustrates well that certain ethnic groups were more than happy to attack their neighbours and the Portuguese.  The relatively early participation of people from Maubisse and Turiscai in attacks on the Portuguese and on neighbouring areas like Fatu Maqueric provide a clear indication of this.  Whether or not one attributes this to their prior 'victimization' by the divide-and-conquer strategies of the Portuguese who utilized natives from other areas to subdue anti-colonial revolts in the early 20th century, divisions did follow ethnic and traditional political divisions. [15]

On the night of 18 August the Japanese ‘Push’ came to a sudden and surprising end.  Australian fighting patrols pressed forward through the areas previously occupied by the Japanese.  Villages had been destroyed and maize fields burnt.  In many areas the Timorese were still frightened and confused, while some were actively hostile.  On 23 August large parties of natives moved from Maubisse to Turiscai to loot the village.  Lieutenant Mackintosh's section was in Turiscai and opened fire to disperse the thieves.  The increasing restlessness of the natives was a worrying and potentially dangerous phenomenon. [16]

September 1942

As September began Sparrow Force, having recovered from its experiences during August, reorganised so as to be ready for further offensive action against the Japanese.  The Force Headquarters was now at Alas on the southern plains, while the Independent Company Headquarters was located at Tutuloro.  Laidlaw's B Platoon covered the approaches from Dili and the north coast, with headquarters and 4 Section at Fatu-Maquerec, 5 Section at Liltai and 6 Section at Turiscai.

In accordance with Callinan's policy of aggressive action patrols were pushed forward from the platoon and section bases.  After carrying out tasks of reconnaissance or ambushing un- suspecting Japanese, the patrols would pull back to their secure bases.  But the Japanese did not take the commandos' activity lying down.  Enemy columns pushed out along the north coast and into the mountainous interior seeking contact with the ever-elusive Australians. [17]

October 1942

In early October the Australians set about reorganising their forces.  On the far right flank at the eastern end of the island was Doig's H Detachment and the Dutch group.  Laidlaw's platoon and that of Captain E.D. O'Connor of the 2/4 were to their left in the area of Laclubar, north-east of Maubisse, where they could observe Dili and the coast road.  To their south-west around the  Mindelo-Turiscai area, Boyland's platoon covered the Independent Company's Headquarters [at Alas]. [18]

By the middle of October pressure was increasing in all areas as the Japanese spread disaffection among the Timorese.  Parties of fifty or sixty natives, urged on from the rear by two or three Japanese, carried out raids against the units at Mindelo and Turiscai.  Almost daily, Australian patrols fought actions against these parties resulting in the deaths of ten, twenty or thirty natives but only one or two Japanese.  The Japanese were not only using the natives as a weapon in their fight against the Australians but also as a means of destroying Portuguese authority on the island. [19]

November 1942

This map from Callinan’s book ‘Independent Company’, shows Turiscai right on the frontline of the eastern front in the centre of the island opposite Maubisse in November 1942.  The Japanese had established effective control of this central core from Dili in the north to Same and Ainaro in the south.

Callinan described Lancer Force’s dispositions at the time:

‘C platoon of the 2/4 Company in the Ainaro area was a link with the platoon on the north coast.  Dexter's platoon was held in Same, and between Ainaro and Same was Turton's platoon, overlooking Maubisse from the south-west.  On the east of Maubisse in the Mindelo-Turiscai area was Boyland's platoon, and north of him were Laidlaw and O'Connor, of the 2/4, each with a platoon and working in conjunction to maintain a watch on the north coast road and on Dili, also to prevent a drive north-coastward from Maubisse.  To watch activities at the east end of the island we maintained the detachment under Doig’. [20]

12 November … 

The Timorese who had been recruited by the Japanese in Dutch Timor were proving very troublesome to the Australians, particularly in the Mindelo-Maubisse-Turiscai area.  The Australians’ food supplies had almost dried up and some of No. 9 Section’s creados were attacked by Dutch Timorese.  Soon afterwards a patrol, led by L/Cpl Sep Wilson and including Harry Sproxton and Tom Crouch, met four of them at a fork in a track.



With platoons spread in a great semi-circle from Manatuto to Bazar-Tete, many opportunities for harassing the enemy were available.  The traffic along the north coast was particularly vulnerable, and O'Connor's platoon did some excellent work inflicting heavy casualties on more than one occasion.  It was a pity that we could not spare more troops to spread eastwards along the north coast, and so reap a greater harvest.  But we had a cancer that was growing and extending.  The Japanese were spreading disaffection amongst the natives from Aileu and Maubisse, and it required continuous activity by the platoons around this area to keep this growth down to a minimum.

There were raids by Japanese and natives down towards Ainaro and Same, and to the east towards Mindelo and Turiscai.  A vigorous patrol by Australians would turn them back, but only to erupt again.  The Japanese were playing the game carefully; with each party of fifty or sixty natives there would be five or ten Japanese who kept well to the rear and urged the natives on.  Almost daily, sections reported brushes with these bands, and invariably the report would state killed and wounded ten, twenty, or thirty natives and possibly one or two Japanese. [22]

An Incident at Turiscai

Sproxton: “They had some gear with them and they were plainly not pleased to see us.  Our creados told us in Tetum that they were Japanese imports.  When we searched their gear we found Australian equipment and some of the missing items from the attack on our creados a few days earlier.  It was decided to take them back to Jack Denham as prisoners.  Our creados were frightened of the four strange Timorese and were not happy with the idea.  Nevertheless we took them along.  We were crossing a fast-flowing stream just before dark when they made a break for it.  We had no alternative but to shoot them.”

Cpl Eric Thornander was leading a sub-section to Turiscai when news came through that a large mob of hostile Timorese was on its way to ransack the town.

Thornander: “With instructions to save the town we took up positions from where we could meet the situation.  The mob made straight for the store and was ready to break down the door when we opened fire.  We killed ten of them.  It was something we did not want to do but it was the only way.  The rest of the gang made off and did not come back.”

More and more Timorese were being moved over the Dutch border into Portuguese Timor to fight the local Timorese – and, of course, the Australians. [23]

December 1942

Meanwhile there were discussions going on for the withdrawal of the Dutch forces, and various dates were mentioned.  A Lieutenant Snell, who had escaped from Ambon to Australia, came over in advance of the sixty Dutch troops who were to replace the one hundred and fifty who would be withdrawn.  I decided that they would be placed in the Mindelo-Turiscai area, which was compact, and flanked by well experienced platoons under Turton and O'Connor; in addition, McKenzie was there, and he had shown himself to be very successful in dealing with the Dutch.  So Snell was sent to McKenzie to become acquainted with the area.  With the drive through the Maubisse area pending, it was probable that Snell would get a good view of how things were done. [24]

The position then was that the Dutch and some of the Portuguese were still at' Betano, but I was not unduly worried about their evacuation as I thought that these would be taken in the two further phases which were to take the Australians.  The 2/2 Company was organizing its withdrawal to the beach head, and the 2/4 Company was preparing to settle into the areas selected, but still I had no advice of the loss of the Dutch replacement force.  Just a few days before the date fixed for the first phase of the evacuation by the Company, I received a message telling me that this would be delayed for twenty-four hours.

This was serious as all of our carefully worked out timings would have to be altered.  Platoons which were about to leave areas had to be told to remain, and to send out vigorous patrols, as we could not afford to give the enemy twenty-four hours’ notice of our intentions.  Then rather belatedly I was told by Australia of the loss of the Dutch force, and that no further replacements were available.  This meant that I would have to reorganize the placing of the 2/4 Company, and it was my turn to ask for a delay.  I asked for twenty-four hours delay in the carrying out of the next phase.  Australia replied that they did not wish to hold the destroyer for that time unless there were an operational emergency.  To this I replied that there was an emergency as far as I was concerned.  As usual I received full co-operation from Darwin, and the second phase was delayed.

Murphy's platoon was moved to take over the Mindelo-Turiscai area, which was to have been held by the Dutch, and the delay I had asked for was to permit McKenzie to hold it until Murphy could get there.  The advance guard of Murphy's platoon, consisting of a sub-section, was in Mindelo the morning McKenzie moved out, and O'Connor moved a section down to cover Turiscai. [25]

Any hopes we had entertained that after the departure of the 2/2 Company there would be a quiet period in which the new organization could be adjusted, were not fulfilled.  It almost appeared that the enemy had been waiting for the slightest weakening in order to press in on us.  In addition to the Japanese occupation of Same there was also a thrust down into the Ainaro area, and the Turiscai area became very difficult. [26]

With the pressure on us increasing, the only thing to do was to push out, and so we organized drives, usually with as many natives as could be collected and a nucleus of Australians.  Baldwin and I took a high-class raiding party out into the Turiscai area.  It was, of course, a compliment to any chief to be asked to accompany the Tuan Boort (myself) and the Tuan Cataus (Baldwin).  It was a strange thing that Baldwin's red hair and beard, and generally dilapidated appearance, had earned for him long before this the appellation of "old" from the natives.  So this day we set out with the chief of Belulic and his underchiefs and their retinues.  We pushed well up into the area, but unfortunately encountered no opposition.  We were disappointed as we wanted to give a lift to morale, but the chiefs were quite happy; they took it for granted that we had frightened the enemy away, and that was just as effective as far as they were concerned. [27]

The End Game - January 1943

Mac Walker touched on Turiscai’s ‘swan song’ as a significant site in the campaign before the No. 4 Independent Company’s evacuation from Timor in early January 1943:

And so did Major Walker and his troops.  In his summary of the events recorded in his Unit's War Diary during December 1942, which is the only record of those events - the original document having been destroyed in the course of the subsequent evacuation of the 2/4th Company to prevent it falling into enemy hands - he commented:

"After the evacuation of the 2/2 Indep. Coy it was evident the enemy had realised some move had occurred and moved into the newly vacated areas - Daralau, Atsabe and Hatu Builico on the West, Hatu Udo and Same on the South and Laclo and adjacent villages on the East.


By these actions, three sections of 'C' Pl were cut off whilst simultaneous attacks around Turiscai, Dili OP, Fatu Maquerec and the L of C between the last two places forced the Unit to again reconsider the position of sub-units and guard a basic area which we considered was vital for the continuance of the force on the island.  This basic area, in our opinion, was the last portion where we could continue to live as a fighting force; but by further splitting into smaller units it was thought possible to live and fight as individuals.

"The basic area was that part contained by Alas on the South, Fai Nia and Fatu Maquerec on the West, and around in more or less a circle Cribas, Lacluta, Barique.  All offensive action was to take place outside these areas and Japs and their natives to be kept out at all costs.  Numerous actions took place on the fringe of the circle: Turiscai, Fatu Maquerec, Mindelo.  Offensive actions took place at Ainaro, Cablac Ridge and along the road Manatuto-Baucau. [29]





John Burridge and the ‘Scrap of Newspaper’

Like all those who spent time in Timor in 1942 John Burridge has many memories - one of which was an incident which was personal and very strange.

Before recording the incident itself I must go back a very long way.  Early in the 20th century my father, Stanley, and his friend Eric Warren were both working in the firm of Paterson & Co. Ltd. In Perth.  My dad was "office boy" and Eric was stock book keeper.  They later joined in forming a private company which lasted 75 years.

Now, back to Timor.  8 Section at this time was based in a little village next to Turiscai.  One morning I found it necessary to exercise a normal bodily function.  At the conclusion I looked around to get something to take the place of toilet paper and seized upon two large leaves from a nearby bush.  The result of the use of these leaves is not the reason for this report - other than to say I had a red hot bottom for weeks every time I took a shower from the abundant little streams.  (Sometime later Ray Aitken told me the name of the bush but I forget it!).

The purpose of this story is to highlight that while searching for a suitable leaf I noticed a scrap, a very small scrap of newspaper on the ground.  Idly I picked it up and saw it was from a newspaper in English.  This in itself was very odd - what was an English newspaper doing a few thousand feet up in the bush in Portuguese Timor?  I read the words which were quite legible. It read – ‘The death is announced in Perth, Western Australia, of Duncan Paterson, a very well-known and respected business man who founded the company which bears his name’.

I posted this scrap of paper to my father who carried it around in his wallet as a sort of lucky charm until the day he died.

I hope this incident may be of some interest to readers.  Perhaps it shows how we never know what lies around the corner.

John Burridge [30]


Article from ‘The West Australian’ reporting Duncan Ferguson’s death [31]

John Burridge’s Return to Turiscai

The road to Turiscai was unbelievable.  There is only room for one vehicle, so heaven knows what would have happened if we had met someone on the way.  It was by far the worst road we travelled and George Vasco Solas, the Second Lieutenant who was with me, told me that if it rained we would probably have to remain in Turiscai.  It started to rain halfway there, and I was prepared for a long wait in Turiscai.  However, most unexpectedly, the rain petered out.  I particularly wished to visit Turiscai to get news of my old creado, Cookie.  He was a well-known character in Turiscai and was a sort of minor chief.  He died 14 years ago but was well remembered by the present Chief - and many others.  It was market day in Turiscai, but it was only a small affair.  I thought that it was about time I sampled tuaca.  Upon asking for it there was a good deal of shuffling and uneasy looks and it appears that it is illegal to sell tuaca.  However, when George, who was resplendent in a cavalry uniform, assured the locals that there would be no repercussions, a bottle was obtained.  Unfortunately, it was not tuaca but tua-sabe the fermented brew.  (Later on, with much difficulty I got the genuine tuaca in Dili and as I had remembered, it is certainly a very pleasant drink).  The Chief in Turiscai was most co-operative and arranged a cock fight for my benefit.

Although a non-smoker these days I asked for tabac, bata cuiic and doodook (perhaps better known as wampum).  The tabac and bata culic were of course available, but no doodook.  The standard of living has apparently improved and all the Timori use matches nowadays.  I tried in many places for doodook but without success.  Undoubtedly it would be available in the little villages, but we kept to the main roads

As I am in no condition for long marches nowadays, I had to finish that wretched cigarette otherwise I may have offended someone, but I cannot really claim to have enjoyed it.  The road back from Turiscai to Maubisse had become worse during the previous three hours due to the rain and it was greasy as well as rough.  Both George and I were very happy when we reached home.  Several months ago, a truck with 21 Chinese went over the side and they were all killed. [32]


Jack Hanson’s, the ‘last man standing’ of the Doublereds, creado was named Mau Asu and he came from Turiscai.

Post WWII several commando veterans returned to Timor to seek out the men who were their creados as well as visit the sites where they campaigned.  The account of the 2/4 Commando Squadron Association’s pilgrimage to Portuguese Timor in 1973 reveals:

"D" Group, comprising veterans of "C" Platoon, had focussed their tour around their old area of responsibility - Ainaro, Same, Hatu Builico, Nunamogue and Bobonaro - reliving memories and endeavouring to locate old friends, with little success.  The explanation for this was provided by a group of Timorese, of whom Ken Piesse enquired what had happened to the criados and other Timorese people who had accompanied the Australian soldiers to Quicras, for the evacuation in January 1943.  Joseph, the Timorese driver translated their answer: "When you left, the Japanese, who were at Turiscai, Fata Maquerec and Same all closed in.  The Japanese shot many people who had helped the Australians and burnt their houses, at Same, Alas and a Jot of other places.

"A lot of the criados were killed by the Japanese. Some were lucky. They hid in the bush, or in holes in the ground and came out only at night." [33]

Mau Asu survived the Japanese recriminations but not the equivalent suppression during the Indonesian occupation.

A qualitatively new phase of the Indonesian campaign began in September 1977.  Troop numbers were increased and draconian controls imposed upon the population, isolating the territory from the outside world.  In an operation named "Encirclement and Annihilation", mountain areas in which people had taken refuge were bombed.  Saturation bombing was accompanied by defoliation of ground cover.  Famine aggravated the effects of injury, disease, and displacement.


Following the bombing campaigns, the population was placed in newly created resettlement camps. Inhabitants were prevented from traveling beyond the confines of these camps, and were restricted in their cultivation and harvesting.  Dependent on the military for basic medical supplies and foodstuffs, they received little, and starvation became widespread.  A letter received from Dili in June 1979 told of people "slowly dying in the villages of Remexio, Turiscai, Maubara, Betano and Suro". [34]

Mau Asu and several other members of his family were victims of this atrocity.

In May 2019 Martin Morris, Jack Hanson’s nephew, visited Turiscai and met with one of Mau Asu’s daughters, Marta das Dores, now 71 years of age.  Martin passed on a message of gratitude from Jack for the friendship and support provided by Mau Asu and his compatriots to himself and the commandos.  Marta sadly, but proudly, showed Martin the family tomb where Mau Asu’s name is listed first on the tomb stone.


Mau Asu’s daughter, Marta das Dores, indicates her father’s name on the family tombstone


[1] Exploration of Portuguese Timor / report of Allied Mining Corporation to Asia Investment Company, limited. - [Dilly, Portuguese Timor? : Allied Mining Corporation, 1937: 31 - National Library of Australia digitised item at http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-51222414]

[2] Allied Forces South West Pacific Area. Allied Geographical Section. - Area study of Portuguese Timor. – [Melbourne?]: Allied Geographical Section, South West Pacific Area: The Section [Brisbane], 1943: 58. https://repository.monash.edu/items/show/26455#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=0

[3] ‘Return to Timor 1973 - Notes on some places and points of interest’ 2/4 Commando Squadron Association Circular – copy in 2/2 Commando Association archives.

[4] Area study of Portuguese Timor: 29.

[5] Area study of Portuguese Timor: Map 1.

[6] The town was visited by 2/2 Commando Association Committee members Ed Willis, John Denman and Martin Morris on 7 May 2019.

[7] Area study of Portuguese Timor: Photograph 53.

[8] Christopher C.H. Wray. - Timor 1942 : Australian commandos at war with the Japanese. - Hawthorn, Vic. : Hutchinson Australia, 1987: 97.

[9] Kisho Tsuchiya ‘Indigenization of the Pacific War in Timor Island: a multi-language study of its contexts and Impact’ War & Society 38 (1) February 2018, 1–22 [12].

[10] Alfredo Pires ‘The boy with the red lepa’ in Telling East Timor: personal testimonies 1942-1992 / [compiled by] Michele Turner. – Sydney: N.S.W. University Press, 1992.: 38-39.

[11] Wray: 123.

[12] Wray: 123.

[13] Wray: 124.

[14] Antonio de Sousa Santos ‘Fragments of a tempestuous life or Fragments of six years of struggles’ (Unpublished manuscript, March 1944). AWM PR 00684.

[15] William Bradley Horton ‘Ethnic cleavage in Timorese society: the Black Columns in occupied Portuguese Timor (1942)’ Journal of International Development 6 (2): 35-50 https://www.academia.edu/1425518/Ethnic_Cleavage_in_Timorese_Society_The_Black_Columns_in_Occupied_Portuguese_Timor_1942_.

[16] Wray: 126.

[17] Wray: 134.

[18] Wray: 143-144.

[19] Wray: 144.

[20] Bernard Callinan - Independent Company : the Australian Army in Portuguese Timor 1941-43. - Richmond, Vic. : Heinemann, 1984.: 171.

[21] Callinan: 169

[22] Callinan: 171-172.

[23] Cyril Ayris. - All the Bull's men : No. 2 Australian Independent Company (2/2nd Commando Squadron). - [Perth, W.A.] : 2/2nd Commando Association, 2006.: 356.

[24] Callinan: 193.

[25] Callinan: 199.

[26] Callinan: 203.

[27] Callinan: 207.

[28] Callinan: 213.

[29] Lambert: 173.

[30] John Burridge ‘Memories’ 2/2 Commando Courier September 2007: 17. https://doublereds.org.au/couriers/2007/Courier%20September%202007.pdf

[31] ‘Mr Duncan Paterson - death in London’ West Australian June 27 1936/ 35 https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/page/3691699.

[32] John Burridge ‘A report on a trip to Portuguese Timor, June 15 to June 22, 1966’ 2/2 Commando CourierJuly 1966: 9. https://doublereds.org.au/couriers/1966-07%20-%20Courier%20July%201966.pdf

[33] G.E. Lambert. - Commando, from Tidal River to Tarakan : the story of the No. 4 Australian Independent Company AIF later known as 2/4th Australian Commando Squadron AIF, 1941-45. - Loftus, N.S.W. : Australian Military History Publications, 1997: 434.

[34] John G. Taylor ‘”Encirclement and Annihilation'': the Indonesian occupation of East Timor’ in The spectre of genocide: mass murder in historical perspective / edited by Robert Gellately [and] Ben Kiernan. – Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003: 167.


Prepared by Ed Willis

Revised 24 March 2020


Edited by Edward Willis
Add content
Link to comment
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
  • Create New...