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Commando Campaign Sites – East Timor - Manufahi District - Mindelo

Edward Willis

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GPS: 8°53'38.0"S 125°42'16.0"E


Mindelo is a village in the Turiscai district of the Manufahi Municipality.  The district had a population of 7,718 at the time of the 2015 census.  The village population was 593 at that time. [1]

Confusingly, Mindelo is also known as Maubisse (or Mau-Bessi), the same name as the nearby large town that is in the Ainaro Municipality with which it shares a long and sometimes violent history.



MINDELO (Mau-Bessi - ... ) is 15 miles (24 km) southeast of Aileu at a bearing of 140°.  Mau-Bessi is a small posto and market town and must not be confused with Maubisse in the same province.  The buildings comprise posto and administrative block and barracks, also a church.  The posto is surrounded by trees which give fair air cover.  The town is connected to other districts by pony tracks only.  There is a good water supply in the district.  Australian troops occupied this town during October, 1942. [2]


Location of Mindelo shown on map from the ‘Area Study of Portuguese Timor’ [3]

The following oblique aerial photo from December 1942 gives an excellent idea of the terrain in which Mindelo is located and the directions to the nearest significant locations – Tutuloro and Turiscai/Maubisse.


Central mountain country.  Mindelo looking southwest – November 17 1942 [4]

Visiting Mindelo Today

Mindelo lies approximately 127 kilometres south of Dili by road via Same.  If road conditions are good Same can be reached by vehicle from Dili in 3½ hours.

Mindelo is located 13.7 kms north of Same and can be driven along a track suitable only for a four-wheel drive vehicle. [5]

Driving conditions and the time required to reach Mindelo from Same will vary depending upon if there has been recent rain and how recently the track has been maintained – landslides, rock and tree falls, slippages and collapses are persistent problems on these types tracks in Timor-Leste.


Map - Dili to Mindelo by road

Trekking in, if you are fit and time is available, or using a motorbike are alternative modes of transport.  If trekking you may wish to try and follow the track described in the Area Study of Portuguese Timor:

32a. Track Same to Junction Track 32 to Alas to Maubisse:

Two hours' walking.

A good track goes north from Same, crossing three or four creeks and climbing divides between.  At a junction of tracks two miles (3 km.) north of Same, the track swings east, descends to the Carau-Ulo River, climbs the divide on the other side, and drops steeply to another branch of the Sue River, where one track leads north to Mindelo (Maubessi) and the other track continues east to Alas.  Both rivers cause delay in the wet season. [6]


Track from Same to Mindelo – GERTIL map


Mindelo – satellite view – Google Maps


Corporal Harry Wray of the Signals Section, as is often the case, can be relied on to provide a good description of Mindelo: [7]


Our journey ended at Mindelo where we arrived on the 15th October 1942.  Mindelo was the site of a Posto and was in an area that consisted of hills and mountains as far as the eye could see.  The Posto was located on the top of a long mountain ridge that rose upward from the end on which the Posto was located.  The ground where the Posto stood had been levelled off for about three hundred yards and was about one hundred yards wide.  As well as the Posto residence there were a number of other buildings, one a school.

The inevitable cock fighting ring stood in the middle of the space used for the weekly markets close by the Posto.  In order to make the level space I have described, stone retaining walls had been built along parts of the ridge, and these at one end near the Posto were covered with thick growths of passion fruit vines.

As I have said the Posto was at the lower end of the ridge or spur, which rose upwards from the Posto for several hundred yards going upwards and away from the Posto.  The ridge was razor backed and just wide enough for a bridle path.  This widened out further up and there stood the ruins of a large stone building, gutted by fire, and a little further on the huts of a large village lay about in heaps of ashes.

Local Situation

This district had been ravaged by internecine war and villages and crops destroyed wholesale.  The Posto and school were deserted, and very few natives to be seen.  Those still remaining in the area were miserable frightened people who were rarely seen.

Food was very scarce around Mindelo and as we were living on the land we fared badly, and for weeks our diet consisted of inferior sweet potatoes for the most part, and even these were hard to come by.

Living Conditions

George, the Platoon commander [8], chose a small hollow in the side of the ridge beyond Mindelo Posto, and roughly just below the burnt out village I have mentioned.  There was a small U-shaped patch of ground like a shelf sheltered in the hillside, and well hidden from view.  A spring seeping from the hillside made the ground rather boggy all the time.

We built ourselves a small hut just large enough for us three Signallers to sleep in and to shelter the wireless set, but it was rather leaky when it rained.  The other men were camped here and there round about in twos and threes in little huts.


After the first few days there were only about seven or eight of us and the Captain (George) camped there.  The others were camped here and there around Mindelo to keep and eye on the approaches.  We were on the fringes of, if not actually in a pro-Jap area, and the Japs were occupying a Porto town [Maubisse] in force, not far away.

Mindelo was in a district where heavy mists came down over the mountaintops during the afternoon and persisted all night until well after sun up in the morning.  The result of this was that guarding a path or keeping a look out from a hilltop was not the easiest of jobs when the mist was about.

Morale and Events

Morale was bad among a number of the men in the Platoon at this time, and they were very nervy and jumpy, not without some cause, I must admit, and some of them had harrowing experiences at various times to add to their present frayed state.  At night we used to have a guard posted on the ridge among the ruins of the village above us.  I know that when I had my turn I would often find the guard had spent his hour or two just within sight and call of the camp instead of several hundred or more yards away on the ridge.  It was lone and eerie walking up and down among the ruins of the village, one seemed utterly alone and miles away from anyone.  I often used to speculate as to the fate of the villagers, and on some bright moonlight nights I used to scratch about in the ashes of the huts to see if I could find any bones of the inmates.  I do not know whether the inhabitants were murdered, or just driven off.

One thing in favour of the post on this ridge, it always seemed to be above the mist, and one had a good view for a reasonable distance about.  In most parts of Timor the hillsides for miles around were bright with tiny dots of light from the village fires.  These were often seen twinkling through the nightly mists, but at Mindelo there was not a fire to be seen in this desolated district.


By the middle of October 1942 pressure was increasing in all areas as the Japanese spread disaffection among the Timorese.  Maubisse was now well established by the Japanese who were using the town as a base for the training and collection of rebel natives, some of whom more shirts and shorts, living in the village with the Japanese.  Whenever Australian patrols approached this area, the natives from the surrounding country withdrew back into the township and there sought the protection of the Japanese.

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. [9]


It was during this period, on 11 November 1942, that the 2/2nd lost two men, Privates Andy Smeaton [10] and George Thomas. [11] They were members of C Platoon No. 8 Section.

The Unit War Diary entry recorded what happened as follows:

11 November 1942

"C" P1 have had another clash with the Japanese and their natives.  At 0845 hrs Lieut McKENZIE reported hearing rifle fire and also Brens from the direction of No VIII Secs position.  His HQ OP saw movement on skylines in that direction also.

Some creados came in from there and said many natives and Japanese were attacking No VIII and had burnt their shelters.  At 1300 hrs he reported further the forward sub-sec had been attacked and the rear sub-sec had opened fire on another party of enemy.  By 0930 hrs both sub-sections had been forced out of their positions by weight of numbers.  They inflicted numerous casualties all of whom were carried out by other natives.  Unfortunately one Bren gun was lost.  Another party which was moving out to MINDELO was intercepted and attacked by No VII Sec. This party left their dead and wounded and scattered.  Both sub-sections are safe but two men, Ptes SMEATON and THOMAS, are missing. [12]


Stan Sadler’s Story

Stan Sadler provided this personal account:

8 Section was then sent to man an observation post forward of Mindelo and this we did for about a week.  We were camped in a hut in a small thicket of trees and the O.P. was up a 'steep, bare rise - about 500 yards away.  There was some cover on top of the O.P., which was on a flat ridge and gave a good view of the countryside towards Turiscai.  Two men would go up at first light in the morning and two would relieve them at lunch time and go on until dark.  This lasted a week and we saw some movement of small parties of Japs and some natives at times.

Chas and I were on O.P. the afternoon before the attack and we saw a lot of native movement and heard a big gathering of them in the distance.  We reported it when we came off at night.  In the morning, George Thomas and Andy Smeaton went up at 1st light.  That morning also, some bombers from Darwin had come over us on their way to bomb Dili.  We had been cheered by that.

Chas, Tom Coyle and another had gone down to the creek about half a mile down the hill to have a wash and get water.  Then we heard the sound of machine gun fire from the O.P. There were four or five of us in the hut and we soon packed up and retreated.

Bullets were cutting off the leaves of trees above us as we slid down the steep slope.  We managed to get down to a steep gully and after some trouble, made our way down this and back to a place called Fai Nain.  We never saw George and Andy again, but the native boy who was with-them got away and he told us that George was hit.  Andy had run away but had gone back to help George and that was the finish.  It was a blow to us and we never really got over it. [13]

Alan Adams Story

Alan Adams was also present:

We lost George Thomas and Andy Smeaton on the 11th November 1942, a day I remember only too well.

We stood to at dawn, and then George and Andy went to our O.P., which was located fairly close to our camp. They did not report back so it was all clear, so we set about getting breakfast ready.  There was a little spring nearby where we used to wash while breakfast was cooking.  Another mate and I went to the spring to wash.  Walking down a little ridge on the way down he went to relieve himself, at that stage the Japs opened fire on us from the O.P.  He came flying over to me unhurt.  The only way we could go was downhill to the valley.  A cliff face blocked us.  The only other way was open country so we were trapped.  There was a small patch of scrub near the spring and we had to make a quick decision - open country or hide in the bushes which was hardly big enough for us and our creado to hide in.  We chose the bushes, the Japs came down to the spring and were talking away not knowing we were a few yards away.  After a while they went away.  Then we had to decide what to do next.  We decided to stay, as we didn't know if they were still in the area.  It was a very long day and as it got dark we moved out.  We didn't know what happened to the rest of the Section or where they went.  We walked all night to where they might be and found them safe and all well, so ended a very traumatic and lucky escape.

We never found out what happened to George and Andy as far as I know. [14]


Jim Smailes wrote about the personal backgrounds of Andy Smeaton and George Thomas:

Towards the end of November No. 8 Section under Lt John Burridge, had a very bad time of it in the Maubisse area.  There was trouble with natives, and much Japanese activity.  They had developed a habit of sleeping in the bush rather than a hut in case of ambush during the night.  This particular night it had rained so they slept inside except for guards.  Just on daylight two men went out to man the observation post.  Shots were heard which of course aroused the rest of the section and they made their escape in various directions.  The other two men were never heard of again.  Neither on the island, through natives or even after the war.  It is certain that they were not taken prisoner, so must have been killed by those shots, but if that is so, it saved the lives of the others who were encircled by Japanese, and most likely would have killed more with their ambush.  As it was all the others escaped and were able to regroup and re-establish again as a section.

George Thomas

The two lost were Andy Smeaton and George Thomas.  George had been over and spent a few days with me only the week before.  He had had malaria rather badly and become run down.  When he left to rejoin the Section he gave his wallet and a few odds and ends to me to look after, as he thought it was very bad where they were, and would I do the right thing if anything happened to him.  I did just that after we got home and visited his parents and brother who lived in Boulder.  They had hopes of George returning when peace came, but I did not encourage this view.  They were fine folks but had no idea about what George had been through, and what was involved in this class of warfare.  George had been a storeman on the Great Boulder Mines and was highly regarded by management.

Andy Smeaton

Andy Smeaton was a real loner, did not appear to have any friends or relations, and was very inclined to get into trouble with officers and higher authority.  He was a very, likable young chap, and I had always got on well with him.

Once out on a patrol with him, he had confided to me that he had never known his father, and in fact nobody knew who he was.  He said that back in Scotland his mother became involved with a young soldier from Australia who was in hospital with wounds from France in 1916.  He evidently used a false name and after he had taken her out a few times, he returned to his unit, and was never heard of again.  The girl later found herself pregnant, and nobody of this soldier’s name could be found.  Thus he had his mother’s surname of Smeaton, and he grew up in one of Dr Bernado's homes in Britain.  He made light of his origins and held no malice for his mother or her family.

He was sent out to Australia at about six years of age to the Fairbridge Farm School at Pinjarra in Western Australia.  At 14, in 1931, he was found a job with a wheat farmer, and moved about on labouring and farming work until enlisting in Wagin in 1941.  His sole aim in defending this country was to do his bit to make sure the Hannan's Brewery was intact when he got back again. It was the best beer he had ever tasted, and I think he had been quite a good judge of lager in his short life.

Just before the Japanese invasion, Andy was on guard duty one night at Three Spurs Camp and fired a shot at a noise of some sort.  This was taboo with the situation so tense, and Andy was on the mat next day for disobeying orders.  Each man had five rounds in his rifle, but we were not supposed to fire unless ordered to do so.  Major Spence and Sgt. Major Craigie slept in a tent on their own, and they had some boxes between their beds upon which stood a bottle of whiskey.  With the firing of the shot, both men came to the scene, and after conferring, decided to take disciplinary action next morning.  When they returned to the tent the whiskey was gone.  This of course made things worse, and Andy was fined 5 pounds, and this put as a deduction in his pay book.  When he got outside the ‘court’ he picked up his rifle and let off the other four rounds for good measure.  He was then arrested and had to come up again next day.  I was one of his escort that morning, and I got chatted by Spence because my safety catch was off, which, he pointed out, was not required in guard duties.  In his defence Andy mentioned being a Fairbridge boy, and Spence did not know what he meant, and being from W.A., asked me to explain.  This I did, which revealed his start in life and hard time since, Spence then let him go with a caution and quashed the fine for yesterday’s misdemeanour also; Paddy Knight, Andy and the others said they enjoyed the whisky. [15]

Smailes also provided this additional comment in the vale he prepared for William (Scotty) Taylor, the 8 Section Corporal:

He was terribly upset over the deaths of Smeaton and Thomas almost at the end of a year without loss in the Section.  He wrote me a note together with some private papers of George Thomas, to deliver to his parents in Boulder if I should get home and try to find somebody who new Smeaton.  He felt that the lives of the Section had been saved by the sacrifice of these two mates. [16]


In November 1942 Damien Parer, the renowned war correspondent and film maker/photographer travelled to Portuguese Timor to film the No. 2 Independent Company in action.  He was accompanied by William Marien, an Australian Broadcasting Commission journalist, and an English journalist Dickson Brown, who was reporting for English and American publications. [17]

Parer and his companions arrived at No. 2 Independent Company HQ at Tutuloro, a few kilometres southeast of Mindelo on the afternoon of 13 November 1942 as recorded in the unit war diary:

13 November 1942

Ptes SMEATON A and THOMAS GE are still missing and so must be presumed captured. [18]


Lieut Doig, who is reporting back to the Coy for duty, Lieut SNELL, of the RNEI Army, and DAMIEN PARER, the official cinematographer for the Department of Information, arrived at Coy HQ [TUTULORO], at approx. 1530 hrs.

The scene was set for subsequent events at Mindelo by Lieutenant Gerry McKenzie’s report and recommendation of the previous day:

12 November 1942

Later the same morning more natives attacked No VII Sec’s position near MINDELO but these were driven off with losses.  During the rest of the day No VII Sec sent out small patrols to shoot up a lot of stray natives who had been very friendly to the Japanese natives.  Also a large patrol was sent out to locate the main force.  Lieut McKENZIE states the native chief at TUTULORO is loyal and has a lot of natives who will fight with us if armed.

The hostile natives from Maubisse probed towards Mindelo again on the 14 November:

14 November 1942

A quiet day the only activity being reported from “C” Pl who at 1245 hrs reported their forward OPs had seen approx. 200 natives approaching their positions from the direction of MAOBISSE.  Forward sections were in position to oppose them.

The C Platoon men actively opposed the intruders the following day:

15 November 1942

No V Sec of “B” Pl stationed at TURISCAI reported seeing fires burning and hearing shooting from the direction of MINDELO this morning.  They were advised these activities were part of “C” Pls campaign against the hostile natives in that area.


“C” Pl report early this morning the party of natives reported yesterday as moving towards MINDELO turned back and returned to MAOBISSE the same evening.

It seems a plan of action was put together by the HQ staff of No. 2 IC and Lt McKenzie for C Pl to attack Mindelo next day with the assistance of local warriors provided by the sympathetic chief of Tutuloro.  There was long standing animosity between the people of Tutuloro (‘good boongs’) and Mindelo (‘bad boongs’). [19]

16 November 1942

"C" Pl advise a detachment of our troops and 100 loyal natives under Lieut McKENZIE ATTACKED THE hostile area between MINDELO and MAOBISSE.  The operation was very successful.  Forty-six natives were killed and forty-one captured; approx.  110 huts were burnt down and many buffalos pigs etc captured.  Our native friends acquired themselves a lot of native women who originally were the property of the men who were killed by our troops.

Private Harry Sproxton carried a Tommy gun when they went into the village that day.  The 9 Section men machine-gunned the huts and the Timorese followed through with spears and machetes, causing what Sproxton described as ‘a bit of carnage’.  Sproxton saw more than 40 dead people being thrown into huts, which were then set alight. [20]

Parer filmed the assault remotely and the vision includes a long distance shot of a burning village that is almost certainly Mindelo from the descriptions given above. [21]


Mindelo ablaze – still from Damien Paper’s film ‘Australian guerrillas on Timor’ [22]

He also witnessed the tragic aftermath of the events just described as the victorious warriors brought home their captives and booty.  In a sequence that he called ‘native victory march’, Parer wrote in his ‘dope sheet’ for those later preparing the movie commentary:

‘They have just returned from doing up the bad boongs; in the fight they killed 46, captured women 28, captured boongs 3, children 7, pigs 3, horses 6.  All our boongs returned safely and there were 8 Aussies with the boongs in the show.  The three captured were later killed by the natives when our boys left them’. [23]


Australian guerrillas In Timor.  Natives in victory parade.  Natives friendly to the Australians attacked a tribe which was in the pay of the Japanese.  Picture shows natives captured in the raid.  (Negative By Parer). [24]

17 November 1942

Having secured the Mindelo site:

“C” Pl have commenced a drive against the hostile natives in the area.  Five men of No. IX Sec with 40 natives attacked approx. 500 Japanese natives near the junction of the MINDELO-MAOBISSE-TURISCAI tracks and forced them to retire.  They are now in a position to meet a counter attack.

Parer used the less hazardous circumstances to recreate and film some of the previous day’s action during the attack on the village.

Pan shot (staged).  Good boongs dash through with blazing spear to set fire to huts. [25]


Mindello [Mindelo], Portuguese Timor, 1942-11.  Members of the 2/2nd Australian Independent Company, assisted by friendly natives, burn down pro-Japanese natives' huts.  (Film Still) [26]

NORFORCE apparently sent two Hudson bombers to reconnoitre the area probably after receiving Sparrow Force reports of these events.  The planes presence was recorded in the No. 2 IC war diary:

“C” Pl from MINDELO saw one large unidentified twin-fuselaged [sic] plane heading NORTH at 0615 hrs.  They also saw two unidentified planes flying low up the bed of the SUE River at 0630 hrs. [27]

Lts McKENZIE, BURRIDGE and COLE arrived at Coy HQ late this evening.  Also DAMIEN PARER arrived here on his return to FORCE HQ [at Alas]; he has now almost completed his film on TIMOR. [28]


A Hudson bomber reconnoitres the burning Mindelo, 17 November 1942 [29]

The men of C Platoon enjoyed a bit of ‘down time’ and sustenance after the intense activity and action of the previous few days.


A meal of water buffalo and rice is enjoyed by (L-R): Dave Richie, Eric Herd and Harry Sproxton (9 Section) after the burning of Mindelo.  (Rear): Bill Curtis and Roy Wilson. [30]


[1] http://www.statistics.gov.tl/category/publications/census-publications/2015-census-publications/volume-2-population-distribution-by-administrative/

[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: 50. https://repository.monash.edu/items/show/26455#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=0

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

[4] Area study of Portuguese Timor: Map 30

[5] http://east-timor.places-in-the-world.com/1635225-place-Maubisse.html

[6] Area study of Portuguese Timor: 49.

[7] Corporal Arthur Henry Kilfield ‘Harry’ Wray (WX11485). - Recollections of the 2nd Independent Company Campaign on Timor, 1941-42: 220-222.  Manuscript in the 2/2 Commando Association of Australia archives.

[8] Captain George Boyland, WX6490, Officer Commanding,  C Platoon.  See Doublereds ‘Men of the 2/2’ entry https://doublereds.org.au/history/men-of-the-22/wx/george-boyland-r34/

[9] Christopher C.H. Wray. - Timor 1942 : Australian commandos at war with the Japanese. - Hawthorn, Vic. : Hutchinson Australia, 1987: 144.

[10] Andrew Smeaton, WX5537 – See Doublereds ‘Men of the 2/2’ entry https://doublereds.org.au/history/men-of-the-22/wx/andrew-smeaton-r605/

[11] George Edgar Thomas, WX12592 – See Doublereds ‘Men of the 2/2’ entry https://doublereds.org.au/history/men-of-the-22/wx/george-edgar-thomas-r669/

[12] No.2 Independent Company War Diary, 11 November 1942 -https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1363501 – all subsequent references to the War Diary use this source.

[13] Stan Sadler. -  War service 1941-1945: 12.  Manuscript in the 2/2 Commando Association of Australia archives.

[14] Alan Adams ‘A close shave’ 2/2 Commando Courier March 2002: 11-12 https://doublereds.org.au/couriers/2002/March/

[15] Jim Smailes The Memoirs of James Palliser Smailes Chapter 6 – The 1940s: 145-146.  Manuscript in the 2/2 Commando Association of Australia archives.

[16] Jim Smailes ‘Vale – William (Scotty) Taylor’ 2/2 Commando Courier February 1987: 8-9 https://doublereds.org.au/couriers/1987/Courier%20February%201987.pdf

[17] Wray. - Timor 1942 : Australian commandos at war with the Japanese: 154.

[18] The story persists to this day amongst the local population that both men were captured alive and tortured in Maubisse before being executed.

[19] See Doublereds disclaimer on the use of such now inappropriate language – ‘Important Notice’ https://doublereds.org.au/archives/articles/

[20] Paul Cleary. - The men who came out of the ground : a gripping account of Australia's first commando campaign : Timor 1942. - Sydney : Hachette Australia, 2010.: 260; author interview with Harry Sproxton, 10 October 2007.


[22] https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C189152

[23] Paul Cleary. - The men who came out of the ground: 255.

[24] https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C33234.

[25] Paul Cleary. - The men who came out of the ground: 255, quoting Parer’s ‘dope sheet’ for the filmed sequence.

[26] https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C56377.

[27] The Sparrow Force war diary entry for 17 November 1942 is illegible.

[28] No. 2 IC war diary for 18 November 1942 records ‘DAMIEN PARER departed Coy HQ for Force HQ at 0900 hrs.

[29] https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C48293.  Note this photo is officially, and probably incorrectly, labelled ‘HUDSONS OF NO. 13 SQUADRON WITHDRAWING AFTER BOMBING A JAPANESE POST AT MINDELO, IN MOUNTAINOUS COUNTRY IN CENTRAL PORTUGUESE TIMOR, ON 1942-12-17. (RAAF)’.  I think the photo was more likely taken on the reconnaissance mission one month earlier on 17 November 1942.

[30] https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C33181.


Prepared by Ed Willis

Revised 3 April 2020


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