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WWII in East Timor - a Site and Travel Guide - Ermera Municipality - Atsabe


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WWII in East Timor – A Site and Travel Guide

Commando Campaign Sites

ERMERA MUNICIPALITY

ATSABE

8°55′28″S 125°23′54″E

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Atsabe’s location in relation to other sites mentioned in the text [1]

Atsabe (Nova Ourem - See Map No.7) is 9 miles (14 km.) at a bearing of 28° from Bobonaro.  Atsabe is one of the larger postos and market centres and its buildings number about 20 in all.  These stone buildings, most of which have galvanized iron roofing, comprise posto and administrative block, church, school and about 15 Chinese shops.  About one mile (11/2 km.) along the Lete-Foho road six bamboo huts with thatched roofs are the native soldiers' barracks.  These huts are about 10 feet x 10 feet (3 m. x 3 m.) and are evenly spaced.  The posto is well covered from air observation and is well timbered on the southwest side.  There is a large market square north of the posto, and many trees have been planted around the trading area.  There is a motor road to Bobonaro which for one mile, has good air cover.  Atsabe was the Australian H.Q. of a platoon from May to August, 1942. [2]

SIGNIFICANCE

Atsabe sits at an elevation of approximately 1,500 metres on the western slopes of Mount Ramelau.  During WWII it was in a key ‘crossroads’ position overlooking important roads and tracks heading in all directions of the compass.

1.          NORTH through Rotai and Lete Foho to Ermera.

29d. Track Atsabe (Nova Ourem) to Lete-Foho (Nova Óbidos

Distance, 11 miles (17 1/2 km.). Time taken, 6 hours.

With roads out of commission this is a very important track.  An excellently graded track, suitable MT, though subject to landslides and with little cover from the air, leads down to the Bandeira River.  From the river there is a steep climb to Rotai, situated on the rugged saddle between Mts. Daralau and Catrai.  Again, the track descends with little cover to the Garrai River, after which there is a very steep climb to Lete-Foho.  There was a wooden bridge across the Bandeira River.  The track is a good one for ponies. [3]

Ken Piesse of the 2/4 described this segment in notes he prepared for that unit association's visit in 1973:

"Leaving Ermera, the road leaves the Ermera-Dili road after about 2 miles and goes up a 1-in-10 grade following a crest of a ridge before turning southwards along a valley before winding up to Lete Foho about half way between Ermera and Atsabe.  It possesses the usual posto, Chinese shops etc. and was burnt out following bombing in August 1942.  The road goes on past Rotai, where there is said to be an impressive cave.  Rotai was shelled and burnt by the Japanese, but the Chefe Rotai kept A Platoon HQ high above Rotai at the village of Alsai near the summit of Mt Catrai (7,100 ft.) supplied with food up until late November 1942.  Tourist pamphlets suggest an investigation of the Bandeira waterfall from the road between Lete-Foho and Atsabe.  Atsabe ‘a pretty town and well cared for’ (page 83 ‘Independent Company’) whose Chefe de PosteSenhor Alexandrino was a good friend of the 2/2nd and C platoon 2/4th, an excellent handler of the Timorese and incidentally, an excellent armourer, the reason he was known to the Australians as ‘Krupps’.  Atsabe is one of the larger postos and market centres and late in 1942 was the centre of the 2/4ths 7 section operations". [4]

2.          NORTH WEST to Hatu-Lia

A road at one time connected Atsabe with Hatu-Lia.  Owing to washaways and lack of maintenance, this road is untrafficable to MT [Motor Transport].  It could possibly be put into repair with suitable labour and equipment in a short time.

From Bobonaro to the south coast the only means of transport is by pack animals along made tracks.  There are no MT roads.

Natives reported that the Japanese were using M.T. from Bobonaro to Dili in December 1942. [5]

Callinan described utilising this track with Don Turton:

"TURTON and I arrived at Atsabe in the afternoon, and the Doctor [Dunkley] made us comfortable.  We stayed that night and the next day.  Boyland was there and I got from him the details of his dispositions.  On the following morning we set out for Hatu-Lia.  There was a road from Atsabe to Hatu-Lia that was closed to wheeled traffic by numerous washaways, but it made travelling on horseback quite easy.  The road was very well graded and wound in and out of the gullies and around the spurs so that the actual distance travelled was much longer than the distance between the towns.  We had horses, but I was quite pleased to arrive at our destination". [6]

Shortly afterwards, Dr Dunkley and Don Turton traversed the same route in more testing circumstances:

"While here we heard of Signaller Gerry Maley, who had been wounded above Hatu-Lia when the Japanese had first entered that town.  He had remained at the telephone there until the enemy were very close to the town; he had then established an observation post overlooking the town, from which he had seen some troops approaching and, thinking they were Australians, had signalled them.  Not receiving a reply, he had become suspicious and took cover behind a tree, but a burst from a machine gun shattered his thigh.  The other two with him had been unable to move him further than to a native village, and now the Japanese had heard of his hiding place and were searching for him.  At this time there was a small post overlooking Hatu-Lia, but the Japanese were between the post and Maley's hiding place, and while a patrol was being arranged to go in to get him, Dunkley and Turton set off from Atsabe, and after a really marvellous piece of work in dodging Japanese patrols succeeded in rescuing the wounded man and bringing him back to Atsabe". [7]

3.          SOUTH to the regional southern provincial capital of Bobonaro

ATSABE TO BOBONARO:

This comparatively short section of road crosses and recrosses broken ground with many creeks and re-entrants for 8 to 10 miles (13 to 16 km.).  There are many hairpin bends and sharp turns along this stretch of road.  Until it turns west and traverses a ridge crest it would present difficulty to any MT of 30 cwt. or over, and other reports state that certain repair work would be necessary before use.  Along the ridge crest, to Bobonaro, a distance of about 7 miles (11 km.), it is fairly easy going; the steepest grade would be about 1-5 or 1-6.  There is practically no air cover. [8]

Heading further south from Bobonaro, a track traversed via Mape, Lolotoi and Maucatar to the vital south coast anchorage at Suai.

4.      EAST through Tata Mailau (Ramelau) to Hatu-Builico and then on to Maubisse

Looking eastward, a high track traversed the peak of Tata Mailau and linked Atsabe with Hatu-Builico then onward to Maubisse.

29a. Track Atsabe to Hatu-Builico to Tumela:

Time taken, 8 hours.

The track, which is approximately 15 miles (24 km.) in length, crosses Ramelau Range, after a long climb at nearly 10,000 feet (3,000 m.).  The track to Mt. Tata-Mailau is very steep in places.  Good air cover.  Once the range has been crossed there is a 6 ft. (2 m.) track, constructed, but very steep in places, for the whole distance down to Hatu-Builico.  The track then climbs a gentle slope to Mt. Tumela at the junction of the Lete-Foho-Hatu-Builico (29) and Maubisse-Hatu-Builico (29a.) tracks.  This track crosses the greatest mountain barrier on the island.  The going is very exhausting for both ponies and porters, but the track is reasonably graded. [9]

Callinan described the terrain along this track:

"… the cool precipitous alpine country between Hatu-Builico and Atsabe in the Ramelau Ranges, where the timber was very similar to the woolly butts of the Australian Alps". [10]

5.      SOUTH EAST to Ainaro

29b. Track Ainaro to Atsabe:

Distance, 12 miles (19 km.).  Time taken, 7 hours.

The track leaves Ainaro in a north westerly direction and crosses rice fields and riverbeds with very little cover.  Leaving the flats, the track climbs tortuously up the Ramelau Range until it joins the Bobonaro-Atsabe road at the saddle.  The track is very difficult to climb, and cover is poor. [11]

6.      WEST to Cailaco

Atsabe could also be approached on tracks from the west:

23d. Track Cailaco to Atsabe, Marobo to Atsabe:

There are several native tracks between Cailaco and Atsabe and Marobo and Atsabe.  All are very difficult to cross as they pass through the large Atsabe rice fields.  All portions of the tracks join the old roads and then depart from them cross-country again.  There is practically no cover from the air. [12]

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MUREMA, PORTUGUESE TIMOR. 1946-01-25. THE MILITARY HISTORY SECTION FIELD TEAM HALTED ON THE ROAD TO ATSABE BY A LANDSLIDE. SERGEANT G. MILSOM IS STANDING BY THE JEEP AND LIEUTENANT C. BUSH, OFFICIAL ARTIST, IS STANDING ON A TEMPORARY BYPASS (RIGHT). (PHOTOGRAPHER SGT K. B. DAVIS) [13]

EVENTS IN ATSABE

Japanese First Probes South

"[In mid-April 1942] It became clear that the Japanese were interested in moving up the roads which led to Ermera and Hatu-Lia.  During the days following, the swift-moving Australians clashed sharply with the advancing Japanese and claimed 30 or 40 killed, without casualties to themselves, before the invaders occupied Ermera.  Outflanked, the guerrillas then withdrew and later, from Villa Maria, watched the Japanese feeling out along the road towards them.  By 9th April, however, these feelers had coalesced into a movement by about 500 men towards Hatu-Lia and the most forward commandos fell back to Lete-Foho.  But the Japanese pressed farther on and, on 13th April, after shelling the little town they occupied it and once again the Australians fell back.  What really worried them, however, was uncertainty as to whether the invaders would stop at Lete-Foho or would press on to Atsabe or still farther to Ainaro — and menace the Australian bases.  In the event, however, the forward movement not only ceased at Lete-Foho but, by the end of April, the Japanese had all withdrawn to Ermera and Dili, having suffered annoying losses to the harassing tactics of the guerrillas". [14]

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Atsabe as key objective during the campaign [15]

Patrolling From Atsabe

“Meanwhile [by mid-April] we had developed a system of patrols which came up through Lete-Foho, moved across to Boyland by night, and then around through the Hatu-Lia area on the lookout for stray lone Japanese patrols, and finally back to Atsabe; the complete circuit took approximately a week.  There were a large number of Japanese troops milling round in this area, and often one of their patrols would be allowed to walk through an ambush position because our position was itself covered by another patrol higher up.  Portuguese reports placed the number of Japanese troops based on Ermera as not less than twelve hundred”. [16]

D Platoon Based on Atsabe

“…. by the end of April, an extensive Australian redeployment had been almost completed.  Laidlaw's platoon was carrying out a wide and difficult movement to establish themselves at Remexio, fairly close in to Dili; Boyland's platoon was settling in the Maubisse area; a new platoon (‘D’), which had been formed from the Independent Company's sappers and from the fittest of the survivors from Dutch Timor, had been gathered at Mape and given a short intensive course of guerrilla training, and by early May, would be based on Atsabe under the command of Turton, who, though gentle by nature, was already proving himself an outstanding soldier and guerrilla engineer; Baldwin's platoon (which had been scattered widely to fill gaps as they developed) was to have the left flank positions in the general area of Cailaco”. [17]

Callinan Appointed to Command the Company

“I was in Atsabe when I received the message of my appointment to command the company and I was, of course, pleased.  I had been given plenty of freedom and opportunities to move around, and to put forward suggestions which had always been given consideration, but I entered into my own command with considerable enthusiasm.  It was the twentieth of May.  I was very fortunate to take over when everything was in good condition.  Turton and his platoon were now in position, and Rose was having a well-earned spell.

I proposed setting up my headquarters at Atsabe, where I was well placed to watch the danger area around Ermera.  Ainaro would have suited me even better, as it was more centrally located on our sixty-mile line, but it did not have the telephone connections that Atsabe had.  The centre of the area for the telephone system, as for everything else, was Bobonaro, but it was half a day's journey further to the south, and away from the centre of activities”. [18]

Reserve Arms and Ammunition Transported to Atsabe

“The ammunition left near Hatu-Lia was still within striking distance of the enemy, and had not been safely hidden, so Callinan told a small party of men to pay the Timorese to help move the stores to a safer place.  One of the men whom Callinan relied on to carry out this crucial task was not a senior officer or even an NCO; it was a lowly ranked sapper, or private, in the engineers corps, Vincent Wilby, 20, from Bendigo, Victoria, had met Callinan years before when he worked for a short time as an assistant in Callinan’s drafting office, and Wilby had joined Callinan on his journey into Dutch Timor.  While returning to Portuguese Timor, Wilby had acquired a team of Timor ponies that he had stolen along the way. Callinan later admonished Wilby for taking the ponies, insisting that he should pay or at least promise to pay for any property that he acquired.  These first few ponies proved to be very useful, forming the nucleus of the transport corps used by the 2/2 Company”. [19]

“Wilby personally took part in six return trips to Atsabe, each leg taking about a day, traversing the rugged terrain on narrow walking tracks, until they reached a hiding place just outside Bere Mau’s [Wilby’s creado] home village.  Some of the journeys started early in the morning and took until late in the evening; others went through the night.  The hiding place was located about 200 metres from the town in a cave.  The cave could only be entered by going through a ravine, and then up a steep slope.  Over the course of six weeks, the pony train hauled a steady stream of ammunition—over 100,000 rounds of .303 bullets for rifles and Bren guns, 45,000 .45 inch bullets for the Tommy guns, and 2,000 grenades”. [20]

Atsabe in the ‘August Push’

“Mobilising the ‘Black Columns’ was a particularly effective innovation.  The Japanese used them like human shields, driving large numbers ahead of their soldiers and into the Australian and Dutch positions.  The militias drove a wedge between the Australians and the Timorese population, and as the Dutch and Portuguese Timorese were ethnically the same, it became impossible to tell friend from foe.  The Japanese thrust targeted the Dutch force near the south coast centre of Maucatar, forcing them to completely abandon their positions and flee towards the east".

"Dexter’s A Platoon, based in the Fronteira Province, responded to the Japanese drive from Dutch Timor by blowing bridges and roads to slow the advance.  As the Japanese and Timorese surged over the border, A Platoon fought a series of running battles as part of a staged retreat into the mountains around Fronteira.  The attack from the west threatened the cornerstone of the Australian operation in Timor, the province of Fronteira which was run by the avidly-partisan administrator Sousa Santos.  The Japanese assault made Sousa Santos fear for his life, and he abandoned his post and fled to the eastern provinces with his wife and young daughter”.

……

A Platoons Fighting Withdrawal to Atsabe

“Dexter realised that he risked being encircled.  A Japanese drive from the south was also coming his way, so he ordered his less mobile men—the sick, the signallers, a medical orderly, and men with supplies—to withdraw to the east to Atsabe, where they would link up with Don Turton’s D Platoon, which had established a defensive stronghold.  Atsabe, at the foot of 3,000 metre high Mount Ramelau, was the place where much of the 2/2’s store of ammunition had been stashed after being hauled up the mountain by Wilby’s pony train in March.  As Dexter made preparations to stage another ambush on a narrow pass linking the road from Bobonaro to Atsabe, a local elder, Chief Martinho, approached him with a surrender note distributed by the Japanese.  Martinho told Dexter that the Japanese were advancing towards him with big guns.  Dexter’s party of 28 men contacted the approaching enemy briefly before they withdrew and joined the flight to Atsabe”.

Turton’s ‘Hideout’

“Upon reaching the town, Dexter and his group learned that the Japanese were already there, so they climbed further up into the mountains, departing within minutes of the Japanese opening up on the town with mortars and artillery.  Eventually Dexter regrouped at Turton’s ‘hideout’—a group of huts perched on a very steep hilltop—where the hungry men dined on a meal of grilled buffalo as the Japanese continued shelling the deserted nearby town.  Joining the exodus to the cold and hungry high country was Callinan’s headquarters, which set up a new base on the western slope of the Ramelau range on the night of 13 August”.

"The Australians faced an increasingly brazen militia force of Black Columns from West Timor who were prepared to throw themselves at positions.  The Black Columns seemed well trained as they swarmed upon the defensive positions of A Platoon, sometimes under the cover of fire from Japanese mountain guns, other times without.  One of Dexter’s Bren gunners was forced to shoot three attackers with his hand-gun in self-defence.  The use of the militia forces by the Japanese completely changed the nature of the conflict; it now meant that in order to survive these engagements the Australians would have to shoot and kill indigenous people who might only be armed with spears". [21]

End of the ‘August Push’

“As the push continued into the middle of August, the Timorese population took to the hills, taking with them most of their food and farm animals.  The four platoons were now constantly on the run and they were getting hungrier as each day went by.  By 15 August, after six days of relentless fighting, the Australians had been driven by troops and artillery into a ‘pocket’ formed by the highest peaks in the centre of the country— Maubisse, Hatu-Bulico, Ainaro, and Samé.  In order to deal with this threat, Callinan created a ‘striking force’ by combining C and D platoons to deliver a ‘strong blow to the enemy column advancing through Aileu’.  A Platoon, which had been engaged in the most intensive fighting, was to remain in the rear of these platoons in order to prevent an enemy encirclement via Ainaro.  The commanders put observers along the Atsabe–Ainaro track so that they would be alert to any enemy movement from the rear".

"Three days later, on the evening of 18 August, a green flare went up over the central mountains around Ramelau, where the Australians had been driven … . After seeing this flare, the Australians believed this signalled the start of the final phase of the Japanese drive.  Many of the men, sensing that they would have to stand and fight against overwhelming odds, had a deep sense of foreboding about the following day, believing that it might be their last”. [22]

No. 4 Independent Company Takes Over

“In early October, C Platoon [of the No. 4 Independent Company] was spreading out over the south-western sector of the Company's operational area in Portuguese Timor.  Platoon HQ moved from Hatu Udo to Ainaro on 15 October.  Detachments located at Maubisse, Hatu Builico, Nunamogue, Atsabe, Beco, Cassa (native name Lias) and Cablak, performed the roles of monitoring all movements of Japanese troops and hostile natives in the sector.  They harassed them whenever possible and kept open the lines of communication of ‘A’ Platoon in the north western sector”. [23]

Through October-November 1942, the Japanese continued to increase their force strength in Timor, deploying four or five battalions in the drive towards the eastern part of the island.  Faced with loss of food supplies and suffering from malaria, 357 members of the No. 2 Independent Company were evacuated successfully in three trips between 11 and 19 December along with 192 RNEIA and 69 Portuguese evacuees by the Dutch destroyer Tjerk Hiddes.

Meanwhile the No. 4 Independent Company were left to bear the full brunt of actions mounted by the Japanese-led Black Columns.  By December, however, the over position of Lancer force was extremely vulnerable especially owing to loss of access to vital food supplies as the Japanese pushed further east.  By this stage, the Japanese had mobilised some 12,000 men and had successfully occupied all anchorages the north and south coasts east of and including Beaco.

Ian Hampel’s Recollections [24]

“But the Japs were giving a little bit of trouble gradually creeping back from Dili towards Atsabe which was our only base.  So, we had to try to hunt them out.  Just below Atsabe though, where the road goes down fairly steeply, there’s a pretty big cliff and at the bottom of that cliff a gully there filled with jungle.  We had the job of trying to hunt the pro Japanese natives out of that area.  Well, we should never have tried it because that was their territory and they knew how to handle it very well indeed.

Well, we tried to creep through there and of course they were shooting at us from the cover of the foliage down below while we were at the top shooting down at them”.

…….

“Anyway, also, too, though during that Sid Bell [25] …. was creeping forward, crouched down as we always were when we were trying to advance, and he collected a bullet down, directly from the front, and it went down, beside in his neck, straight beside his windpipe.  And as he was crouched over of course the bullet went down almost parallel with his spine.  It came out his back between his shoulder blades, but it missed all the bones.  And all of us are a heap of plumbing in there, we’ve got all sorts of arteries and veins and all the rest of it.  It missed all of that stuff”. [25]

“In some miraculous way, it made a hole in his back about the size of your fist and he bled a lot of course.  And he wasn’t feeling too good after that, but we got him out of it, carted him back to our little, little shack, our uma, but he was gurgling a bit and he was coughing up a bit of blood.  And this sort of disturbed us we didn’t quite know what it was.  But he was breathing all right.  And then, during the night he gradually got worse and worse and he was gurgling a lot more and the next day he died.  We had no idea what it was, but we had a bloke called Jo Boothman [26], who had been in the Queensland Bush Nursing Service, and Jo was very, very practical and clever so he did a very rough autopsy and he found out that when the bullet went in Sid’s neck it actually just nicked the wind pipe and so it cut the inside of the windpipe and it just dripped, dripped, dripped blood all the time so he actually drowned in his own blood”.

“These were the sorts of things you just had to contend with”.

[Question] Once again, did this make a fair amount of impact on you?

“Yes, because we thought Sid would survive it and he was a pretty good sort of bloke.  He was a curly-headed, you know, I suppose the women would say he was a good-looking bloke, I don’t know but he was pretty good as far as we were concerned.  And, we had quite a few little adventures from that era.  It was quite odd.  So, we had to bury Sid, we just dug a rough old grave for him and put a little cross made out of a bit of kerosene tin and put, you know, wounded on such and such a date and died on the 13th. [?] It was the 11th he was wounded, the 11th of December”. [27]

PORTUGUESE HERO - SERGEANT JOSÉ ALEXANDRINO OF ATSABE (‘KRUPPS’)

Sergeant José Alexandrino, who had served in the colony for 20 years and was well known to Callinan and the other men who had used Atsabe as a base.  The Australians had fled to Alexandrino’s redoubt in the foothills of Mount Ramelau during the August offensive.

Callinan described meeting Alexandrino around this critical time:

“The next day I had a long talk with Senhor Alexandrino of Atsabe.  He had remained at his post throughout and had exerted a considerable influence on the natives.  I had great respect for his opinions on the handling of the natives.  He had been in Timor for over twenty years, coming there as a young man from Macau.  During those early years his one hope had been to get back to Portugal to his family and friends, but as the years went by, and his applications for leave were refused for one reason or another, he had resigned himself to living and dying there.  He had a native woman and three beautiful little children, who were kept in spotless condition.  His rank in the army was sergeant, but when he retired, he would be given the honorary rank of lieutenant.  He was a short, dark man, quiet and quietly spoken, and not easily aroused, also he was a very competent mechanic.  To him we had given the one piece of transport which we had saved from destruction in February - a Lee Enfield motor cycle.  He had very carefully dismantled and thoroughly overhauled it and manufactured any new parts that were necessary.  We knew him as ‘Krupps’ because of his activities in altering rifle's to suit his requirements.  While Turton had been staying with him their experiments with captured Japanese ammunition and their attempts to make explosive bullets had caused some alarms.  After one such experiment there was a frantic telephone call from Bobonaro ten miles away wanting to know if Atsabe had been bombed!”

“This morning when he came up to platoon headquarters, he looked a little careworn, but he was prepared to grapple with the problems before us.  He did not consider it wise to arm the natives as he thought that it would lead to general chaos in which the Australians, being more dependent upon the natives than the Japanese, would be the more affected.  Also he said the Australians had fought so far, a clean fight against the Japanese, and he hoped they would continue to do so.  A touch of idealism which was perhaps out of place in a ‘total war’, but very pleasant to meet.  He thought that with a Bren gun, some ammunition, and another Portuguese, and provided the Japanese did not enter his area, he could maintain law and order, and even win back some of the surrounding areas from the Japanese by talking to the natives and assisted by the bad behaviour of the Japanese".

"The Japanese were already settling down to the work of organizing the areas along the frontier, and all natives had been ordered to hand in their weapons and return to work.  Taxes were being enforced.  Where villages appeared difficult to handle the occupants were herded together and taken down to Dutch Timor and replaced by ‘co-prosperity’ natives from Dutch Timor.  Work on the roads was being forced, and the natives were beginning to realise that the old life had not been too bad after all".

"We supplied the Bren gun, and Senhor Alexandrino kept his word.  The last I heard of him, some months later, was that he was still fighting in the Ramelau Range between Atsabe and Ainaro, supported by some few natives whose loyalty stood up to a losing fight.  He is one of the many quiet, efficient men who do the task before them, sometimes reaching heroic heights, but seldom noticed.  As a sergeant or an officer he was a man of whom any army might well be proud". [28]

"A concerted Japanese attack on Alexandrino’s base was led by Lieutenant Hoshino Tetsuichi, who had been brought to Timor from Java in September 1942 to work with the Tomi Kikan intelligence unit and train local militia.  Hoshino attacked with an infantry company, a machine-gun company, an infantry gun unit, and 70 militia.  Alexandrino and his men were eventually captured and later died in captivity". [29]

‘DIED IN THE SERVICE OF PORTUGAL’ - DOM CIPRIANO GONÇALVES (1912-1943) OF ATSABE

In his war diary entry of 24 August 1942, Callinan wrote of the Timorese in Atsabe:

"… the natives there being in general friendly but bewildered, they did NOT appreciate the JAPANESE taking food without paying for it". [30]

The Australians distinguished themselves from the Japanese approach in the war diary:

"A plentiful supply of small denomination Australian currency which has lately been received by the Unit and distributed to the platoons is making the purchase of food much easier.  The natives here are very keen on silver coins and are quite willing to accept them as payment for all commodities". [31]

Dom Cipriano Gonçalves was the ruler of Atsabe at this time.

“According to accounts of the Atsabe people's historical experiences during the Japanese occupation, the population engaged in passive resistance through non-compliance of demands for labour and material submissions of livestock and field products.  Therefore, the Japanese, in order to curb this resistance and prevent its escalation to armed rebellion, incarcerated the Atsabe ruler and six other relatives of his house who were all in the line of succession.  They were tied to a tree in the village square and, if a subject of the Atsabe kingdom did not comply with Japanese demands, one member of the ruling house was executed.  All seven lost their lives, including Dom Siprianu, and open opposition was curbed.  More subtle forms, such as the hiding and aiding of Australian soldiers, however, continued.

Dom Siprianu was buried with much pomp, befitting his status as ruler with enormous sacred power and as the recognized direct descendant of the founding ancestor.  The grave was located facing the residence of the chiefly family.  The customary secondary burial had to be postponed however, with economic reasons cited.  Exorbitant expenses are involved in such an undertaking, not just for the hosting family and village, but also for all groups under the authority of the former kingdom.  Atsabe people explained that economic recovery was slow after World War Two with severe shortages being the norm, and by the time they would have been able to perform it during the early 1970s they faced civil war followed by the Indonesian invasion and occupation.

It was finally in 2000 that financial assistance became available through a generous donation from Portugal.  This made it possible to perform the most important traditional ritual of the Kemak, the secondary burial that required the sacrifice of many animals.  The secondary burial ritual resulted in the expensive white-tiled Catholic grave, bearing the inscription in Portuguese: 'Died in the service of Portugal'.  In some ways the inscription contrasts with views and attitudes expressed by the majority of the Atsabe people during discussions about local history and social organization of the former kingdom.  On the one hand, this was clearly a new grave in an area where only old graves of the historical period bear Portuguese inscriptions, a language very few Atsabe know.  Even the surviving sons of Siprianu expressed vehement anti-Portuguese views, in spite of having served as administrators during Portuguese times.  The lack of pride in Portuguese ancestry, heritage or links among the members of the Atsabe ruling kin group is contrary to views expressed in older ethnographies on East Timor cultures.  Given these attitudes, the size and boldness of the inscription compared with the tiny script of the name of Siprianu, declaring 'died in the service of Portugal' appears contradictory”. [32]

325240944_ThetombofDomCiprianoatAtsabe.jpg.16cd9f5bc593cc4b6161cbe0332751b4.jpg

The tomb of Dom Cipriano at Atsabe [33]

REFERENCES

[1] Area study of Portuguese Timor / Allied Geographical Section, South West Pacific Area. - [Brisbane] : The Section, 1943. – (Terrain study (Allied Forces. South West Pacific Area. Allied Geographical Section) ; no. 50.): Map 1 – Portuguese Timor.

[2] Area study of Portuguese Timor: 25.

[3] Area study of Portuguese Timor: 48.

[4] Ken Piesse Notes on some places and points of interest – 2/4th Aust. Commando Squadron Association - Return to Timor 1973 – copy held in 2/2 Commando Association of Australia archives.

[5] Area study of Portuguese Timor: 37.

[6] Bernard Callinan. - Independent Company : the Australian Army in Portuguese Timor 1941-43 / introduction by Nevil Shute. - Richmond, Vic. : Heinemann, 1984: 34.

[7] Callinan, Independent Company: 94.

[8] Area study of Portuguese Timor: 37.

[9] Area study of Portuguese Timor: 48.

[10] Callinan, Independent Company: 34.

[11] Area study of Portuguese Timor: 48.

[12] Area study of Portuguese Timor: 44.

[13] https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C221229.

[14] Dudley McCarthy. - Appendix 2 ‘Timor’ in South-west Pacific area - first year : Kokoda to Wau / by Dudley McCarthy. - Canberra : Australian War Memorial, 1959. - (Australia in the war of 1939-1945. Series 1, Army ; v. 5) : 601.

[15] John Coates. - An atlas of Australia's wars. - 2nd ed. - South Melbourne, Vic.: Oxford University Press, 2006: 225 [Map 82]

[16] Callinan, Independent Company: 95.

[17] McCarthy, South-west Pacific area - first year: 604.

[18] Callinan, Independent Company: 113.

[19] 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: 116.  https://www.hachette.com.au/paul-cleary/the-men-who-came-out-of-the-ground-a-gripping-account-of-australias-first-commando-campaign-timor-1942

[20] Cleary, The men who came out of the ground: 118-119.

[21] Cleary, The men who came out of the ground: 174-175.

[22] Cleary, The men who came out of the ground: 178-179.

[23] 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: 139.

[24] Alexander Ian Hampel VX62541, C Platoon, No. 4 Independent Company - Archive number: 677 - Preferred name: Ian - Date interviewed: 19 August 2003 - 2/4th Independent Company http://australiansatwarfilmarchive.unsw.edu.au/archive/677-alexander-hampel

[25] Pte Sidney (Sid) William Bell VX68291, C Platoon, No. 4 Independent Company

[26] Cpl Joseph (Jo) Leo Boothman QX19574, AAMC, No. 4 Independent Company

[27] Sid Bell’s remains were subsequently recovered, and are now buried in Ambon War Cemetery - https://www.cwgc.org/find-records/find-war-dead/casualty-details/4006885/SIDNEY WILLIAM BELL/

[28] Callinan, Independent Company: 179-180.

[29] Cleary, The men who came out of the ground: 298.

[30] No. 2 Independent Company war diary entry 24 August 1942.

[31] No. 2 Independent Company war diary entry 11 September 1942.

[32] Andrea K. Molnar ‘Died in the service of Portugal': legitimacy of authority and dynamics of group identity among the Atsabe Kemak in East Timor’ Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 37 (2) June 2006: 335-355.

[33] Rui Brito da Fonseca. - Monumentos portugueses em Timor-Leste. - Dili, Timor Leste : [Crocodilo Azul?], 2005: 56-57.

 

Prepared by Ed Willis

Revised: 10 November 2020

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Edward Willis
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