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THE MILITARY HISTORY SECTION TEAM’s PATROL TO THE EASTERN END OF PORTUGUESE TIMOR, 29 December 1945 – 9 January 1946


Edward Willis
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At the end of WWII, ex No. 2 Independent Company soldier George Milsom (TX4141) was promoted to Sergeant and became a member of a three-man team Military History Team that was sent to both Dutch and Portuguese Timor to record significant campaign sites. [1] George was the guide of this team; Lieutenant Charles Bush was the official war artist and sometimes used George as a model and Sergeant Keith Davis the photographer. [2] In Dili they received help from two new criados Fernando and Akiu.

George Milsom was an avid letter writer and his parents kept all of his letters.  This post features a letter dated 14 January 1946 that he wrote after the Military History Team had completed its patrol to campaign sites at the eastern end of Portuguese Timor.

The twelve day patrol travelled through the following locations: Dili, Manatuto, Vemasse, Baucau, Lautem, Lore, Fuiloro and Ossu then back to Dili.  Milsom’s narrative of the patrol is complemented by photographer Keith Davis’s photographs of some of the locations visited by the Team.  The adventures and social activities of the men and their reliance on the hard working jeep as their mode of transport makes for interesting and entertaining reading.

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Map 1: Route followed by the Military History Section Team

Date

DECEMBER 1945

29

Dilli-Manatuto-Baucau

30

Baucau-Lautem

31

Lautem-River Laivai-Baucau-Manatuto

 

JANUARY 1946

1

Manatuto, Baucau, Lautem

2

Lautem

3

Lautem, Fuiloro, Lore

4

Lore, Baucau

5

Baucau, Venilale, Ossu, Viqueque

6

Viqueque, Ossu

7

Ossu

8

Ossu, Mundo Perdido, Venilale, Ossulata Beach, Baucau

9

Baucau, Laleia River, Manatuto, Dilli

Table 1: Military History Section Team’s itinerary

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Ossu, Portuguese Timor. Members of the Military History Field Team and local children in the team's Jeep.  Identified, left to right: Sergeant (Sgt) Manuel Da Camara, Portuguese colonial forces; Sgt Keith Davis, Military History Section (MHS), official war photographer; Antonio; Fernando; Lieutenant Charles Bush, MHS, official war artist; George Milsom, MHS; and Akiu, the criado of Arthur Stevenson of Z Special.

Dilli 14/1/46

I have not written to you this year and what with all the festivities and running round I have hardly had time to enter all the unusual and amazing experiences in my diary, we shall never forget New Year's Eve and New Years Day.

When I write the entry in my diary I found I had put all the happenings in the one day, did not even bother to start a New Year.  The QUANZA a Portuguese ship is in port unloading thousands of tons of supplies after which it will go to Fremantle on its return to Lisbon; I hope to send this let or by her.  She may go out in about a week.  I wish I had some more money to buy things off her; I have a lovely Omega watch and would like to get another but now I am short, there are some beautiful things here too.  We cannot even get word to Koepang for some money; I suppose we shall find some way out of it.  Cigarettes are pretty plentiful, many different brands and some from South Africa; I'll try to get as many as I can if only for souvenirs.

To get back to where I left off in my last letter.  We set off for the Eastern end of the island on 29th Dec, this time with a Porto sergeant named Manuel Camara; one big happy jeep-load of four Tuans and three Creadosplus a trailer of gear and food.  Had a good trip round a glorious coast road that sometimes ran over salt pans, then round a cliff high above the sea and in places the roadway was built up over the sea.  We climbed a range where the road was just a ledge cut into the steep side of the mountain.

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SUBAO GRANDE, PORTUGUESE TIMOR. 1945-12-29. SPARSELY WOODED HILLSIDES LEADING DOWN TO THE SEA BESIDE THE DILI TO MANATUTO ROAD. (PHOTOGRAPHER SGT K. B. DAVIS )

We forded some rivers and crossed others on Japanese constructed bridges.  Had a nice lunch at MANATUTO and later pushed on to BAUCAU.  Encountered very heavy rain at VERMASSE and the road became sticky, especially over the BAUCAU plateau.  This town is the next largest to DILI but has been mauled and bombed till almost beyond repair.  Somehow the Portos have things going again and are living in patched houses.  We stayed a right there and went on to LAUTEM next day (Sunday).  There we found the Administrator Senhor GONSALVES sitting on the verandah of a house that the Japs had built and used for their HQ.  He is a big chap, big-hearted, and welcomed us with VINHO DA PORTO.

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Lautem, Portuguese Timor.  Senhor Gonsalves seated on the verandah of a mud house built by the Japanese.  VX128043 Charles William Bush (in shorts) Military History Section (MHS), an Official War Artist, is working at an easel.  Also identified (far right, back to camera) is TX4141 George James Beedham Milsom, MHS.

He has gathered round him all the Japanese junk from the area, broken down bombers and small motor cars; I have never seen such a collection before.  We slept in Japanese beds with sheets and mosquito nets and had hot bathe in the concrete bath the Japs had built.  Then we went to the airfield and you should see the wrecked planes, all in the most fantastic angles and positions, you will have to see the photo to believe it.

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LAUTEM, PORTUGUESE TIMOR. 1946-01-02. THIS JAPANESE TWIN ENGINED AIRCRAFT WAS PROBABLY DESTROYED BY THEM AT THE END OF THE WAR. (PHOTOGRAPHER SGT K. B. DAVIS)

We did not run short of petrol there because there is a dump of 56,000 44 gallon drums there.  The Administrator has trucks, cars and hundreds of bicycles.  One shed he has is full of gear, one wall was covered with chiming clocks.  He gave us some souvenirs.  The junk heap was even able to supply us with two wheels for the jeep.

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LAUTEM, PORTUGUESE TIMOR. 1946-01-02.  DAMAGED BICYCLES IN THE LAUTEM AREA WHERE THE JAPANESE MAINTAINED THEIR LARGEST DUMPS OF PETROL, EQUIPMENT AND STORES.  THEY DESTROYED MUCH OF THIS MATERIAL AND MANY AIRCRAFT AT THE NEARBY AIRFIELD AT THE END OF THE WAR. (PHOTOGRAPHER SGT K. B. DAVIS)

After staying the night and deciding to go on to LORE on 31st the Administrator said, ‘Would you like to go to the New Year Festival and Dance at MANATUTO?’  We accepted, and here the fun commenced.  We left LAUTEM and had a good 11/2 hours run to BAUCAU, had afternoon tea, and continued on our way to MANATUTO.  At the VEMASSE river we found the river swollen with muddy water and impossible to cross so decided to wait rather than go back and after about two hours the water had gone down a fair bit.  Although it was 8 p.m. and dark I decided to give the jeep a go at the crossing, so I put it into low ratio four  wheel drive and ventured forth.  She went well till we got about three parts of the way over, then the front wheels went into a hole, the engine gave a choke and conked out.  By this time the water was rushing in a torrent straight through the jeep over the seats and even with the glove-box.  The rush of water moved the jeep downstream a few yards, so we climbed out and got a mob of natives to push us over.  The head and tail lights still burned and I had previously connected the trouble lamp.  When on dry land we pulled the plugs out, drained away the mud and water, gave the engine a kick over to empty the exhaust and silencer, and started up and went on to the LALEILA river to have a repeat performance.  We reached MANATUTO just as everyone was finishing the dinner and setting off to the dance.  As we were wet through and so was our change of clothes we had a bath and managed to borrow a change of clothes; I had a pair of grey trousers and a safari jacket belonging to the Administrator.  Then we had a meal and set off to the dance.  It was marvellous.  A long shed had been especially constructed by the natives and gaily decorated inside and out.  It was lighted with Chinese lanterns and in the centre was a raised platform for an orchestra supplied by BARTOLOMEO DIAZ.  At the end of the stand was a drink bar with wine, brandy, a native cocktail, and ‘TUAKA’.  I think I tried them all.  It was not long before I was dancing round in a ring with the INTENDANT of BAUCAU and three CHEFES DA POSTO teaching them to sing ‘She'll be coming round the mountain when she comes’.  This amazed the crowd because an INTENDANT is rather a high official; he is one of the Governor's aides.  Well it’s the first time I have ever danced until eight in the morning.  There were very few white girls there, but I danced with them all and many Timor girls.

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LAUTEM, PORTUGUESE TIMOR. 1946-01-02. A WOODEN JAPANESE SIGNPOST WITH EMPTY PETROL DRUMS AND MOBILE ANTI-AIRCRAFT GUNS IN THE BACKGROUND.

We picked up the dances easily, they are very similar to ours.  Charles and Keith faded out about 4 a.m. but everyone who had gone to sleep was awakened by the drums and parade round the houses; about 2000 natives and others went in a long crocodile and I took over the drum for a while, it was all great fun and seemed unreal.  ‘FLEIZ ANNO NOVA’ end ‘FLIEIZ NATAL’ will always remain in my memory.

At 11 a.m. we set out on our return journey pretty weary.  WE had a good lunch at BAUCAU but then we got to the MALAI River that was in flood, so we had to wait again and with a number of natives built a roadway over the deepest part and: crossed over o.k.  Had a good dinner at LAUTEM and went to bed and did very little their next day except to get the jeep ready to go on to LORE.  Having got it ready it refused to start until I had taken out the plugs and cleaned them.  We had a good lunch at FUILORO and arrived at LORE at four p.m.

We were shown a crashed HUDSON bomber in which six Australians had lost their lives; the wreckage was fenced in by the natives. [3] The most peculiar thing we saw was some Jap defences on the beach below LORE; the Japs had put small sharp bamboo stakes up in the sand, thousands of them inclined towards the sea and they evidently anticipated a landing.  Also on the LAUTEM plateau was a similar sight, thousands of sharp bamboo stakes about 7 or 8 feet long pointing straight up as a defence against para troops.

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LAUTEM PLAIN, PORTUGUESE TIMOR. 1946-01-04. LIEUTENANT BUSH, OFFICIAL ARTIST, AND SERGEANT MILSOM, MILITARY HISTORY FIELD TEAM, EXAMINING ONE OF THE SHARPENED BAMBOO STAKES THE JAPANESE PLACED ON THE PLAINS AND OPEN SPACES THEY THOUGHT SUITABLE FOR ALLIED PARACHUTE LANDINGS. (PHOTOGRAPHER SGT K. B. DAVIS)

We left LORE at 2 p.m. and went back to BAUCAU.  Our original plan was to go down the coast from LORE to VIQUEQUE but owing to rains the CHINO river was swollen.  At OSSU we picked up the CHEFE DA POSTO and took him to VIQUEQUE where we stayed a night.  Next day we tried to get up the coast to HATOLARE, but another big river stopped us (the BEVAI) - it is not marked on my map.

We had some fun when the jeep fell through a small bridge, but we managed to lever it out and carry on as usual.  Stayed two nights at OSSU which to my mind is the prettiest and best located place on the island.  The surrounding mountains LAURTINE and MUNDO PERDIDO present a glorious sight, especially at sunrise and sunset.  The CHEFE DA POSTO at OSSU is very young and full of life and we had a great time there.

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OSSU, PORTUGUESE TIMOR. 1946-01-07.  AUSTRALIANS OF SPARROW FORCE USED THIS HOUSE AS HEADQUARTERS WHEN OCCUPYING THE TOWN IN 1942.  (PHOTOGRAPHER SGT K. B. DAVIS)

When we reached BAUCAU on the 8th we learned that the big bridge over the LALIELA River had a span torn out by the flood and that it was impossible to get through, so we spent another night at BAUCAU.  Next morning we started out at 5 a.m. arriving at LALIELA at 7.  Viewed the bridge and river with doubt, took some photos of the bridge, had a breakfast of pineapple.  The latter event attracted such a crowd of natives that it gave me courage to give the river bed a go.  It was about 200 yards across and for the third time we plunged into a volume of dirty water of unknown depth.  We got completely stuck in some sand but about 50 yelling natives made light work of getting us across.  The water did not come up to the glove box this time.  When we got across the natives shouted with delight, so we gave them a 5 pataca note to split up amongst them.  How they were going to do that would keep them occupied for the next fortnight I should think.

That proved to be the last obstacle and we arrived in DILI for a late lunch.  That night we went aboard the QUANZA had some beer in both lounges, had a look at what the bar tenders had to offer and came off the ship each with a nice new watch.

Thursday night we went to a party at the HQ Sergeant's mess, more VINHO and VIVA PORTUGAL and singing.  We were properly tired that night.  On Friday night we went to the Officers' mess where we had another marvellous dinner with iced LAURENTINA beer from Africa.  The best thing was the African soldiers' orchestra which played to us all night, lovely music with soft rhythm and many popular tunes.  We have been feted so much that we shall have to go to AINARO in a few days for a holiday.  Saturday night we went to a concert party put on by the artillery unit, it was very good and even if we did laugh in the wrong places we provided amusement for all.

Must now go and post this on board the QUANZA.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT:

Thank you to Liz Milsom (George Milsom’s daughter) for making George’s correspondence available for publication.

REFERENCES

[1] ‘George James Beedham Milsom’ https://doublereds.org.au/history/men-of-the-22/tx/george-james-beedham-milsom-r364/

[2] See Ed Willis ‘75 Years on - Art and photographs in the Australian War Memorial Collection related to the campaign in Portuguese Timor – Charles Bush and Keith Davis’ https://doublereds.org.au/forums/topic/108-75-years-on-art-and-photographs-in-the-australian-war-memorial-collection-related-to-the-campaign-in-portuguese-timor-–-charles-bush-and-keith-davis/?tab=comments#comment-172

[3] Milsom is referring to Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) 13 Squadron Hudson bomber A16-166 that was shot down by Japanese fighters off Cape Lore while flying in support of an air raid on ships at Nova Ancora.  All five [not six] crew members were killed in action.  See David Vincent. – The RAAF Hudson story – book two. – Highbury, SA: Vincent Aviation Publications, 2010: 90-91.

 

Edited by Edward Willis
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