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Edward Willis

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WWII Timorese Z Special veteran Senhor Câncio Dos Reis Noronha recently passed away (late February 2022) at his home in Melbourne aged 99 years.  Ed Willis, President expressed condolences and sympathy to Snr Noronha’s son Nando and the rest of his family on behalf of the 2/2 Commando Association of Australia. [1]


Timorese at Fraser Commando School, Fraser Island – November 1942 --Câncio Noronha 4th from left, Bernardino Noronha 2nd from left. [2]

Câncio’s elder brother Luís dos Reis Noronha was the liurai of Laclo (a village situated 11 kilometres west of Manatuto) when the Japanese invaded. [3] Câncio recalled later:

The Japanese knew our family helped Australians and our elder brother Luís was in hiding.  They caught one of our chiefs called Macao.  He was tied up, beaten and burnt, but still he would not tell where Luís was, so the Japanese made him dig his own grave, then killed him.  There were so many like Macao, brave people who died so they didn't betray their friends.  If there was a book recording the heroes of Timor from that war it would be too long for anyone to read.

Our people told us the Japanese knew most Timorese would help Australians, so they took revenge on any, took people off to fix roads that had been destroyed and treated them very badly and many died.

At first the Japanese tried to make our sisters stay in a brothel for Japanese soldiers.  Many girls were forced to go there.  But our sisters knelt and said the rosary and would not see the soldiers, so the Japanese put them in a separate place, where they had to stay until the war ended.  My sisters were told by those who saw Tenente Pires that still in prison he held his head high.  He was a brave man who loved Timor.

They captured Luis.  He wrote to our sisters asking them to forgive the man who informed on us to the Japanese, not to have him killed.  Luís was tortured, hung by his feet and forced to drink water.  A friend of his, Procopio Rego, was killed with him. [4]

During 1942-43 over 600 Portuguese and Timorese men, women and children were evacuated to Australia from Timor to escape the harsh Japanese occupation. [5]

Motivated by what had happened to their elder brother Luís, Câncio and his other brother Bernardino were two of the approximately 100 of the men evacuated who volunteered for service with the Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD), which was the special operations arm of the Australian Army.  Both young men were among those selected to receive formal commando training and become operatives in the Z Special Unit of the SRD.  They completed training courses at Mount Martha, Fraser Island and Rockhampton, were qualified in signals, throwing grenades and parachute jumping and noted as being ‘very keen’.  Though fully trained and ready to be deployed to undertake coast watching in their home area on Timor, successive missions to which the brothers had been assigned were cancelled. [6]

They were perhaps fortunate in that regard because all the missions that were inserted were undermined by compromised radio communications – most of the men involved (Australian, Portuguese and Timorese) were captured by the Japanese or killed in action.  Many of those captured were tortured and starved and also did not survive. [7]

Câncio and his brother Bernadino were both members of a select Timorese ‘band of brothers’ who served with distinction in the Australian Army’s Z Special unit and deserve considerably more recognition and reward than they have so far been accorded; Ernie Chamberlain so aptly titled his book about them ‘Forgotten men’.

Chamberlain summarised his life after WWII as follows.  Câncio requested release from SRD in March 1945, and he departed Newcastle on the SS Angola on 27 November 1945.  He joined the Health and Hygiene Service on return to Dili as an aspirante.  First serving in Dili, then posted to the Sub-Delegação at Ossu in October 1947.  He was later employed at the Overseas National Bank (BNU) in Dili – as empregado bancário and ‘treasurer’ an appointed as a member of the Conselho do Governo on 15 November 1959.  Member of the União Democrática Timorense UDT political association/party from 1974-75 and served on its Central Committee resigning only in 1994.  Following the Indonesian invasion in late 1975, he moved with his family to West Timor in 1976, then to Portugal and Australia arriving in 1986.  He was granted Australian citizenship on 7 May 1992, working and living in Melbourne (Gladstone Park) for the rest of his life. [8]



[1] ‘In Memory of Câncio Dos Reis (Mass) Noronha, 1923 – 2022’ https://tobinbrothers.com.au/tribute/details/23705/Cancio-Dos-Reis-Mass-Noronha/obituary.html#tribute-start

[2] The photograph was taken by H.B. Manderson and is in the Australian War Memorial (AWM) collection – PR91/101 Part, L15.

[3] ‘Luís dos Reis Noronha’ in Ernest Chamberlain - Forgotten men: Timorese in special operations during World War II. - Point Lonsdale, Vic.: Ernest Chamberlain, 2010, Annex A: 45.

[4] Câncio dos Reis Noronha ‘So, they didn't betray their friends’ in Telling: East Timor, personal testimonies, 1942-1992 / [compiled by] Michele Turner. - Kensington, NSW: New South Wales University Press, 1992: 54.

[5] Yvonne Fraser - Bob's Farm cadre camp: refugees from Timor in Port Stephens during World War II. - Tanilba Bay, NSW: Port Stephens Family History Society Inc., 2014.

[6] ‘Bernardino dos Reis Noronha’ and ‘Câncio dos Reis Noronha’ in Chamberlain - Forgotten men, Annex A: 20-21.

[7] Narelle Morris ‘Gross inefficiency and criminal negligence’: the Services Reconnaissance Department in Timor in 1943–45 and the Darwin war crimes trials in 1946’ Intelligence and National Security 32 (2) 2016: 179-194.

[8] ‘Câncio dos Reis Noronha’ in Chamberlain - Forgotten men, Annex A: 21.

Prepared by Ed Willis

Revised 8 March 2022

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