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QUICRAS - MANUFAHI DISTRICT - WWII IN EAST TIMOR AN AUSTRALIAN ARMY SITE AND TRAVEL GUIDE


Edward Willis
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WWII IN EAST TIMOR

AN AUSTRALIAN ARMY SITE AND TRAVEL GUIDE

MANUFAHI DISTRICT

QUICRAS

GPS: 9° 02'48" S., 126° 01'48" E.

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Quicras location map [1]

Quicras itself was only a few huts, set in a swamp too malarious for anybody to live in permanently. [2]

The last two entries in the Lancer Force war diary are for the 9-10 January 1943 and record the ‘main body LANCER FORCE’ boarding (with some difficulty) the RAN destroyer, HMAS Arunta at Kicras [Quicras] and then enjoying an ‘uneventful’ voyage to Darwin. [3]

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‘We reached the Beach at Quicras by nightfall, and it was a bugger's muddle …. ‘ [4]

The Area Study of Portuguese Timor described the coastline in the Quicras area:

7. South Laclo River to Dilor River:

Over these 20 miles (32 km.) there is continuous low sandy beach with no shelter from surf which breaks close in during the southeast season.

The beach is unbroken except for a narrow stream entering the sea two miles (3 km.) east of Sahi River. This is 30 yards (27 1/2 m.) wide, with a bar which appears dangerous.  Several rivers and streams enter the sea during the wet season, but their mouths are all sanded up at other times.

Behind the beach between the South Laclo River and Quicras, there are extensive areas of low alluvial flats, often cultivated during the dry season. Further east the immediate hinterland is largely swamps with much mangrove. Further inland there is much open country except near Clerec River and Quicras, where there is dense forest and thick undergrowth.

There are no important tracks close to the shore except at Quicras. [5]

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No.5 Section, B Platoon, No. 4 Australian Independent Company on the beach at Quicras - Sgt Alan Oakley (left), Doug Gaston, Lofty Hubbard, Arthur King, Cpl Bill Gibbs, Eric Smith, Kit Carson, Dick Spreadborough and Owen McMicking - sitting: Captain Alan Thompson with his criado [6]

CALLINAN’S ACCOUNT OF THE EVACUATION OF LANCER FORCE

Bernard Callinan recounted the story of the evacuation of Lancer Force from Quicras in his book Independent Company: [7]

Quicras had nothing at all to recommend it …

ON the 17th of November 1942, Colonel Spence left to go down to Betano and return to Australia, and I assumed command of the force, whose name had been changed for security reasons from Sparrow to Lancer Force; with him went the correspondents.  The Japanese had been threatening this beach head from the west, and we had reconnoitred two other possible landing places further east of Betano, one near the mouth of the Quelan River and the other near Quicras.  Reconnaissance parties had visited them and reported that they were possible but not extremely suitable for our purpose.  The one at Quicras had nothing at all to recommend it except tracks reached to within two miles of it, and it was cut off from adjacent areas by mangrove swamps. [8]

Evacuation Date Set - 9th - 10th January 1943

One night a very carefully worded message was received asking how long it would take to concentrate the force at any given spot for evacuation.  This was only required for information purposes, and it was not to be taken that evacuation was being considered or was possible.  So, I replied that same night: "Three clear days” and went back to sleep before my turn on guard came round.

The following night - 5th/6th January 1943 - I was instructed to concentrate the force for evacuation on the night of 9th/10th January 1943, and I was to nominate the port of embarkation.  There was no more sleep that night; they had to be some rapid thinking and action.

There would be no rearguard for this withdrawal, and if it were not handled carefully there would be a running fight down to the point of evacuation, and that could be very costly to us.  Security and control would be the matters on which I would have to concentrate, and on their achievement would depend the success of the operation.

The point of evacuation would have to be Quicras.  It was the only place available to us, although the only thing in favour was its equidistance from the two jaws of the enemy which were slowly, closing to us the whole of the south coast.

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Diagrammatic map Portuguese Timor – drawn by Major B.J. Callinan 27 November 1942 [9]

The Only Two "Originals" Left

But how long would it take to get the various elements into that area without sacrificing security?  Every move had to be covered by a reason different from the real one in order to deceive the natives and enemy, and the force had to be maintained substantially in its present position until the last moment.  Also, it was important that Baldwin and I should make no moves that would disclose the operation.  It was expected by all that we would go back to Australia; we were the only two "originals" left, and it seemed to be the logical thing, so any moves by us towards the coast would be watched closely and discussed widely.

There were 50 miles between the detachment at Ainaro in the west and that near Ossu in the east, while there were 25 miles between O'Connor's platoon, at Fatu Maquerec, to the beach at Quicras.  Travelling was possible only in the morning and at night, as in the afternoon the rivers became so swollen that it was impossible to cross them. [10]

On The Beach Front At Quicras

About five o'clock in the evening the whole force with its stores was spread along the beach front, concealed in the scrub that came down to the high tide mark.

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Private T.E. ‘Kit' Carson, B Platoon No. 4 Australian Independent Company on the beach at Quicras [11]

The eastern detachment were on their way and would reach the beach in time.  There was no news of the Ainaro detachment.  The volunteer party would search for them.  All the weapons, equipment, and wireless gear were there, also the parachutes used for dropping the rifles.  The wireless was set up and established contact with Australia.  Everything was under control.

After dusk the three large signal fires were prepared, and the lamp set up for the passing of the recognition signals.  Each platoon had its assembly area and its responsibility for stores.  The order of embarkation was women and children, then the doctor with the sick and wounded, then the Company, and finally Force Headquarters with Baldwin and me.

Farewell Arnalda

NOTE: Arnalda was Callinan’s criado – the following earlier extracts from Independent Company reveal how their relationship about and developed during the campaign:

Through the efforts of Aranhado I acquired a Portuguese-Tetum grammar and a Portuguese-French grammar.  In my spare time I set about the task of translating the Tetum grammar into English.  The process was from Tetum to Portuguese in one grammar, from Portuguese to French in the other, and French to English in my head.  It was slow work, but it served to keep me busy,

One day as I was sitting in the old native school [at Lete-Foho] working on my translation a native boy came up to me.  He shyly asked if he could come with me and be my criado.  I had not replaced Clementino, and was getting along satisfactorily; also, I doubted if a native would appreciate the continuous moving about which I did.  So, not very enthusiastically, I asked him his name.  He reached for a pencil and piece of paper which lay before me and wrote "Arnalda".  A native who could write was distinctly an asset, so I had a good look at him.  He was darker than the other natives, and had short, curly hair; he was about five feet in height, well built, and with an infectious smile.  So, I told him he could consider himself my criado, to go where I went, and to treat my possessions as most precious.  Later I learnt that he was connected with the liurai or senior chief of the Lete-Foho area and had attended school for three years.  He could read and write good Portuguese and spoke Tetum and five or six other dialects.  From that day he was always with me, or on a journey for me, except for a period of three days during which he searched everywhere for me.  Later, when he was away, everyone on company headquarters missed the "happy bludger" or "black man", as we called him.  Baldwin always called him "Excuse me pleeze” because he was very proud of his manners, and he frequently used this phrase.  He remained faithful to me to the end. [12]

After only a day's rest, a patrol from company headquarters now at Tutoloro, led by Corporal Brown, and with the faithful Arnalda, went back into the Bobonaro area and recovered the battery charger, some petrol and oil, and, strangely enough, a portable typewriter, all of which we had hidden as we moved over the Ramelau Range.  It was a particularly good effort by all as they were very weary, and the feet of the natives were torn and cut from the rocks.  We had observed that three- or four-days’ continuous movement over the rocky tracks made the natives' feet very tender and sore, and normally they had to be given a couple of days' rest.  Arnalda accompanied the patrol as he was the only native who knew where all the equipment had been hidden. [13]

Callinan returned to Timor in 1963 and sought out Arnaldo at Lete-Foho:

I've only been back [to Timor] once, with my wife in 1963.  The Portuguese army commander made a jeep and an officer available to take me wherever I wanted to go.  15 years after the war, there were the postos[districts] and all the colonial officials again, the same as before.

….

At Lete-Foho I met [Arnalda] my creado from 1942.  He had his two muriadors with him, which told me his status, as a chief.  If he wanted a native in his area those policemen went and brought them to him.  The Portuguese left most of the administration of justice to the native Timorese.  He told me that after we left in 1942, he carefully worked his way back to his own area where he was looked after.  There were other creados who survived.  The boys of both companies went back and found some and helped them if they needed it. [14]

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[15]

The story of Callinan’s friendship with Arnalda sets the scene for their separation on the beach at Quicras:

I ate an emergency ration although I was not hungry.  Arnalda had not said anything after we left Quicras.  When the last move was obvious, he had said to me, “If all the Australians go, it will be bad for us criados”.  I told him that some would remain, and he had been satisfied.  Now I sorted out the few things I wished to take away with me.  The rest I would give to him.  I wanted to bring home my map, my Portuguese-Tetum grammar which I had so laboriously translated into English, Baldwin’s application to stay with me, and a piece of paper on which Arnalda had written his full name with the name of his village and his father’s district.  I gave him my belongings and some money and a photo which had been taken only a few weeks before.  He did not speak, but when he saw the photograph he said, “That is good; when I look at that I can see you and me together”.  I had put on top of my haversack the green enamel mug that he had taken from his home when we were over near Lete-Foho in October.  I wanted to take that mug back with me, but I noticed he had taken it away with the other belongings I had given to him.  I was sorry, but I could not ask him for it as he would take a request as an order.  A little later, with tears in his eyes, he came to me and said, “Please take this mug, and every time you have a drink in Australia, think of Arnalda”.  He was crying openly before he had finished, and I was not too happy.  I went for a walk alone along the beach to meet Baldwin who had come down by another track.

The Evacuation Begins

There was nothing to do but wait.  We examined the beach and could find no better place, but it was certainly not good.  It was long and straight, shelving down steeply, and the surf was coming in breakers five and six feet high with an awkward cross current to the east.

At 11:30 pm the signal fires were lit, and soon good blazes were going up.  Right on the hour of midnight the first recognition signal came from the darkness out to sea.  It was answered, and again came the reply.  Everybody was on his feet, and all was set.

The minutes dragged out, but eventually the sound of motorboats could be heard, and then the flat-bottomed plywood folding boats could be discerned just beyond the line of the surf.  One boat attempted to come through and was swamped; a second succeeded in getting through and was loaded.  It capsized in getting back through the surf.  Time rushed on.  Some boats took several efforts to launch.  There were still 160 troops on the beach when the destroyer signalled that no more boats could be sent.  The naval shore party had returned to the vessel, and it seemed that the previous planning was to be wasted.  I had ordered all the weapons and equipment to be stacked in the scrub.  It was a waste of time attempting to get them into the boats, so at least there would be enough weapons.

The Evacuation Completed

Then another lot of boats came in, towed by their launch.

The surf had eased a bit as the tide went out, and an efficient launching party was organized under O'Connor.  Now the number was down to 80.  But they could send no more boats from the destroyer.  Then came an order that all should swim out beyond the line of the breakers.  This was useless, as it was a pitch-dark night, and a choppy sea would make picking them up very difficult.  Some exceptionally strong swimmers whom we had sent out had found it difficult enough.  Then some boats came in, and by packing them to capacity all the troops for evacuation were off; the boats were launched by the volunteer party under Lieutenant Flood.  Baldwin went in one and I in the other of the last two boats.  I did not feel excited or disappointed.  I could not believe it.  There was a cheer for the volunteer party, and through the night could be heard a faint reply.

… 30 knots straight for Darwin …

Hardly was the last man on board than the destroyer, H.M.A.S. Arunta, a new Australian-built ship, was on its way.  Very shortly it was doing 30 knots straight for Darwin.  There was less than one hour to dawn.  I reported to Commander Morrow.  I do not think he believed me when I said I was the Force Commander.  I was not impressive with my dirty shirt and a pair of shorts, no boots or stockings, hat or equipment, and with a straggly beard.

He offered me the use of his day cabin, and after a bath I got into a pair of his pyjamas and into his bunk. Only once, when called to see an officer who was suffering from an attack of malaria and was worried about the carrying out of a duty, did I leave that bunk.  I was not interested in food, all I wanted to do was sleep, and that I did for 16 hours.

At Darwin in the evening there was a crowd to see us arrive.

After we had seen the last of the troops off, Baldwin and I went back to thank Morrow and ran into Commander Tozer; an old family friend, who was searching for me.  We went back to some beer, whisky, gin and cocktails in the Commander's cabin.  We felt very self-conscious standing there dishevelled and in our bare feet in that well-furnished cabin, surrounded by senior officers.  I felt like letting my head go, but, remembering that I had not eaten since the previous afternoon, I wisely stopped after two beers and three cocktails.

REX LIPMAN’S CAMERA AND PHOTOS

Lieutenant Rex Lipman, who rejoined 4AIC as a member of group of 20 reinforcements arrived on Timor on the Tjerk Hiddes on the 10 December 1942.  He had a small camera with him and took the photos of the Quicras evacuation that feature in this story.  He recalled his use of the camera and how he preserved it and the photos he had taken in his autobiography Luck’s been a lady:

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Rex Lipman’s camera

When I was informed that I was to rejoin the Squadron in Timor, I thought that it would be fantastic if I could take a very small camera with me and some gear to develop and print pictures.  I had a vague idea of returning to Australia and being able to sell them for a vast sum of money.  Whilst on the island I took a number of interesting shots and developed them in the middle of the night lying on the ground under a ground sheet.  They all came out surprisingly well.  When it came to the evacuation, I realised that everything would be ruined in the unbelievable surf we encountered during evacuation.  I asked our MO, Doc Hennessy, if he had anything waterproof.  He replied that there were some tough old condoms in the RAP kit.  We both blew up a couple of these, stretched them and squeezed the camera and the films into them and securely knotted the end.  In spite of being a couple of hours in the water, everything arrived back in Australia dry as a bone.  Today, more than 50 years later, when I see notices on the backs of the doors of public toilets and those in airports throughout the world with the message "your condoms - don't leave home without them", I cannot help thinking back how versatile they can be for travellers! [16]

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HMAS Arunta memorial plaque with ‘Timor 1943’ battle honour – Australian War Memorial [17]

THE ARUNTA’S STORY OF THE EVACUATION

Commander James Morrow, commanding officer of HMAS Arunta, prepared the following account of the Quicras evacuation for the ship’s ‘Reports of proceedings’: [18]

ROYAL AUSTRALIAN NAVY

From: The Commanding Officer, HMAS ‘ARUNTA’

Date: 12th January 1943                                Reference No.: RP 1/43

To: The Secretary, Naval Board

Subject: REPORT OF PROCEEDINGS – EVACUATION OF 2/4 INDEPENDENT COMPANY FROM TIMOR

Submitted herewith is the report of proceedings for HMAS ‘ARUNTA’ for the period 8th January 1943 to 10th January 1943.

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After 0400 the boats began to return at fairly regular intervals under their own power and being towed by the motorboats.
At this time, I signalled the beach that no more equipment or stores were to be brought off and the men must swim through the surf and board the assault craft outside it, otherwise there would be no chance of getting them off before daylight.  I had expected in the beginning to have finished the party by 0400 and been on my way.

At 0500 the latest time I was to leave there were still about 100 men ashore and I decided to wait to get them off if possible before daylight hoping that I would run into the bad weather which was a cyclonic storm when about 30 miles clear of the coast.

The last boats returned to the ship at 0620 and 0630 I proceeded at my best speed.  At 0710 it was daylight and much too clear, but I could see squalls about 20 miles to port of my course and steered towards them and from 0815 onwards the visibility was never more than two miles until I was approaching Darwin.

Secured alongside boom jetty at 1900.

The numbers embarked were 24 officers, 258 other ranks, 11 women and children and 20 Portuguese who had been working with the Army.

Mr Ley, Commissioned Gunner (T), was in charge of the boats inshore and I consider that it was only due to his fine seamanship and drive that all the troops were brought off.  He was most ably assisted by Leading Seaman J. Power, Official Number 18457 and Able Seaman H. Asser, Official Number 21453, who were outstanding in handling their boats and generally taking charge.

J. Morrow

Commander, RAN

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.

[2] Bernard Callinan. - Independent Company: the Australian Army in Portuguese Timor 1941-43 / introduction by Nevil Shute. - Richmond, Vic.: Heinemann, 1984: 217.

[3] [Unit War Diaries, 1939-45 War] Lancer Force [Timor] January 1943 https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1366347

[4] Rex J. Lipman. - Luck's been a lady / [the autobiography of Rex J. Lipman]. - [Adelaide: Rex J. Lipman], 2000: 88.

[5] Area study of Portuguese Timor: 22.

[6] Lipman. - Luck's been a lady: 89.

[7] Callinan. - Independent Company: 217-220.

[8] Callinan. - Independent Company: 185.

[9] Bernard Callinan ‘Reports and administrative papers associated With Sparrow Force guerrilla activities In Timor During 1942 …’ Australian War Memorial, Private Record PR82/090.

[10] Callinan. - Independent Company: 211-212.

[11] Lipman. - Luck's been a lady: 90.

[12] Callinan. - Independent Company: 94-95.

[13] Callinan. - Independent Company: 153.

[14] Telling: East Timor, personal testimonies, 1942-1992 / [compiled by] Michele Turner. - Kensington, NSW: New South Wales University Press, 1992: 62.

[15] Callinan. - Independent Company: 94.

[16] Lipman. - Luck's been a lady: 75.

[17] https://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/conflict/multiple/display/94625-h.m.a.s.-arunta

[18] https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1420329

ADDITIONAL READING

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: 288-291.

G. Hermon Gill - Royal Australian Navy, 1942-1945. – Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1968. – (Australia in the War of 1939-1945, Series 2 (Navy), v.2): 223-224.

Naval Historical Society of Australia ‘HMAS Arunta and Operation Hamburger’ https://www.navyhistory.org.au/hmas-arunta-and-operation-hamburger/

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.  See esp. Ch. 15 ‘An unforgettable night’: 191-211.

Edited by Edward Willis
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