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Edward Willis

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Japanese soldiers view the Dili shoreline from their transport ship - 20th February 1942  - the twin- spired Dili cathedral is the dominant building [1]

Bernard Callinan provided the most well-known Australian eye-witness description of the Japanese landing at Dili, 81 years ago on the 19th February 1942 in his book ‘Independent Company’.  Callinan was asleep in the Dutch headquarters, after a meeting with Colonel van Straten, when a Japanese destroyer began bombarding the town.

A nearby resident, Carlos Cal Brandão, a Portuguese “deportado” and lawyer, also later recounted these dramatic events.  He began:

“The night of the 19th of February was dark, of a compact blackness, because the [Allied] Military Command, through the Municipal Administration, had, since its arrival, ordered a «black-out».

Suddenly, the whole house shook as an explosion erupted.  Instinctively, before turning off the small lamp, I looked at the clock: a quarter past twelve.

Another explosion, another one, another one, and the old house creaked, in a strident tone from the scraping of the zinc sheets on the roof.  I groped my way to the yard, approached the servants who, standing in a group, very silent, trembled at the flash of cannon fire, at the hum of the shells that, scattered haphazardly throughout the city, passed now more distant, next now further away”.


Brandão’s recollection of the Japanese landing is included in his personal history of WWII in Portuguese Timor titled “Funo” (first published in 1946) that has gained some longer term recognition and notoriety because of its gruesome cover depicting a skeletonised Japanese soldier with his hands dripping blood and an accusingly pointing Timorese “liurai” standing behind patriotically holding the Portuguese national insignia. [2]

Callinan and Brandão later became well acquainted with the latter being one of the leaders of the Portuguese residents who refused to go into internment and actively resisted the Japanese invaders in cooperation with the Australians.  He and Callinan negotiated the evacuation of most of these Portuguese to Australia in late 1942-early 1943.  Employed by the Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD) after being himself evacuated to Australia in August 1943; he was noted as “OC Timorese” in official records.  Brandão was a member of the SUNDOG Raid party (also known as SUNFISH D) 21-23 June 1945 that landed briefly in the area of the Sue River (4 miles west of Betano).  He served as the official interpreter to the Australian political adviser (W.D. Forsyth) for the Japanese surrender in Timor – 21-25 September 1945.  After returning to Australia, at the end of November, he boarded the ship “Angola” with his wife and other Portuguese evacuees, but when it arrived in Dili, he was prevented from disembarking and forced to return to Lisbon; lingering resentment at his failure to support the neutral stance of the government during the war and his left wing political views being regarded as potentially disruptive by the colonial administration as it re-established control.  Resuming work as a lawyer in Porto, he remained politically active until he passed away on 31 January 1973.

The Japanese assault on Dili is recreated in opening sequence of the recently released Portuguese TV series “Abandonados”.  Brandão also appears as a character in the drama; see: https://youtu.be/0sRjVoESR6A


[1] The invasion of the Dutch East Indies / compiled by The War History Office of the National Defense College of Japan; edited and translated by Willem Remmelink. - [Leiden] : Leiden University Press, [2015]: 415.

[2] Carlos Cal Brandão: [?] - Funo (guerra em Timor). – 2nd ed. - [Porto]: Edições "Açu", 1946.








Carlos Cal Brandão was born on November 5, 1906, in the city of Porto.  He was the son of Silo Cal, born in Galicia, and Amélia Brandão de Cal, born in Porto.  Carlos had two brothers: Silo (23.3.1908) and Mário (25.3.1910).  He completed his secondary education in the city where he was born and in 1922, he moved to Coimbra to attend the Faculty of Law.

From an early age, he adhered to republican ideas, he was a freemason and president-elect of the Republican Academic Centre (1926-1927).  He was founder and editor of the newspaper Humanity (1929-1931).  Especially after the coup of May 28, 1926, which imposed a regime of military dictatorship, there were innumerable “reviralhista” revolutionary movements, revolts against the imposed system and which intended to overturn the political tableau.

It was in this context that on March 12, 1931, Carlos Cal Brandão was arrested in Porto, accused of possessing bombs and allegedly planning a revolutionary movement.  According to the family, the arrest warrant was addressed to his brother Silo Cal Brandão, however, as he was not at home, it was Carlos who was arrested by the police.

In June, he was boarded on the ship Pedro Gomes, heading for deportation on the island of S. Nicolau, in Cape Verde.  There he stayed for a few weeks, being then embarked on the ship Gil Eanes, heading for Timor.

Like all the deportees who came on this ship, he was disembarked in Oecussi where he remained for a time confined to a space that many called a “concentration camp”.  After the liberation of the camp, without permission to leave Timor, the deportees scattered throughout the territory, looking for ways to support themselves.  Cal Brandão stayed in Dili, working as a lawyer.

Relations between deportees and the Portuguese Administration were somewhat difficult during the 1930s.  In 1932, a fire in the Government Palace in Dili generated a huge unease among the Governor, Government officials, political and social deportees.  Cal Brandão was the first lawyer appointed to defend the defendant, social deportee Rodrigo Rodrigues.  He ended up passing the portfolio on to Grácio Ribeiro, claiming he didn't want to disagreement with anyone, given the lack of agreement between the social deportees who accused each other.

According to Grácio Ribeiro, some social deportees said that Cal Brandão, a Freemason, was very close to the “true involved in the plot” and so he conveniently handed over the portfolio to Grácio Ribeiro, still with his law degree unfinished.  Indeed, in the writing that he leaves us on the subject, Grácio Ribeiro argues that everything was nothing more than a failed attempt promoted by certain members of the Administration, sympathizers of Freemasonry, to depose the Governor in office.  Unfortunately, this case is not well documented, so it is not possible to confirm the veracity of this hypothesis.  We know, however, that although the defendant was convicted in Dili, he was acquitted by the Court in Goa and that one of the members of the administration allegedly involved in the case, Fernandes Costa, suddenly left for Lisbon.

Still in the early 1930s, he was created by the hands of Arnaldo Simões Januário, a revolutionary clandestine movement, the “Libertarian Alliance of Timor” that even had its own newspaper, sent to the various comrades spread throughout the Colony.  Luís Abreu also mentions another organization of the same kind, “Socorro Vermelho”, of which the deportee Cal Brandão was the president.

Although it was difficult for us to find more information regarding these two movements, in fact, at this time, Cal Brandão and many others were exiled to Ataúro, where, unfortunately, we were unable to find any information regarding the deportees' passage.  The family tells us that Cal Brandão lived in Dili but a disagreement with the administration forced him to move to Ermera, where he met Maria de Lurdes Santa, also of European origin, whom he married in 1936.

In fact, in 1934 it was in Ermera that Cal Brandão signed a receipt for the political deportee's allowance, in the amount of 70 patacas, and official documents were signed at the Post where the deportee resided.  In 1938, in a telegram sent to the Central Government, Governor Fontoura asked for the return of Cal Brandão and Moreira Júnior to the Metropolis as he considered them a bad influence in the Colony.  It is important to say that both were members of Freemasonry, and the Governor feared the way in which they influenced the local elite, encouraging revolts against the Portuguese administration that would not have the strength soldiers strong enough and structured to suppress a well-organized revolt, so he asked that the arrival of the ship Gonçalves Zarco be used for that purpose.  Something that, as we know, had no effect as both remained in Timor.

In 1940 a new Governor arrived in Timor and with him, a new attitude of the Government towards Carlos Cal Brandão.  On the eve of the War, praising the work, intelligence and loyalty of Cal Brandão, Governor Ferreira de Carvalho asked the Central Government to lift his deportation sentence, as he needed his collaboration in State services.  Information that is consistent with the testimony by the doctor José dos Santos Carvalho, who states that Cal Brandão was present at the end-of-year festivities at the Benfica and SCP clubs, where “the most serious people on earth” were present, although controversial, given the strict policy of neutrality assumed by the Governor and the position that Cal Brandão would take.

It is Chamberlain who tells us that in the early 1940s there was an organization in Dili made up of Lieutenant Pires and the political deportees Cal Brandão, Moreira Júnior, who, being against the regime and being pro-British, were prepared to declare independence from Portugal and form a government in Timor in case Germany took power in Portugal.

One of the reports written by David Ross, the British consul in Timor, adds that it was they who had informed the Australian army of an imminent internal revolt, against which the troops would be useless in the defense of the official Government in Timor and to which the rest deported colleagues would easily adhere.  It is likely that this report was one of the incentives for the forced landing of Australian and Dutch troops in Timor, in December 1941, which is why most of the European population decided to evacuate Dili, taking refuge inside.

Cal Brandão was one of the few to remain in the city, so he witnessed the Australian bombing of Japanese ships that sank off Ataúro.  Still without realizing what had happened, Cal Brandão decided to set up a lookout on the beach, so he was one of the first people to witness the arrival of the shipwrecked Japanese.

Fortunately, he left us his memories of this time written in the book Funo, Guerra in Timor that tells us that immediately after the landing of Japanese troops (1942-1945), living in the city became intolerable, he moved to his in-laws' plantation in Punilale, having found the house already full of refugees.

From his stay, he tells us about a situation in which a Japanese, a former SAPT employee, had now revealed himself to be a military officer and when he arrived there, he asked for information on how to get to Bazar-Tete because he was looking for Australian soldiers.  Having camped nearby, he demanded that he be provided with food for his men, guides, horses, etc.  With the first incursions of the black columns and the formation of the first platoons of European volunteers, the author decided to move to Fatu-Bessi, where there were several Europeans and assimilated people who had withdrawn there for fear of the assaults.

When hostilities began to take on more serious contours and after the first talks in the Talo plantation with the Australian command about a possible concentration of the European population, Cal Brandão opted for “clandestine”, collecting with his family to the regions of Mount Ramelau.  In fact, Cal Brandão was one of the Europeans present at the aforementioned meeting, becoming, along with Lieutenant Pires, a fundamental element in the talks with the Australian troops and in the leadership of those who would be evacuated, having been widely praised by the allied forces.

In December 1942, Cal Brandão sent his family in the first waves of evacuations to Australia.  He stayed in Timor and joined the Australian army, fighting in guerrilla warfare and fleeing through the mountains.  Under the command of Captain Murphy, the column where he was integrated was also attacked in Same, causing 12 casualties.  In January 1943, new evacuations were organized, however, at the time of embarkation, the stormy sea made manoeuvres difficult, so several men stayed ashore.

The clandestine group (about 300 people) would end up being concentrated in the Natarbora region.  In the period that followed, along with the deportee Hilário Gonçalves and other Europeans, Cal Brandão would remain in the group of men in charge of the radio.  Given the group's fragility in the face of the enemy's strength, from this point onwards and until the evacuation, this group opted for a more guarded attitude, trying to avoid confrontations.

In August they were all evacuated to Darwin.  Recommended to the SRD by Lieutenant Pires, Cal Brandão was based in Brisbane, as a translator, encrypting and deciphering messages to and from Timor.  He earned a salary of £25 a month, of which £10 sent monthly to his wife, who was lodged in Armidale.  In December 1944 he returned to Darwin, where he was in charge of directing the training camp of the European and Timorese commandos to be sent back to the field.

With the cessation of hostilities and the armistice, in mid-September 1945, he was notified by the Armidale police, to report without fail at Sydney airfield the following day, in order to accompany and interpret a representative of the Ministries. of Australian Foreign Affairs in the Australian diplomatic mission that went to Timor to accept the Japanese surrender.  Thus, Cal Brandão was the first Portuguese to set foot on Timor again and meet those who had remained in the “protection” zone, after so many months of famine, misery, mistreatment and total isolation.

In the memoirs he left us, Cal Brandão gives a very harsh description of the reality he encountered: very thin people with a great hunger for news, the author having distributed newspapers and cigarettes.  At the end of the meetings between the Portuguese Governor and the Australian Diplomatic Embassy, he returned to Australia again.  At the end of November, he boarded the ship Angola with his wife, but when he arrived in Dili, he was prevented from disembarking and was forced to return to the Metropolis.

Elisa was the daughter of the late Lieutenant Pires.  As there was no marriage, Elisa would be seen by society at the time as an “illegitimate daughter”.  Realizing that without the protection of the friendly couple, his daughter's life would not be made easier by the pressure of society, he entrusted his daughter to the Cal Brandão couple, who took her in and raised her as their daughter in Metropolis, where they arrived in mid-February 1946.

Cal Brandão stayed in Porto, exercising again the profession of lawyer, without ever ceasing to fight for the democratic cause, supporting the various political commissions opposing the Estado Novo, namely, in the candidacies of Norton de Matos and Humberto Delgado.  He died on January 31, 1973, in Porto.


[1] Translated and adapted from Madalena Ceppas Salvação Barreto. - Timor do século XX: deportação, colonialismo e interações culturais. - Dissertação de Mestrado em Antropologia – Culturas Visuais - Versão corrigida e melhorada após a sua defesa pública. - Outubro 2015: 315-319.

[2] https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C221676

Prepared Ed Willis

18 February 2023

Please cite and acknowledge the source of this information if you wish to reproduce or use it for other purposes




Edited by Edward Willis
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