Jump to content


Edward Willis

Recommended Posts

  • Committee


8° 33' 20” S, 125° 55' 11" E [1]

Laclo is 7 miles (11 km.) at a bearing of 246° from Manatuto.  It is a posto town of about 20 stone and many native houses on the North Laclo River.  There are few native villages in this district, which is rather arid.  North of Laclo there is a mountain range of nearly 5,500 feet (1,675 m.) elevation at its highest point; the crest of this range is only 3 miles (5 km.) north of Laclo.  An old motor road passed through Laclo for Manatuto to Meti Naro and Dilli.  It is now fallen into disrepair and is only traversable by horse. [2]


Laclo location map [3]

The 4AIC becomes active in the Laclo area:

"From Laclubar we carried out daily patrols to familiarise ourselves as quickly as possible with our area of responsibility - along both sides of the Sumasi River which flowed from Laclubar past Cribas before joining the North Laclo River south of the major coastal town of Manatuto, situated on the east-west road between Dili and Baucau on the east end of the Island.  Other roads from Dili, Manatuto and Baucau all went south for relatively short distances, the one from Manatuto went south from Cribas to approximately the centre of the Island.  Our early patrolling was completely unhindered by the Japanese." [4]

Demolition Work On The Manatuto-Dili Road – 20 October 1942

“Lieut. Morgan, who had led the 2/2nd Company party that blocked the road east of Manatuto on the 22nd of September, decided to do it once more before he left the island.  A patrol, comprising troops from No.4 Section 2/2nd Company, escorted the 2/4th Company's Engineers and a cuda pack train, with native handlers worrying about their cargo of 400 lbs of amatol, set off from Fatu Maqueric on 20 October.  Jack Jones goes over some of the details with his old OC Frank Hammond and Curly Papworth.

Jack: ‘We went through Laclo to the Manatuto-Dili road to see if we could do some damage to that road.  We arrived at Laclo Village in the late afternoon and made our way over the mountain, reaching the other side in the twilight.

‘We were digging our holes - we only had dixies and digging sticks to dig with - when we heard voices down below.  We kept very quiet until we learnt that the 'voices' came from a group of Timorese fishermen who were singing on their journey home.  We resumed digging and completed our holes.  Then we filled them up with Amatol and stuffed it up the drains that were there too’.

Frank: ‘Jack and I cleared the area and lit the safety fuse.  The good book says don't run, so we didn't.  I think a quick jog would more describe our retreat to a nearby culvert.  Jack just beat me to it, but I managed to squeeze in beside him and then the earth shook.  We were splattered with light rubble and earth and could hear the whiz of bigger rocks and clods of earth go over our heads.  On inspection the road was completely blocked’.

Curly: ‘It would have taken a lot of hard work to clear that road again’.

Jack: ‘We went back over the range and came to a village we thought was Laclo, but it turned out to be Ili-Heu.  It was on the Laclo River.  We stayed there until the following day when we moved back to Fatu Maquerec’.

On the 23rd, Japanese troops were observed clearing the debris, a task which kept them busy for the next few days.  They were last seen returning wearily to Hera on the morning of 27 October.

Planning An Ambush

There were reports, however, both from the Portuguese and native sources, of large parties of Japanese troops moving across from both Aileu and Dili to Manatuto, presumably to deter the road-blowers.  Early on the 27th, Captain O'Connor moved No.4 and No.6 Sections into position to ambush them at the North Laclo River on the western outskirts of Manatuto.  The 2/4th Company's Engineer Section prepared to lend a hand by blowing big holes in the near vicinity in another road leading south from Manatuto to Cribas.  But nobody thought to mention that to Gordon Hart, who recalls the details: ‘Dan had No.4 Section positioned on the east bank of the river with Manatuto to our rear, with No.6 Section and B Platoon HQ positioned on the west bank.  We spent all the first day so positioned - but no Japs!  After dusk HQ withdrew with both sections to a rendezvous at a village, Ili-Heu (about a half hour east of Laclo Posto, and approx three hours west of Manatuto), leaving Cpl Arthur Stevenson and two others as a listening post in a village named Nuno-Laluli, near No. 6 Section's ambush site, to observe and report enemy movements into or out of Manatuto during the night.


Looking east over the Laclo township – Laclo River in the background – 8 August 2022

‘No.4 Section led out from Ili-Heu before dawn and as we were entering the Nth Laclo River, John Vierra, a Porto attached to my section, pointed out Jap footprints heading in the direction of Laclo’.

Arthur Stevenson explains further: ‘At the listening post that night, I got my first attack of malaria.  One of the fit boys pulled me to my feet and said the Japs were in the village.  We hacked our way out the back of the hut we were in and went 100 yards or so into a rice paddy where, for the first time I heard the click of a Japanese bayonet in its scabbard as about 120 of them filed past a few yards away on the levee bank heading towards the No.6 Section position just east of Laclo.  There was no future in trying to rejoin my section, so I headed instead for Hart's Section position east of the river’.

Gordon continues: ‘Word was passed back to Captain O'Connor and No.6 Section was detached to check out Laclo, while No. 4 Section continued on to its ambush position of the previous day.  Platoon HQ would remain on the track in its present position until No. 6 Section ascertained what the Japs were doing around Laclo.

‘After we took up our ambush position, contact was made with Arthur Stevenson's listening post, and he reported that a Jap party had passed him during the night headed towards Laclo.  As we hadn't had any further contact from No. 6 Section or Pl. HQ, I considered it advisable for the listening party to join No. 4 Section.  I then withdrew the section to a village, Obrato, due south of Manatuto.


Sketches of views in the Laclo River area – late 1942 [5]

‘A lookout was posted in a high tree which gave a complete view of all approaches.  We had safe lines of withdrawal south to Cribas, or down the Sumasi River.  Sgt. Jack Shand, (ex Pl. HQ), arrived as we awaited developments.  He had become separated from the HQ party.

‘Being in what I considered to be a relatively safe area, I decided to give the troops a breather and a meal before our first face to face confrontation with the enemy.  We had been moving around for a couple of days with very little rest or food.

‘I pondered over the options left to us and the Japs, using the limited information that I had.  I thought they could patrol back to Dili via the North Laclo, or they could patrol to Laclo and return to Manatuto later in the day.  Their movement to Laclo suggested that they may have picked up B Pl.'s wireless messages indicating our base to be at Laclo.

‘Our option if they patrolled back to Dili would be an exercise in shadowing and waiting for an opportunity.  If they took the second option, our opportunity to ambush them depended on our anticipating correctly which route they would follow to Manatuto.  There were two well defined routes from Laclo to Manatuto.  The first was on the northern side of the North Laclo river by which they had moved out to Laclo.  The second started along the same track but branched off to cross the North Laclo and an island near its junction with the Sumasi River and then across the Sumasi to the Cribas road running north to Manatuto.

‘I felt the Japs were most likely to choose the southern track crossing the rivers and the island, as this would enable them to cover a much wider area in their patrol for approximately the same mileage.  If they took that route, they provided us with the much safer option.  If we covered the northern track and they took the southern one (which they did) we would possibly be caught between the returning patrol and any troops they had remaining in Manatuto.

‘Having puzzled over these options I decided to enjoy my lunch!

‘While I was doing so, our lookout, Tom Price, reported heavy smoke rising from Laclo.  It appeared the Japs had torched the town.  As Laclo was a couple of hours distant from us, I considered we had sufficient time to set up an ambush on the island.  Before moving out to do so, I detailed L-Cpl Price to remain in charge of our base and OP, with Jack Ellis (who had a stye in one eye) and Ron Kemp (who had a nasty looking tropical ulcer on one leg) to clear up any sign of us having been in the village and to organise the criados if we had to make a quick exit to our RVs.  Jack Shand was also left, he being responsible for B Pl. HQ's radio equipment’.


Laclo area showing road demolition and ambush sites [6]

Improvising An Ambush

While Hart was pondering over his options at Obrato village, No.6 Section was having problems in finding out just what the Japanese were up to at Laclo.  Bob Fleming provides an account of some confusion and excitement before the situation was resolved: ‘Halfway through the night, I was awakened by a native runner frantically endeavouring to convey a message from the listening party to the effect that 200 Japs had come to Manatuto.  Since the message was verbal and our custom was to communicate in writing when using native runners, little notice was taken of him.  We settled back to rest again.

‘But a couple of hours later, another native came running in to say that approximately half the reported Jap force had passed by our village and gone to Laclo, about half an hour's walk further on.  This was a bit hard to believe too, but I investigated, taking Pte K. Beaver with me.  We went to a hill overlooking the town to observe.  There were Japs in it, sure enough, having a fine time bashing the place about and shooting any poor unfortunates not quick enough to get out in time.

‘On returning to our position I was confronted by a native who had been in Laclo when the Japs arrived.  He said they were actually poorly armed Dutch Timors in the main, with a few Japs amongst them armed only with pistols.  He was cross-examined at length but made no alteration to his story and it was taken as reasonably accurate, although we knew from our observations that there were more Japs than he said and that they were a little better armed.  It turned out that his information was badly astray.

‘The section was split into two groups of equal size.  One group was set in ambush on a long ridge overlooking the track to Laclo.  This was a good position providing a fine view of the track, perfect concealment and a good get-away.  I took the second group which was to move around the back of the Laclo and drive the enemy - with the knowledge of native reaction to this sort of thing - back along the track they had used to come to Laclo so as to allow the ambush party to deal with them.

The First Ambush

‘The enemy, however, left the town earlier than anticipated.  They also chose the same track back as the sub-section was taking to the town, so the two parties moved towards each other along the same track unaware of the other's movements.  But luck was on our side.  The Nips were careless, and the leader of the column was turning around talking to the fellow behind him when I spotted them about 50 yards away.  We hopped off the track in record time and waited in the scanty cover less than 10 yards away.  We opened fire on them as they were in a satisfactory position opposite us and kept it up for about a minute before withdrawing, while they were still confused, to let the ambush party, whose fire we were masking have their turn.

‘As our fire was returned with LMGs, rifles and mortars, it wasn't hard to guess that the force was composed of many more Japs than we thought.  We later learned that it was about 100 in strength and principally Japanese in composition.

‘An estimated 30 casualties were inflicted on the enemy in this engagement without harm to us.  There were a few close calls.  Ted Coops was fired upon twice by one Jap from a distance of five yards without being hit.  The Jap did not survive Ted's first shot.

‘After our withdrawal, the enemy burned the village we had occupied for the night and apparently burned his dead in the fire.  The remainder of his force then proceeded towards Manatuto to be set upon by No.4 Section about an hour and a half later’.

The Second Ambush

Hart describes that action: ‘Just as our ambush party was about to cross the Sumasi River, Tom Price sent up a message to the effect that it wasn't Laclo town that was burning, but the village Ili-Heu.  As this village was much closer to the island, I had to abort or find another suitable spot for the ambush on the eastern side of the Sumasi.  Its eastern bank at the road crossing was no more than two to three foot high.  The verge was sparsely covered by cane grass and there was an uncultivated paddy field behind it.  The cover provided was minimal.

‘We then moved back along the track towards Manatuto searching for a suitable spot with more cover. Suddenly I realised that even if we found a spot with better cover, we would be trapped between the returning patrol and their base at Manatuto.  While tossing up in my mind whether to make a mad dash to the island - which had a perfect ambush position - or set up on the not so good spot on the eastern bank of the Sumasi, the Japs settled the matter for me.  They suddenly began to enter the Sumasi at its west bank.  We had to take up our stations on the east bank at the double.

‘Fortunately, while the paddy field didn't provide much cover, it enabled the men to move quickly off the track and take up positions along the low mound bordering the field adjacent to the riverbank.  The width of the riverbed, covered with large and small rocks and stones, was between 200-300 yards, although the stream itself was, at that time, only 20-30 yards wide and only inches deep.

‘The section held their fire until the leading Jap, a veritable giant, was within 10 yards.  Then all hell broke loose.

‘It shook me at the time how quickly the Japs 'homed in' on us in a matter of seconds, as if they were expecting us.  These were seasoned troops.  We were not aware at that time that they had been ambushed by Bob Fleming's No. 6 Section boys earlier near Laclo.  However, on looking around, I saw the reason why they had 'homed in' so quickly.  Good old John Vierra was standing up in full view of them, blazing away with his rifle.  I managed to attract his attention and got him to go to ground.  When I queried him later as to why he stood up in full view of the Japs, he replied: 'When you fired the opening shot, they all went to ground, and I couldn't see any of them.  I stood up to get a better view’.

‘John may not have been the best-trained soldier, but he sure was enthusiastic when it came to having a crack at the Japs.


‘We didn't hang around for long as it is not too comfortable having mortar bombs dropping around you.  ‘Wimpy’ Clarke, our Bren gunner, relishing his first crack at the enemy, had hosed off several mags.  One of John Vierra's criados, 'Africano', was acting as No. 2 on the Bren.  When we had to skedaddle, he picked up the gun by the barrel.  He learnt the hard way.  His hand was very badly burned - but not a whimper out of him.  Quite a stoic 'Africano', and a very valuable member of No. 4 Section.

‘On our somewhat hasty withdrawal, we ran into a problem.  We had committed ourselves to an ambush in haste, without having reconnoitred our line of withdrawal.  Now in that Province they had eight - to 10-foot-high cactus hedge rows marking the borders of their land and gardens.  This particular field had a buffalo corral attached.  We withdrew through a set of sliprails right into that corral.  One of the boys had a brainwave and he grabbed those sliprails and laid them horizontally across the face of the cactus hedge to form a ladder.  We all negotiated this obstacle, except Wimpy.  He decided to fall off right into the middle of the cactus fence.  He shot out of that cactus and took off like a startled goanna and he reckoned he never felt a thing.  But he was still picking cactus needles out of his hide years after the war ended!

Private Owen Williams – “Our First Comrade Killed In Action”

‘We had nominated a couple of rendezvous if we were forced to scatter.  One was our OP village, Obrato.  The other was Cribas, so I didn't worry unduly when Owen Williams didn't turn up initially. I felt he might have gone round the cactus corral and not through it and then headed straight for Cribas.  Tom Price, watching from our OP reported that we had killed 10-15 Japs and wounded another five.  Considering the circumstances, we were reasonably content with this outcome of our first face to face brush with the enemy.


‘Next day, when Owen Williams hadn't turned up, Jack Ellis, Ron Kemp and Charlie Ranken returned to our ambush spot and learnt that Owen had been killed instantly in the action by a bullet through the forehead.  Our first comrade killed in action.  The sad news had a very sobering effect on us all.  His sub-machine gun was later recovered from a Portuguese official’

Sparrow Force refers to these actions in the War Diary:

‘29 Oct '42: Jap party ambushed by Sec. 6, 2/4 Ind. Coy between Manatuto and Laclo 0630 hrs 28 Oct., 45 Jap casualties, ours nil.  Sixty Japs ambushed by Sec. 4, 2/4 Ind. Coy 28 Oct near Manatuto, 12 enemy casualties, ours nil.  Cribas road blown by Eng. Sec. 2/4 Ind. Coy night 28 Oct’.

The loss of Owen Williams had not then been confirmed.”. [7]

NOTE: Private Owen Richard Williams, NX77951, B Platoon, 4AIC – his body was buried by Timorese villagers nearby where he was KIA.  All of his personal effects, and his Tommy gun, had been taken by Timorese villagers and handed to the administrator at Manatuto, who returned them to Lieutenant Fleming. [8]

Though the location of his grave was noted for 4AIC records, his remains were not found by the War Graves team post war.  His name is listed on the Monument to the Missing at the Adelaide River War Cemetery.

João Vieira (John Vierra or Viera)

“João Vieira [9] – Portuguese (or mestiço). [10]  From Taibessi.  Corporal - infantry.  Assisted the 2AIC – João Vierra [sic] noted as the ‘organizer of food supplies’ in the Dili area [11]

Member of the ‘International Brigade’ fighting alongside Sparrow Force: ‘On 22/23 Nov 42 John [sic] Vierra, a Portuguese attached to 4 Sec entered Dili disguised as a Timor’ – highest praise and commendation [12]

In action against the Japanese with 2/4 Independent Company at the Sumasi River [13]

Assisted SRD’s OP LIZARD - his group operated in Uai Alla area between Bibileu and Mundo Perdido [14]

In January 1943, Vieira was cited in Lancer Force’s instruction to S Force: ‘John Vierra (Cribas area)’ – particularly recommended.  Operated with S Force. [15]

He was a principal in PORTOLIZARD after the LANCER FORCE/LIZARD evacuation – and led a reconnaissance to Dili in mid-May 1943. [16]

Vieira joined the LAGARTO group on its arrival under Lieutenant M. de J. Pires on 1 July 1943.  From 12 August 1943, Vieira (codename ‘JVP’) led an armed group and established an OP overlooking Dili. [17]

Vieira and party moved off and at the end of August 1943 were located between Laclo and Remexio about 10 miles east of Dilli.  A certain amount of information was passed to LAGARTO by runner, but the wireless link was not a success and never functioned, a state of affairs which is attributed to the incompetence of Procopio.  At the beginning of September 1943, contact was lost with Vieira and no word was received of him until 3 weeks later when it was learned that he was hiding in the vicinity of Kuri 8 miles west of Manatuto.  On 25 September 1943, Vieira with Rebello and a few natives rejoined LAGARTO bringing news of Japanese strength and disposition around Dilli.  Procopio with the W/T gear and 10 other men who were with Vieira had been captured in Laclo where the party had been ambushed. [18]

The LAGARTO group was attacked by a Japanese and native force at Cape Bigono on 29 September 1943 and its leadership captured – Vieira escaped, but was captured a few days later.  He was seen in prison in Dili by the deportado António Santos. [19]

Vieira reportedly ‘died in prison in Dili, detail not known’. [20]

Australian veterans of 2/2 and 2/4 Independent Companies established the “Francisca Vierra [sic] Fund” - i.e. for the widow of John [sic] Vieira. [21]


[1] ASPT: 82.

[2] ASPT: 31.

[3] Adapted from ASPT: Map 1.

[4] Lambert, Commando, from Tidal River to Tarakan: 108.

[5] ASPT: Photographs 40-42.

[6] Adapted from MapCarta map – 24 January 2024.

[7] Text on road demolition and ambushes from Lambert, Commando, from Tidal River to Tarakan: 143-148.

[8] Cleary, The men who came out of the ground: 233-234.

[9] See Carvalho, Relatório ... : 441, 471, 555, 736.

[10] Brandão, Funo : 133.

[11] Lambert, Commando, from Tidal River to Tarakan: 125.

[12] Lambert, Commando, from Tidal River to Tarakan: 154.

[13] Lambert, Commando, from Tidal River to Tarakan: 147.

[14] Captain D.K. Broadhurst report – A3269, D6/A, p.114.  Six of ‘João Vieira’s party’ are listed at A3269, D27/A. p.2.

[15] Lambert, Commando, from Tidal River to Tarakan: 228.

[16] A3269, D4/G: 376, 380.

[17] A32369, D4/G: 99.

[18] The official history of the operations and administration of ‘Special Operations Australia’ (SOA) conducted under the cover-name of ‘Services Reconnaissance Department’.  V.2 – Operations: 61-100.

[19] Cardoso, Timor na 2a Guerra Mundial: 101.

[20] Carvalho, Vida em morte em Timor: 130.

[21] Lambert, Commando, from Tidal River to Tarakan: 438.











Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...