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Edward Willis

75 YEARS ON - SPARROW FORCE DEPARTS FROM DARWIN FOR KOEPANG, DUTCH TIMOR – 10 DECEMBER 1941

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75 YEARS ON
SPARROW FORCE DEPARTS FROM DARWIN FOR KOEPANG, DUTCH TIMOR – 10 DECEMBER 1941

With the passage of 2016 and the transition to 2017 we move through the 75th anniversary years of significant events in the history of the Doublereds. [1]


December 10 2016 marks the 75th anniversary of the embarkation of the unit for Timor.  This post records some new material on this event not previously published in the Courier or the different unit histories.
Over the course of the new year we will post other stories marking significant events that occurred during 1942 during the 2nd Independent Company’s campaign on Timor.

Arthur Henry Kelfield 'Harry' Wray (WX11485), a 37-year-old South African-born accountant, had worked for thirteen years as a bookkeeper on cattle stations in outback Western Australia before joining the Army in 1941.  He was soon undergoing infantry training at Northam, the main Western Australian training camp, as a reinforcement for the 2/43 Battalion.  Whilst at Northam he volunteered for ‘a special and possibly dangerous mission’, was accepted and subsequently became a member of the newly formed 2nd Independent Company as a Corporal in the Signals Section.  He served with the unit throughout the Timor campaign and was awarded a Mention in Despatches for ‘Exceptional services in [the] field …’. [2] From 1943 to the end of the war he was attached to the Jungle Warfare Training School, Canungra, Queensland.  From 1945 until his retirement in 1969 Arthur Wray (who had trained as an accountant) was employed with the Western Mining Corporation at its Melbourne head office.  He died on 5 June 1978. [3]

Wray wrote an unpublished memoir of his wartime experiences from the time he enlisted to when he left the 2nd Independent Company after its return from Timor that is held in the Association archives.  His son Christopher C.H. Wray referred to his father’s memoir in his well-researched and written campaign history Timor 1942: Australian commandos at war with the Japanese. [4]

The following extract from Harry Wray’s memoir describes the 2nd Independent Company’s embarkation at Darwin harbour on the troop ship Zealandia on the 10 December 1941 and voyage to Koepang in Dutch Timor.

EMBARKATION FOR TIMOR

We arrived in Darwin the next day about eleven, proceeded from the train to the jetty, and there found the Zealandia loaded with troops.

We were kept standing about on the wharf for some time.  I can well remember watching a bearded Yeoman of Signals balancing himself on the railings of an upstairs veranda of a small building at the land end of the wharf.  He would then signal to ships lying out in the harbour with his flags.  He would send a message, disappear inside the building for a few minutes, and then out he would come and send another signal.  This went on all the time we waited for something to happen.

We were given a card each, which we were told to sign, this we did.  I can recall that the cards said something about receiving 5/- [shillings] embarkation money, but we did not get any five shillings.  I can remember being very short of money at the time.  We did not anticipate any move, and as there was nothing much to spend money in Katherine did not draw much on paydays, consequently many were caught without much money, which turned out to be most inconvenient later on.

At long last we found ourselves on the Zealandia.  The ship was crowded when we arrived.  The 2/40 Australian Infantry Battalion were on board, all our Company, and a few odds and ends of Corps troops I think.  Being the last on board we found all the best accommodation gone, and were given the after well deck as our sleeping quarters.  This was partly covered with an awning, but to all and intents and purposes we were in the open.  Luckily it did not rain while we were on board.

Our party arrived in Darwin on the 8th, and the Zealandia sailed on the morning of the 10th December.  We were held up in Darwin while the wharf labourers loaded the ship in their own way and time.  Some of the 2/40 that had been cooped up on board longer than anyone else, threatened to go ashore and beat up the labourers, and some angry words were exchanged.  The wharfies finally decided that the 2/40 meant business and abandoned a threat to strike, and speeded up the loading, however, they let the stores run into the holds with a crash, which split cases open all over the place, then stowed the stores anyhow.  A tremendous amount of stuff was spoiled, and to annoy us still more when we arrived at Koepang we found they had stolen most of our tobacco.  The Darwin wharf labourers had always been notorious, and from what I saw of them I do not think they were libelled at all. [5]

THE VOYAGE TO KOEPANG

The Zealandia sailed early in the morning [10 December 1941] with H.M.S. Westralia an auxiliary cruiser, and a corvette.  The Westralia was loaded with a fair number of troops, several signal units, coast defence artillery personnel, and so on.  One of the men who sailed on her, told me that the Naval officer in command addressed the troops soon after they went on board in the following terms: that they were on a Naval ship, they must not gamble while on board, and so on.  He added that special steps had been taken to make the ship buoyant, and in an engagement, she would stay afloat long after the ordinary cruiser of her tonnage had sunk, that he did not want them to be dashing about getting in the way should the ship run into trouble.  He suggested they take a book, and sit quietly on the deck in as sheltered a part as possible and read.

Late on the first morning we saw smoke far ahead on the horizon.  Lamp signals flashed from the Westralia, the old Zealandia changed course, and he engines chugged harder than usual as she strained for a knot or two more speed.  The Westralia and the corvette went racing off towards the smoke at full speed.

We wondered what it was all about.  An hour or two later all was back at normal and our two escort ships had returned to their usual positions.  I forgot to mention that before the Westralia went off to investigate the smoke, the ship stopped and the amphibian [aircraft] was sent off to have a look at the smoke.  I heard one of the Zealandia officers remark to another that all was quiet again, and the other one replied that all was quiet now, but that things were very lively a while before, and that the officers on all the ships had been very worried until they located the source of the smoke on the horizon.  It would appear that it was considered the smoke might indicate a hostile force.
Soon after we were outside Darwin lifebelts were issued, and it was found that there were not enough to go round.  About three or four of us had to do without as it happened.

The Officers and Sergeants dined in state on the Zealandia, being waited on by stewards in the saloon.  The rest of us fed in a dark airless deck in the bowels of the ship.  It used to take us about an hour or so to work our way through the crowds to the messing place, and about ten minutes to eat our meal.  The heat was terrific, like feeding in a Turkish bath.  The steel floors with a thin film of water and soup and tea on them were so slippery it was difficult to keep one’s balance.  The food was very good, but rather on the scanty side.

The weather was calm, so calm that even the worse sailor would have no excuse to be sick, but the atmosphere and heat in the mess deck was too much for a good many of the men.  During the two nights, we were on board, the ship passed over banks in the Arafura Sea.  The water is so shallow over the banks and it was thought subs might lie in wait on them, consequently when we were passing the danger areas the old ship was driven at the utmost speed, not that it was anything out of the way.  When the Zealandia was flat out you could feel the increased vibration of the engines just about shaking her apart.

During the short voyage, we were allowed a bottle of beer each per day.  Bottles were collected and all thrown overboard at once, at night, as the First World War taught that subs tracked down ships by the trail of bottles and so left floating in their wake.

ARRIVAL AT KOEPANG

On the morning of the 13th December we arrived off Koepang.  Up until then we had not been told where we were bound for, and many had been the rumours.  We anchored off a beach near Koepang, and after an hour or two the business of getting the men ashore began.  A large but ramshackle lighter was towed alongside, filled with men and towed ashore by a motor launch, after the Westralia had landed her passengers in her own boats.  Some of the boats came over and took some of the troops from the Zealandia ashore.  It was a slow and tedious business, and it was as well for us that the no planes were about to drop a few bombs, or they would have had a sitting target.

I was in the last boatload to leave the ship late in the afternoon.  The remarkable clearness of the seawater astonished us all.  You could see everything lying on the sandy bottom sixty or seventy feet down as clearly as the water was only a foot or two in depth.


ADDENDUM
 

FATE OF THE ZEALANDIA

SS Zealandia, nicknamed "Z" (or "Zed"), was an historically significant Australian cargo and passenger steamship.  She served as a troopship in both World War I and World War II.

On 29 June 1940 Zealandia embarked part of the 8th Division, the 2/21st Battalion, later known as Gull Force, at Sydney and took it and other units to Darwin.

Zealandia transported another part of the 8th Division, Lark Force (otherwise known as the 2/22nd Battalion), to Rabaul, leaving Sydney on 19 April 1941.  Following that voyage, Zealandia went to Noumea, New Caledonia and transported Free French troops to Sydney.

In mid-1941 Zealandia took the main body of the 8th Division, their stores and equipment to Singapore, where the main body of the 8th was surrendered to Japanese forces in February 1942.

After several other war-related voyages, in November 1941 Zealandia visited several Australian ports en route to Singapore.  A labour dispute involving some crew members caused her and HMAS Sydney to be delayed in leaving Fremantle, whence Sydney escorted Zealandia to Sunda Strait.  Zealandia's crew were the last Allied personnel known to have seen Sydney, which was sunk by the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran and lost with all hands when she attempted to stop the Kormoran.

Zealandia also took another 8th Division detachment, Sparrow Force, to Timor departing Darwin with 957 troops the morning of 10 December 1941 escorted by HMAS Westralia with another 445 troops that reached Koepang on 12 December.  On 20 December, the ship departed Darwin with 207 women and 357 children as the first of several ships to evacuate civilians from Darwin to southern Australia.

In Sydney, the ship was fitted with material to protect her oil tanks in the event of attack.  On 23 January, she left Sydney, transporting an anti-tank company and its equipment to Darwin, where it arrived on 6 February.

In the Darwin air raids of 19 February 1942, several bombs fell close to Zealandia, then one fell through a hatch and exploded in a hold, causing a serious fire.  Japanese planes also attacked Zealandia with cannon and machine gun fire.  Ammunition in one hold started to explode and the ship's fire pumps were disabled by another bomb.  The order was given to abandon ship.

Zealandia sank, leaving only her masts clear of the water.  Two crew members died from wounds sustained in the attack.  142 crew members survived. [6]

The ship was salvaged in 1960.  What remains of Zealandia lies in Darwin Harbour at position coordinates: 12°29.00′S 130°51.05′E at a depth of 19 metres and is a recreational dive site. [7]

STOKES HILL WHARF

With the passing of the Palmerston and Pine Creek Railway Bill in October 1883, the building of a substantial railway jetty became an urgent prerequisite in anticipation of the unloading of thousands of tons of railway materials for track laying.  A South Australian engineering contractor, J. Wishart, supervised the construction of the jetty and wharf during 1886.  Built on high timber piles, its timber deck curved out into the harbour from the construction depot and stacking yards at the foot of Stokes Hill.  The Territory's first railway locomotive was shipped to Darwin in April 1887 by the railway contractor, Charles Millar, for use in shunting between the wharf and the yards.  Built in Philadelphia, USA, at the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1886, because of its diminutive size the name Sandfly was bestowed soon after its arrival.  The little engine continued shunting between the Darwin railway yards and wharves into World War II.

By 1897 the Stokes Hill Wharf had succumbed to the depredations of the voracious Teredo sea-worm and the whole structure had become unsafe.  Building of a new all-steel jetty and wharf commenced early in 1898 and work proceeded slowly before the wharf was completed in 1900.  However, a further four years were to elapse before the wharf could be used by shipping.  Designed as a right-angle jetty and wharf with a constricting turntable between, it was slow and expensive to operate.  It was however Teredo-proof and survived for 38 years before receiving a direct hit by Japanese bombers on 19 February 1942, during which 22 waterside workers were killed.

After being repaired during 1942, the wharf was no longer strong enough to carry railway wagons and remained in a rickety condition with the bombed Neptuno lying half-submerged alongside until the 1950s.  By late 1952 the limitations of the old wharf could no longer be ignored by the Commonwealth Government after delays in loading uranium oxide, better known as yellow cake, and construction of a new wharf was approved.  By 1957 a neat new concrete wharf gracefully curved out from Stokes Hill to deep water.  In 1959 Japanese scrap metal dealers arrived to raise and salvage the Neptuno and the other vessels sunk in Darwin Harbour by their compatriots on that day in February 1942.  Stokes Hill Wharf commemorates the beginning and the end of a wartime journey. [8]

REFERENCES

[1]
For a Chronology of significant dates in the unit’s history, see Ayris (in Additional Reading below), pp.17-18.
[2]
Honours and Awards: Arthur Henry Kelfield Wray https://www.awm.gov.au/images/collection/items/ACCNUM_LARGE/RCDIG1068964/RCDIG1068964--395-
[3]
‘WRAY, Arthur Henry Kelfield (31 December 1903 - 5 June 1978)’ J.S. Battye Library of West Australian History Private Archives – Collection Listing http://slwa.wa.gov.au/pdf/mn/mn1501_2000/mn1513.pdf
[4]
See Additional Reading below.
[5]
See also the War Diary entries of the units involved for the 9-10 December 1941:
2nd Independent Company: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1022619/
2/40 Battalion: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1026519/
Sparrow Force: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1024692/
[6]
SS Zealandia (1910). (2016, July 21).  In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 14:53, July 21, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=SS_Zealandia_(1910)&oldid=730875334
[7]
Australian National Shipwreck Database: View Shipwreck - Zealandia HMAT http://www.environment.gov.au/shipwreck/public/wreck/wreck.do?key=3596
[8]
‘Stokes Hill Wharf’ in Howard Pearce and Bob Alford, A wartime journey: Stuart Highway heritage guide. – Darwin: Northern Territory Tourist Commission, 2006, p.167.

 

ADDITIONAL READING

Cyril Ayris, All the Bull's men: no. 2 Australian Independent Company (2/2nd Commando Squadron). – Perth: 2/2nd Commando Association, c2006, pp.50-52.

Bernard Callinan, Independent Company: the Australian Army in Portuguese Timor 1941-43. – Melbourne: Heinemann, 1953 (repr. 1994), pp.2-5.

Archie Campbell, The Double Reds of Timor. – Swanbourne, W.A.: John Burridge Military Antiques, c1995, p.20.

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, pp.30-31.

C.D. Doig, The history of the Second Independent Company. – Perth: C.D. Doig, 1986., pp.27-28.

Peter Henning Doomed battalion: mateship and leadership in war and captivity – the Australian 2/40 Battalion 1940-45. – St. Leonards, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin, 1995, pp.38-40.

Christopher C.H. Wray, Timor 1942: Australian commandos at war with the Japanese. – Hawthorn, Vic.: Hutchison Australia, 1987., 20-23.

 

ZealandiaSLV_6a.jpg

 

Stokes Hill Wharf 1930s.jpeg

Wray picture.png

Zealandia with troops.png

Stokes-Hill-Wharf today.jpg

Darwin map.jpeg

Zealandia official log book - front page.jpg

Zealandia log book entry - Koepang voyage December 1941 2.jpg

Darwin - Koepang.jpeg

Menu from the ill-fated Zealandia.jpeg

Zealandia wreck site.jpeg

SPARROW FORCE SAILS FROM DARWIN TO TIMOR - revised version.pdf

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