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Edward Willis

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25 DECEMBER 1941




The fullest (and frankest) account of how the men of the 2nd Independent Company spent Christmas Day 1941 in Dili is provided by Cyril Ayris in ‘All the Bull’s men’ (pp.71-74).



One photo located in the Association archives was taken on Christmas Day 1941 in Dili.  It is a remarkably evocative informal group portrait of three men from No. 2 Section: Colin (Pinky) Criddle, Fred Smith, and Cyril (Tiger) Doyle; they distinguished themselves in the defence of the airfield when the Japanese landed nearly two months later on February 19 1942.


Colin Criddlle, Fred Smith & Cyril Doyle copy.jpeg


Annotation on rear of photo: Timor-Dilli Chinese Studio Xmas 1941: Colin Criddle – Pinky L, Fred Smith – Smithy C, Cyril Doyle – Tiger R - [Source: 2/2 Commando Association of Australia photo archive]


The men of the Signals Section also spent the day together and Corporal Harry Wray recorded his memories of it and related events and personalities that can be read in the following section.

Don’t forget an e-book version of ‘All the Bull’s men’ by Cyril Ayris can be downloaded from the Doublereds store for the purchase price of $19.99; all income from the book purchases goes toward the Association’s fund raising. https://doublereds.org.au/store/

2nd IC men on leave, Dili - December 1941 copy.jpg







2nd Independent Company men on leave in Dili – January 1942 – Tony Adams tentatively identified on the right – [Source: 2/2 Commando Association of Australia photo archive]




For the first few days at the Dili aerodrome my Section was camped in a lean to shed of palm thatch, about six feet high in front and three feet high at the back.  The mosquitos were very thick at night and we slept under nets, all snowy white, and could be seen for hundreds of yards at night.  The Dutch had green nets, and green tents, all our equipment shone with new whiteness, and was difficult to camouflage.

Later we shifted to a coconut grove skirting the aerodrome, and pitched tents there.  The ground was very wet, almost boggy in fact, and even with ground sheets under our sleeping bags became damp.

On Christmas Day, we were allowed leave to visit Dili in the afternoon, and several of us hired a tiny carriage drawn by two Timor ponies and set off in state.  We had a look at the cathedral, and a walk around the town, which did not take long.  We bought soap and Chinese cigarettes from some of the numerous Chinese shops, then went to the waterfront and had a look at the small Jap ship tied up at the jetty.

Local cart with 2IC men - Dili Jan 1942 copy.jpeg

Annotation on rear of photo: Taken January 1942 – One of the carts used to a great extent – L to R – M. Ryan, F. Smith, A. Dalbridge.  Source: 2/2 Commando Association of Australia photo archive.


This ship used to lie off Dili prior to our arrival and before the Jap entry into the war, and every day would go out beyond the three-mile limit and send and receive messages from Japan on the very powerful wireless set, which had been installed on board.

After the Japs came into the war our Hudson’s based at Koepang heard of the ship and how it went out each day to send and receive messages, so one day a Hudson swooped down and machine gunned it to such an effect that most of the crew jumped overboard, and the crew of the Hudson had the pleasure of seeing sharks put an end to those who did so.  The remainder of the crew took cover and let the ship run as she pleased until she piled up on the beach of a nearby island.

Wreckage of Japanese ship Nanyei Maru copy.jpg


Patricio Luz, a radio operator at the Portuguese radio station prior to the occupation.  Behind him is the wreckage of the Japanese ship, ‘Nanyei Maru’, in Dili harbour.  It had been bombed and strafed by the RAAF immediately after the declaration of war with Japan and after drifting unmanned was eventually towed to Dili harbour.  (Photographer Sgt K. Davis).  Source: AWM photo ID number 121402: Dili, Portuguese Timor 1945-12-09.


Later a Dutch ship found her deserted, and towed her back to Dili where the Dutch almost tore her apart searching for what they could find.  When I saw her the panelling was ripped off walls, bedding ripped open, and everything in a terrible mess after the search.  Goodness knows if anything worth having was found.  We managed to get a few batteries from the radio installation, which came in very useful later on.

A fair number of drums of oil and petrol were found in the holds of the ship; however, the Japs had put sand in the oil and petrol before leaving her derelict.  After filtering, some of the oil and petrol came in quite handy to the Dutch, and us also.  The Japs had also taken the precaution of removing a few vital parts from the engine, which made it hopeless to attempt to get the engine running.

Dili 1939 cathedral (2) copy.jpg

Portuguese postcard showing the Dili Cathedral  


I noticed that the Hudson had made a good job of the doing over, which it gave the ship, as the bridge and decks were holed like the top of a pepper pot.

After visiting the Jap ship, we went back to the town square near the cathedral and hired a couple of the carriages to take us back to the aerodrome.  The drivers at once whipped at their horses and off we went at a gallop.  Our ponies managed to take the lead, and one of our chaps in the other carriage thinking he could make a better job of the driving took the reins from the native boy, and with whip and shouts urged the ponies on to greater efforts.  This resulted in his carriage gaining on us, and in trying to pass he took his carriage too near the edge of the drain running alongside the road.  This drain was about twelve feet deep and about twelve feet wide.  Jerry’s carriage hung balanced on the edge of the drain while the ponies hung down the sides.  We ran back to the rescue and soon dragged the terrified little ponies back onto the road and righted the carriage.  Jerry had to pacify the boy with an extra Pataka (1/8).

The first flying boat (Qantas Empire Airways) on a regular service ... copy.jpeg


Source: Hudson Fysh ‘Australia’s unknown neighbour – Portuguese Timor’ Walkabout, vol. 7, no.7, May 1st 1941, p.7.


All hands were supposed to take quinine twice a day.  This quinine was in powder form, and it was very difficult to persuade anyone to take it, and I imagine this contributed to the heavy toll malaria was soon to take.  I had the job of seeing that my Section had his quinine, and watched to see that everyone did take it, but I used to wrap each dose in a cigarette paper, and consequently did not have much trouble getting everyone to have his dose.  One man who preferred the powder neat, and said he liked it; a peculiar taste.

The only other time I was in Dili was one morning when we had a few hours leave.  One of our officers said he would take a few of us who had happened to run into him in the street, to dinner at one of the few hotels. [2] On the way, there he told me that he was short of money and perhaps I could lend him some.  I did and had the pleasure of him standing us all drinks and dinner at my own expense, as I only recovered a very small part of the loan a few days later.

Mr. George Bryant copy.jpg


Mr George Bryant, an Australian who has lived in the area for the past 24 years, being welcomed aboard the RAN vessel HMAS ‘Warrnambool’, a section of Timforce, which has arrived in the area to ensure that the Japanese forces carry out the surrender terms.  Source: AWM phot ID number 117047: Dili, Portuguese Timor, 1945-09-23.


At this hotel, we met a man who was an employee of Imperial Shell, and had been making a survey of Timor for the purpose of assessing the geological possibilities as regards oil. [3] This chap told us an amusing tale, or rather an amusing experience.  Not long before the Jap declaration of war, such as it was, the Japs had concluded a treaty with the Portuguese by which they were given full rights to the use of Dili aerodrome, for civil purposes of course, or what they told the Portuguese at the time.  On the day that this treaty was finalised the Shell man happened to be in Dili staying at the hotel.  Later in the day a Qantas flying boat pilot came along to the hotel for the night.  The flying boats stayed overnight at Dili at that time.  The pilot and the Shell man were old friends.  The pilot asked the Shell man to accompany him to a function that evening to celebrate the treaty between the Japs and the Portos.  The Shell man was finally persuaded, and the pilot obtained the necessary invitation for his friend.

Fish vendor, Dili copy.jpg

Fish vendor, Dili waterfront 2014    


The Shell man told us it was a terrific celebration, with both the Japs and the Portos getting more and more drunk as time went on.  Everyone was on the best of terms with everyone else, the Japs sang songs in praise and honour of their Porto friends, and the Portos did likewise, but the cream of the piece came when the Japs and Portos decided to honour their English and Australian friends by roaring out ‘God save the King’ in the heartiest fashion.  Only a few weeks after this token of their everlasting friendship, they were at war with us.

I do not know what became of the Shell man, as several Qantas flying boats called after I saw him, and before the Japs appeared on the scene.  He may have left safely, and in time.

There was an old man living in Dili, an Australian who had been there for years.  He did a little prospecting at times, but latterly I think he was living at the Australian Consul’s house doing odd jobs there.  As it happened he was the uncle of one of our men, quite a coincidence that they should meet in Dili of all places.  I do not know what became of this man, he was in Dili during the Jap occupation I believe, and may still be there. [4]

I forgot to say that our Lieutenant [John Rose] managed to buy a bundle of fresh fish something like herrings in appearance, and full of bones, for our Christmas dinner.  We also provided a few fowls, which we souvenired from a deserted house nearby.

The owner of the house was an Arab, and we learned later a spy in the pay of the Japs.  He kept well out of the way while we were at the aerodrome.  We did hear subsequently bumped him off for some reason best known to themselves.  They liquidated several of their friends at different times, as you will hear later, one of their very good friends just because he was unlucky enough for appearances to be against him.

To get back to the Christmas dinner, the fowls gave us a terrific chase in the heat of the day, but we managed to catch about six of them, so with the fish did quite well for ourselves.

Dili map 1943.png

Map of Dili 1943.  Source: Area study of Portuguese Timor / Allied Geographical Section, South West Pacific Area.    



[1] Corporal Arthur Henry Kilfield ‘Harry’ Wray (WX11485), Recollections of the 2nd Independent Company Campaign on Timor, 1941-42, manuscript in 2/2 Commando Association archives.

[2] This was probably Lieutenant Colin Doig.

[3] This was M.L.E.J. Brouwer, a Dutch geologist from Bataafsche Petroleum Maatschappij (Shell), arrived in Timor during April 1941.  There was considerable suspicion that Brouwer was a Nazi sympathiser, but a later memo indicated that 'Brouwer is a geologist for cover only' suggesting that his primary role was not exploration.  See Tim Charlton ‘History of petroleum exploration in Timor-Leste’ http://www.timcharlton.co.uk/other-projects/timor-leste-history-of-oil-exploration

[4] Bernard Callinan described Bryant as David Ross’ ‘general factotum’.  Bryant’s nephew was Cpl. Bryant, William Frederick VX29713, a cook in Q Section.  Bryant was born in Melbourne in 1882 and had worked in Portuguese Timor for at least 28 years.  Although ill, Bryant survived the war in Dili.  For an interesting summary of Bryant’s life, see J. Carey ‘Link with the past’ 2/2 Commando Courier vol. 140, September 2002, pp.10-11  https://doublereds.org.au/couriers/2002/September/










Cyril Ayris

All the Bull's men: no. 2 Australian Independent Company (2/2nd Commando Squadron). – Perth: 2/2nd Commando Association, c2006, Chapter 4 ‘Decimated by Malaria’


Bernard Callinan

Independent Company: the Australian Army in Portuguese Timor 1941-43. – Melbourne: Heinemann, 1953 (repr. 1994), Chapter 2 ‘Unwanted protectors’


Archie Campbell

The Double Reds of Timor. – Swanbourne, W.A.: John Burridge Military Antiques, c1995, Chapter 5 ‘The landings’


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, Chapter 3 ‘”Sitting Duck” Force’


C.D. Doig

The history of the Second Independent Company. – Perth: C.D. Doig, 1986, Chapter 5 ‘Bound for Timor’


Lionel Wigmore

The Japanese thrust. – Canberra.: Australian War Memorial, 1957, Chapter 21, ‘Resistance in Timor’


Christopher C.H. Wray

Timor 1942: Australian commandos at war with the Japanese. – Hawthorn, Vic.: Hutchison Australia, 1987, [Chapter 3] ‘A breach of neutrality’








































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