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Edward Willis

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  1. Consolidated PBY Catalina amphibious aircraft on display at the Aviation Heritage Museum, Bull Creek, Western Australia Rai-Mean is 35 miles (56 km.) from Aileu at a bearing of 198° and in the southwest corner of the province; suitable anchorage for small vessels. Good tracks run to Suai, Cumnassa and Beco. Cumnassa has possibilities for air strips. This town was shown on the Asia Co. map 5 miles (8 km.) west of its true position. Rai-Mean: Approximately 6 miles (9 1/2 km.) east of the mouth of the Lono-Mea River (not as shown on map). The anchorage is not very good. The surf is sometimes very heavy and rough and there is no shelter in the southeast season. It was found necessary during April to desist from landing stores and return to Suai, which is more sheltered. Track 26 - Beco to Rai-Mean: This track is subject to tidal rivers which would cause delay to all classes of traffic. Rai-Mean is approximately 2 hours journey north from the beach and the track passes through thickly timbered country; swampy in wet weather. It is situated on the flat coastal belt between the mountains and the sea which varies in depth approximately 5 to 12 miles (8 to 19 km.). [1] During mid-May 1942 there had been quite a deal of activity at Sparrow Force HQ. From Australia a message had come that Brigadier Veale was to return to the mainland for a conference and also that one Dutch officer was to accompany him. It was decided that this officer would be Lieutenant-Colonel van Straaten. It was also decided that Major Spence would take command of [Sparrow] Force HQ so on 20 May he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and shifted down to Mape. From Australia it was also advised that a Catalina would be making a flight into Portuguese Timor to evacuate wounded and sick personnel and the Australian and Dutch Officers. Captain Dunkley was notified of this evacuation and leaving Ainaro with four or five of his worst patients he travelled to Mape where he collected three more men who had been on their way to the hospital. On 21 May, Force was informed that the evacuations to take place at Suai on the south coast, so the doctor took the sick and wounded men down there to wait for the plane. However, on 22 May twenty two it was advised from Norforce that the plane would not be landing at Suai but at Rai-Mean the next anchorage along the coast towards Betano. Captain Dunkley could be given only one day’s notice of this change and had to then move his patients to the new evacuation point. He left on the morning of 23 May and commenced the trek along the coast, only to find that one of the many unnamed rivers running down to the coast was swollen from the recent heavy rains and was absolutely impassable. The party was forced to remain that night on the wrong side of the river with the knowledge that the plane was due in and would not be able to wait for any length of time, certainly not overnight. However, about 10 p.m. word was passed through to Captain Dunkley by native runner that the arrival of the plane had been put back a day and would not arrive until the following night the 24 May. Route followed by Captain Dunkley and party to Rai-Mean The next day the river was down sufficiently to allow the party to cross and move on down the coast to the village of Rai-Mean. They stayed in the village only a couple of hours before proceeding down to the beach where the plane was to come in. On the fading light of day the Catalina winged across the bay and touched down on the water. Stores were unloaded onto rubber rafts which had been brought over from Darwin and the sick and wounded, Lance Corporal P.G. Maley, Privates E.H. Craghill, A.A. Hollow, C.D. Varian, H.R.C. Cullen and K. Hayes went on board with Brigadier Veale and Lieutenant-Colonel van Straaten. Charles Bush - Depicting a scene of the evacuation of the wounded by Catalina from Rai Mean, Timor [2] The Catalina took only two hours to unload and load then took off and headed for Australia, leaving behind it the first mail the troops had received for some months. [3] Lieutenant Thomas H. Moorer, US Navy The pilot of the Catalina was Lieutenant Thomas H. Moorer of the US Navy. Moorer’s prior battle experience probably explains why he was personally selected by General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Allied Commander Southwest Pacific Area, to undertake this hazardous mission: [On the 20 February 1942] one of the Darwin-based U.S. Navy Catalinas, commanded by the C.O. of Patrol Wing 22, Lieutenant Thomas Moorer, had the misfortune to cross the path of the incoming air fleet just north of Bathurst Island. Attacked by nine Zeros, the plane crash-landed on the water in flames. The crew escaped in their inflatable dinghy and were soon picked up by Florence D, one of two Filipino-manned ships in the vicinity. The other was Don Isidro; and both were blockade-runners, loaded with supplies for MacArthur’s men on Corregidor. [Both ships had been] sent off … by a circuitous route, to avoid Japanese-held territory, that passed just north of Melville Island - and they, like Moorer’s Catalina, had the bad luck to be directly in the path of the carrier-based Darwin attack force. …. The [Japanese] Hiryu squadron saw Florence D, bombed and sank her. For the second time that day, Moorer and his men found themselves in the water. All but one of the flying boat crew lived to get ashore on Bathurst Island, with 40 survivors from the ship. Some walked across the island to the Catholic mission. Most, with the crew of Florence D, were picked up during the next three days by the rescue corvette H.M.A.S. Warrnambool. [4] After that harrowing experience, Moorer and his crew enjoyed a quieter time flying reconnaissance missions from the Catalina base that had been established at Pelican Point on the Swan River in Perth. Moorer wrote to Archie Campbell in December 1992 and gave him an account of his role in the Timor rescue mission: This is an extract from my Flight Log for May 1942. Note that I flew from Perth to Melbourne to see General MacArthur on May 16, then from Melbourne to Darwin, Alice Springs and Daly Waters on May 19, 20 and 21, I then went by car from Batchelor to Darwin Harbour to join my plane crew and support ship. On May 22, I took a seven hour flight in a RAAF Hudson to the Beco, Timor area to examine the coast line and select my landing spot. On May 23 and 24 I took short flights simply to check out my plane and familiarise myself with the Darwin area. On the night of May 24 I made the rescue flight to the Timor coast near Beco [Rai Mean], returning to Darwin precisely at midnight. All the six men were in bad shape and my crew had some difficulty loading them aboard. I remained at the aircraft controls in case a Japanese patrol boat showed up. I never did get a good look at all of my passengers and that explains why I could not remember exactly how many we rescued. I did remember Brigadier Veale. I returned to Perth on May 25, having gone full circle - flight time 64.3 hours. [5] Flight log of Lieutenant Thomas H. Moorer [6] Moorer served in several other demanding roles during WWII and then progressed a distinguished and decorated career in the US Navy for the remainder of his working life, retiring in July 1974 as a full Admiral and Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. [7] [8] 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.): 16, 46, 82. https://repository.monash.edu/items/show/26455#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=0 [2] https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C174949 [3] [Timor (1941-1942) - (Sparrow Force and Lancer Force) - Operations:] The Campaign in Portuguese Timor, A narrative of No 2 Independent Company. (Story prepared by Cpl SA Robinson) (No 5 Military History Field Team) - AWM54 [not digitised]: 50-51. [4] Alan Powell. - The shadow's edge : Australia's northern war. - Rev. ed. - Darwin, N.T. : Charles Darwin University Press, 2007: 91-92; see also Tom Lewis and Peter Ingman. – Carrier attack Darwin 1942: the complete guide to Australia’s own Pearl Harbour. – Kent Town, S.A.: Avonmore Books, 2013: 96, 121-122, 224, 226-228. [5] Archie Campbell ‘Sequel to Admiral Tom Moorer's query in October Courier’ 2/2 Commando CourierDecember 1992: 10; see also Archie Campbell ‘Where are the Sparrow 20? Appeal from Admiral Thomas Moorer’ 2/2 Commando Courier October 1992: 15. [6] Archie Campbell. - The Double Reds of Timor. - Swanbourne, W.A. : John Burridge Military Antiques, c1995: 67. [7] ‘From Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima: the World War II experience of Admiral Thomas H. Moorer’ American Valor Quarterly Autumn 2008: 4-8. https://view.joomag.com/american-valor-quarterly-issue-4-autumn-2008/0040648001422301760; see also Greg Tyerman ‘The life and times of Admiral Thomas Moorer’ 2/2 Commando Courier September 2004: 13-17. [8] Archie Campbell. - The Double Reds of Timor. - Swanbourne, W.A. : John Burridge Military Antiques, c1995: 68. Prepared by Ed Willis Revised 3 September 2021
  2. [1] At the time of the Japanese advance into Hatu-Lia in mid-March 1942 the town was occupied by three No. 2 Independent Company signallers. They were in communication with headquarters through the party-line telephone service, and by Aldis lamp with a small party of signallers under Corporal Harry Wray at Cailaco on the other side of the valley. As the Japanese approached Hatu-Lia the signallers remained in the town to report on the enemy's movements until they were almost upon them. After signalling by Aldis lamp that they were leaving due to the Japanese advance, the signallers withdrew from Hatu-Lia to an observation post overlooking the town. During the afternoon the Australians saw a party of men dressed in khaki uniforms approaching their observation post. Believing the approaching men to be Australians, one of the observers, Signaller Gerry Maley, stepped forward and waved to them. The advancing men went to cover and Maley, realising that they were Japanese, yelled to his companions to take cover before throwing himself down behind a tree. He was too late, and a burst of machine-gun fire shattered his thigh. Maley's companions dragged and carried him away to a native hut a short distance away. With the assistance of the inhabitants the wounded man was hidden in a storage area in the ceiling of the hut. The other signallers then set out for assistance through the Japanese-occupied countryside. The Japanese knew that one of the Australians had been wounded and for several days they searched for him questioning Timorese in the area. Fortunately, they did not carry out a thorough search of the hut in which Maley was hidden. For much of the time the Australian was delirious with the pain of his wounded leg, but the Timorese tending him were able to keep him quiet while the Japanese searched the area. Lieutenant Campbell, whose section was at Cailaco, wanted to lead a party to rescue Maley, but it was impossible as the Japanese were in force between his position and Maley's hiding place. Captain Dunkley, the unit medical officer, was determined that Maley would be rescued and, accompanied by Lieutenant Turton and a party of Timorese, he set off for Atsabe. After days of dodging Japanese patrols, including one group of about thirty Japanese who they found swimming in a buffalo wallow, the party rescued Maley. After Dunkley splinted and dressed Maley's wound the injured man was carried by Timorese in a litter back to Atsabe where he received the best medical care available. Later Maley was flown back to Australia with Private Hollow on the first flying boat to reach Timor. [2] Maley said many years later that he owed his life to the Timorese boys, whose initiative in making the stretcher got him to safety: ‘I owe my life to Antonio and Manere in the first place. If they weren’t able to rig up that stretcher in the first place I was gone’. [3] Gerry never forgot his debt to the East Timorese for saving his life in 1942. Following the influx of Timorese refugees to W.A. in 1975 Gerry, as the 2/2 Commando Association's liaison officer did a sterling job, helping them settle in their new country, encouraging them to maintain their culture and joining in their social activities. COL DOIG TELLS THE STORY The following account of Gerry Maley’s wounding and rescue was prepared by Col Doig for his unit history: A saga of the early Timor Campaign which to date has not been adequately told, was the wounding and rescue of Signaller Gerry Maley. "Sometime in the middle of March 1942 Sig. Maley was at Hatu-Lia with the Sigs attached to C Platoon. A patrol led by Cpl Alf Walsh, comprising Ptes ‘Rocky’ Williams, Carl Maher, ‘Slim’ Elder and Sig Gerry Maley, were detailed to go into Aileu to rescue Merv Ryan who had been reported by Timor rumour to be in the vicinity of that Posto. The patrol got into the vicinity of Aileu but somehow or other the whole plan went awry and anyhow word was received that Ryan had never left Dili. The patrol came back to Hatu-Lia. Orders were received for Sigs ‘Taffy’ Davies, ‘Rip’ McMahon and Maley to wait in Hatu-Lia and join another Section coming through. The rest of ‘C’ Platoon moved on. Signallers Observation Post (OP) Overlooking Hatu-Lia At this time the Nips came through from Vila Maria and Gerry Maley had time to contact Capt Callinan by party phone at Atsabe and Bernie told the Sigs to move to Calaico. The Sigs requested permission to set up an OP over Hatu-Lia. Permission was readily granted as Callinan was particularly keen to get the best possible information at this time of Jap movement and the methods of operation. This OP was set up on a spur (Timor absolutely abounds in spurs overlooking something or other) overlooking Hatu-Lia. The Sigs were still watching for the Section which was to come through as they did not want them to march into a nest of Nips. Gerry Maley Wounded From the OP the party saw a small body of troops in khaki moving along the track towards the spur. They covered these but they turned and went below the spur. Timorese, who were with the Sigs, said ‘Australie’. Gerry and co exposed themselves and waved to indicate their position. Gerry used a beaut white hanky to do the waving. Soon as the other party saw this they smelt a rat and broke up. Our boys soon woke up this was no Aussie party but a small band of Japs on the prowl. Gerry, Taffy and Rip dived for cover. Rip was a little slow still firmly believing it was some of our boys. Taffy whipped behind the biggest tree that could have grown on the island, Rip scrambled for cover behind Gerry as the fire opened up. Bullets everywhere. One grazed Rip's forehead and the very first burst of machine-gun fire got Gerry through the knee and shoulder. The three could not move as they were pinned down by Jap fire. This all happened about 8 a.m. Gerry Left In The Care of Local Timorese There was nothing for it but to wait and see just what the Nips would do. They did not advance on the position, so Gerry told Rip and Taffy to try and fashion a stretcher. With a couple of bamboos and stuff they made a stretcher of sorts and put Gerry on and carried him to a native village not so far away from the OP. As the stretcher party came into the village the Nips opened fire on the village. Gerry suggested to Taffy and Rip that they open fire on the Japs to draw their fire and leave him to the Timorese to look after. The Timorese were the staunchest of allies. They got Gerry into a hut, into the darkest possible corner and covered him up. The Japs moved in, occupied the village and searched right and left to try and find Gerry. They stayed in the village a day or so. Gerry was in this village for several days. He then sent a message to Cailaco by the Timorese advising of his plight and where he was. All this time he was in terrific pain with the wound in the shoulder and the broken knee. Gerry's message was acknowledged by Lt Arch Campbell. After a few days nothing happened so Gerry got the Timorese to build a strong stretcher and talked them into taking him to another village. All this was done while the Japs were having a siesta! The loyal Timorese carried Gerry to another village after dark. This village was on the Atsabe side of the ridge from Aileu. Probable route to and from Ainaro and Hatu-Lia via Atsabe taken by Dunkley and Turton to rescue Maley Doc Dunkley And Don Turton To The Rescue At this time 5 Section who had gone back to Nasuta to recover gear which had previously been buried, had returned to Atsabe. Also, there was Cpl Ray Aitken and Pte Charlie King who had gone with 5 Section to recover the gear, including a 108 [radio] set. Capt Dunkley had set up his hospital at Ainaro. Lt Campbell had got word to Major Spence that Maley was badly wounded and would require assistance. Capt. Dunkley got wind of this, God alone knows how, and suggested that he go and handle the rescue. Dunkley was firmly told that Sgt Major Craigie would handle the evacuation of Gerry from Cailaco. Dunkley was never the type of man to take no for an answer or an order and promptly set off from Ainaro to get on with the rescue. He moved to Atsabe and contacted Lt Don Turton who was there with a small number of Sappers, including Spr ‘Smash’ Hodgson. Dunkley left it up to Turton to decide the best method of going about the rescue. ‘Smash’ told this writer many months after that the cool, calm and collected manner in which Turton and Dunkley set about going after Maley, who for all they knew was still in a Jap occupied village, made his blood run cold. ‘Smash’ said if requested by Turton to accompany him on the venture he would have gone but he was just as pleased when he wasn't asked. As dusk started to fall Turton and Dunkley set off for the village. It was pretty dark when they ran in with some Timorese and managed to make them understand that they were seeking a wounded ‘Australie’ soldier. Lucky they were that these were Timorese of that particular village and they led the two officers into the village to the hut where Maley was hidden practically unconscious with the pain. Dunkley immediately set the leg and splinted it while Turton arranged for a strong stretcher to be made and a party of Timorese to carry it. The ingenuity of the Timorese in fashioning stretchers had to be seen to be believed. The Return Journey The concourse pushed and prodded by Dunkley got away from the village and headed for the hospital at Ainaro, via Atsabe. Aitken and Tapper went on to Ainaro to try and get someone to assist with the crossing of the river which ran below Ainaro. They weren't very successful and returned to the river just as the Doc and the party arrived. When Dunkley realised it was only Aitken and Tapper, he asked, ‘Where are the others?’ then ‘Don't tell me!’ and proceeded to give tongue. The river crossing was effected with much incident. All Timor streams are strewn with big boulders in the bed and flow at a rate of knots. Every jerk of the stretcher was sheer hell to Gerry and the poor native carriers got an impatient cuff from the Doc for their trouble. Once over the river it was plain sailing and on reaching Ainaro the Doctor had a few well-chosen words to say in a few pink ears for the lack of assistance. Ainaro hospital in 1938 The hospital was probably the best one used by Dunkley during the whole campaign and was built for hospital purposes originally. The beds were hard but there was one mattress normally used by the Doc, but Gerry soon found himself in a comfortable bed on the Doc's mattress. The writer also remembers, at a later date, having the use of this same mattress smartly surrendered by the Doc when he came into hospital a bit the worse for wear. Aftermath There remains little more to tell of this incident except that Gerry had his knee properly set, his shoulder dressed and after contact was made with Australia, Gerry, along with Allan Hollow, Eddie Craghill, the Brigadier and Col Van Straaten, was evacuated to Australia with the first landing by a Catalina. It was not long before he was in hospital in Hollywood. The whole of this epic from the time of wounding until the evacuation deserves a better pen than mine. It shows the terrific endurance of Gerry Maley. It shows the intense loyalty of the Timorese who not only secreted him from the Japs but acted as his stretcher bearers. It shows the rare medical skill combined with outstanding courage by Capt Dunkley who, with no regard to his own safety, went after a wounded man in what was thought to be Jap occupied territory. It shows the strength and dependability of Don Turton, a thing so much in evidence then and always as the various campaigns went on. If ever a show deserved recognition by way of a decoration, then this was it. Properly handled Dunkley should have received a DSO, but once again we missed out and all that came of Dunkley's many epics was C in C's Commendation Card and an MID. Captain Roger Dunkley’s MID citation All that can be said in passing is that we were, as a Unit, singularly fortunate in our Capt ‘Cadbury’ as our MO. [4] Gerry Maley’s Early And Postwar Life Gerry passed away in the Hollywood Hospital on Sunday 24thJune at the age of 78. He suffered indifferent health for many years brought on by a severe leg wound he received back in 1941. He was born in Subiaco on the 2nd August 1922 into a large family, having three brothers and five sisters. He enjoyed his school years excelling at sport and was a very bright pupil. He was awarded a scholarship to attend Perth Modern School, which had the reputation of being the most progressive school for learning in W.A. One of his teachers was the great Gerry Haire. Gerry was to meet up with his tutor later in the 2/2nd. His education at Modern School gave Gerry a sound grounding for his working life. Gerry Maley in later life Gerry enlisted in the A.I.F. at 18 and went on to join the 2/2nd as a signaller. He was badly wounded in the shoulder and right leg in an encounter with a Jap patrol near Hatu-Lia in March 1942. With the help of friendly natives who hid him in a hut for several days he was eventually rescued by a party led by Doc Dunkley and Don Turton. He then spent nearly two months in Ainaro before being flown to Darwin on a Catalina on 24th May 1942. A lengthy spell in a number of military hospitals followed. While in Heidelberg, he had 37 operations on his leg with many of the skin grafts not taking. It was a case of try and try again. It was a very stressful time for Gerry, but he stood up to it well. He was discharged in July 1944. He ended up with one leg shorter than the other, a disability that was to cause severe back problems in later life. Gerry spent his post war years in Sydney where he stayed with Jack O'Brien and did a course of accountancy under the rehab scheme. Jack had the honour of being the NSW branches first president and Gerry their first secretary. This was in 1946. Gerry moved to Melbourne in the early 1950s marrying his first wife Margo. They had three children and Gerry worked as an accountant for a wool firm. He was an active member of the Victorian Branch being secretary for six years from 1952-57. He returned to his home state in the 1960s living first at North Beach then at Yokine. He ran an Ampol Service Station in Nollamara for a number of years, during which time he met Dorothy whom he later married. They had one son Rodney. Gerry went on to work as a purchasing officer for John Court (Northwest} before ill health forced his early retirement. Gerry served on our WA executive and was Secretary from 1970-73 and president in 1978-79. He was made a life member in 1972. He had the distinction of being secretary in three state branches - a fine achievement indeed. His advice was often sought after when contentious matters arose concerning the Association. He also played a major role in the affairs of the TPI Association, Gerry himself being a TPI. He went on to become the State President of that association and later their National President. Under his leadership and guidance, he welded the state branches into a cohesive and effective lobby group, which eventually ensured its then 23,000 members, obtained their full entitlements. This took all of Gerry's guile as at the time the NSW and Victorian Associations didn't see eye to eye when it came to TPI matters. All in all, he made 13 train trips to Canberra on the TPI Associations behalf and each trip was a real effort for him. In 1987 Gerry was awarded an Australian Honour, an OAM for his contribution to the TPI cause. Gerry never forgot his debt to the East Timorese for saving his life in 1942. Following the influx of Timorese refugees to W.A. in 1975 Gerry, as our Association's liaison officer did a sterling job, helping them settle in their new country, encouraging them to maintain their culture and joining in their social activities. Gerry and Dot moved to Coodanup in Mandurah in 1989. A devoted couple this was a happy time for them until Gerry's health deteriorated to the point he was in constant pain. He was a well-read man, took a keen interest in botany and was a good lawn bowler when a member of the Yokine Club. He enjoyed our Anzac Days and always had a ready grin and was good company. We will miss him. The large attendance at Gerry's funeral service on 27th June [2001] was an indication of the respect and esteem in which he was held. [5] REFERENCES [1] Ayris, Cyril. - All the Bull's men: No. 2 Australian Independent Company (2/2nd Commando Squadron) / Cyril Ayris. - [Perth, W.A.]: 2/2nd Commando Association, 2006: 177. [2] Wray, Christopher C. H. - Timor 1942: Australian commandos at war with the Japanese. - Hawthorn, Vic.: Hutchinson Australia, 1987: 95-96. [3] Gerry Maley interview in ‘Independent Company: The Australian 2/2 Independent Company, Timor 1941–42’ (Documentary), Media World, 1988. [4] A history of the 2nd Independent Company and 2/2 Commando Squadron / compiled by C.D. Doig. - Carlisle, W.A.: Hesperian Press, 2009. [First published: 1986]: 89-91. [5] Jack Carey ‘Vale Philip Gerard (Gerry) Maley WX10772’ 2/2 Commando Courier September 2001: 4-6.
  3. Thanks John - discovered Merv Ryan's statement to the Australian War Crimes Section team in a file at the National Archives in Melbourne - a real 'eye opener' - I don't think his story has been fully told before.
  4. Merv Ryan [1] Sporting journalist Ross Elliott headed a story about No. 2 Independent Company veteran Merv Ryan: ‘Hobbling Army mate is not a ghost’ [2]. The reason for him heading the article this way is revealed as the story unfolds: It was February 1942 when the Japanese landed in Portuguese Timor in thousands. To oppose them were 350 [sic] Australian commandos of the 2/2 Independent Company. The Japs swept through the capital Dili and attacked the airfield. Knowing there was no hope of holding the field, a small section covered the retreat of their mates to the hills which was to be the base from which they harassed the Japs for 12 months. Bren gunner Merv Ryan was hit by a hand grenade and his leg shockingly injured. Corporal (later Lieutenant) Kevin Curran gave Ryan a field dressing and also gave him his water bottle. There was little else he could do. Ryan was one of 17 men who were wounded and unable to get away. In one of the first recorded atrocities of WWII, the wounded were shot and bayoneted. At that time all the men were thought to be dead. In 1948 Hawthorn ruck man Kevin Curran won the Simpson Medal as the best player of the match between WA and Victoria at the Subiaco Oval. WA had won the match and as the siren sounded, thousands of delighted local fans swarmed on to the ground. As the weary Curran trudged his way towards the Victorian dressing rooms he was brought up short as a man on a walking stick hobbled towards him. A shaken Curran stammered ‘It must be – but it can’t be’ …… [2] The hobbling man Curran encountered on the oval was his former compatriot, Merv Ryan who two years before this event, in late July 1946, had recorded a more detailed account of how he came to be injured in a sworn statement prepared for the 1st Australian War Crimes Section investigating the ‘Ration Truck Massacre’: STATEMENT BY MERVYN PETER RYAN IN THE MATTER of War Crimes and IN THE MATTER of the shooting of a party of Australian POW at DILI Aerodrome, Timor, during February 1942 I Mervyn Peter RYAN of 11 Federal Street, NORTH COTTESLOE, in the State of Western Australia, formerly WX13624 Private M.P. RYAN of 2/2 Aust Independent Company (AIF), being duly sworn, and say as follows: 1. I arrived with my Unit in Timor on or about 15 December 1941. From the 15 December 1941 I camped with the main group of my unit on the aerodrome at DILI. I was then removed with ‘A’ Platoon to an area known as 'Cactus Camp’ approximately 18 kilometres from DILI. We were stationed there until approximately the first week in February 1942 and then proceeded to relieve No. 1 Section of guard duty on the Aerodrome, where we remained until action started against the Japanese on 19 February 1942. 2. On the night of the 19 February 1942 I went into action with my Company against the Japanese and was wounded in the leg and arm. My mate, Private F. SMITH was also wounded and died later on. I remained lying on the ground for 24 hours. During that time, at approximately 1000 hrs on the morning of the 20 February 42, I happened to see a party of men being escorted by Japanese in front of the hangers our old gun positions. I couldn’t see much as I was fired upon by some Japanese. I was lying on top of a drain when they opened up on me and I rolled over into the drain, which was about six feet deep. I could see, however, that the men being escorted were Australians by their physique and their looks, although I did not recognise any of them. I did not actually see Private AIREY in this part as my visibility was poor and I was lying, on the ground. I only assumed later that AIREY must have been in this party when I heard what had happened from Private ALEXANDER. 3 . After rolling into the drain, where I found Private SMITH dead, I remained there for approximately 8 hours. I then crawled across the road to a seal drain where I must have laid for some time. I was next awakened by the sound of an Army truck, which was an Australian truck bearing a Japanese flag. I hailed for water and a Japanese officer got out of the truck and after interrogating shot me through the shoulder. I collapsed and later on awakening I crawled to a nearby native hut. On the morning of the 23 February 42 I came to again and tried to contact some natives travelling through the area. At approximately 1100 hours I eventually got one native to contact the Portuguese doctors, who arrived about 1300 hours. Travelling with the doctors were Portuguese Police who assisted me by having the doctors attend to me and remove me to the Portuguese hospital. The Japanese interrogated me and other POW in the hospital at DILI, where I remained until April 42. From hospital I went to the prison camp at DILI, where I met up with Private ALEXANDER. 4. The Portuguese Police were held responsible by the Japanese for holding me while I was in hospital at DILI. A Portuguese Police Officer gave me the information that he had been a witness to the burial of approximately 11 or 12 Australian soldiers who were executed by the Japanese on the DILI aerodrome. He could not give me information as to who was responsible for the executions although he tried to find out for me. I did know the name of this officer at the time, but I have now forgotten it. He actually took information from me to the Companies in the hills which can be verified by Private Mervyn WHEATLEY, who was a member of my unit and received information from him. This Portuguese officer had lived in DILI for the best part of his life and was the owner of the Australian Tearooms in DILI which was run up till the time of the invasion when the Japanese took it over. This Portuguese Officer was about 5'10" in height; weight about 10 stone; age about 45 years; could only speak Pidgin English. 5. While I was at the hospital a Portuguese Roman Catholic Priest came to the hospital. The Portuguese Officer referred to above told me that this Priest had said that he had buried 11 or 12 Australian soldiers at DILI aerodrome. This Priest visited me later on when I was still very low in health, but he would not give me any information about the men who were buried. He just refused to tell me anything about the burials because of my sickness. From what the Portuguese Police told me this Priest was a very creditable witness and these Police later brought me very accurate information on other subjects about the Japanese. I saw this Priest about four times while I was at the hospital but only conversed with him the once. The Portuguese Police said that the Priest could not identify the bodies as there were no identification discs and the bodies had suffered from attacks from animals. I did not learn the name of this Priest, but he was a tall man, about 6'; weight about 13 stone; age about 30 years; spoke English very well. 6. While I was in hospital I had a native laundry boy to act as my servant. He told me that he had heard from other natives that a party of men had been executed by the Japanese at the DILI aerodrome. Three of the men he said had escaped and from the description of one who was found dead in a culvert I took this man to be S/Sgt WALKER who was CQMS of 2/2 Independent Coy. I also learned :from this native boy that another soldier had died in a coconut plantation. The third escapee I was given to understand had been treated by natives and returned inland. When I returned to Australia I learned that this man was Pte. HAYES. 7. About two months after I became a POW I met Pte ALEXANDER at the DILI guard camp. He related to me that about 0800 hours on the morning of the 20 February 42 one section of ‘B’ Company [Platoon] who were stationed approximately 20 miles out of DILI on outpost duty were proceeding to DILI in a ration truck for supplies and four hours leave. He told me that he was a member of the party, which numbered approximately 15 men. As the truck was entering a cutting through the hills near DILI I they were surrounded by Japanese who came out of the bush and opened fire on the truck, causing them to stop. The party had no time to return the fire and they were all captured. Pte. ALEXANDER said that no-one was wounded. The Japanese then escorted the truck into DILI. At the DILI aerodrome Pte. ALEXANDER said they were all taken away behind the hangars where he, ALEXANDER, was released from the file and escorted to DILI town where he was interrogated by the Japanese officer there. He said that was the last he saw of the men. Pte. ALEXANDER said he thought the men were being used by the Japanese as a working party. I told him what I knew about a party of men being shot. 8. From April 42 I was a POW at DILI prison camp and then I went to KOEPANG about June 42. Until August the 3rd I was at KOEPANG and then I embarked for Java. SWORN by the said Mervyn Peter RYAN at PERTH in the State of Western Australia this 30th day of August 1946 Before me: G. Neal A Commissioner for taking affidavits in the Supreme Court of Western Australia. [3] Pte. Merv Ryan field tests the showers at Dili drome [4] The Portuguese Dr Mario Borges Olivera who treated Merv Ryan’s wounds at the Lahane hospital also gave a statement to the 1st Australian War Crimes Section: AFFIDAVIT I MARIO BORGES OLIVERA, being duly sworn state: I am a physician of the DILI HOSPITAL and reside at DILI. I am a Portuguese subject and a captain in the Portuguese Army. On 20th February 1942 I was in Dili when the Japanese landed, and I remained in Dilli for four months after the first Japanese occupation. At the time of the Japanese landing there was an Australian civilian named BRYANT living at the Australian Consulate. Mr ROSS was the Australian Consul. I had been treating BRYANT but when I went to visit him to give him an injection, I was prevented from entering the Consulate by the Japanese. Both Mr ROSS and BRYANT were confined to the Consulate and no one was permitted to see them. On the 20th February, a man named DOMING0S SALDANHA, a native, told me there was a wounded Australian soldier lying on the DILI aerodrome. Fighting between the Japanese and the Australians had taken place on the aerodrome. I sent four men to bring the wounded soldier to the hospital. He arrived at about 10 am and I examined him. He was conscious and gave his name as RYAN. He was suffering from a high fever and twenty seven wounds which appeared to have been caused by shrapnel. The soldier was covered in blood. He asked for water and I commenced my treatment of him. The Australian soldier stayed at the hospital for one month. During this time, he recovered and was able to walk. At the end of his months stay in the hospital, a Japanese officer and three Japanese soldiers came to the hospital and took RYAN away together with one Dutch soldier and three Javanese soldiers. All these soldiers had been wounded. The Director-Doctor of the hospital protested to the Japanese officer telling him that the Portuguese were neutral and that the hospital was showing the Red Cross and under International Law, they could not be taken away. The Japanese took no notice and the soldiers were taken away. I do not know what happened to the soldiers and furthermore I do not know of anyone who does know what happened to them. [5] 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. Delbridge. [6] News of Merv Ryan’s survival and capture by the Japanese was relayed to his parents after the No. 2 Independent Company was evacuated from Portuguese Timor: A crumpled note, its pencilled message hardly decipherable, is a cherished possession of Mr. and Mrs. W. Ryan, of Simper Street, Wembley, for it is the last direct link they have with their 20-year-old son Pte. Mervyn Peter Ryan, now a prisoner of war. The note was smuggled out to his mates by Ryan after he had been taken captive. At first he was reported missing; later came advice that he was reported to be a prisoner of war, believed wounded in action. Although he had fallen into enemy hands and was wounded Ryan did hot despair of his freedom. Members of his own guerrilla company also had plans made to effect his escape. A faithful native of the country in which they were fighting was their principal go-between. Partly crippled, he is understood to have been shot later by the enemy as a spy. Ryan's message, addressed to one of his company pals, was as follows: Here's the answer to your note. You will find it hard to read for I have lost the power of my right hand also my right leg. But it won't keep me from having another go at these Japs. I have been in hospital for five weeks now, but I won't be a pris[oner] for I am getting help from your native as you know. Give my regards to all the boys. I have some good information but dangerous to write. See you all in two weeks. Your 'old faith, Merv. ENEMY LANDING Story of Ryan's adventures has been pieced together from scraps of information communicated to his parents by members of his company. Ryan and another West Australian named Smith were out on patrol with a machinegun. They were hidden at a point hear the coast about midnight when they heard the noises made by a party obviously landing in force. At first they had reason to assume these were friends, not foes, but they soon learned to the contrary. It was an enemy landing and Ryan and Smith found themselves in a tight corner. They opened fire and in the exchange of shots Smith was killed by a grenade burst and Ryan wounded in the arm and leg. NEWS AT LAST For two days Ryan was able to lie hidden, thanks to the co-operation of friendly people. A revolver was procured for him and patrols from his company instituted a search for him and for others. A note was got through to Ryan and the message quoted was his reply. The enemy evidently got wind of the rescue attempts before escape plans could be fulfilled. That was the last heard of Ryan until recently when news came that he was well and that his people should not worry. Ryan was well-known in the Brunswick district and was employed there when he enlisted. A younger brother, Private Ronald Patrick Ryan, is serving with an A.I.F. engineering unit. [7] After his repatriation to Australia at the end of the war, Merv Ryan gave more detail about his wartime experiences in a newspaper interview: Wounded badly, in an agony of thirst, and on the point of exhaustion, Private Mervyn Peter Ryan pleaded with a Japanese guard for water. Laughing his request to scorn, the Jap whipped out his revolver and shot him through the shoulder. This was the worst but not the only example of the enemy's inhuman treatment which came the way of Ryan, now home at Shenton Park after being a P.O.W. in Timor, Java and Malaya since late 1941. Ryan, who is 23 and a strapping physical specimen, lost more than four stone during his incarceration. He belonged to the 2/2nd Commandos who landed on Timor shortly before Christmas, 1941. He and the two other members of his gun crew shared the brunt of the fighting when the battle occurred for Dilli drome. One of the trio escaped unwounded, a grenade burst open Ryan's right leg some inches above the ankle, while the third man was severely wounded and died two days afterwards. As the scene of the fighting moved away the two men lay in their 'nest’. With his mate dead Ryan crawled painfully towards the native house. Lack of food and water and the untreated, bleeding wound caused him torture and he had spells of dizziness and coma. It was while he was making this desperate journey that the water incident occurred. He was apparently left for as good as dead. It took him four hours to cover 25 yards. RAW MEAT Near the house he located a kerosene tin half-filled with brackish water, risked drinking it and munched buffalo grass shoots. He awakened from another fainting fit to find himself surrounded by a group of gesticulating natives. These gave him buffalo meat which he sucked raw, water and rice. They then brought Portuguese and native doctors to him and they got permission for him to be taken through the enemy defence lines to the nearby hospital. Here he had to be given intravenously such sustaining liquids as goat's milk. The doctors and natives established communication with his unit which was then engaged in furious fighting with the Japanese in the foothills. He planned an escape but was put in a prison camp. NIGHT RAIDERS One night in May, 1942 a small party of his unit daringly stormed the camp, apparently bent on rescuing him and Peter Alexander, of Kalgoorlie, who was also in the camp. They heard the sound of .303 bullets and a volley of these was fired on to the verandah of their camp hut, the guard being wounded. The whole camp was roused and the Dilli town alarm sounded while Jap infantry moved off with armoured cars and M.G. carriers. They claimed next day to have, shot one of the raiding party. With his leg wound still unhealed Ryan was moved south to Asaper Bessar camp from where, after a spell of hard work, he was sent to Batavia, still having to spend periods in hospital for treatment of his leg and shoulder. Here a number of Australians worked in the gardens and found the food situation greatly improved, but when there came another shift to Singapore the food was scarce and unsuitable, consisting almost exclusively of rice. They crossed to Singapore in a ship carrying 2000 prisoners who were so jammed they had to remain seated for the three-day voyage. TORTURE While working in the Singapore docks area they had a grandstand view of an Allied air raid which burned out the installations. Fires burned for four days. The Japs persistently tried to draw out Ryan regarding our guerrilla operations and were particularly inquisitive to find out why our men persisted in fighting in the interior. Once he was examined along these' lines by a Jap admiral and three generals. They usually had some fiendish torture to accompany these interrogations. Considering the great hardships and suffering he was forced to endure Ryan has made a remarkable recovery. [8] Merv Ryan was in fact much closer to the raiding party than they realised. Here is his account of the raid as experienced as a Jap prisoner: May 15, 1942 - was being held a prisoner of war by the Japanese at Dili. About midnight Peter Alexander and I were asleep in a house with about 30 soldiers of different nationalities, when all of a sudden hell broke loose. We had a window open to let some air into the room. I dived over and closed it so no silly bugger would throw a grenade in. The bullets were really flying around the place. 303s and Tommy guns could well be heard. After about a quarter of an hour the world around us became quite calm until the Nips started to have their say. They sure gave us a headache that night. Peter and I were repeatedly woken up to make sure we had not gone A.W.L. They came and checked us every hour. (Do you think I hated the army then?) The raid certainly worried the little ape men. They raced through the town like mad, bringing anything that would roll on wheels for we could count the carriers and trucks going up and down the road all night long. For a long time after they would patrol at night, so the raid gave them a lot of sleepless nights. May 16, 1942, 5.30 a.m. - We were all made to stand under a big tree and were told by Gorilla Pete that the Australians who made the raid were all wiped out. They produced one hat and one rifle, but we had found out that it was a Jap body, so we all started to laugh. The Japs didn't appreciate our mirth, so they made us face each other and told us to slap each our mate's face. (That Alexander sure can throw a good right). After the show had quietened down I went out the front of the house to have a look. Was I pleased to be behind a 12 inch stone wall in that raid for the verandah was just riddled with bullet holes. I spent a whole day digging out .303 bullets and Tommy gun rounds. [9] Merv Ryan’s parents were unaware of his fate after the report they had received in March 1943, so it was a great relief for them when a photo of him appeared in a newspaper report about released Australian prisoners of war in Singapore at the end of the war: Pte M.P. Ryan pictured in the group published in yesterday's issue of ‘The West Australian’. The first indication that her son, a prisoner of war in Japanese hands since his capture on Timor, was alive and well was when Mrs W. Ryan of 39 Evans Street, Shenton Park, saw his photograph in a group published in yesterday's issue of ‘The West Australian’ under the caption ‘The Australians Enjoy the Situation’. She recognised her son and hurried into this office to see the original print – ‘just to make sure’ she said. He is WX13624 Pte Mervyn Peter Ryan, who was one of the famed Timor guerrillas and a member of the Second Independent Company (commandos). Pte Ryan was wounded at Dilli aerodrome on February 19, 1942 and captured by the Japanese. He was immediately dispatched to a Japanese [Portuguese] hospital where he remained for about five weeks. This information was relayed to his unit by a native messenger who was subsequently shot by the Japanese as a ‘spy’. The next indication of his whereabouts was about five months later when he was located in Java X camp - the news also being received by a native messenger. During his internment his mother received no mail from him. On Monday, however, she was informed by a telegram from the Minister for the Army that Pte Ryan had been reported alive at Tangong Pagar, Singapore, on September 4. However, it was not divulged whether he was in good health. Mrs Ryan saw his likeness for the first time for nearly four years when the photograph was published in ‘The West Australian’. That morning she received a letter from him stating that he would be home in about a fortnight. ‘It is the greatest day in my life’, she said, ‘and I have never felt so excited. I did not know whether he was alive or dead and the photo in the paper dispelled any doubts I had. It was marvellous’. Pte Ryan is 23 years of age and was educated at the Leederville State school. He was born at Goomalling. [10] Merv Ryan’s travails and adventures weren’t concluded at the end of the war as related by Col Doig in this ‘friendly fire’ anecdote about the aftermath of the Association 1947 reunion dinner: Perhaps the highlight of this function was the aftermath. Jack Denman had his car and when the show was over got a few passengers to be delivered in all directions. Merv Ryan was precariously perched on the running board (yes, cars had running boards in 1947) and in swerving to avoid another vehicle coming onto the Causeway, sideswiped Merv on to a light pole, leaving him grounded, slightly bruised only (who ever heard of a drunk getting hurt in a minor accident) and proceeded over the Causeway unaware that one of his precious cargo was adrift on the roadside. [11] Merv Ryan passed away in 1986 aged 64 years: VALE - MERV RYAN With a great depth of sadness we report the passing of a man who put up a grand fight against tremendous odds and finally, after courageously attending the Canberra Safari, succumbed to the almost unbeatable scourge. Merv was an original in our formative days at Foster and was a member of 2 Section, 'A' Platoon, under Gerry McKenzie, his platoon commander, Rolf (Baldy) Baldwin. From the word go Merv made his mark in a very competitive section, the earmarks of a fine soldier apparent from very early days, so it turned out to be. He was tall, athletic, tough, full of humour, very much a man's man who acquitted himself in every possible situation with distinction. He was well liked by every member of the Unit and that continued into post war years. Merv's war years were destined to be served under the yoke of the Japanese for on the night of the 19th February 1942, when 2 Section took the brunt of the Japanese landing, he was badly wounded in close contact with the enemy and that was the last we saw of him until the war ended. The years under the Japanese were torrid indeed, that is putting it mildly, but Merv made of the right stuff, terrible injuries and all, was still in there punching, making his presence felt, as Nippon would well know. For a short while he had Peter Alexander from 7 Section as a mate but that was only temporary. Merv's injuries could not see him moved from Singapore and Peter was sent up to the ‘Railway’. August 1945 saw the Japanese surrender and in its wake came the emotional reunion of families long parted. So it was with Merv who settled back into civilian life easily for he had a tremendous partner in Dulcie, raised a family, worked hard on the wharves at Fremantle and threw in his lot with our 2/2nd Commando Association and he was an invaluable member. He showed the same fortitude post war as he did when a P.O.W., for life was not easy. The injuries received on that fateful night in February 1942 caused untold problems and pain, but he dismissed them all with the well-known Ryan grin. Over all the years Dulcie was a tower of strength to Merv, a wonderful wife and mother, a lovely person. We send our heartfelt sympathy to Dulcie and her family and trust time will in some way heal the great void left by Merv's passing. May God give you and yours strength to face the years ahead with peace of heart and mind being yours in abundance. We will miss Merv so very much, a well-loved mate and comrade. To all with whom he had contact his memory will make these words live for they are indelibly imprinted in our hearts. 'LEST WE FORGET' [12] REFERENCES [1] Cyril Ayris. - All the Bull's men : No. 2 Australian Independent Company (2/2nd Commando Squadron) / Cyril Ayris. - [Perth, W.A.] : 2/2nd Commando Association, 2006: 109. [2] [Newspaper article - Source unknown] [3] ‘Statement by Mervyn Peter Ryan’ in National Archives of Australia: MP742/1, War crimes - Timor Asia (general) : TIMOR 4 - War crimes - Timor Asia (general) [component 1 of 7] 336/1/1724 PART 1. [4] Archie Campbell. - The Double Reds of Timor. - Swanbourne, W.A.: John Burridge Military Antiques, c1995: 33. [5] ‘Affidavit of Dr Mario Borges Olivera, Physician, Dili Hospital (Lahane), Dili, Portuguese Timor, 25th June,1946’ in National Archives of Australia: MP742/1, War crimes - Timor Asia (general) : TIMOR 4 - War crimes - Timor Asia (general) [component 1 of 7] 336/1/1724 PART 1. [6] Source: 2/2 Commando Association of Australia photo archive. [7] ‘Japs thwart escape plan’ Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 - 1950), Friday 19 March 1943: 7. (http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page7966930) [8] ‘Wounded man shot when craved water’ Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 - 1950), Saturday 20 October 1945: 15. (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/rendition/nla.news-article78481096.txt) [9] A history of the 2nd Independent Company and 2/2 Commando Squadron / compiled by C.D. Doig. - Carlisle, W.A. : Hesperian Press, 2009. [First published: 1986]: 115-116. [10] ‘Son recognised in Singapore picture: WA mother's "greatest day”’ West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954), Thursday 20 September 1945: 4. (http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article51769482) [11] A great fraternity: the story of [the] 2/2nd Commando Association, 1946-1992 / compiled by C.D. Doig. - [Perth, W.A.: C.D. Doig], 1993: 28. [12] ‘Vale - Merv Ryan’ 2/2 Commando Courier vol. 62, August 1986: 7-8. Prepared by Ed Willis 29 June 2021
  5. At the end of WWII, ex No. 2 Independent Company soldier George Milsom (TX4141) was promoted to Sergeant and became a member of a three-man team Military History Team that was sent to both Dutch and Portuguese Timor to record significant campaign sites. [1] George was the guide of this team; Lieutenant Charles Bush was the official war artist and sometimes used George as a model and Sergeant Keith Davis the photographer. [2] In Dili they received help from two new criados Fernando and Akiu. George Milsom was an avid letter writer and his parents kept all of his letters. This post features a letter dated 14 January 1946 that he wrote after the Military History Team had completed its patrol to campaign sites at the eastern end of Portuguese Timor. The twelve day patrol travelled through the following locations: Dili, Manatuto, Vemasse, Baucau, Lautem, Lore, Fuiloro and Ossu then back to Dili. Milsom’s narrative of the patrol is complemented by photographer Keith Davis’s photographs of some of the locations visited by the Team. The adventures and social activities of the men and their reliance on the hard working jeep as their mode of transport makes for interesting and entertaining reading. Map 1: Route followed by the Military History Section Team Date DECEMBER 1945 29 Dilli-Manatuto-Baucau 30 Baucau-Lautem 31 Lautem-River Laivai-Baucau-Manatuto JANUARY 1946 1 Manatuto, Baucau, Lautem 2 Lautem 3 Lautem, Fuiloro, Lore 4 Lore, Baucau 5 Baucau, Venilale, Ossu, Viqueque 6 Viqueque, Ossu 7 Ossu 8 Ossu, Mundo Perdido, Venilale, Ossulata Beach, Baucau 9 Baucau, Laleia River, Manatuto, Dilli Table 1: Military History Section Team’s itinerary Ossu, Portuguese Timor. Members of the Military History Field Team and local children in the team's Jeep. Identified, left to right: Sergeant (Sgt) Manuel Da Camara, Portuguese colonial forces; Sgt Keith Davis, Military History Section (MHS), official war photographer; Antonio; Fernando; Lieutenant Charles Bush, MHS, official war artist; George Milsom, MHS; and Akiu, the criado of Arthur Stevenson of Z Special. Dilli 14/1/46 I have not written to you this year and what with all the festivities and running round I have hardly had time to enter all the unusual and amazing experiences in my diary, we shall never forget New Year's Eve and New Years Day. When I write the entry in my diary I found I had put all the happenings in the one day, did not even bother to start a New Year. The QUANZA a Portuguese ship is in port unloading thousands of tons of supplies after which it will go to Fremantle on its return to Lisbon; I hope to send this let or by her. She may go out in about a week. I wish I had some more money to buy things off her; I have a lovely Omega watch and would like to get another but now I am short, there are some beautiful things here too. We cannot even get word to Koepang for some money; I suppose we shall find some way out of it. Cigarettes are pretty plentiful, many different brands and some from South Africa; I'll try to get as many as I can if only for souvenirs. To get back to where I left off in my last letter. We set off for the Eastern end of the island on 29th Dec, this time with a Porto sergeant named Manuel Camara; one big happy jeep-load of four Tuans and three Creadosplus a trailer of gear and food. Had a good trip round a glorious coast road that sometimes ran over salt pans, then round a cliff high above the sea and in places the roadway was built up over the sea. We climbed a range where the road was just a ledge cut into the steep side of the mountain. SUBAO GRANDE, PORTUGUESE TIMOR. 1945-12-29. SPARSELY WOODED HILLSIDES LEADING DOWN TO THE SEA BESIDE THE DILI TO MANATUTO ROAD. (PHOTOGRAPHER SGT K. B. DAVIS ) We forded some rivers and crossed others on Japanese constructed bridges. Had a nice lunch at MANATUTO and later pushed on to BAUCAU. Encountered very heavy rain at VERMASSE and the road became sticky, especially over the BAUCAU plateau. This town is the next largest to DILI but has been mauled and bombed till almost beyond repair. Somehow the Portos have things going again and are living in patched houses. We stayed a right there and went on to LAUTEM next day (Sunday). There we found the Administrator Senhor GONSALVES sitting on the verandah of a house that the Japs had built and used for their HQ. He is a big chap, big-hearted, and welcomed us with VINHO DA PORTO. Lautem, Portuguese Timor. Senhor Gonsalves seated on the verandah of a mud house built by the Japanese. VX128043 Charles William Bush (in shorts) Military History Section (MHS), an Official War Artist, is working at an easel. Also identified (far right, back to camera) is TX4141 George James Beedham Milsom, MHS. He has gathered round him all the Japanese junk from the area, broken down bombers and small motor cars; I have never seen such a collection before. We slept in Japanese beds with sheets and mosquito nets and had hot bathe in the concrete bath the Japs had built. Then we went to the airfield and you should see the wrecked planes, all in the most fantastic angles and positions, you will have to see the photo to believe it. LAUTEM, PORTUGUESE TIMOR. 1946-01-02. THIS JAPANESE TWIN ENGINED AIRCRAFT WAS PROBABLY DESTROYED BY THEM AT THE END OF THE WAR. (PHOTOGRAPHER SGT K. B. DAVIS) We did not run short of petrol there because there is a dump of 56,000 44 gallon drums there. The Administrator has trucks, cars and hundreds of bicycles. One shed he has is full of gear, one wall was covered with chiming clocks. He gave us some souvenirs. The junk heap was even able to supply us with two wheels for the jeep. LAUTEM, PORTUGUESE TIMOR. 1946-01-02. DAMAGED BICYCLES IN THE LAUTEM AREA WHERE THE JAPANESE MAINTAINED THEIR LARGEST DUMPS OF PETROL, EQUIPMENT AND STORES. THEY DESTROYED MUCH OF THIS MATERIAL AND MANY AIRCRAFT AT THE NEARBY AIRFIELD AT THE END OF THE WAR. (PHOTOGRAPHER SGT K. B. DAVIS) After staying the night and deciding to go on to LORE on 31st the Administrator said, ‘Would you like to go to the New Year Festival and Dance at MANATUTO?’ We accepted, and here the fun commenced. We left LAUTEM and had a good 11/2 hours run to BAUCAU, had afternoon tea, and continued on our way to MANATUTO. At the VEMASSE river we found the river swollen with muddy water and impossible to cross so decided to wait rather than go back and after about two hours the water had gone down a fair bit. Although it was 8 p.m. and dark I decided to give the jeep a go at the crossing, so I put it into low ratio four wheel drive and ventured forth. She went well till we got about three parts of the way over, then the front wheels went into a hole, the engine gave a choke and conked out. By this time the water was rushing in a torrent straight through the jeep over the seats and even with the glove-box. The rush of water moved the jeep downstream a few yards, so we climbed out and got a mob of natives to push us over. The head and tail lights still burned and I had previously connected the trouble lamp. When on dry land we pulled the plugs out, drained away the mud and water, gave the engine a kick over to empty the exhaust and silencer, and started up and went on to the LALEILA river to have a repeat performance. We reached MANATUTO just as everyone was finishing the dinner and setting off to the dance. As we were wet through and so was our change of clothes we had a bath and managed to borrow a change of clothes; I had a pair of grey trousers and a safari jacket belonging to the Administrator. Then we had a meal and set off to the dance. It was marvellous. A long shed had been especially constructed by the natives and gaily decorated inside and out. It was lighted with Chinese lanterns and in the centre was a raised platform for an orchestra supplied by BARTOLOMEO DIAZ. At the end of the stand was a drink bar with wine, brandy, a native cocktail, and ‘TUAKA’. I think I tried them all. It was not long before I was dancing round in a ring with the INTENDANT of BAUCAU and three CHEFES DA POSTO teaching them to sing ‘She'll be coming round the mountain when she comes’. This amazed the crowd because an INTENDANT is rather a high official; he is one of the Governor's aides. Well it’s the first time I have ever danced until eight in the morning. There were very few white girls there, but I danced with them all and many Timor girls. LAUTEM, PORTUGUESE TIMOR. 1946-01-02. A WOODEN JAPANESE SIGNPOST WITH EMPTY PETROL DRUMS AND MOBILE ANTI-AIRCRAFT GUNS IN THE BACKGROUND. We picked up the dances easily, they are very similar to ours. Charles and Keith faded out about 4 a.m. but everyone who had gone to sleep was awakened by the drums and parade round the houses; about 2000 natives and others went in a long crocodile and I took over the drum for a while, it was all great fun and seemed unreal. ‘FLEIZ ANNO NOVA’ end ‘FLIEIZ NATAL’ will always remain in my memory. At 11 a.m. we set out on our return journey pretty weary. WE had a good lunch at BAUCAU but then we got to the MALAI River that was in flood, so we had to wait again and with a number of natives built a roadway over the deepest part and: crossed over o.k. Had a good dinner at LAUTEM and went to bed and did very little their next day except to get the jeep ready to go on to LORE. Having got it ready it refused to start until I had taken out the plugs and cleaned them. We had a good lunch at FUILORO and arrived at LORE at four p.m. We were shown a crashed HUDSON bomber in which six Australians had lost their lives; the wreckage was fenced in by the natives. [3] The most peculiar thing we saw was some Jap defences on the beach below LORE; the Japs had put small sharp bamboo stakes up in the sand, thousands of them inclined towards the sea and they evidently anticipated a landing. Also on the LAUTEM plateau was a similar sight, thousands of sharp bamboo stakes about 7 or 8 feet long pointing straight up as a defence against para troops. LAUTEM PLAIN, PORTUGUESE TIMOR. 1946-01-04. LIEUTENANT BUSH, OFFICIAL ARTIST, AND SERGEANT MILSOM, MILITARY HISTORY FIELD TEAM, EXAMINING ONE OF THE SHARPENED BAMBOO STAKES THE JAPANESE PLACED ON THE PLAINS AND OPEN SPACES THEY THOUGHT SUITABLE FOR ALLIED PARACHUTE LANDINGS. (PHOTOGRAPHER SGT K. B. DAVIS) We left LORE at 2 p.m. and went back to BAUCAU. Our original plan was to go down the coast from LORE to VIQUEQUE but owing to rains the CHINO river was swollen. At OSSU we picked up the CHEFE DA POSTO and took him to VIQUEQUE where we stayed a night. Next day we tried to get up the coast to HATOLARE, but another big river stopped us (the BEVAI) - it is not marked on my map. We had some fun when the jeep fell through a small bridge, but we managed to lever it out and carry on as usual. Stayed two nights at OSSU which to my mind is the prettiest and best located place on the island. The surrounding mountains LAURTINE and MUNDO PERDIDO present a glorious sight, especially at sunrise and sunset. The CHEFE DA POSTO at OSSU is very young and full of life and we had a great time there. OSSU, PORTUGUESE TIMOR. 1946-01-07. AUSTRALIANS OF SPARROW FORCE USED THIS HOUSE AS HEADQUARTERS WHEN OCCUPYING THE TOWN IN 1942. (PHOTOGRAPHER SGT K. B. DAVIS) When we reached BAUCAU on the 8th we learned that the big bridge over the LALIELA River had a span torn out by the flood and that it was impossible to get through, so we spent another night at BAUCAU. Next morning we started out at 5 a.m. arriving at LALIELA at 7. Viewed the bridge and river with doubt, took some photos of the bridge, had a breakfast of pineapple. The latter event attracted such a crowd of natives that it gave me courage to give the river bed a go. It was about 200 yards across and for the third time we plunged into a volume of dirty water of unknown depth. We got completely stuck in some sand but about 50 yelling natives made light work of getting us across. The water did not come up to the glove box this time. When we got across the natives shouted with delight, so we gave them a 5 pataca note to split up amongst them. How they were going to do that would keep them occupied for the next fortnight I should think. That proved to be the last obstacle and we arrived in DILI for a late lunch. That night we went aboard the QUANZA had some beer in both lounges, had a look at what the bar tenders had to offer and came off the ship each with a nice new watch. Thursday night we went to a party at the HQ Sergeant's mess, more VINHO and VIVA PORTUGAL and singing. We were properly tired that night. On Friday night we went to the Officers' mess where we had another marvellous dinner with iced LAURENTINA beer from Africa. The best thing was the African soldiers' orchestra which played to us all night, lovely music with soft rhythm and many popular tunes. We have been feted so much that we shall have to go to AINARO in a few days for a holiday. Saturday night we went to a concert party put on by the artillery unit, it was very good and even if we did laugh in the wrong places we provided amusement for all. Must now go and post this on board the QUANZA. ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Thank you to Liz Milsom (George Milsom’s daughter) for making George’s correspondence available for publication. REFERENCES [1] ‘George James Beedham Milsom’ https://doublereds.org.au/history/men-of-the-22/tx/george-james-beedham-milsom-r364/ [2] See Ed Willis ‘75 Years on - Art and photographs in the Australian War Memorial Collection related to the campaign in Portuguese Timor – Charles Bush and Keith Davis’ https://doublereds.org.au/forums/topic/108-75-years-on-art-and-photographs-in-the-australian-war-memorial-collection-related-to-the-campaign-in-portuguese-timor-–-charles-bush-and-keith-davis/?tab=comments#comment-172 [3] Milsom is referring to Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) 13 Squadron Hudson bomber A16-166 that was shot down by Japanese fighters off Cape Lore while flying in support of an air raid on ships at Nova Ancora. All five [not six] crew members were killed in action. See David Vincent. – The RAAF Hudson story – book two. – Highbury, SA: Vincent Aviation Publications, 2010: 90-91.
  6. Perth-based members and supporters of the 2/2 Commando Association of Australia are encouraged to visit an upcoming exhibition at the Wireless Hill Museum, Yagan Mia Wireless Hill Park, 1 Telefunken Drive, Ardross WA 6153. The centre piece of the exhibition will be a 3D textile version of ‘Winnie the War Winner’ created by Sandy Mack whose father was original unit member Terry Paull (WX12340). Sandy’s representation of the iconic radio set is remarkable and should provide quite a conversation piece and draw card for the exhibition. Full details regarding the location of the Museum and the dates and times for the exhibition can be found at: https://www.melvillecity.com.au/things-to-do/museums-arts-and-culture/wireless-hill-museum
  7. Dear Ken: See the Doublereds entry for your uncle linked below that includes details of the medals he was entitled to - let me know if you need any additional information. Harvey's service record can also be downloaded from: https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/DetailsReports/ItemDetail.aspx?Barcode=6468894&isAv=N Regards Ed Willis President, 2/2 Commando Association of Australia
  8. WWII in East Timor – A Site and Travel Guide LIQUIÇÁ MUNICIPALITY MAUBARA 8° 36' 42.98" S 125° 12' 22.00" E Maubara is 26 miles (42 km.) from Dili at a bearing of 262°. This small posto and market town is situated on the north coast and at the terminus of the coast road. The posto itself is constructed on a knoll with its usual administrative and auxiliary buildings. Several buildings were destroyed by floods during 1939. Other buildings are church, school, and residences, most of which are built of stone with galvanized iron roofing. There is an anchorage on the open beach of Maubara. [1] Map of Maubara The town of Maubara is situated by the sea on a narrow frontage, with the core of the town extending inland towards the hills behind, bounded on the eastern side by the Rio Bahonu and a smaller stream on the west. Callinan was not as impressed with Maubara as he was with Liquiçá: "We did not remain long in Liquissa, but drove on to Maubara, located at the end of the road-and indeed it looked like it! The buildings were dilapidated, and the inhabitants were few. A couple of us walked into the only open building we could see and found it to be a Chinese shop. The occupants were distressed to see such martial figures and insisted on producing coffee and cakes whilst an old man told me how very old and ill he was, and that the only other occupants were women and children, flocks of whom were produced for our inspection. Feeling very embarrassed, we beat a retreat as soon as courtesy permitted after the refreshments". [2] In February 1942 the Dutch contingent stored rations and ammunition at the posto and school in the town as a transition base for their withdrawal by sea to Dutch Timor in anticipation of the arrival of the Portuguese reinforcements. [3] Escola do Padre Medeiros (Father Medeiros’ School) where the Dutch stored rations and ammunition – photo taken 18 April 2014 Despite Callinan’s reservations about the attractiveness of the town it features affectionately in one of the longest anecdotes in his book related to Bols gin, one of the rations stored at the posto: "One of our patrols which was around to the north of Ermera heard of a supply of Dutch stores at Maubara on the north coast. These had been placed there prior to the Japanese landing with the intention of moving them by barges into Dutch Timor. Our interest in the stores was increased when it was learnt that amongst them was some Bols gin, which was normally an issue with the R.N.E.I.A. After the Japanese landing the Chefe de Posto had moved the stores to his posto and sent an inventory to the Governor. The Japanese had visited the town but once, and had not searched the posto, so that the stores were still intact, but the Chefe de Posto, a most conscientious and good man, would not part with the stores without the authority of the Governor. Earlier there had been a misunderstanding between the Chefe de Posto and one of our troops, but this was smoothed over very well by Sousa Santos. Shortly afterwards, through Sousa Santos, I received a letter from the Governor stating that the stores were available and that I could collect them provided I gave a receipt for all the goods received. I was only too willing to supply a receipt, and the next day 200 natives left Bobonaro to skirt around the enemy and collect the stores from Maubara. Within a week they were back with sixty-seven cases of Bols gin-twelve bottles to the case. There were some other stores, but they were of little importance compared with the gin. We sent a case of gin back to the Chefe de Posto at Maubara, expressing our appreciation of his probity and courtesy, and another case went to the Governor. These gifts were entirely unofficial and, of course, were not acknowledged, but were probably enjoyed none the less. One case went to the Dutch headquarters, and gifts were sent to various good friends amongst the Portuguese. The remainder was distributed to the platoons. I do not think any of us really drank much gin in normal times, but I thoroughly enjoyed neat Bols gin out of pannikins of all shapes, sizes and materials. It provided a very welcome break for the whole company, and we lived in the memories and stories of that issue for a long time”. [4] Maubara Posto The posto at Maubara referred to by Callinan is one of the classics of its type. Sited south of the town it overlooks, in a dominant hillside position on the eastern bank of the Rio Bahonu it provides expansive views along the coast to the east and west and inland to the hills behind. Built in the late 1890s at the direction of Governor Celestino da Silva it was one of the network of military posts intended to provide for the effective colonial occupation of Portuguese Timor. The Maubara stronghold represented a particular case, as it was a Dutch heritage, consisting of a solid stone and lime construction with a circular shape, with a European-style “good house” for the commander, a barracks for an inferior officer and another, in Timorese style, for 30 soldiers. [5] "Naturally, the effectiveness of a military network depends on the interconnection of the units that comprise it. In view of the difficulties in establishing an effective road network, Celestino da Silva bet on a telephone network connecting the main towns, whose assembly would be in charge of the postal and telegraph service section of the public works division. In 1900, the first town to be linked to the capital was Maubara, later connecting to Batugadé, and branching to Boibau, Bobonaro, Aileu, Maubisse, Same, Lacló, Manatuto, Laclubar and Viqueque, arriving in Lautém in the last year of Celestino's government". [6] Casa e dependências do posto civil – Maubara, Timor 1925 [7] The posto underwent extensive renovation during 2012-2015 financed by Portuguese government under the Mós Bele Program to transform it into boutique hotel for tourists. It then lay unoccupied for several years, but in December 2020 the keys to the rehabilitated building were ‘handed over to the Ministry of Tourism, Commerce and Industry of Timor-Leste, the competent authority for the steps leading to the future concession of the building for the purpose of tourist exploitation’. [8] Maubara Fort The grey-walled fort that dominates the seafront here is of Dutch rather than Portuguese origin and dates from the mid-18th century. The Dutch had an active interest in Maubara at this time as a prime site for coffee cultivation and introduced it to the island here and at Liquiçá from whence it gradually spread elsewhere to become the important cash crop it is today. Dutch interest in the enclave waned over time and it was ceded to Portugal as part-payment part for a larger territorial deal finally concluded in 1861. [9] Several large shady trees shelter the expansive rectangular interior of the fort that is leaf-littered and weedy bare earth apart from a single centrally located modern building. Two old cannons are aimed seawards from bastions at either end of the northern wall. Rustic and neglected wooden gates provide access to the fort from the north and south; they are installed in arches that stand taller than the walls. [10] MAUBARA, PORTUGUESE TIMOR. 1946-01-29. THE OLD STONE … FORT. AUSTRALIANS OF SPARROW FORCE PASSED THROUGH THIS AREA ON SEVERAL OCCASIONS DURING 1942. (PHOTOGRAPHER SGT K. B. DAVIS). [11] Maubara Fort – photo taken 26 April 2014 Portuguese Internment Zone at Maubara In late October 1942, the Portuguese Governor reluctantly accepted the Japanese edict regarding ‘protective concentration’ and encouraged all Portuguese residents to move to ‘internment’ areas at Liquiçá, Maubara and the nearby hill village of Bazar Tete – this was deemed necessary for protection against the ‘rebeliões de indígenas (rebellious Timorese)’. Initially, the protection zone comprised the entire part of the coast stretching from Liquiçá to the mouth of the Lois River with people encouraged to gather in the towns of Liquiçá and Maubara. However, earlier on, several families stayed in the immediate vicinity where they were better able to cultivate subsistence crops. That situation changed quickly, with constant intimidation and confrontations with the ‘colunas negros’ (black columns). In May 1943, members of the Portuguese military detachment in Maubara were disarmed and demobilised. In the town, some internees still managed to maintain small vegetable gardens. Gradually, through more or less indirect pressure, the Japanese were also urging Timorese to stop selling their produce in weekly markets. Anxieties were further increased by sporadic Allied bombing and strafing attacks that sometimes caused Portuguese and Timorese casualties. In September 1944, without warning, the Japanese ordered the transfer of the approximately 200 people based in Maubara to Liquiçá, further undermining living conditions for the internees. [12] Monument to José Nunes, the Loyal Regulo of Maubara Departing the southern gate of the fort, in front of the grounds of the primary school there is a significant Portuguese monument; the plaque on this monument bears the inscription: ‘Homenagem do Governo de Timor au seu mui fiel regulo de Maubara José Nunes (1874-1952)’. In mid-November 1943, Maubara was defended from attacks by rebellious warriors from Balibó, Cailaco and Atabai by local men led by the loyal liurai José Nunes and his son Gaspar, who supported a small Portuguese detachment of indigenous soldiers. [13] Rui Brito da Fonseca has provided this description of the monument: "D. Jose was always faithful to the Portuguese, so his camp deserved the confidence of carrying out guard of honour to the Governor. I still remember in memory the impressive parade of the Cavalry of Maubara, commanded by the imposing D. Gaspar, son of Jose Nunes, accompanied by his principals, when Governor Alves Aldeia arrived in Portugal on the 20th of March April 1974. He was considered a hero in the Manufahi War in 1913. He helped the Portuguese in such a way when, from the end of 1942, they were confined to the Protection Zone of Maubara and Liquiçá, that many, undoubtedly, owed him for their survival". Monumento fúnebre do liurai José Nunes – photograph taken 26 April 2018 "At the end of the conflict and the Japanese expelled, the governor wanted to publicly show his recognition by granting the honour of being himself the first liurai to fly the Portuguese flag outside Dili, thus beginning the reception of the term by the Portuguese administrative authorities. It is said that, on a certain occasion during the Japanese occupation, some Japanese officials, on the birthday of the Emperor, invited D. Jose Nunes to propose a toast to the Great Japanese Empire, to which he acceded. Soon after, he asked for the floor and, tell the storytellers, that the assembly trembled in fear of what the liurai might say, such was his unbelievable spirit. Then, Jose Nunes, raised his glass, getting cold silence and in his gentle authority he said: - I toast Portugal, which is even greater! As an old man, he expressed to the Government that his greatest desire was to be buried under the shadow of the national flag that he knew. Years later, his will was done, and he was buried in a monument whose shade shadows his grave and the representation of the flag he served. This monument inspired a whole series of funerary monuments in the centre of the neighbouring villages with the rolled-up cover, symbolising the flag in which he believed in life". [14] MAUBARA, PORTUGUESE TIMOR. 1946-01-29. KING NUNIS OF MAUBARA WHO ORGANISED AN ANTI 5TH COLUMN CAMPAIGN AMONG HIS NATIVES. THE AUSTRALIANS OF SPARROW FORCE FOUGHT SEVERAL ACTIONS AGAINST JAPANESE SYMPATHISERS AND WERE AIDED BY LOCAL LEADERS LIKE KING NUNIS WHO REMAINED LOYAL TO THE PORTUGUESE. (PHOTOGRAPHER SGT K. B. DAVIS) [?] REFERENCES [1] Area study of Portuguese Timor: 27-28. [2] Callinan, Bernard. - Independent Company : the Australian Army in Portuguese Timor 1941-43. - Richmond, Vic.: Heinemann, 1984.: 23. [3] J.J. Nortier ‘De bezetting van Dilly, Portugees Timor: geallieerd initiatief in de eerste weken van de oorlog tegen Japan [The occupation of Dilly, Portuguese Timor: Allied initiative in the first weeks of the war against Japan]’ Ons Leger 63 September 1979: 49-60. [4] Callinan, Bernard. - Independent Company : the Australian Army in Portuguese Timor 1941-43. - Richmond, Vic. : Heinemann, 1984: 119-120. [5] Isabel Boavida ‘Celestino da Silva, a rede de postos militares e a ocupação colonial efetiva de Timor português (1895–1905): Um processo (des)construtivo’ [Celestino da Silva, the network of military posts and the effective colonial occupation of Portuguese Timor (1895–1905): A (de) constructive process] Journal of Asian History, Vol. 48, No. 2 (2014): 249. [6] Boavida: 255. [7] https://www.archives.gov.mo/webas/ArchiveDetail2016.aspx?id=58081 [8] Timor-Leste: Delivery of Pousada de Maubara (https://www.instituto-camoes.pt/sobre/comunicacao/noticias/timor-leste-entrega-da-pousada-de-maubara) [9] W.G. Clarence-Smith “Planters and smallholders in Portuguese Timor: the nineteenth and twentieth centuries” Indonesia Circle no. 57, 1992: 15-30. [10] See also Steve Farram ‘The Maubara fort, a relic of eighteenth-century local autonomy and Dutch-Portuguese rivalry on Timor’ Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 50 (2) May 2019: 263–287. [11] AWM 125217 [12] See Manuel de Abreu Ferreira de Carvalho. - Relatório dos acontecimentos de Timor (1942-45) [Report of Timorese events (1942­45)]. - Lisboa: Edições Cosmos, 2003: 406-412, Antonio de Oliveira Liberato. - Os japoneses estiveram em Timor [The Japanese were in Timor]. - Lisboa: Empresa Nacional da Publicade, 1951: ‘A Zona De Concentração’, 153-208, and Jose Duarte Santa. - Australianos e japoneses em Timor na II Guerra Mundial, 1941-1945 [Australians and Japanese in Timor in the Second World War, 1941-1945]. - Lisboa: Noticias, 1997 for the most detailed account. [13] Rocha, Carlos Vieira da. - Timor: ocupação japonesa durante a Segunda Guerra Mundial (2a. ed. rev. e ampliada). Sociedade Histórica da Independência de Portugal, Lisboa, 1996: 107. [14] Rui Brito da Fonseca. - Monumentos portugueses em Timor-Leste. - Dili, Timor Leste : [Crocodilo Azul?], 2005: 52-53. [15] AWM 12516.
  9. ‘The RAAF boys who fell out of the sky’. Sgt John Jones with (mounted) RAAF Sgt Webb and Flying Officer Gabb. [1] Introduction No. 31 Squadron was formed on the 14th August 1942. It was to be a long range fighter squadron equipped with Beaufighter aircraft, the first of which was received on the 23rd August 1942. The arrival of the squadron at Batchelor in the Northern Territory on the 27th October improved the RAAF’s fighting potentialities in North Western Area. After a few weeks of intensive training and familiarisation flights, No. 31 Squadron moved to its operational base at Coomalie Creek on the 12th November. Beaufighters, later to be known to the Japanese as “whispering death”, joined the offensive for the first time during the early hours of the 17th November, when two flights of three aircraft each strafed Maubisse and Bobonaro in Portuguese Timor. At this time the RAAF were implementing a policy of bombing and strafing hostile Timorese concentrations in Timor and encouraging resistance to the Japanese authorities. This policy was translated into action by the combination of Hudson and Beaufighter attacks daily stepping up the number of sorties in Portuguese Timor, culminating on the 26th November in the biggest RAAF operation in this theatre to date, when, ten Hudsons and six Beaufighters from No. 31 Squadron bombed and strafed Hatolia and Beco districts, starting a number of fires in the villages of Nova Lusa and Beco. In the first two weeks of operations, the Squadron had recorded 53 sorties into enemy territory, the majority of which were strafing attacks. The targets for all these operations were identified and ‘called in’ by Lancer Force HQ on the ground in Timor. Line up of Beaufighters, Coomalie Creek, 1942 Callinan, by then commanding officer of Lancer Force, previewed the circumstances relevant to the topic of this story: Meanwhile, the Japanese had driven down and occupied Same in strength and had established a camp at Betano with approximately 300 troops. This was most disconcerting, as from there they were pushing eastward, and had already established daily patrols past the Quelan River area which had been used for the evacuation of the 2/2 Company and the Dutch". [2] The No. 31 Squadron attack on the Japanese camp at Betano that was initiated in response to the threat just described by Callinan. Shot Down at Betano Operation Coomalie 43 of December 29th, 1942 was a strafing attack directed at huts in the vicinity of the near coastal village of Betano, on the south coast of Portuguese Timor, just to the east of the mouth of the Sue River, by four Beaufighters of Number 31 Squadron, Coomalie Creek. Of the four planes that made up Coomalie 43 – one (COO 434) turned back around an hour after take-off due to failure of that aircraft’s intercom and WT equipment; the remaining three planes continued on to the target, through at times very poor weather. After eventually locating the target at 2:20 pm, COO 431 commenced their first pass followed by COO 433 and then COO 432 crewed by Pilot Officer Glen Gabb, (21) and Observer/Navigator Sergeant David Webb (22). COO 432 followed COO 433 in the first run over the target, flying in northerly course at 100 feet height, fired three bursts of cannon and machine gun at some native huts. COO 432 finished this run by turning to the west and is was then that Webb observed the tail fin smashed by fire either from a mortar or Oerlikon gun (he saw a red ball go through tail of aircraft) – the aircraft was also holed in several places in the tail and the port motor cut out. Remnant of an Oerlikon gun from the wreck of HMAS Voyager. [3] No. 4 Independent Company veteran Rex Lipman states that the Japanese had salvaged the anti-aircraft guns from the Voyager and used them against the Beaufighters involved in the action described here [4] Gabb then turned the aircraft in an easterly course, and Webb threw out propaganda pamphlets as instructed. The Pilot was unable to maintain height or speed, and after crossing the Quelan River headed the aircraft out to sea. At this time the speed had decreased to 100 knots and the temperature of the starboard engine had increased to 280° and the controls were acting erratically. Gabb then crashed landed on the sea about a quarter of a mile out to sea off Cape Mati Boot. The tail of the aircraft hit the water first and then the engines – the crew had braced themselves for this crash, Gabb also had moved the gun sight out of the way, and the men quickly escaped through the two top hatches. They climbed onto the wings which were then waist deep, and then swam to the shore. The Beaufighter sank in about 20 seconds, the front going down first followed by the tail – it is estimated that the aircraft sank in 15 metres of water, at low tide about a 200 metres off the shore near Cape Mati Boot. [5] [5] Given the fairly precise description of the location of the crash site, the wreck of this Beaufighter should be able to be located. Gabb and Webb Become Temporary Commandos The story is taken up again by Callinan: Then, from company headquarters, came the message that two Australian airmen were with the section posted above Alas. This was rather surprising, as we had not been informed that a plane was missing. Eventually the two men reached us, Pilot Officer Gabb and Flight Sergeant Webb; they had been the crew of a Beaufighter that had strafed the Japanese company at Betano. As they-swept over at tree top height, the Japanese had opened up with everything, and as far as one could judge their tail had been blown off by a mortar bomb. The pilot had managed to get the plane down in the sea a little to the east of Betano. Then, making slow progress they managed to cross unwittingly and without being observed an area subject to regular Japanese patrols. Then by good observation of scraps of evidence carelessly left by the evacuated (Australian) troops they got on to a track that led them towards Alas. They were fortunate enough to meet a native who willingly gave them some food and directed them towards the Australian position. These were great fellows and we were pleased to have them at headquarters. They were new faces with new ideas, and we learned from them not a little about the air side of the picture. Also from then on Australia received improved meteorological reports because we gave that duty to Webb who had attended a RMF school in the subject. We were also pleased to get these airmen as they augmented our guard list. Such was our lack of manpower that everybody on HQ staff from myself and Baldwin down did our turn on guard. And now with two additional men it meant that every third or fourth night a couple of us could get a full night's rest. They entered into the spirit of the show very quickly and were most adaptable. [6] Evacuated To Australia With Lancer Force Gabb and Webb’s sojourn with commandos was short lived as their arrival coincided with the decision to evacuate Lancer Force to Australia. The Force’s position had become untenable in the face of increasing Japanese territorial pressure in conjunction with their Timorese allies. The formerly used landing and evacuation sites at Betano and the mouth of the Quelan River could not be used, so an even less desirable location further east at Quicras was selected. The two men staged with Force HQ over three days from Belulic to Fatu Berliu (Nova Anadia) then Cledec to the coastal village of Quicras (Clacoc). Map of the Gabb and Webb's travels on Timor On the morning of the 9th January 1943 Lancer Force (now concentrated except for a detachment at Ainaro from whom there was still no word) set out with 50 Portuguese (all they could take of over 100 who had asked to go with them) on the last stage of their journey—over open grass country. It was raining heavily. The rivers between them and Quicras might flood and block them. They had to hurry. Soon after they started a Zero fighter suddenly appeared about 1,000 feet above them. They were afraid it would pick them up, but the pilot apparently noticed nothing. The afternoon march led through swamps, often up to a man's chest. The going beneath the surface was slippery with mud and twisted mangrove roots. But by 5 p.m. the whole party was in the bush which fringed the beach. Exactly at midnight recognition lights from the sea answered the signal fires. The surf was heavy. Boats sent inshore from a destroyer—the HMAS Arunta —were swamped. Time was running out. A few strong swimmers swam out beyond the broken water but reported this manifestly too difficult for most. At last, however, through great efforts, the whole group was ferried on board. The sailors were very kind to them. Most of the soldiers were so tired they slept almost all the way to Darwin where they landed on 10 January 1943. Both Gabb and Webb had caught malaria and were hospitalised for several weeks before being fit enough to rejoin their comrades at 31 Squadron. References [1] Rex J. Lipman. - Luck's been a lady. – Adelaide: [The Author], 2000: 87. [2] Bernard Callinan. - Independent Company : the Australian Army in Portuguese Timor 1941-43 / introduction by Nevil Shute. - Richmond, Vic. : Heinemann, 1984: 206. [3] Photographed in Same side street, 1 May 2018. [4] Rex J. Lipman. - Luck's been a lady. – Adelaide: [The Author], 2000: 87. [5] Given the fairly precise description of the location of the crash site, the wreck of this Beaufighter should be able to be located. The narrative of the attack and crash landing has been adapted from Garry Shepherdson ‘The losses of Coomalie 43: it could have been a lot worse’ ADF Serials Telegraph News 7 (2) Autumn 2017: 28-33. (http://www.adf-gallery.com.au/newsletter/ADF%20Telegraph%202017%20Autumn.pdf) [6] Callinan: 209-210.
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