24 April 2009

The forgotten hero - Doc Dunkley and the miracles he performed in Timor

Re: The West Australian (Perth)

April 24, 2009 Friday
First Edition

The forgotten hero

Thanks to the West Australian for acknowledging the heroes of the World War Two Timor Campaign, especially for recognition of Doc Dunkley.

I have been researching this subject for many years and would like to hear from anyone who knows what happened to Alan Hollow after the war.

Just a couple of niggles:

Article states: The main Allied forces were quickly overwhelmed by the Japanese landings but most of the 2/2nd - "Sparrow Force" - got away.

This is not correct.

In February, 1941, the 2/40th Battalion known officially as Sparrow Force and the 2/2nd. Independent Company sailed from Darwin for Dutch Timor. While the 2/40th established head-quarters near Koepang, five hundred 2/2nd I. C. re-embarked for Dili, the capital of Portuguese Timor.

The Japanese rushed wave after wave of well equipped, elite combat troops to repel the landings in Dutch Timor. Australian Headquarters were hastily established on flat, open land - a mistake for which the 2/40th paid dearly as the area was infested with mosquitoes and afforded poor cover. Many troops were already ill with malaria when they left Darwin. They contracted dysentery and some became so gravely ill that they had to be evacuated. By the time replacements were rushed in everyone was infected; it was just a matter of time before the replacements were too sick to fight.

The campaign was a debacle, Australian troops were hunted with light tanks and their retreat was cut off by a numerically superior force of paratroopers. The Japanese paid a terrible price - out of 630 paratroops only 78 survived.

At the final conference all the officers fell asleep. The Japanese commander had requested their surrender. Sparrow Force was surrounded and there were 132 seriously wounded men to consider. When an inexperienced interpreter reported that the Japanese wanted to surrender the Japanese heard shrieks of hysterical laughter coming from Australian headquarters. The interpreter was sent back to politely enquire if the Japanese commander really wanted to surrender.

The only men who escaped to join the 2/2nd Independent Company in Portuguese Timor were behind the Japanese attack lines. Those who obeyed the order to surrender were either executed or taken prisoner.

Regarding food supplies: The Timorese ate a balanced diet and they created a food chain to assist the Australian soldiers whose money soon ran out. Loss of weight was caused by an inability to eat sufficient quantities of the available food. Even Timorese children could consume larger quantities of vegetables than Australians who were used to energy producing meat.

The article states: They eventually managed to steal enough parts and batteries to build a radio.

Because the 2/2nd. I.C. were not equipped with adequate wireless communications (though there were a few Lucas signal lamps and wirelesses with a range of only thirty miles) they were unable to contact Australia for approx three months after Sparrow Force surrendered. All communications to Australia had been through headquarters in Western Timor. The Morse wireless set had been smashed to prevent it from falling into enemy hands.

A Taswegian called Loveless was trying to make a wireless transmitter from various bits and pieces, but he couldn't get the battery to charge. They had a receiver but could not send. 20th April by means of a boosted transmitter Australia picked up a weak signal. Sergeant John Henry Sergeant sent the first message. The military authorities thought that the men of the 2/ 2nd had been killed or captured. They thought the message was from the enemy. Sergeant was asked to give his wife's Christian name as proof. Her name was Kathleen. The story made the front pages all over the western world. The propaganda unit called the wireless Winnie the War Winner.

A month later a Portuguese wireless operator who had worked in the Dili Post Office made contact through the International Brigade in the east. When the Dutch had ordered him to destroy a long-range aeronautical wireless at a place called Vermasse, he buried it wrapped in several layers of waterproof fabric.

A group of Timorese volunteers and Aussie soldiers set off immediately. They retrieved the AWA AS9 set from under the noses of the Japanese. It had been used to contact flying boats delivering the mail in peace time. It could contact Melbourne, on a good day.

As a result of making radio contact Royale Australian Naval vessels began landing supplies on the south coast of Portuguese Timor at the end of May. Though extremely dangerous these supply runs enabled the Australians to continue fighting. In September the original force was reinforced with the 2/4th Independent Company.

Shirley Shackleton

Image added by ETLJB

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