Timor-oan hetan terus (Tetun )
We went to Timor and brought nothing but misery to those poor people. That is all they ever got out of helping us…. misery. -John (Paddy) Kenneally, 2/2nd Independent Company.
Money could not repay them. There is no coinage appropriate for such loyalty. -Bernard Callinan, Commander 2/2nd Independent Company.
The results of my investigation into whether Japan intended to invade Portuguese Timor led me to wonder just what the consequences of Australia’s initiative were for the people of East Timor. Certainly the Australia War History acknowledges that some 40,000 East Timorese men, women and children lost their lives but it says little more.
Much has been written about the Australian soldiers in East Timor but little about the impact of the war on the East Timorese. The accounts of the soldiers’ exploits provide only a superficial impression of the impact of the terrible four years of war on the lives of people totally innocent of the war so I tried together the available information from the books and writings on the exploits of the Australian soldiers. The only sources accessible were a few stories from the books and writings on the exploits of the Australian soldiers, a Japanese account, some other interviews and the remarkable work of Michelle Turner.
Michelle was a schoolteacher. She greatly admired her grandfather who served in the 2/2nd Independent Company in East Timor. He was’ a gentle man who read me for hours through childhood illnesses’. ’His acknowledgment of his debt to the people of East Timor inspired her to do what many of us should have done years earlier….compile an oral history of the lives of some of the many East Timorese people who had fled to Australia. Telling East Timor: Personal Testimonies 1942-1992. NSWP was first published in 1992. Sadly Michelle died Michelle died before it was re-published in 1995.
The first of many selfless East Timorese acts of courage occurred within hours of the Japanese landing on 19 February 1942. A group of fourteen Australian soldiers unaware the Japanese had landed were captured near the Dili airstrip. Kenneally says twelve of the fourteen were executed. Four of these were forced to march for some distance.
… ..then their hands were tied behind their backs and they were pushed into a drain beside the road. As they lay helpless the Japanese fired on them killing three. Hayes lay unconscious with a bullet through his neck.
When he regained consciousness and moved, the Japanese bayoneted the four, wounding Hayes again in the neck. Reviving, he found his wrist watch had gone but in the act of taking it his wrist had been freed. Despite his pain and weakness, Hayes crawled away into a rice field where he was found by native people. They took him to their village where a woman tended his wounds. They then dressed him in their clothes and took him on a pony to Laidlaw’s position at Bazar-Tete.
With Japanese soldiers all around the village people took great risks in bringing Hayes, a stranger, to their home, caring for him and then risking even greater danger by taking him on a pony seven miles through Japanese occupied areas to Bazar-Tete. Another Australian, Peter Alexander, was spared from execution for interrogation purposes when the Japanese consul with his wife and children arrived on the scene.
Many East Timorese acts of bravery are recorded in the Australian War History, in Callinan’s account of the exploits of the 2/2 Independent Company and in other records of the two Independent Companies.
The Australians acknowledged their survival and successes depended on East Timorese support, especially that of the helpers, or companions, whom they called ‘criados’. In Portugal the term denotes an almost slave relationship but it was not perceived as such by the Australians.
The effect of the ‘criados’ on the soldier’s mobility was great. They carried his pack, blankets and all non-military equipment.
When action was imminent, as when a Japanese detachment was to be ambushed, the criado would vanish into the scrub with his master’s gear, leaving the soldier with nothing but his rifle or ‘tommy’ gun and ammunition to carry. After the ambush and the soldier was running for his life, the criado would join him and guide him away to safety through the unmapped hills where Japanese and Australians were equally at sea.
Dan O’Connor of the 2/4th Independent Company wrote:
The Timor natives were our helpers. Without them life would not have been possible. Each soldier had one as his personal servant, friend and general assistant. Rarely more than five feet high they were strong and beautifully built. The criados provided food, washed clothes, carried equipment and did every other task required of them. They did it in a happy cheerful way. They were magnificent.
From the time the Australians arrived, they were accepted by the East Timorese they had contact with. Why were they, and not the Japanese, welcomed and supported? The Japanese were Asian people who would liberate them from Portuguese colonial rule and in the islands to the west, many Indonesian subjects of the Dutch, viewed the Japanese as liberators and supported them. Some Timorese helped the Australians, believing they would help the Timorese overthrow the Portuguese when the war ended.
In his introduction to Callinan’s account of the 2/22nd Independent Company’s actions in East Timor, novelist Neville Shute, surmised the East Timorese supported the Australians because they were initially successful and the Japanese were not. Others attribute the good relationship to the friendly and more egalitarian attitudes of the Australians.
Callinan says the natives had ‘no great interest in a war between two almost mythical countries such as Australia and Japan, so gradually the area through which we could move freely became restricted as the Japanese extended their areas of control.’ He acknowledged the heavy price the East Timorese paid with loss of life and destruction of their villages.
‘Paddy’ Kenneally of the 2/2nd Company has a very different view. While the Portuguese were criticised for the lack of development in East Timor, he said, they interfered little in the every day life of the indigenous people and did not exploit them as the Dutch and British did in their colonies. The Portuguese also differed from Dutch and British who mostly had casual relationships with indigenous women. Many Portuguese married and raised families with East Timorese wives
‘The East Timorese may not have had much affection for the Portuguese but they did have a closer relationship and understanding of them than the British and Dutch subjects had with their colonial masters which the Australians benefited from.’
Kenneally recalls Captain Spencer Chapman, one of the officers who drew up and supervised the training of the Australian Independent Companies at Wilsons Promontory in Victoria telling the soldiers how he led a guerrilla force in Malaya that was made up entirely of Chinese because Malays could not be trusted and in Java a Dutch commander ordered his men not to resort to guerrilla war because the Javanese would be more likely to betray than support them.
Wray in Timor 1942 notes ‘it was not pleasant to think that these people were being dragged into a war which could not possibly help them but only result in misery and destruction.’ Despite the early successes of the Australians, the East Timorese must have soon realised the Japanese would outlast the Australians whose manpower and supplies were dwindling. Yet, for the most part, they remained loyal.
The East Timorese paid tragically for their role in the initial Australian success and for being on the losing side. They also suffered because the Japanese had not planned to occupy East Timor, were poorly supplied and requisitioned large quantities of scarce food causing local shortages and starvation.
The Portuguese, like other colonial powers, exploited natural differences or created new ones to divide and rule the colony. The rugged terrain and numerous languages fragmented society. In many places it was almost impossible to move from one valley to another and there was no certainty that a welcome awaited the traveller.
The Portuguese strictly controlled the movement of people. ‘It was a real outlaw’, Callinan says, ‘who dared to move from his area without written permission from the Portuguese Chefe de Posto, although movement on Sunday was unrestricted.’
Into this situation of disciplined and often harsh Portuguese rule in a society fragmented by tribal and familial loyalties, came the Australians and Dutch and then the Japanese. Each used rewards, force or the threat of force, to persuade the East Timorese to support them and not their enemies.
The Portuguese responded brutally if the East Timorese took advantage of Portuguese weakness and the East Timorese were expendable in the interests of the Japanese and Australians if they were considered to be disloyal. Ray Parer, an Australian war correspondent, acknowledged the attachment many Timorese formed for the Australians. He also noted how:
The Japanese strive by all means to set the natives against the Australians and against the still constitutional Portuguese administration. They supply them with arms and encourage them to undertake forays against the mountain natives who are friendly towards the Australians.
This occurred after a major Japanese offensive in August 1942. In an attempt to drive out the Australians they could not destroy with military force, the Japanese burned villages, destroyed crops and drove off livestock aware that continuing Australian resistance depended on Timorese food supplies, shelter and reports on Japanese movements.
Callinan describes a particularly brutal tactic developed by the Japanese, which led to heavy casualties being inflicted by the Australians. It was used on at least one occasion by the Australians and thirty years later by the Indonesians on a large scale.
Small groups of five to ten Japanese would keep well to the rear of fifty or sixty natives who were used as a screen. ‘Almost daily, Australian sections reported brushes with these bands and invariably the report would state, killed and wounded ten, twenty or thirty natives and possibly one or two Japanese.’
In August 1942, when the Japanese began a major offensive they appealed to ‘anti-white man’ sentiment. The Portuguese dealt brutally with the uprising that resulted. An ‘army’ of two companies, each of a hundred East Timorese with Portuguese officers and non-commissioned officers and a Vickers machine gun, made a concentrated drive into the Maubisse area from the south and the east.
Compared with this Portuguese operation, the Japanese efforts at subduing areas were just child’s play. Every village and crop was burnt by the Portuguese. Every woman, child and animal was driven off and fell as spoil to the victors. The tracks through that area were foul with the bodies of natives killed.
Australian platoon commanders were ordered to remain neutral in disputes between the Portuguese and the local people while making it clear to natives in their area that any hostile acts would be ‘punished in such a way that even the Portuguese punishments would look simple by comparison’.
At Ainaro, hostile natives from Maubisse spread their activities down the wide valley and:
now they were being driven back to the accompaniment of burning villages, rifle and machine gun fire and native yells. The burnings were being carried out by both sides, the fire by the Australians and the yelling mainly by loyal natives who were there in force but seldom found themselves close enough to the enemy to use their bows, arrows and spears.
Wray also describes the incident. ‘A large number of natives led by a small group of Japanese were ambushed by 9 Section of the 2/4th Company. With the assistance of a machine gun borrowed from the Portuguese Army, they inflicted heavy casualties.’
The Australians were responsible for East Timorese casualties, but there is no estimate of the number of ‘natives’ who were killed or wounded in any account of the operations, including the official War History. It is unfair to judge the attitudes of the Australians in 1942 to the East Timorese ‘natives’ by today’s less patronising understanding, but it is disconcerting that East Timorese casualties caused by the Australians were not recorded or, if they were, have not been acknowledged. In June, bombing of Portuguese Timor was ordered by the US Commander-in-Chief of the South West Pacific Area.
It is therefore desirable that all available bombing strength at Darwin should be made available for immediate bombing of Dili, Lahane and Aileu, with the exception of the buildings still occupied by the Portuguese.
Later, in November 1975 ‘targets in Timor were attacked daily by from six to sixteen aircraft.’
Australian pack teams had to be strongly protected when the food situation became acute.
All patrols were fighting patrols but still we could not get to grips with the Japanese. Raids on areas and the killing of natives did little good. The natives in certain areas were actively hostile and would attack patrols; by their numbers they were a serious threat. Five or six men, even with weapons cannot hold out indefinitely against eighty or a hundred natives armed with bows and arrows and spears and supported by some Japanese light machine guns.
Our men would hold them at bay for as long as possible, knock over any careless native who exposed himself for too long and then withdraw before the final assault. This was effective in the number of casualties we inflicted, but compared with the size of the native population the overall effect was small .
The Japanese organised the natives at the western end of the island to attack areas held by the Australians.
In this they were becoming increasingly effective. They first threatened the natives in the area, that if they assisted the Australians their villages and crops would be destroyed. If that was not successful, the Japanese would carry out the threat. The enemy was always able to mass many more troops and natives than we were, and although these expeditions were costly to him, he was able to achieve his objective.
Shouhachi Iwamura, a Japanese platoon commander, petitioned the UN Decolonisation Committee on East Timor’s self-determination in 1987 and visited Australia in 1993. He described the Japanese impact on East Timor.
Village chiefs were ordered to mobilise people en masse for road construction…because of the food shortage, people died of starvation every day.
He said the same scorn that people directed at the Japanese for their behaviour should be directed at Indonesia in 1987. In August, the ‘Black Column’, a group of disaffected West Timorese recruited by the Japanese to terrorise in Portuguese Timor, attacked Aileu leading to the deaths of a number of Portuguese and Chinese. Kenneally believes the massacre was carried out by Japanese troops and says, later in the year, two Portuguese priests were murdered in Ainaro.
In mid-June 1942, the Australian High Command made a decision that prolonged the suffering of the Timorese for a further two years. It learned through the British Dominions Office, that Portugal proposed that it should open negotiations for the withdrawal of the Japanese forces in return for the surrender of the Australian troops to Portuguese authorities for internment in Portuguese Timor.
The Australian Chiefs of Staff and General McArthur rejected the proposal, yet prior to the Japanese landing five months earlier they had agreed to the replacement of Australian troops with Portuguese so that Timor could revert to neutrality. By mid-year, the Japanese had spread throughout much of the territory. They had landed a force on the south coast but did not reach it overland until early October when HMAS Voyager ran aground.
Callinan believed there were 20,000 Japanese in the territory. One official Army estimate was 12,000 but a cable from Australia to Dominion Affairs Minister Clement Attlee, reporting that McArthur wanted the Australians to remain in Portuguese Timor, stated the Japanese strength was ‘5000 to 6000 in the whole island.’
Callinan became concerned that some East Timorese might switch their loyalty.
He told Australia that to arm the natives was to create a danger which might eventually destroy us, but it was the only hope we had of clinging to our area. Our patrols were active and there were skirmishes every day. Hostile native with Japanese came one night to within a mile of Force headquarters before being driven back. .
On Callinan’s orders East Timorese were trained in groups of 50 and armed with rifles dropped by aircraft. The War History acknowledged that this changed the status of the East Timorese to that of belligerents but there is no record of whether this was explained to the East Timorese. Actions of this kind provoked harsh Japanese responses that added to the huge number of East Timorese deaths.
Bombing of villages by Japanese planes is reported frequently in the oral histories of the soldiers. Retributive raids were carried out by both the Australians and the Japanese. A 2/4th Independent Company soldier described an incident in December 1942 at Daralau 12 kilometres south east of Dili.
A big crowd of Darlau (Daralau) natives, accompanied by a few Japanese, burned and plundered Rotei. On the following Saturday, Ken Piesse responded to a plea by Cheffei Rotei for assistance in exacting retribution. The Cheffei’s warriors, some 800 strong, armed with bows and arrows, spears, shields and rocks and three men from No 2 section with their criados carrying their Bren guns and ammunition set out for Darleu.
After a few bursts from the Brens, the Cheffei loyals were released upon the village, ‘like a dam breaking its retaining wall’. Soon the umas (huts) were on fire and the buffaloes, pigs and fowls caught, herded together and driven along by the warriors with the rest of the loot – baskets, mats, beans, rice and eggs being carried in triumphal procession back to their village. The hostiles had been taught a lesson. The Australians remained No 1 and they were well fed again.
Later, ‘B and C Platoons were encountering their share of incursions by mixed Japanese and pro-Japanese Timorese who were anxious to reap the material rewards they expected to gain from their loyalty to those they perceived as having the strength of numbers to overcome the Australian force.
For the next three days the Japanese contented themselves with burning down natives’ huts in retribution for suspected assistance to the Australians. After the raid on an observation post at Darlau, the village was poverty stricken and the Australians were dependent on whatever food they could carry from the fertile areas.’
Japanese retribution was organised and brutal. ‘The Japanese recruited some thousands of Dutch and Portuguese Timorese natives, many of whom were issued with rifles and trained to use them. They savagely demonstrated to those Timorese who remained loyal to the Australians, the terrible price they exacted for that loyalty.’
The conflict between Australians and Japanese pitted East Timorese against one another. ‘Formerly quiet and peaceful Timorese, who had accepted the Australians and avoided the Japanese, were transformed when faced with attack by other tribes’.
In one incident a well armed group swooped on the insurrectionists and ‘great was the blood letting. Unfortunately captives had their heads cut off…..the battle raged back and forth across the valley with the chants of the victors mingling with the screams of the victims.’
Japanese reprisals against Timorese suspected of helping Australians, were savage. ‘In August 1942, the Japs sent out a lot of troops to round us up. When we went back to where the Japs had been, it was all desolate. They’d burned and destroyed everything edible, chopped down all the pawpaw trees and all the coconuts.’
One Australian soldier acknowledged that living off the land’ was in reality living off the natives and the Portuguese.
Just as in Australia, practically every square yard was owned by someone and every coconut tree and every rice paddy was the property of one or other of the natives so, when we got rice or maize or coconuts or goat we were eating at the expense of a Portuguese or a native.’
Reprisals for helping the Australians took many forms. One soldier who returned years later to find his ‘criado’, asked people how they were treated by the Japanese when the Australians left. ‘One incident that sticks in my mind was where they skinned the hands of an old Timorese, clamped the hands together and bound them so the flesh would grow together, in front, like he was praying. I heard that in Baucau. I believed it, it’d be a strange thing to dream up. It’s so unusual it’s likely to be true.’
Landman describes another incident ‘We saw the bloke who had warned us brought in by the Japanese to where we had camped. We heard the shots and they killed him because he warned us.‘
A woman told how:
the Japanese asked me to mend their uniforms. For this they would give us a bit of sugar. My husband could have been killed because some Timorese told the Japanese that Australians came to our house, but that officer protected us. He’d say, you must tell me immediately if you see Australians. If they are caught near your house I cannot help you.
An Australian soldier described how attitudes to Australians began to change.
By then things weren’t all that good on the island. We still controlled our areas but the natives had to put up with an awful lot in August and September, villages were burnt and their livestock and crops destroyed. Fresh Japs were sent in as well, and the natives must have thought that they were not getting much out of it and they better start thinking of themselves. I don’t think they ever betrayed the 2/4th blokes but maybe we wouldn’t get the cooperation we were given originally.
The Australians on a smaller scale, also exploited East Timorese, exposing them to death and brutal reprisals. The 2/4 Company’s War Diary tells how in November 1942 the Japanese were moving through Bobanaro to Mape and Atsabe and through Maubisse to Aitutu,
burning villages, denying the Australians their use and driving friendly natives from their farms to prevent the Australians getting food and also recruiting natives who are used to spring our ambushes by moving in front and to the flanks.
To counter these moves we are employing natives with a few of our men to attack these Jap and native concentrations. Natives move in front armed with spears, bows and arrows with our men dressed as natives and carrying Tommy guns behind them. The Japs apparently think it just a native force and are surprised when everything opens up on them.
In an operation in November 1942 two Australians disguised themselves as Timorese and led 50 friendly natives in an attack on pro-Japanese natives on the Same saddle. Ten of the enemy were killed, huts were destroyed and the rest of the pro-Japanese natives scattered.
The success of this action prompted the Australians to raise 300 natives to use in other raids. To reinforce the lesson a few days later troops supported by the 300 natives from Same went down the Atuito Valley attacking rebel natives and Japanese. During the raid a number of villages were burned out and about 150 huts destroyed. As a result of this operation many more hostile Timorese returned to their homes discouraged.
A Timorese woman recalled :
When we were young my mother used to tell us stories of all the sufferings in the war. How they used to drink water from the puddles made by buffalo hooves and eat fruit and leaves or whatever they could find.
Some old Timorese hid Australians in caves. The Japanese would come looking but those old ones wouldn’t tell where the Australians were and the Japanese killed them. The father of my uncle was killed like this. The Japanese were cruel, but my mother said that during war no one is treated well. She said that one day someone would write a book about all that happened.
An East Timorese woman spoke of East Timorese affection for Australians during the war.
Like all our people, I liked the Australian soldiers. They were kind, we all thought about them. They had sympathy for Timorese people. They shared what they had with us, showed our people love and attention and we loved them in return. News that we helped Australians spread to Japanese. Three Japanese planes came over and dropped bombs killing an old lady and a young girl.
When the Japanese came to Soibada for the first time they brought Timorese from Maubisse, a small tribe they knew were hostile. The Japanese told them to burn our crops and houses and kill our animals….from the end of 1942 there was a shortage of food like rice and corn because people couldn’t work in their gardens. We ate wild fruit and things like that and we missed a season to plant our gardens.
On another plantation named Talu, where my brother worked as a clerk, they were not so fortunate. My brother didn’t even know that Australians killed a Japanese near there. He was just sitting in a house when some Japanese took him away. They also took the plantation foreman and a Chinese carpenter. My brother had a wife and two small children there.
An Australian soldier described the ways relationships could be established with East Timorese people:
Timor was a total contrast to New Guinea. The people in Timor were just like your neighbours. In a couple of minutes someonewould have brought coffee and whatever they had to eat; even if it wasn’t much they’d share it with you. You’d meet the chief and you could converse quite OK with a few words, sign language and a lot of goodwill. You’d shake hands and he’d introduce you to his family and all the kids’d be milling around. The people I met in Timor were very brave, very decent and very generous. I’d say they were better than most people in Australia.
When the Japs came into the mountains after us they burned all the food areas and killed anyone they could get hold of who had been friendly to us. We were going to Fat Lallo’s then and it was all burnt out, so we didn’t go down into the valley.
A few Japs and some natives, they brought with them, burnt the village to the ground, tied up all the kids and wives and were going to take them to Dili. When the two Antonios got the news the two of them just took off and all they had were their big catanas (knives). They were so angry they ran ahead, ambushed the lot and brought the families back. After that the Japs put out a big patrol.
It was pretty common I think with all our sections, that they’d knock someone off as a spy. They had this one when we were leaving to get off the island. Our officer said to me, ‘I’ve got to get rid of him, Curly, you’re a good man at that.’ I said,’ Oh, knock it off’. He said, ‘I’m ordering you to kill him’. I thought ,’ the poor cow, I can’t shoot him. I asked my mate and he found someone handy with a catana.’
In a similar incident two Timorese were brought in and identified as spies:
I don’t know how or if they were, but they were to be executed and a mate was detailed with another to shoot them. They weren’t shaking. They were young, in their late twenties. They’d probably have had families. My mate couldn’t bring himself to do it and the other bloke shot them. The job was done quickly and there was no discussion about it at all. I thought a great deal about it afterwards. It worried me.
The Timorese were often the ones being killed and they didn’t stand to win anything. They were caught in the middle and they often had no choice, they just had to go along with the nearest people with guns. We could be nasty and shoot them if they betrayed us and the Japanese were cruel.
As the Australians moved away from the frontier areas the Timorese were noticeably less hostile, but their morale had been badly shaken by the Japanese bombings of Same, Hatu-Udo, Maubisse and Turiscai. In August the Australians came under increasing pressure and Japanese aircraft ‘strafed every village where Australians or their native supporters were believed to be’. There were no estimates of East Timorese casualties.
Kenneally describes it as an all-out offensive by the Japanese to rid East Timor of the Australians. It was conducted by the full strength of the 228th Regiment which poured into the mountains from Dutch Timor, landed at Beco on the south coast and drove out from Dili in the east. It had artillery and mortar support and 200 pro-Japanese Timorese from Dutch Timor to talk to or terrorise the East Timorese into rebellion.
Kenneally says, although the offensive did not succeed it led to the end of organised Australian resistance with the evacuation of the 2/4th Company on 9 January 1943. The offensive was suddenly called of when the 228th Regiment, with two other regiments from Sandakan and Sourabaya, was ordered to Guadalcanal where they went into action in early November.
Commenting on the attitudes of the Japanese and Australians to East Timorese who were suspected of supporting the other side, an East Timorese said:
There was a saying in that war, that for punishment the Japanese were bad, very cruel, but for justice the Australians were worse. The Japanese may torture, punish, try to get you to tell, but its not certain that you will die, but if the Australians suspect you, you’re dead.
So the Japanese take our liurai’s brother, Juan de Deus, and tie him to a pole in the open. They order the presence of all the family. Little children too, they have to watch their father beaten to show people that even the brother of the king can be beaten because we support Australians. About sixty of our people have to watch……six Japanese are there with guns Our people count twenty two poles broken on Juan. He says to me, ‘I am going to die now, ‘but he does not die. Three times he falls……they throw water and beat again.
Australians are very concerned and friendly to Timorese people, but what the Australian government has done, side with Indonesia, I will not speak of, I might get too angry. Sometimes I get a strong feeling, a sort of hatred inside, and feel very sad and disappointed.
Callinan describes with feeling how the Australians parted with their East Timorese companions when the evacuations took place. With Baldwin, another officer, he spent hours each day speaking to the criados of the troops who had been evacuated.
Each criado had a ‘surit’, or reference, given him by his ‘patron’. They were never very long and often the spelling, grammar and language were not of the best but their sincerity was obvious and affected me deeply.
It was one of the most difficult tasks I undertook, to see each one, read his note, try to cheer him up and then find some occupation for him. Most of them came from areas that were now in Japanese hands so they could not return to their homes and yet they could not live by themselves in these strange areas. In many cases it did not require the ‘surit’ to tell me that Mau Bessi, Antonio, Bera Dasi or whatever his name, ‘was good boong … treat him well, he deserves it’.
Their feats of loyalty and courage were well known, Callinan said.
This one had stayed with his wounded master whilst Japanese were searching surrounding villages and moved him out just before the Japanese came to the village. This one had taken a message through the Japanese lines to a section cut off by rapid enemy moves. This one had been captured by the Japanese but had refused to give information of our moves and had escaped by biting his way through the ropes when they were not watching.
This man, while carrying mail and secret messages, had run into a Japanese patrol. He had quickly thrown the bag into the bushes and gone on unarmed to meet the Japanese and by sheer effrontery had talked his way out of trouble. He had then made a detour back to where he had thrown the bag, which he recovered and delivered.
Arnalda, who had volunteered to be Callinan’s ‘criado’ eleven months earlier was about five feet in height, well built and with a ready smile. He was connected with the liurai of the Lete Foho area. ‘From that day he was always with me or on a journey for me’ Callinan wrote, ‘except for a period of three days during which he searched everywhere for me’.
When the last move was obvious, Callinan wrote:
Arnalda said to me, ‘if all the Australians go, it well be bad for us criados’ I told him some Australians will remain and he had been satisfied. I sorted out the things I wanted to take home and those I wanted to give to him. I gave him my belongings and some money and a photo taken a few weeks before.’
He did not speak but when he saw the photograph, he said, ‘that is good, when I look at that I can see you and me together.’ Callinan wanted to take home with him a green enamel mug that Arnalda had taken from his home when they were near Lete-Foho in October, but he noticed that Arnaldo had taken it away with other belongings given to him.
I was sorry but I could not ask him for it as he would take a request as an order. A little later, with tears in his eyes, he came to me and said, ‘please take this mug and every time you have a drink in Australia think of Arnalda.’ He was crying openly before he had finished and I was not too happy. I went for a walk along the beach.
Some Australians maintained contact with the criados but the Associations, formed after the war by men of the 2/2nd and 2/4th Companies and Z force did not press for official recognition or some payment for those who helped the soldiers. ‘It made me think’ one soldier, said,
that the feelings weren’t all that great on our side, that it was glamorised and sentimentalised. There was a warm hearted paternalistic sort of racism in a lot of it. It’s hard to put your finger on, but things like not getting people’s names right, just mentioning’ friendly natives’ helping. It’s probably bound up with the fact that at the time we were young men of twenty-one or so and things sit very lightly on your shoulders then.’
Allied aggression violated Portugal’s neutrality and brought East Timor into the war. The knowledge that Japan had no intention of invading East Timor does not detract from the bravery and skill of the 300 Australian soldiers and those who supported them for twelve months or the value holding down Japanese troops and arousing Japan’s concerns that the Allies might use Portuguese Timor as a base for a counter-offensive.
But this is no comfort to the East Timorese who suffered such much for so long in a war that was not in their interests or even those of their colonisers. It is estimated that 40,000 East Timorese lost their lives, a figure higher then the total number of Australian troops who died in World War II.
The figure is based on the census that showed the population in 1930 to be 472,221 persons. Two years after the war the census counted 433 412 people. The statistics are supported by the testimonies of East Timorese, Portuguese, Australians and Japanese who described the deaths from fighting and bombing and the years of food shortages and starvation. The deaths, said Dunn, ‘do not take account of population growth’.
‘The people who suffered most in East Timor’, Kenneally says, ‘were not the fighting troops of either side. It was the people of East Timor, Timorese and Portuguese alike, sufferers in a war brought to their shores by an Australian government which ordered its troops to occupy neutral Portuguese East Timor’.
Despite the propaganda, Kenneally says, the campaign in East Timor played no part in stopping the Japanese from winning the war. ‘But it was a morale booster. At a time when hundreds of thousands had surrendered in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore and the Netherlands East Indies, a handful of men riddled with malaria, lacking food and medical supplies refused to surrender. That they survived was due to the enormous support they received from Portuguese and Timorese, as much as to their own courage, tenacity and determination.’
When the opportunity arose Australia made no attempt to discharge the debt that ‘could not be repaid with money’. When Australia knew Indonesia would invade East Timor in 1975, Australia turned its back on the people of East Timor.
Related: Japan the Reluctant Invadors