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Thursday, 27 June 1946


Mr ANTHONY (Richmond,) .- The debate on this Appropriation Bill provides a suitable opportunity to draw attention once more to the circumstances in which many Australian lives were lost in Ambon, Timor and New Guinea. In September last, I asked the Minister for the Army (Mr Forde) to make available reports regarding what has become known as the Ambon tragedy. Ten months later I rise again and ask for the production of the report. The war has been over for so long now that there is no reason why a veil of secrecy should be drawn over operations which led to the loss of so many Australian lives. On the 3rd October last, the Minister promised that he would try to get the information for me, and make it available before the House rose. He did not do so, although in a letter which he wrote to me he made certain statements on the subject. There are in Australia many persons who have not forgotten the discussion which took place in this House on the 3rd October last, and I include i. he relatives of the men who lost their lives in Amboina, Timor and New Guinea. In Melbourne, on the 4th March, representatives of various associations met and issued the following letter : -

With reference to questions asked in the House just before it went into recess, the en- closed Notes may be found to be of interest and to provide material and further questions to use when Parliament reopens this week.

The Notes have been prepared by a Subcommittee representative of the several bodies indicated hereunder.

In this connexion thu representatives of the bodies mentioned request that you will take the matter up in the House at the first available opportunity with a view to a royal commission being appointed to inquire into the matter.

In confirmation of this request the following signatures are appended.

The names appended are- (Sgd.) Eva M. Tilley, C.B.E., J.P., Prisoner of War Relatives Association. (Sgd.) L. C. LEGGE Wilkinson, War Bereaved Parents Association. (Sgd.) Eva A. PIGGIN President, Eighth Division S.A.F. Auxiliary (incorporating 2/21. 2/22, 2/40 Battalions.) " (Sgd.) J. L. Watt, 1/21 Battalion, A.I.l-'. Association. (Sgd.) Chas. R. BROOKES, Fathers Investigation Committee, Upwey. "(Sgd.) G. M. QUIGLEY, Fathers Investigation Committee, Caulfield. (Sgd.) 11. H. PALAMOUNTAIN, Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen's Fathers Association of Australia. (Victorian Branch). (Sgd.) J. L. Davis, Chairman of the Meeting.

I have read the names so as to make it clear that the persons concerned are not just a few people affected by grief over the loss of their relatives. The resolution., as honorable members can see, has 1.non signed by representative citizens. They ask that a royal commission be appointed to investigate the circumstances surrounding the loss of so many lives. Three forces were involved, known as the

Gull Force, the Lark Force, and the Sparrow Force. The Gull Force consisted of a brigade under the command of Brigadier Lind. It first went to Darwin in March of 1941, about nine months before Japan declared war. lt was sent to Darwin in anticipation of a possible attack by Japan, it being desired that there should be a force in ill at area to defend it in case of need. Eventually, the enemy did strike, and the force was assigned to Timor and Amboina. For months before the troops left for Ambon, - that being the locality where they were stationed on the island of Amboina - . reconnaissances had been made by Australian troops in that area, and Brigadier Lind was so impressed with the need for better equipment to enable his troops to do the job that might be required of them that he made many requests to headquarters in Melbourne, but all his requests were ignored. I asked the Minister for the Army in the House, and later by letter, what was the position in regard to equipment and supplies for the force.

In a letter dated the 14th November, written from Victoria Barracks, he said -

I refer to your letter or the 16th October, 1043, regarding the force sent to Ambon, and desire to advise that no inquiry of the nature referred to by you has been held.

As stated by nic in the House of Representatives on 3rd October, 1945, the statements that the force was inadequately supplied with fighting equipment and was deficient in medical supplies are definitely incorrect. Supplies of ammunition, medical and all other requirements were completely adequate, it being directed by the Government that six months' reserves of such requirements should bc maintained at Amboina, and t am assured by the military authorities that these instructions were curried- out.


Mr Dedman - What about "-the Brisbane line "?


Mr ANTHONY - This may be a joke to the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman), but I remind him that in these operations thousands of Australians were taken prisoners, largely because they were not properly equipped. I am not discussing this subject in order to provide amusement- for the Minister, nor will the relatives of the prisoners of war be amused. Evidently the Minister thinks it very funny that of -all the members of the Australian ' Imperial Force who went to Ambon not one was ever heard of again. If the Minister thinks such a catastrophe humorous he is sadly out of touch with the feelings of the people of Australia. The letter continues -

Colonel Roach's reports are military documents, and it would not serve any useful purpose to make them available as suggested by you.

The war has now been over for nearly twelve months, and there is no reason why the report of Colonel Roach should continue to be secret, any more than the documents which are now being made public by the authorities in the United States in connexion with the Pearl Harbour inquiry. The public are entitled to full information, particularly in regard to a matter which closely affects so many Australians. There is a very distinct difference of opinion between the Minister for the Army on the one hand, and Brigadier Lind who commanded the brigade, and Colonel Roach who commanded the battalion, on the other. In response to a request I had made for further information, Colonel Roach in a letter dated the 29th October stated -

Thank you for your letter of 24th October.

I had noted, with considerable interest, that you have made striking statements on the floor of the House. In my opinion, yon are to be commended for the practical interest you have taken (and apparently are continuing to take) in the matter.

It is my opinion that the subject should be ventilated. -As to how this should be done there seems to be some variation if individual views. It is a matter which, I feel, should be discussed.

There are several aspects which were highly unsatisfactory, not to say improper.

As far as I am concerned I took what action I knew to be right in the circumstances, distasteful though it was, but the Army Command at the time saw fit to place me on the reserve. They accordingly took the responsibility for the loss of my force, and certain others. Whether this was done with ministerial approval I do not know. Mr. Forde himself was later acquainted by me - at his request - with an outline of the facts.

So that the Minister had been informed by Colonel Roach personally of what happened in respect of this expedition. Obviously, the Minister is endeavouring to shield somebody higher up.' I do not expect the honorable gentleman to have a full knowledge of all the operations which took place in all theatres in which Australians were engaged, but at least he knows the facts in connexion with this expedition, and no matter how important the personage involved may be the Minister should not attempt to shield him. The fullest inquiry should be instituted in order to ascertain whether Colonel Roach was deceived, whether Australian lives were lost that could have been saved, and whether adequate equipment was provided for this force. My information goes further than that supplied by Colonel Roach. I have before me a confidential copy of a report made by Brigadier Lind on the 10th September, 1.942, to the General Officer Commanding Victoria Lines of Communication Area, Melbourne, relative to the inadequacy of the equipment of the Ambon force and of its absolute inability to discharge the duties which were to be entrusted to it, and expressing the certainty that it would be slaughtered if it undertook the operation without adequate supplies of arm? and ammunition.


Mr Calwell - Where did the honorable member get the report?


Mr ANTHONY - I refuse to disclose that information.


Mr Calwell - The honorable member must have stolen it.


Mr ANTHONY - Brigadier Lind'* report reads -

As result of instructions received in May. 1041, Bde. Comd., B.M. and Comds. 2/21 and 2/40 Bns. made recce, of Amboina and 'Timor. Instruction referred to, stated that it was probable that these Bns. would have to move to these respective stations in the event of hostilities with Japan.

This was the report made in May, 1941; the Japanese did not enter the war until December, 1941. The report continues -

As result of this recce, recommendations were submitted by Comd. 23 Aust. Inf. Bde. to the effect that the forces projected were inadequate in armament and that it was advisable to establish military 'liaison with N.E.I. Army H.Q. at Bandoeng to ensure fullest efficiency of co-operation with N.B.I. Comds. involved.

In July, 1941, whilst in Melbourne, Comd 23 Aust. Inf. Bde., made strong personal representations to CCS. and Director of Military operations with reference to inadequacy of numbers and armament of projected forces to proceed to Amboina and Timor.


Mr Calwell - The honorable member himself was a Minister then ; why did he not' see that this force was supplied with adequate arms and ammunition?


Mr ANTHONY - My sole concern in raising this matter is to ensure that a thorough inquiry shall be made. . If any honorable member on this side of the House is to blame for what happened he must accept full responsibility.


Mr Calwell - Some members opposite will be tried as war criminals yet! I do not believe the honorable member really wants an inquiry.


Mr ANTHONY - Before I resume my seat I shall give to the honorable gentleman an opportunity to support an amendment which I propose to move to this bill designed to provide for such an inquiry to be instituted. That is my reply to the honorable gentleman's taunt that I am not in earnest in asking for an inquiry. In order to save the time of the House I ask leave to incorporate in Hansard the remainder of the report made by Brigadier Lind.


Mr Calwell - I object.


Mr ANTHONY - As leave has been refused I must read the report. It continues -

In Oct. 1941 B.M. with Comds. 2/21 and 2/40 Bns. and Coy Comds. these Bns. made tactical recce. of Amboina and Timor and as result further recommendations reference inadequacy of armament and necessity for army liaison with N.E.I. Comd. were forwarded. At same time Comd. 23 Aust. Inf. Bde. appreciating the unsatisfactory conditions prevailing at, both these islands and the difficulties revealed by recces. of May and Oct. made urgent request by wire through Comd. 7 M.D. for opportunity to make personal contact with A.H.Q. with view to overcoming difficulties and obtaining definition. This request was disregarded.

On 8 Dec. 1941 orders were received by signal that these forces were to move immediately and statement was included whereby they were to come under direct comd. A.H.Q. on embarkation.

No instructions, no information, no orders were received by Comds. 2/21 and 2/40 Bns. - before or on embarkation - from A.H.Q.

In case of 2/21 Bn. very brief instructions were received by signal about 14 days after disembarkation at Ambon while A.H.Q. Op. Instr. No. 15 of6 Dec. 1941 implementing the move was received by this Unit 28 days after disembarkation at its destination.

Date of receipt of orders and A.H.Q. Op. Instr. No. 15 of 6 Dec. 41 implementing the move by 2/40 Bn., is unknown.

No copy of orders for these forces or of Op. Instr. No. 15 of6 Dec. 41 were received by H.Q. 23 Aust. Inf. Bde.


Mr Calwell - That sounds like an attack on the Commander-in-Chief.


Mr ANTHONY - It is an attack on whoever is responsible. My sole purpose in bringing this matter before the House is to give honorable members, on behalf of the relatives of these unfortunate men, an opportunity to ascertain who is responsible for this gross negligence. The report continues -

Comd. 2/21 Bn. (Lt. Col. L. N. Roach, M.C., E.D.) after arrival at Ambon made representations direct to A.H.Q. in which the inadequacy of numbers, armament munitions were stressed and inadequacy of N.E.I. capacity for effective co-operation were indicated.

These representations were made in the full knowledge of local conditions and terrain, with knowledge of inadequacy of Naval and Air force co-operation and with knowledge of Japanese tactics.

Lt.-Col. L. N. Roach was relieved of his comd.

Subsequent events at Ambon have made clear the justice and wisdom of the representations ofLt.-Col. L. N. Roach.

From consideration of the above summary and relevant facts, it is placed on record that in the case of the detachment of 2/21 Bn. to Amboina. and of 2/40 Bn. to Timor the following conclusions are accurate:

(1)   Eight months were available for provision of necessary adequate personnel and armament and for provision of the necessary co-operation with N.E.I. with the Navy and with the Air Force.

(2)   No satisfactory army liaison with N.E.I. Comd. Bandoeng was established with result that preparations for reception of forces concerned were inadequate and the capacity for effective co-operation with N.E.I. Forces at Amboina and Timor was not developed.

(3)   No effective L. ofC. was established in the case of either force.

(4)   Forces involved were not informed of arrangements for Naval co-operation - if such existed - under conditions in which such was essential. Such co-operation did not materialize.

(5)   Effective air support was non-existent No covering aircraft were available at time of Japanese attacks at Amboina and Timor. ((1) Forces involved were not provided with adequate fire power. Although eight months intervened from inception of project to its. execution -

(a)   No Fd. Arty. was made available.

(b)   No A.A. Arty. was made available at Ambon.

(c)   Provision of Light Automatic weapons was limited to 26 per Bn. and spare parts were not available.

(7)   These forces were embarked and despatched on tasks of first magnitude without orders from executive authority at A.H.Q.

(8)   Competent authority on the spot was deprived of opportunity to make essential representations relevant to projected operation. (Sgd.) Frank Lind, Brigadier.

That report must be in the possession df the Minister and Army Head-quarters. As a result of the' discounting of the recommendations made by the officers on the spot, as the result of the relieving of Lieutenant-Colonel Roach of his command because he had asked for more weapons and equipment, this' was the fate of the expedition : Of the 1,092 men; 305 were recovered from tile Japanese, 4.07 are .known to be dead, and the fate of 3S0 is unknown. This is an indictment of whoever1 was responsible for sending that ill-equipped force to Ambon. The troops were brave, welltrained men - but. they did not have one chance in a thousand of surviving with the inadequate equipment and arms supplied to them. Leaving the ,1 ...Ul of Ambon and Timor, I ask that all the relevant documents be laid on the tabic of the House so that the Ho use and the Government shall be able to determine whether the matter warrants further investigation by a royal commission.

I.   now deal with the situation that developed at Rabaul, which was equally criminal, or more criminal in the respect that not only a trained military force was sacrificed. One could advance reasons i'.:by it Was necessary to defend Rabaul without effective means. But 300 unfortunate civilians,- who could contribute nothing to the defence of Rabaul, and could be only ah embarrassment, were not evacuated, although 46 days elapsed be-' v, een 1 the attack on Pearl Harbour on I he 7th December, 1941, and the Japanese attack oh Rabaul on t the 23rd January, 1942. There were many ships in the harbour at the time, one of Mem the Norwegian Hoerstein o of 10,000 tons, a modern motor ship that -enid have taken out all the civilians at Rabaul. It was delayed, and eventually either captured or sunk by the Japanese. Dozens of small craft, were there that could have been used to remove civilian population. I have good reason to believe that cables and other messages were sent by the Administrator' and the Deputy Administrator at Rabaul to the Commonwealth Government pleading for permission to make available facilities for the evacuation of those civilians.


Mr Calwell - How does the honorable member know these things?


Mr ANTHONY - I have reason to know them. If any of my statements are incorrect, they can be controverted by the Government complying with my request that all the documents be tabled. At this stage, long after the war, the veil of secrec"y ought to be lifted. After the women and children had been evacuated, there were 300 civilians left at. Rabaul. All but a few have been accounted for, but they have hot been accounted for alive. Hundreds of the 2nd/2-2nd Battalion, and most Of the civilians went down with the Montevideo Maru when it was' torpedoed in July, 1942. Amongst them was the Deputy Administ rft for, Mr. Harold Page, brother of the right honorable member for Cowper. Many Of those survivors, civilians and soldiers, who never had a chance of defence, were re-captured by the Japanese and were taken to Toll plantation and Gasmata. We know the terrible story of their fate. Some of them were led into the jungle with their hands corded behind their backs and used for bayonet practice. One man got away with a number of bayonet wounds in his body. He told the gruesome story. That was the fate of the civilians who had been detained at Rabaul for no military reason at . all. Their lives were sacrificed through incompetency or neglect. We and the country want to know who was responsible. I have torn the veil of secrecy from these incidents as far as I am able with the information at my command. I do not pretend' to have it all; there is much more that could be said, but the Government is the only authority that knows or can possibly obtain all the information. In committee I shall move an amendment -

As an instruction to the Government that "all cables and communications between the Administrator and Deputy Administrator of New Guinea, add the Government of the Commonwealth in respect of the evacuation of civilians from New Guinea and Rabual a and that all reports arid signals between the commanding officers of the" troops s sent to Ambon mid Timor and the Australian Army, Air Force and Navy Head-quarters, be laid on t the table of the House

If the Government has the power to withhold those documents, it also has the power to grant the investigation that I think is due to the relatives Who are asking for it. I agree, with the representative bodies that I named at the beginning of my remarks that " thousands of the bereaved are entitled to know, and the few hundreds who survived the grim days of captivity are also curious to know " the facts about Ambon. Therefore I ask for the tabling of these documents as a preliminary to a further investigation, if necessary, of the circumstances of these expeditions.







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