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Thursday, 27 June 1946

Mr HAYLEN (Parkes) .-I also take advantage of this bill to make some reference to the ill-fated Ambon expedition and the other expedition mentioned by the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony). The tragedies that have been ventilated are so terrifically close to the people who re*mained behind that I am at a loss to understand why they are canvassed with such, heat in this chamber. I cannot understand the anger that is generated by honorable members opposite in making a case that is acceptable to us all. In my electorate there are relatives of members of the " Gull " Force that went to Ambon, and I, too, have received communications similar to those of the honorable member foi- Richmond, but I thought, in. view of the war of nerves that is being perpetrated, whether it is kindly meant or not, on the survivors and the fathers, mothers, wives, sisters, brothers and sweethearts of the dead and probably dead, that the more humane, the more manly course would be to deal with the matter on the departmental level. There is always a suggestion - and I do not imply this against the honorable member for Richmond - that the canvassing of such tragedies as those referred to by him may be some sort of a political discussion or that the implications of it may readily become political, and, whilst it is the honorable gentleman's right; to come in'to this House and seek an inquiry, I think that the whole investigation could have been carried further before it became necessary to throw it into the arena in this Parliament. For the sake of the bereaved, I honestly believe that that would have been the right procedure. For the honorable gentleman to introduce side issues and to make sweeping changes against the officers concerned is to revive the whole tragic history of the war tq the north. If we are to consider a royal commission into Ambon, how much more should we consider a royal commission into the greatest tragedy in. history, the tragedy of Malaya. These tragedies. ought to be left until our feelings, are less lacerated, until our natural emotions have died down, We. could leave so many of these things to history and let historians apportion blame and find the reasons why. We must analyse these heartbreaking incidents, we must go into the early unpreparedness, and without being political on the matter I say that we know where to place the blame for that. I think it is tragic and dishonorable to use the. bodies of dead soldiers as a rampant from which to. fire at the Government, We have survived a tremendous and heartbreaking war, and post-mortems, examinations and inquests will naturally bc. many and varied, but, if those things are tq be con* sidered in the light of peace-time living, we must look at the whole picture, and, I think, as. I have mentioned previously, that the tragedy of Malaya is a paramount one. If the honorable gentleman would like a royal commission, I would be right behind him if he asked for an investigation of the whole campaign from the day on which . honorable members opposite dropped the reins of government from their palsied hands into the strong hands of the Labour party. A salutary lesson is to be learned f rom the facts in relation to the war and the little and great tragedies that occurred from time to time. In spite of politics, I cannot see why the honorable member found it so necessary to show such spleen in presenting his case. As a soldier, I was ill, the humble capacity of a private, but I consider that I have already vindicated, by correct analysis, my contention that any mistakes which were made, in the islands campaign were not committed by any government, except the .major mistake of lack of equipment in the early stages of the wai;. The mistakes were made by high-ranking officers. The matter of the " brass hats " presented a much bigger problem in. World. War II. than it did in World War I., and if we seek those men, we shall find, them contesting the selection ballots conducted by the Opposition. If we desire to find the guilty men in this case, we shall discover them, not on this side of the chamber, but among the high-ranking officers who tunnelled under their trusting Minister and did everything possible to defame and ridicule him. That is the truth. They had the protection of thelate Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin, and their service Ministers, but when they were discharged from the services, they became amateur journalists in an honorable profession and were well paid to sell again their malice against the Government which had loyally "stuck" to them through their mistakesbecause, after all, they had had an extensive military training. If anyone seeks the answer to all these tragedies, losses and pathetic, heartbreaking experiences, he will find it among the ranking officers who protected themselves until the end of the war. Then, miraculously, some became involved in disputes with others. Peace-time preferment was not so easy, wa.r-time censorship was lifted, and the " brass hats " are bailing out one after the other. If anyone searches for the guilty men, he will find them among the "higher-ups" and the people most vociferous in their support of the Opposition.

The fate of the Australians on Ambon would have been better dealt with outside this chamber, in the coolness of a conference instead of in the heat of a political debate. I have the greatest admiration for the courage of the women who are still seeking the truth of Ambon. When it is revealed, it will be a melancholy truth, and this Parliament for once will be helpless to assist them. But arising out of that is another grave matter, namely, that these investigations and pinpointings of disaster are a part of the early days of the war. " No good can come of an inquiry unless we make a complete survey in a responsible manner of the whole black tragedy of the early stages of the Pacific war. While this subject is being discussed, there is a campaign among the offenders to " get in out of the wet " and make their own statement ex parte and leave the matter at that. Their statements will be on record, and if ever a sweeping inquiry is held by the Parliament or historians, their case will have been stated. That is the danger to the reputations of the men who died, and to the good soldiers, irrespective of rank, who refused to talk.

My final point concerns what really happened in the early days of the war in Malaya and Java. Last night, the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Blain) referred to Behind Bamboo, by Rohan D. Rivett, concerning the experiences of prisoners of war. The honorable member himself was a prisoner of war and I pay tribute to his gallantry and fortitude in having survived those ordeals. At the same time, I consider that the honorable member entirely misquoted and misrepresented the statements of Mr. Rivett concerning the Dutch. I have no desire or intention to associate myself with either the Dutch or Indonesians in the dispute in Java, but since the written word and the quoted word are privileged in this chamber. I believe that the privilege should be extended to the author, so that his views 'may bc presented in their right connotation. The honorable member for the Northern Territory stated that the British and the Dutch arc of Anglo-Saxon blood, and recommended the course that we should pursue regarding this matter. In my opinion, it is not necessary for us to take sides any mors than to take a balanced judgment. The text which the honorable member read from certain chapters of Behind Bamboo created the impression that the author was critical of the Indonesians. In addition to the disasters which occurred in the north shortly after Japan entered the war, Rivett mentioned the loss of the Australian cruiser Perth. He stated on page 98 -

A report from Dutch head-quarters which reached Captain Waller before the cruisers left Tanjong Pryok stated that aerial reconnaissance had failed to discover any signs of the enemy in Sunda Strait or its approaches. This report is one of the unexplained enigmas of the defence of Java. That evening Perth personnel plotted over 200 vessels - presumably all enemy - in the waters north of the island.

Mr Blain - Does the honorable member assert that my information about the Dutch admiral who was prepared to fight under any conditions is incorrect?

Mr HAYLEN - I do not say that the honorable member's references were incorrect, but the whole inference to be drawn from his statements, and the extracts which he read, was that Rivett considered' that the Indonesians were cowardly and treacherous, and had no thought for the Australians. Actually, Rivett told a different story. Referring to the attitude of the Dutch to the Allied Forces in Java, Rivett stated -

All the Dutchmen whom we met seemed to feel that, since they had no chance of defending Java successfully, their immediate surrender was the right thing, and now all they had to do was to sit back and wait resignedly until their Allies won back their country for them. We had abundant evidence during our five-hour journey that the bulk of the population welcomed the island's conquerors, and were emphatically anti-European.

Again, on page 129, the author wrote -

The much publicized army of the Dutch on Java, supposed to amount to between 50,000 and 100,000 trained troops, existed only on paper and in the minds of the propagandists. To all intents arid purposes, the Dutch did not light on Java, and their surrender, a few days after the landing, involved the capture of several thousands of Australian, British and American soldiers and airmen.

Later, the author stated -

When I passed through Java at the beginning of January, 1942, 1 found the Dutch very resentful against their American allies, on the grounds that they had been let down, thanks to American unpreparedness at Pearl Harbour, and that since then the long promised help in ships and planes had not been forthcoming. After the fall of Singapore, the British became the main offenders. In the subsequent years of captivity in the prison camps, it became fashionable for Dutchmen to maintain that, by their sacrifices, they had saved Australia. Left virtually unsupported by their allies, it was. they said, the deeds of their sailors and airmen which procured the delay needful to protect Australia. This view of the Dutchman, returning good for evil and perishing gallantly on the altar of his allies' interests, is absurd and unrealistic.

The plain truth is that the Dutch, with only 8,000,000 European Dutchmen in the world, and only 250,000 free outside their conquered homeland, never had any chance of holdingtheir huge island empire against Japanese invasion, unless other people pulled the Dutch chestnuts out of the fire. Some anti-British Dutchmen have talked glibly about the favorable terms they could have made with the Japanese if they had not Been lured to fight by Allied promises which were never fulfilled. Fortunately, no such view prevails among the better-balanced members of the Dutch community, who realize that the Japanese would have overrun and then bled the Indies in the interests of their own war effort, whether the Dutch were nominal enemies or not.

Finally, in order to correct the impression made by the previous quotations, I desire to read the following passage : -

The worst incident of the whole gloomy story ocurred at Kalidjati, main British aerodrome in northern Java. A Japanese landing was expected at Cheribon, and British and Australian air force officers had been told that considerable Dutch forces, ensconced in pillboxes and prepared positions, would defend the aerodrome. Yet the first word of the Japanese landing that the pilots and ground staff at the aerodrome received came when Japanese armoured cars and motor-cyclists started to stream across the edge of the field.

A handful of men, dashing to their planes, managed to get some of them off the ground as the approaching vehicles opened fire. The majority of the men on tile aerodrome were rounded up or ambushed on trucks and a large number of them were killed. Whatever the difficulties of Dutch resistance to the landing forces, it should have been possible to get word to the aerodrome to avert this catastrophe. As a result of the entire absence of any warning, a large number of planes, either ready to take off or only temporarily unserviceable, fell into the hands of the Japanese undamaged.

That extract illustrates that all the1 Allies were equally responsible for the tragedies of the war, and if we are to investigate the fate of our forces in the islands, we should do so in a reasonable spirit of inquiry and not in a spirit of political hatred.

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