Thursday 24 November 2011

Hansard of the Legislative Council


Special Interest Matters


“Soldiers of Tasmania’s doomed 2/40th Battalion get their memorials at Last”


[11.13 a.m.]

Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - I am going to talk today about Tasmania's doomed battalion, as it was known, the Second Fortieth Battalion. It effectively started at a football match at North Hobart Oval on a Saturday in July 1940. It was a game between an AIF team from the Brighton Army Training Camp and a TFL team. The North Hobart game was being used to launch a recruitment drive. The Second Fortieth was to be a wholly Tasmanian battalion but the political push for a completely Tasmanian battalion was never fully achieved. The Second Fortieth would need 932 recruits and this was perhaps overachieved as volunteers actually poured into Brighton camp, as was the way of the world in the First World War and the Second World War. The new recruits thought they were going to Europe to fight the Axis powers because the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour was more than a year away.

Madam President, I will detail the fate of this Tasmanian battalion shortly but first I want to tell you that at long last two memorials have been established for those killed when the battalion and an associated unit designated as Sparrow Force landed on West Timor and who subsequently died in Japanese prisoner of war camps.

The memorials are largely the idea of a son of one of the Second Fortieth infantrymen, Rod Stone, who lives at Greens Beach in my electorate. One memorial has in fact been established on Greens Beach Road and another - a floral rendition of the battalion's insignia, I think it is red over white - has been developed in a garden in Launceston's Kings Park.

The Kings Park memorial has been established 70 years after the Second Fortieth's defeat on West Timor on 23 February 1942. Rod Stone's father Ernie survived his ordeal as a prisoner of war, Madam President, even though imagine surviving all of that, he was underground in a Japanese coal mine at Nagasaki when the atomic bomb was dropped on 9 August 1945.

Ms Forrest - A good place to be.

Mr FINCH - The battalion during the war lost 264 of its men - 74 as battle casualties and 191 in captivity. Another tragic story - 85 prisoners who died were killed in June 1944 when a ship that was transporting them to Japan was sunk near Nagasaki by an American submarine.

To put Tasmania's World War II casualty figures into perspective, Madam President, 1 066 Tasmanians were killed, 770 of them from the army. One third of all army casualties died as prisoners of war. Sparrow Force landed on Dutch West Timor in December 1941 with the idea of protecting the air base at Koepang.

In early 1942 the Japanese conducted air operations over Timor unimpeded for nearly a month before they then invaded the island, concurrently launching their first bombing raid on Darwin, which was designed to isolate Sparrow Force.

Four days after the fall of Singapore on 19 February 1942, Australian observers reported a large Japanese shipping convoy off the Timor coast and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Second Fortieth fought a retreating action against Japanese paratroops for several days until they were forced to surrender by the main enemy force of 5 000 men - very daunting. Some managed to escape and join other Australian troops in East Timor but most were incarcerated in a makeshift prison camp at Usapa Basar on the north coast of West Timor. They were soon moved to numerous prison camps through the Indonesian archipelago and to Singapore.

Madam President, it was Japanese policy to separate as much as possible Australians from their unit comrades. Members of the Second Fortieth were particularly close. Many knew each other before recruitment, some joined up together and many were from similar Tasmanian rural backgrounds.

It is surprising there have been no memorials to these men until Rod Stone's initiative. None of them seemed to have written about their experiences though they were interviewed for a definitive book on the Second Fortieth called The Doomed Battalion by another person from my electorate, Peter Henning. That was published in 1995.

Two former members of the Second Fortieth became members of this Parliament after the war. They were Ray Bonney and Jack Frost, who fought with the father of the present Speaker of the House of Assembly, Michael Polley, who was also named Michael. He died about 25 years ago. Ray Bonney, who survived the Burma railway, was Deputy Leader of the Opposition; Jack Frost was a former minister for industrial development. He was elected in 1964.

Ten members of the Second Fortieth survive today in Tasmania and one in Victoria: from Launceston, Ron Cassidy, Percy Lyons, Bill Jetson and Lloyd Spencer; from Hobart, Lloyd Harding and Doug Jack. Other survivors are: from Burnie, Ted Sweetman, Foch Dowling from Wynyard, George Lawson from Ulverstone, Fred Brett from Port Sorell and Russell Wells also from the north-west coast. They were in fact meeting in Launceston every month since 1945 until last August.

Just going back to Ernie Stone, he was 190 cm tall and when the Japanese surrendered he weighed just 65 kg. Like many Second Fortieth veterans who died before retirement age, Ernie Stone died in 1978 but now he and the rest of his mates have fitting memorials.