Thursday 24 November
Hansard of the
“Soldiers of Tasmania’s
doomed 2/40th Battalion get their memorials at Last”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.