Debt of Honour introduction by Paul Bridges

Video | Updated 12 months ago

Interview with exhibition co-curator Paul Bridges about the exhibition Debt of Honour.


Interviewer: I'm here at the Western Australian Museum in Perth with exhibition co-curator Paul Bridges at the exhibition Debt of Honour. Paul, we've heard a little bit about what's in the exhibition, can you tell us about what significance the campaign was and the conditions that the Commandos faced when they arrived in East Timor?

Paul Bridges: Okay, the No. 2 Independent Company were the first were the only unit to survive after the massive Japanese onslaught of early 1941 and into 1942. They were actually cut off from Australia communications-wise and so they had to cobble together a radio. In the meantime, they took the initiative and took on the Japanese and that garnered the support of the East Timorese because in the short period that they'd been there before the Japanese arrived they were able to establish a rapport with the local population and when the Japanese came they behaved in an appalling manner. The Timorese were very quick to side with the Australian against quite a barbaric aggressor.

Interviewer: Can you tell us how many men were in the 2/2 Independent Company?

Paul Bridges: Okay, an Independent Company is larger than a normal company - double the size in fact, 270 men 81% of those were from recruits in Western Australia.

Interviewer: Wow 81% that seems like a lot. Did they have special training and skills provided before they landed in East Timor?

Paul Bridges: Certainly, they were trained at Wilsons Promentory in Victoria and they were the second unit to be trained. British Commando trainers were brought to Australia to train them.

Interview: Could you just give us some idea of the conditions that these men faced when they arrived?

Paul Bridges: Certainly, well they first arrived in West Timor and then moved to and invaded the neutral Portuguese colony of East Timor. That was on the 17th of December and the conditions were quite appalling. In fact, 90-95% of the men soon contracted malaria and were very quickly suffering the affects of that and so the regimental medical officer ordered that the unit be deployed into the hills away from the mosquitoes.

Interviewer: Can you tell us a little bit about the relationship between the Commandos and what we know as Creados?

Paul Bridges: Certainly, the creados were basically East Timorese boys. Mostly their age was between 9 and say, 15. There was some older ones of course - but certainly they came from the villages and when the Japanese came and attacked villages they then wanted to side with the Australians and assist the Australians to rid the country of the Japanese.

Itnerviewer: Paul, could you just tell me what kind of service the creados offered to the Commandos?

Paul Bridges: The creados were the eyes and ears of the soldiers. When they went out on patrol they would go ahead of the small sub-section advance and they would go into the village, they would sound out whether the Japanese had been there or how soon ago they had been through and if it was safe they would then bring the soldiers in. They would be fed and housed and then they'd move on. They also did all sorts of things like translate did the washing, got their food for them carried their packs. Basically, they were their companions throughout the entire campaign and certainly the soldiers would not have survived without them. Against all odds a lot of the Commandos actually survived and did come home.

Interviewer: What was the fatality rate in numbers, can you tell us?

Paul Bridges: Certainly throughout the war the 2nd Independent Company who became Commandos lost 51 killed and so the blokes themselves refer to themselves as the 'Lucky Company' despite the fact that they were, of all the Australian units, were in the most contact with the enemy throughout the war they only lost small numbers.

Interviewer: And Paul Bridges, just finally if you could tell us and share with us what your highlight of the exhibition is?Paul Bridges: That's a hard one - I think one of the highlights for me is the Keith Heys jacket. Keith was one of the unfortunate soldiers in the unit or, in the section that went into Dili the day the morning of the invasion and the rest of his section were captured and most of them were executed including Keith, although Keith survived. He's still with us today and despite a really traumatic experience, he's been a good supporter of the exhibition.

Interviewer: Well, thankyou very much for your time today and for your interview on WA Museum TV.