Timor 2000 – 2001
The greatest discoverers and navigators in the 1400s to 1650s were the Portuguese. They found their way down the western coast and around the southern tip of Africa and across the oceans to what is now Timor. They maintained a settlement on Timor for 460 years from 1516 until the Portuguese flag was lowered in 1976. About 1625 the Dutch arrived and occupied the south of the island leaving East Timor under Portuguese control with Dili as their main base. By the time James Cook arrived on the east coast of Australia (1770) the Portuguese and the Dutch had established major trading areas in the “East Indies” (Indonesia) and had visited the north-western coast of Australia many times. The border was hotly disputed and was finally settled in the Dutch / Portuguese war of 1911-1912. In 1913 the colonial boundaries between Portuguese and Dutch Timor were fixed in a decision at the international court in The Hague with Portugal taking the eastern half of the island and the enclave of Oecusse.
On the night of the 18th April 1942 a morse code message was sent out to Australia from Timor telling the world that the Australian 2/2nd Independent Company was still fighting the Japanese and had not surrendered. A small force of about 400 had been hitting the enemy hard and then fading away into the jungle. This hit and run tactics had forced the Japanese Command to allocate extra forces (which were urgently needed elsewhere) to Timor. An improvised transmitting set had been made from bits and pieces scrounged from wrecked sets or stolen from the Japs. The Japanese had rolled through south east Asia, Malaya, Singapore and most of the Pacific Islands and as the last message received in Australia was on the 19th February and all hope for the force was lost.
After the Japanese landed at Dili the 2/2nd took to the hills and were joined by some Dutch and Australian soldiers who had escaped from Dutch Timor. The local natives assisted the small force with local knowledge of the districts, assisting with the wounded and providing shelter and food. Communications with Australia was urgently needed. Captain George Parker (8th Div Sigs), Cpl John Sargent, Max Loveless, John Donovan and K Richards built the transmitter, which became known as “Winnie the War Winner”. (This radio is on display at the AWM)
Air resupply arrived on the 27th April and bombing raids from the mainland, guided by the 2/2nd destroyed many of the Japanese installations. The force was now known as “Sparrow Force”. Reinforcements arrived in September 1942 (2/4th Independent Company) and in the 13 months over 1500 of the enemy were killed before they were evacuated by sea. They had lost 40 killed but defeat never crossed their minds. The island community lost about 50,000 killed by the Japanese.
After the Japanese surrender in 1945 Portugal assumed control of East Timor. The UN declared East Timor to be a non-self governing territory under Portuguese administration, which ended in 1974. The Timorese began to form their own political groups and 1975 launched a coup in an attempt to seize power from the Portuguese. Indonesia invaded East Timor on December 7 1975.
The ‘Santa Cruz Massacre’ in 1991 where over 200 people were slaughtered by the Indonesian Army was a turning point for these people. On June 3, 1999 the UN raised its flag in Timor-Leste and in September 1999 the people of Timor-Leste voted overwhelmingly – 78% – in favour of independence from Indonesia. This led to extreme violence from the Indonesian Army and some militia gangs. People took to the hills and the islands to escape the terror. Over 2,000 died.
The UN Security Council authorized a multinational force (INTERFET) under the unified command structure of a member state, Australia, to restore peace and security. On October 25 1999, the UN Security Council established the United Nations Transitional Administration in Timor-Leste (UNTAET) as an integrated, multidimensional peacekeeping operation responsible for the administration of Timor-Leste during its transition to independence. Timor-Leste became the world’s newest democracy on the 20th May 2002.
Commanded by Lt Col John Caligari, 1 RAR relieved 6 RAR in East Timor on 25th October 2000 and accepted responsibility for the area known as AO Matilda and continued the role of the Australian Battalion in the UNTAET. The 1st Battalion Group consisted of 15 different specialists elements including Armour, Medical, Signals, Engineers, Catering and Air Support (blackhawks).
Their role was to provide security to East Timor and to assist the people in establishing a system of government. This was the UN guideline that determined the tasks that followed.
An aggressive patrolling programme was successful in preventing the opposition militia access over the border. An incident where the Australians were fired upon was answered by quick and decisive action resulting in the death of one militia. Cordon and search operations were successful in containing black market contraband, recovery of some weapons and ammunition as well as contributing to the humanitarian efforts of the force.
CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME
These days, Tatersalls or Bullwinkles nightclubs aren’t the only places a Digger from the Big Blue One can get lucky. Just ask Noah Mango. Golf 26 was on a typical ‘Hearts and Minds’ Civil Military Affairs patrol to the northern Zone of Cailaco in a village called Bilimau. The local village chief, nicknamed ‘Scratchy’ due to his habit of scratching himself (he didn’t seem to mind the nickname even though it was later found out that in Tetum it means prostitute), invited the team into his house for an afternoon supper of superb East Timor tea. After shooting the breeze in their best Tetum (two words each) for a period, they got to speak about families and kids. Well, ‘Bear’ Harrison and Shawn Grelk were talking about their wives and kids and were relating well with Scratchy. Meanwhile, Noah was quietly sipping his tea, keeping very much to himself until Scratchy worked out that not only did Noah not have any children, but he also had no wife. Flabbergasted at Noah’s predicament, Scratchy immediately proceeded to produce a young lady from the village (his bride to be) to hook up with Noah. She was very keen and flashed her best smile at Noah – a full smile with red, swollen lips and decaying teeth stained pink from betel nut. Noah beat a hasty retreat to the vehicle and the look of terror in his eyes was something to behold.
Noah was not the only one to be considered for marriage. Mathew Hopkins, 8 Section Alpha Company would hand over his washing to the local women who chattered away smiling and looking him up and down. He smiled back and nodded and chattered enthusiastically, happy in the knowledge that he had the language down to a fine art. Two days later the smile was gone from his face as the women returned with two others ladies dressed in all their finery. It seems that Hoppy had agreed to marry a local lady and now he had a choice of two. From that day on all anyone got out of him was “La Comprendai” or “I don’t understand.”
The Environmental Health Team (part of the Combat Services Support Battalion) was tasked by Lt Col Caligari to “keep the 1 RAR Battalion Group malaria and dengue fever free for six months”. WO1 Reidy and Captain Schmeder gathered the team and planned their attack. Records showed large numbers of soldiers from other units had fallen victim to these diseases and so direct preventative action was needed.
Education both oral and visual was the key followed by an intensely proactive programme. Upon arrival in the AO the team split into sub-sections and carried out a survey of all areas for breeding grounds and then laid down a three-month residual spray and followed up with a fogging onslaught. The result was a reduction of mosquito borne infections to zero.
Paul Smith was at Junction Point Alpha one day to watch Nigel Earnshaw and his boys manage the process for the returnees with all their belongings. While he was there a bunch of returnees were crossing back into east Timor and their luggage was stacked on the back of some UN vehicles that were stopped at the checkpoint. In the back of one of the trucks was a pig enclosed in a sack. The pig’s snout was sticking out and it would not stop squealing. After 10 minutes Paul lost his patience and jumped onto the truck and poured a bottle of water down its throat. The squealing stopped but no one looked to see if the pig had drowned or not. Well done Paul.
THE WAITING OF MAREE ROACH
When the final word of the deployment came through, after more than twelve months of waiting, I decided the best way to handle it was to make a joke of it.
I remember the countless weeks leading to the final departure. His needles, tablets and the ongoing paperwork etc. I was always by his side as much as I was allowed to be.
Then `D-Day’ arrived. If it wasn’t for my sister-in-law and her husband being here with me on the day, I don’t know how I would have coped. We dropped him off at the barracks at the designated time and already the feeling of being apart for so long was starting to take effect.
We arrived at the RAAF base for the final departure and in the confusion I left my wallet at the front gate but I didn’t care as it was as empty as my heart. To touch that most precious face before he boarded that dreaded plane made my heart break even more. He has been my whole inspiration to live again and to feel that final touch was devastating.
They say that with every passing day it becomes easier. To me I’m so grateful to God that Graham has survived another one. The nights are so incredibly long. No one to cook for, no sneaky titbits under the table for the cat and dog, no card games and no special personal contact and I miss our `deep and meaningfuls’.
I feel lucky to get four hours’ sleep at night, as my heart feels so broken. I have been told countless times by people that it’s so much easier for me as I don’t have children. How wrong they are! Graham and I have accepted we will not be able to have kids together but to all of you families that have been blessed with them, treasure them for the rest of your lives.
My heart aches without Graham but I can still feel him within my touch. He is my love, my life and he came to me when I felt there was no use going on. He has shown me things in this life that I never knew existed. He is my Guardian Angel and we at home are totally devoted to him. Our prayers and thoughts are with Graham, the deployed soldiers and all their families.
Wife of Sergeant Graham Roach, Support Company
Graham Roach was an outstanding character within the RAR. These two messages reflect the high level of respect for a top soldier.
“It has been wonderful seeing all the great messages of support following the tragic death of our great mate and wonderful character Graham Roach. I received the news of his rapid deterioration from Tony White and John Pickett last week while I was home on ROCL from the MEAO. I immediately contacted Craig Fitzgerald and Fitzy was able to get up to see Graham before he slipped away. I sent the email below to Tony White to be passed on to Graham before he died which Tony was able to do”.
“I have known Graham since 1985 and was fortunate to have him in Mortar Pl when I was Pl Comd, then a Sect Comd when I was OC B Coy, and finally a Pl Sgt and MFC as a SGT when I returned as CO 1 RAR. He was still in the Battalion when I returned as COMD 3 Bde and I was able to visit him on operations in East Timor.
He has always been one of our Regiment’s most colourful characters from the very early days. As a digger in Mortar Pl when the Pl had an indoor cricket team Graham would present the Roach award – usually a six pack to the player of the match selected by him. We also had an Ex with a Ghurka Mor sect working for us from HK and the Ghurkas were amazed by our cups canteen. On Graham’s initiative Pl funds paid for a cups canteen for each of the Ghurka soldiers with their names individually engraved – so typical of Graham’s thoughtfulness and generosity. The Ghurkas were blown away as were their officers – all mightily impressed.
His prowess as an amateur boxer was well known and in 1984 Jethro Hannah organised the Battalion boxing competition with a hand picked group of boxers competing in a series of bouts. Roachy was up against a younger soldier from another company who was much fitter than Graham but for the first two rounds, this young guy could not lay a hand on Graham who kept him at arms length with well placed jabs and great ring craft. Eventually in the third round Graham’s smoking habit caught up with him and his young opponent hit with a lucky punch and sat Graham on his arse, but clearly Roachy was the superior boxer in the bout.
As a LCPL he went to Tully as the Enemy Sect comd. When he came back to Lavarack Bks for a break, he took his mixed sect from a number of units, including a young Craig Fitzgerald, a digger in 162 Recce at the time who was to return to 1 RAR as a Pl Comd, Adjt and Coy Comd, to the boozer for a session and was put in the cells by the BOS and guard for some indiscretion and his enemy sect followed him into the cell. The CO at the time John Salter was so impressed by his obvious leadership potential that he promoted him to CPL and gave him a sect in B Coy and his soldiers loved him.
As a SGT MFC we were in SWBTA on a LFX as part of Tandem Thrust 97, Graham was on an OP with a bunch of young Gunner Offr FOs and Craig Fitzgerald as a Capt had convinced the young Gunner Offrs that Graham had been in the 1 RAR Mor Pl at FSB Coral in Vietnam. For the rest of the LFX the young gunner offrs kept making Graham brews to see if he would pass on some of his battle experience – all very amusing. I also remember him seeking a character reference from me when I was COMD 1 Div and I was only too happy to do this for him.
It is always tough for us as a Battalion family to deal with loss of one of own and when it is one of our favourite colourful characters like Roachy it makes it that extra bit harder. I will always remember Graham’s piercing blues eyes, that smoker’s gravelly voice and that infectious laugh. Please pass on my warmest regards to Graham and let him know he is in my thoughts and prayers. Let Roachy know that I am thinking of him as he faces this great challenge and all of us who know him and had the privilege to serve with him will always remember him. Take care.”
AUSTRALIAN soldiers are still patrolling the border in East Timor with the 1RAR Bn Gp nearing the end of a successful and rewarding six-month tour of duty.
1RAR and its supporting elements are scheduled to hand over responsibility for security of the AUSBATT AO on Anzac Day with a new group based around a 4RAR HQ to take up the reigns.
CO 1RAR Bn Gp Lt-Col John Caligari said evidence showed that the battalion group had been very successful in keeping their area of operations safe from militia influence but that they had had to keep up a very high work rate.
“The soldiers of the battalion group work round the clock to not only seek out militia presence but to provide the support necessary to sustain over 1000 men and women living in the field,” he said.
“The combat soldiers spend their days and nights protecting key installations or patrolling in the countryside for periods of up to 10 days.
“But, in addition to the direct provision of security for the district, the battalion group is involved in a wide range of activities that support operations.”
He said that by repairing roads and bridges his engineers ensured the soldiers were able to get around the AO unhindered.
“We also have combat service support elements that sustain the force in the field by providing and transporting food, water, ammunition and all other natures we are not able to obtain from the subsistence infrastructure of the area.”
Lt-Col Caligari said current operations were being hampered by serious wet weather that hit the area at the beginning of February.
“We have only had a few hours of sunshine since then.
“We are doing more of our patrolling on foot now to ensure we do as little damage to the roads as possible.”
He said the militia had certainly kept his troops on their toes during their tour.
“Apart from the two contacts we had in early December, we have had numerous sightings and reports from reliable villagers. “The people are very much on side and providing every assistance in reducing the opportunity of the militia to intimidate them.
“It is apparent that the militia is forced to operate in unpopulated areas without the support of the people and this is restricting their capacity to influence the security of the area and frighten the locals.”
Lt-Col Caligari said the 1RAR Bn Gp was quickly realising that the time to hand over responsibility for its AO was not too far off and that there was still much work to be done.
“We are, however, all looking forward to returning home and seeing our families and friends again.”
John Caligari interview by Dept of Defence 2001