The story be­hind his medals

Jon Ed­wards tells of his time serv­ing in East Ti­mor

Gatton Star - - LIFE THROUGH THEIR EYES - Fran­cis Wit­sen­huy­sen fran­cis.wit­sen­huy­sen@gat­ton­

WHEN Australian De­fence Force Combat En­gi­neer Jon Ed­wards saw the East Ti­mor shore­line and smoke haze from war­fare hov­er­ing over the cap­i­tal city of Dili, his ex­cite­ment turned to solem­nity.

“It started to hit home that it was very real and dan­ger­ous on many dif­fer­ent fronts. It was se­ri­ous,” he said.

It was Septem­ber 1999, and fol­low­ing a se­ries of at­tacks through­out Ti­mor by mili­tias cre­ated, trained and di­rected by the In­done­sian military, Mr Ed­wards had been de­ployed as part of The In­ter­na­tional Force East Ti­mor (INTERFET) force, made up of troops trained to ad­dress the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian and se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion.

“It was funny be­cause up un­til then on the boat on the way over, ev­ery­one was ex­cited,” Mr Ed­wards said.

“Be­cause in the de­fence force you prac­tice and train to do your job, so it was our chance.”

Now a Re­gency Downs local of 10 years, Mr Ed­wards said he’d never forget those nine months serv­ing in a third world coun­try.

“We were over there be­cause In­done­sia had con­trol of East Ti­mor, who had just had a ref­er­en­dum and a vote for their independence, and the In­done­sian gov­ern­ment weren’t pleased about that,” he said.

“So they had In­done­sian soldiers and mili­tia – who were the East Ti­morese who didn’t want the change and were pretty rad­i­cal in their views. There was a lot of deaths from mili­tia and In­done­sian soldiers.

“There re­ally was no safety there and some­thing had to be done.”

The most sat­is­fy­ing thing for Mr Ed­wards dur­ing his ser­vice was to pro­vide the civil­ians with safety and se­cu­rity.

“When the INTERFET force got there the lo­cals were scared of us be­cause of all they’d known with military per­son­nel in pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ences. They were bashed and treated very poorly,” he said.

“Over time they learnt we re­spected them and knew we were there for the right rea­sons and even painted signs say­ing ‘Thankyou INTERFET for your help’.

INTERFET troops would pa­trol the streets of Dili in ar­moured ve­hi­cles, it was on one of these pa­trols Mr Ed­wards re­called how daunt­ing it felt to not know who was a mili­tia­man and who was civil­ian.

“A lot of the time you wouldn’t know who were mili­tia­man – they blended in with the lo­cals – it was un­set­tling,” he said.

Mr Ed­wards re­called push­ing out and pa­trolling the East Ti­mor border only to be “pep­pered at” by mili­ti­a­men.

“In war there are rules and not ev­ery­one plays by the rules,” he said.

“We’d be get­ting pep­pered at be­cause the mili­ti­a­men would cross the border, at­tack and get back over be­cause they knew we couldn’t go into West Ti­mor ter­ri­tory, which was In­done­sian ter­ri­tory.

“And we couldn’t fire back be­cause if they found one of our rounds that side – we’d be charged – it was very frus­trat­ing.”

In Fe­bru­ary 2000, the United Na­tions took over from INTERFET mean­ing Mr Ed­wards served out the rest of his time un­der the UN.

“It was an ex­pe­ri­ence and honour to serve un­der their ban­ner and earn a UN beret,” he said.

“I feel hon­oured to have served my coun­try over­seas. It opened my eyes to what a third world coun­try is like.”

For his ser­vice, Mr Ed­wards was awarded an Australian Ac­tive Ser­vice medal, one of 3000 INTERFET medals in the world, and an Australian De­fence Force medal, which recog­nised his four years in the army.

When Mr Ed­wards en­listed, he was 27. He was based first in Holswor­thy, Syd­ney from 1997 un­til 2000 and was then sta­tioned in Dar­win.

“I joined the army be­cause I didn’t see it as a job, I saw it as a life­style, as an ad­ven­ture,” he said.

“In July 2001 I was dis­charged. Four years in the Army was enough time for me and my fam­ily said it was enough too.”

As he does ev­ery year, Mr Ed­wards marched in Lai­d­ley on An­zac Day.

❝ In war there are rules and not ev­ery­one plays by the rules

— Jon Ed­wards

“An­zac Day to me is about re­mem­ber­ing those guys I served with, they were not my work col­leagues they were my broth­ers in arms,” he said.

“It didn’t mat­ter what the sit­u­a­tion was or how bad it was – you knew your mate would pick you up and dust you off, he’d have your back.

“I get my pho­tos out from Ti­mor around An­zac Day and Septem­ber ev­ery year, just to look at them, re­flect and re­mind my­self how lucky we are, and have it.

“An­zac Day is about re­mem­ber­ing the other dig­gers from the World Wars, Viet­nam and who­ever else served, and hon­our­ing them for what they contributed to our coun­try – for it to be what it is to­day.”


PROUD EX-SER­VICE­MAN: Jon Ed­wards wears the ser­vice medals and UN beret he re­ceived for his time serv­ing in East Ti­mor.


Jon Ed­wards with some East Ti­morese lo­cals in the Dili Hills in early 2000.

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