Mis­sion to Am­bon

Pil­grim­age to find grave of sol­dier on In­done­sian is­land

Kyabram Free Press - - NEWS - By Lach­lan Durling

A KEEN in­ter­est in war his­tory led Lyle Tay­lor on a jour­ney to find his wife’s un­cle.

De­spite all the ob­sta­cles, in­clud­ing miss­ing doc­u­men­ta­tion and un­recorded names, Lyle was able to trace the path of his in-laws’ fam­ily back to Cor­po­ral Bruce Kay’s ef­forts in the Se­cond World War at Am­bon.

On De­cem­ber 17, 1941 the 2/21st Bat­tal­ion of the AIF — Gull Force — dis­em­barked at the Port of Am­bon to as­sist the Dutch in de­fend­ing the In­done­sian is­land from the Ja­panese ad­vance.

The 1,130 sol­diers were marched to a for­mer Dutch army bar­racks that was to be the home for many of them de­fend­ing that part of the is­land.

The area was known as Tan Toey and lit­tle did those men know that for many it would be­come their home for the next sev­eral years as pris­on­ers of war af­ter the Ja­panese landed in Jan­uary 1942.

Lyle said his in­ter­est was piqued when he found a per­sonal con­nec­tion with a sol­dier.

“I dis­cov­ered in 2009 that my wife’s un­cle was killed in Am­bon dur­ing the Ja­panese in­va­sion,” he said.

“Then I made con­tact with his son Ron, who is my wife’s cousin — he was four when his dad died — and I was able to fill in some gaps for him through the re­search I was do­ing.

“He was in­ter­ested in the his­tory of it all.”

The pair then de­cided to make the pil­grim­age to Am­bon in mem­ory of Cpl Kay and to find out more him.

“Gull­force had an as­so­ci­a­tion run­ning and they still did reg­u­lar pil­grim­ages to Am­bon so we de­cided to take part and went for 10 days in 2010, to see what else we could find out about Cpl Kay” Lyle said.

“It was a fan­tas­tic trip be­cause we were able to make more dis­cov­er­ies, even find­ing the site where Ron’s fa­ther had been shot while de­fend­ing against the in­va­sion.

“Ron’s fa­ther doesn’t have a named grave in the ceme­tery and so when we found a lo­cal fam­ily who knew where an Aus­tralian sol­dier had been buried I had a mo­ment and I knew it could be him and thought, ‘the army wouldn’t move a body with­out keep­ing a record’.”

Hear­ing this news spurred the pair on to con­tinue their re­search, lead­ing Lyle to Can­berra.

“The body was re­lo­cated back to the Com­mon­wealth war graves and while we couldn’t con­firm it was him, there was no other Aus­tralian killed for 10 miles so we were fairly cer­tain it was.

“I pushed on to see if I could find the lo­ca­tion of the grave how­ever the records link­ing the site of his death with his grave in the ceme­tery were miss­ing,” he said.

“The de­part­ment of un­re­cov­ered war dead in Can­berra pointed us to some doc­u­ments where we found a burial card.

‘‘It gave us the first writ­ten con­fir­ma­tion Cpl Kay was buried in a slit trench be­fore the sol­diers re­treated. The co­or­di­nates on that card matched per­fectly with the site we had been shown by the Am­bonese fam­ily.

‘‘I hope to even­tu­ally iden­tify his grave at the ceme­tery.”

The Gull­force group con­ducts pil­grim­ages bian­nu­ally, with 24 peo­ple able to make the jour­ney with the group.

Lyle has been on four trips in to­tal.

Of the orig­i­nal 1,130 sol­diers of the 2/21st Bat­tal­ion only 350 sur­vived the war.

Pil­grims, guides and of­fi­cials at the Com­mon­wealth War Graves Ceme­tery in Am­bon.

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