Diggers left behind: a story that deserves to be told
SADLY, Australia did forget. At the end of World War II, we forgot to bring home a small group of Diggers who fought in Borneo.
Then we tried to hide the mistake. The son of one of these men related their story to me, and we should be ashamed.
At war’s end, the Australian Army could not simply repatriate all servicemen back home immediately. Transport was limited and forces were required to remain in Borneo to round up and guard prisoners and help devastated civilian authorities restore vital services. Troops returned home over a period based on criteria such as length of service, health and marital status.
However, when the last of the troops were being brought out of Borneo, due to transport problems, disorganisation and bureaucratic bungling, a handful were left behind without any supplies or communications equipment, then promptly forgotten.
Enquiries by their families were dismissed on the grounds that their whereabouts was classified. One prominent politician raised the matter in Federal parliament without result. The fact was that the Army simply didn’t know where they were.
What followed for these men was a period of misery as they were forced to live off the land and only survived due to the support of the local Dyak tribes.
Reports indicate that the returning Dutch forces refused to give them any assistance.
They were only repatriated after a chance encounter with an American engineer who notified authorities of their plight.
The story sounds unbelievable, but it’s the disbelieving attitude of other returned Diggers to it that embittered some of them.
I also experienced it when researching the story. But my research has discovered that not only does official documentary evidence support the story, there are signs of a crude attempt to cover it up. These men received no compensation and because their files returned to Australia before them and were not updated during the period when they “missing”, their claims for assistance in later years for injuries and medical conditions sustained during this period were rejected. They suffered twice at the hands of our military administration.
I would appreciate hearing from any of these men or their families so that their stories can be added to the existing information while I am still able. They deserve the truth being finally revealed, and getting some of the respect they are owed.