Dig­gers left be­hind: a story that de­serves to be told

The Gold Coast Bulletin - - YOUR GOLD COAST - IAN TIM­MINS MER­MAID BEACH aim­[email protected]

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.

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