In 2002 I met Clandestine Cleo, a friend of East Timor in Pt Phillip who wishes to remain anonymous. I can’t say more about her work, or she will be identified. Needless to say she had a copy of a book called The Double Reds of Timor, written as a memoir of his time with the Sparrow Force in Portuguese Timor in 1941-42. The following is a summary of the landing story and a poem.

The Landing Poem

Crimsonthreads of loss and grief began forming between people in Australia and in East Timor when Australia, invaded Portuguese East Timor, a neutral territory, on 17th December 1941.

It's a widely held belief in Timor and among Australians associated with Timor for a long time that more than 40,000 Timorese died in East Timor in WW 2, due to Australia’s strategies. In Australia the only formal memorial to these men and those people who helped the Australian soldiers is at Wilson's Promenade in Victoria.

Archie Campbell reveals his discomfort with the decision to invade a neutral territory in his history of the 2/2nd Independent Company, affectionately known as 'Sparrow Force with the following words:

"It is an unusual decision, contrary to international law and (up to now) something which only the enemy might be expected to do."

The men rose early the day before, and spent the day zigzagging through the flying fish across the Timor Sea avoiding imaginary Japanese submarines, and covered by an escort of two corvettes called Ballarat and Westralia. Tension was high as the men anticipated their first engagement after many months of training and preparation.

It proved to be a fizzer, as the Portuguese government, unbeknown to the Australians, had decided to peacefully relinquish the island. and a Portuguese civilian strolled out to them as they approached, with a polite greeting and lift of his hat.

It was in this atmosphere that Jim Smailes wrote the following poem:

We saddled up with loaded packs
and rowed towards the shore,
To make history at that landing
and be remembered evermore,
We raced ashore with bayonets fixed
and charged the aerodrome,
While our thoughts went back to childhood days
and those we left at home,
And of how Australia's name was won
upon the land and sea,
Sure Dili drome must take its place
beside Gallipoli!

There's not a man be he young or old
will wish me to repeat,
Just how we took the Dili drome
and Dili street by street;
I'd rather leave those tales untold,
for other tongues to tell,
And all I'll say when I write home is,
"Folks I'm safe and well."
We've upheld Australia's honour Mum,
and England shall be free,
Thank God we've got a Navy
and the Second AIC."

'The Double Reds of Timor' Archie Campbell, 1995, published by John Burridge Military Antiques

Archie finishes the story of the landing with the rueful comment"one of our biggest mistakes is waiting out all night for a supposed enemy attack. We get attacked, all right - but by millions of vicious mosquitoes!

The friendships to be formed come later with young men who risk their lives for the 'sparrows'. But the first enemy the men have to deal with and that anyone who travels to Timor has to deal with is malaria. Especially in Suai, situated on the Malarial Plains.