Subject: "Hush hush boys' mystery unveiled

Kalgoorlie Miner (Western Australia)

December 1, 2007 Saturday

"Hush hush boys' mystery unveiled

ELAINE MITROPOULOS

IN HIS book All the Bull's Men, West Australian author Cyril Ayris' unveils the shroud of mystery surrounding a select group of soldiers originally dubbed "the hush hush boys".

Trained as guerrilla fighters in 1941, the top-secret 2/2nd Commando Squadron battled a flurry of Japanese invaders in East Timor in 1942.

A loss of contact with Australia meant the soldiers were written off as dead or captured by the enemy. For most of the unit's about 250 men, neither was the case.

According to 2/2nd Commando Association president Jack Carey, 16 Goldfielders were among the soldiers who risked their lives in the battle for neutral Portuguese Timor.

"They're all great blokes and they were good soldiers. Some were very good," the 85-year-old veteran said.

"Three paid the supreme sacrifice and all did their country well in those dangerous years. All are now deceased."

Mr Carey said 25 of his former colleagues were still living, with the eldest aged 94.

"They're all in varying stages of health," he said, adding it was the association that commissioned Ayris to divulge the men's collective tale.

"We wanted the story to be there when we are gone."

At times heartbreaking, while in other instances quite humorous, Mr Carey said the book was an account of a 300-strong, malaria-ridden unit of West Australians who were fatefully pitted against a 3000-strong Japanese army.

"(The company) won fame in East Timor when it waged a successful guerrilla warfare campaign against a far superior Japanese force, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy before being relieved by the 2/4th Independent Company," he said.

He attributed the men's success to their friendship with the East Timorese people and to their faithful Creados, young boys who cared for the soldiers.

"The Australians were quite friendly and laughed a lot. (The Timorese) trusted us, and we trusted them," he said.

"The chappies did a pretty good job, but we were lucky. I wanted to call the book The Lucky Company."

Resolved on the existing title, Mr Carey said the "bull" it referred to was Major Geoff Laidlaw, a former Manly surf champion and the unit's commanding officer for the greater part of its four and a half years.

Using first-hand accounts, Ayris interweaves the highlights of Maj. Laidlaw's campaign with the voices of the men who fought it and successive operations in New Guinea and New Britain.

Raised in Trafalgar, Peter Alexander, a Goldfields miner by trade, was taken as a Japanese POW during the campaign and lived to tell about it.

"We were all rudely awakened by the rattle of machine gun rifle fire. Jap guards were racing through the hut, banging doors and windows shut. We could hear bullets thudding into the cement walls, the odd one tearing away the timber window slats and hitting the inside walls," he wrote.

"Next day, there appeared to be a few new faces among the guards - and the guard hut down the road looked to be in need of a few repairs.

"One Jap came into the yard carrying a rifle and an Aussie hat. He pointed to them then began stamping on the ground, telling us that the owner was now underground. We later learned that there were no Australian casualties and that the rifle and hat had been dropped in the gateway."

Others, however, were less fortunate than Mr Alexander.

The mission, Mr Carey said, saw about 28 casualties who were killed in action or from illness.

The 2/2nd Commando Association was established in 1946 to commemorate the soldiers and to maintain the strong bond that developed among the living.

"Being a small company, we all got to know one another. There was great comradeship throughout the unit.

"We've seen a lot of them go. You do feel it. It hurts, but that's what life is. Families break up, and we're a big family."

A hard-covered copy of All the Bulls Men sells for $70.

Part of the book's proceeds will go to the association's trust fund, established in 1991 to benefit the Timorese people.

To purchase a book, contact Mr Carey on 93327050.

Goldfields men who served in the

2/2nd Independent Company

Miner Peter Alexander, POW

Shopkeeper Tony Davidson

Miner Paddy Doyle

Miner Tony Davidson

Carpenter Les Glasson

Miner Boyo Hewitt

Miner Ernie Hoffman

Miner Tony Lane, KIA

Barber Harvey Marriott, KIA

Miner Terry Paull

Kalgoorlie two-up school's Jack Sheehan

Miner Jim Spencer

Miner George Thomas, KIA

Salesman Eric Thornander

Miner Roy Wilkerson

Miner Roy Wilson


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