Remembering the Fall of Ambon, 80 years on

Thursday, 3 February 2022

The Hon Andrew Gee MP
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel

Today we remember and honour the service and sacrifice of the 1,100 Australian soldiers of ‘Gull Force’, 80 years on from the fall of the island of Ambon, in present day Indonesia, during the Second World War.

The Australians landed on Ambon in mid-December 1941 to support Netherlands East Indies troops defending the strategically important Bay of Ambon and two airfields at Laha and Liang.

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel Andrew Gee said the Australian troops fought with distinction, despite being ill-equipped and without air or naval support.

“When the Japanese landed on the island on 30 January 1942, the offensive was swift and the battle at Ambon was short-lived, before the Australian contingent was forced to surrender on 3 February,” Minister Gee said.

“In the defence of Ambon the main part of Gull Force suffered 15 casualties, and 309 officers and men who were at Laha were either killed in action or in mass executions which took place later in the month. Almost 800 Australians were taken prisoner.

“There were a number of examples of exceptional courage shown by the Australians, including the actions of 29-year-old Private William Thomas Doolan, a driver with the transport section of the 2/21st Battalion.

“Private Doolan was part of a reconnaissance patrol that encountered the attacking Japanese forces and, armed with hand grenades and a rifle, he stayed behind to hold the enemy off long enough to enable his comrades to withdraw.

“His bullet-riddled body was found some time later and, after the surrender, the Japanese allowed the Australians to bury William, and later erect a cross to mark his grave.

“After the war, William was reburied in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery located on Ambon, and the cross his mates made to mark his original resting place was donated to the Australian War Memorial, where it remains a part of the collection to this day.

“Ambon is another reminder of the horrors faced by so many taken as prisoners of war during the Second World War.

“Australian and Dutch prisoners were subjected to brutal treatment and many suffered malnutrition. One prisoner noted they were treated like slaves.

“Over half of those captured on Ambon died in prisoner of war camps by the time the war was over.

“Australia remembers the men of Gull Force with pride, and we pay our respects to all those who suffered and gave their lives, as well as their families.

“Their courage and sacrifice in the face of overwhelming odds should never be forgotten.”

To learn more about the Fall of Ambon visit the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Anzac Portal.

Media contacts

Minister Gee office: 0459 966 944
DVA Media: 02 6289 6466

 

Portrait of William Thomas Doolan
William Thomas Doolan
The wooden cross erected to mark the grave of William Thomas Doolan
Image caption: the cross erected to mark the grave of
Driver William Thomas Doolan on the island of Ambon.
The cross is part of the collection of the Australian War Memorial.
Officers of the 2/21st Battalion taking a break in Northern Territory bushland
Officers of the 2/21st Battalion take a break in Darwin before embarking
for Ambon in December 1941. Many of these men later died in captivity.

Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling provides 24/7 free confidential crisis support for current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families on 1800 011 046 or the Open Arms website. Safe Zone Support provides anonymous counselling on 1800 142 072. Defence All-Hours Support Line provides support for ADF personnel on 1800 628 036 or the Department of Defence website. Defence Member and Family Helpline provides support for Defence families on 1800 624 608.