Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

History Matters - a unique wartime solution

Jim Belshaw continues the story of Camp Victory and the Casino Boys

Cut of from the home country by the Nazi invasion, the Netherlands East Indies (NEI) forces in Australia struggled to regroup. The problems were most acute on the Air side where there were shortages of planes and manpower.

A unique solution was adopted, the formation of joint NEI/Australian squadrons. The Dutch supplied the planes acquired under Lend-Lease arrangements, the pilots were Dutch, the aircrew a mix of NEI and Australian personnel, while ground crew were generally Australian.

Combined No 18 (NEI) squadron in action, 1944 

Operational command rested with Australia, with Australian crew reporting to an Australian squadron leader, while NEI personnel were under KNIL (Netherlands East Indies Army) command. The Dutch flag replaced the RAAF roundel on the planes, while the squadrons were named No (NEI) Squadron RAAF

This arrangement explains a conundrum I referred to in my first column in this series. How did an uncle from Kentucky with no known Dutch connections end up serving in the Dutch Airforce? Well, it should be more correctly the Netherlands East Indies Airforce!

Four squadrons were formed, of which three entered operational service (one bomber, one fighter plus one transport squadron), flying missions against Japanese positions in the Netherlands East Indies and South-West Pacific.

On the land side, the Australian Government provided the Dutch Netherlands East Indies KNIL forces with bases under NEI control. As part of this process, an advance party arrived in Casino in December 1942 to establish what would be called Camp Victory, a base for the KNL Technical or Labour Battalion.  

The Battalion contained personnel recruited from different parts of the Dutch East Indies under the command of both Dutch and locally recruited NEI officers. It also included people from other parts of the Dutch Empire including Surinam.

 MATES. Relations among the groups at Camp Victory appear to have been good up to the tensions flowing from the declaration of Indonesian Independence
Camp Victory also seems to have included political prisoners, supporters of Indonesian Independence, although it is unclear to what extent they formed part of the Battalion or were separately held. In any event, security at the Camp was low, allowing mixing and fraternisation within the Camp and beyond.

The White Australia Policy may have been bent by the exigencies of war, but was still in place. The sudden presence in Casino of a large number of non-Europeans therefore posed a challenge. How would the locals respond?

CAMP VICTORY. Fraternising with the locals, Ballina

The answer seems to be very well. Relations with the Dutch were easiest, with some concerns about local girls dating non-European personnel. However, the soldiers had soldiers pay and after hours would visit the stores. Many long term Casino residents remembered them buying bikes and having a fondness for perfumes. They also remember the soldiers showing them how to make kites.

The ending of the War would bring new tensions. Casino was about to find a place in Indonesian history.
 Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 15 February 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017.

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