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

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

History Matters - state of chaos after surrender

"Complex mess" filters down to Casino. Jim Belshaw continues the story of Camp Victory and the Casino Boys
The position in the Netherlands East Indies in the last months of 1945 and first months of 1946 can best be described as chaotic.

Upon surrender, the Japanese troops had withdrawn to barracks, leaving a power vacuum. The terms of the subsequent peace treaty required them to maintain civil control pending the arrival of the Allies, but there was reluctance to become re-involved.

The Allies had undertake to restore the previous civil order, ie the Dutch East Indies Administration, but were stretched and slow to move. The independence forces under Sukarno had asserted independence, but were weak in both military and administrative terms, especially outside Java.

They were also divided. While the main movement supported a pluralist unitary state, some wanted an Islamic state, others a soviet state.

The result was a complex mess that saw Japanese troops fighting independence forces, British and Dutch forces fighting independence forces and Indonesians fighting each other.
BLOODY BATTLE: British troops Surabaya,1945. The battle of Surabaya from October 27 to November 20 1945 was the single most bloody engagement of the war for Indonesian independence.  
 The position in Australia was also messy. The Netherlands East Indies (NEI) Government-in-Exile wanted to re-assert control and had been planning to that end, partly supported by a $US 10 million dollar loan from the US Government.

Its military position was relatively weak, but it now sought to deploy the military resources it had back to the Netherlands East Indies. As part of this process, Australian personnel were withdrawn from the three joint RAAF/NEI squadrons, with full control restored to the NEI Government in January 1946.

The union boycott intended to prevent NEI Government action was blocking shipping. The Australian Government had been bound by Allied arrangements, but as fighting in Indonesia dragged on and faced by union boycotts and local support for Indonesian independence, its position began to shift.

DAILY LIFE: Camp scene in Camp Victory, Casino 1946. There was strong support for Indonesian prisoners following the Indonesian declaration of independence
Conditions at Casino’s Camp Victory began to deteriorate. At the end of 1945, some locals wanted to give presents to the Indonesian prisoners who had been court-martialled and imprisoned for refusing service. When the Camp authorities refused to allow this, a local protest movement formed to supporting the prisoners.

There were also growing local fears about the risk of a prison break-out. Papers across Northern NSW and beyond began carrying stories about the camp, calling it a concentration camp.

The Dutch authorities were in a difficult position, They wanted to maintain military discipline, but Camp Victory had become a running sore. The couldn’t move the prisoners because of the shipping bans. Initial attempts to encourage repatriation to rebel territory in Indonesia failed because of distrust among the prisoners. The Australian Government was reluctant to take direct responsibility for the prisoners.

In September 1946, the whole thing blew apart, forcing the Camp’s closure.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 8 March 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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