AWOL Fremantle – ‘Blackforce’ Java

‘Aquitania’ Boston Naval Yard, 1942



The ‘Aquitania’ sailed into Gauge Roads from Sydney on 15th January 1942 carrying large numbers of Australian reinforcements  who would end their journey at Singapore (they did not know this until reaching Fremantle).  Included onboard was 8th Division’s Western Australian raised 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion.  They had been training at Woodside, South Australia  and more recently Darwin – at that time the men believing they were to be sent to  middle east.



They were very hopeful of leave to see their families and loved ones whom they had not seen for at least 6 months, before they went to fight who knows where? This thought was sadly quelled when receiving instructions “No Leave” would be provided to any soldier at Fremantle.  ‘Aquitania’ would only stay overnight to load further provisions and reinforcements for 2/4th.
Of course when the first pontoon neared the ‘Aquitania’ with  provisions and reinforcements many more than 100 West Aussies  from the battalion clambered down the sides of the ship,  out of port holes and onto the floating and madly rocking pontoon.]
There was pandemonion on the pontoon which was ferrying 2/4th  reinforcements (some having enlisted as little as 4 weeks earlier!)
Those who had ‘jumped ship’ and arrived at Fremantle wharf and scattered frantically to find transport to their varied destinations.  Many arrived back at Fremantle that night and the early next morning, managing to reboard ‘Aquitania’.
However when the ship pulled up anchor later on 16th January there were 93 men AWOL!
(Their reasons were varied  – some had been imprisoned at Fremantle  unable secure release,  a truck carrying a number of men from west of Perth hills had broken down, others unable to get transport from wharf).
Amongst those men who went AWOL and managed to return before ‘Aquitania’ sailed included Bert Norton, John and Jim Gilmour, Clarrie and Jeff McDonald, Jim Elliott and Jim Dore just to name a few!
Many of those who were unable to  reboard ‘Aquitania’ were arrested a the harbour by Military Police who were waiting with vehicles.  The MPs took men to Fremantle gaol – even though it was obvious they were trying to board ‘Zepher’ to reach ‘Aquitania’.    Losing 90 well trained machine gunners was a huge loss to the Battalion. There was a lot of anger about this incident.  Nobody knew who gave the order to the MPs.


John Gilmour wrote in his book ‘All in My Stride’ ……

with 2/4th MGB on board ‘Aquitania’ as ship sailed to Fremantle to anchor at Gauge Roads.
‘It had been more than 6 months since we left Perth.  As ‘Aquitania’ prepared to pick up supplies and more troops the last straw for the 2/4th MGB was to be told there would be no shore leave.
Some orders are just too mean to be followed.  The men knew it was possibly their last chance to see their loved ones before they went to war.  When the barges came out we jumped ship by the dozen and in most cases it was a jump of between 3 and 5 metres.  The skippers of the barges were well paid for cooperating and for them the choice was simple:  either head back to the wharf or risk sinking because the longer the barge stayed alongside the more soldiers jumped aboard.  Some men were climbing through the portholes to jump.
An officer pulled his revolver on us and yelled “Stop it”.  He got a kick in the shins and his revolver dropped overboard into the ocean.  There was no way he could identify the culprit in that seething mass of men scrambling for the opening at the side where the supples came aboard.  The men were in no mood for obstruction and the officer was lucky he didn’t go overboard with his revolver.
My brother Jim and I jumped on to a water barge where we were soon joined by Clarrie and Jeff McDonald, Jim Elliott and Jim Dore. Once on the wharf we split up and went our separate ways knowing we had to be back the following day to sail away.
It was grand being home, even for a few hours. Perth was full of soldiers because many troops from the Eastern States had never been to Perth and they too had jumped ship to see the Western Australian capital for the first time and maybe the last time. Who could know what the future held for them in those circumstances?
Getting back onboard the ‘Aquitania’ the next day was tricky. The military police were rounding up all the men and taking them to Fremantle Gaol. Luckily my father a Corporal was a guard at the wharf and was on duty when we returned. He helped me get on the last launch, accompanied by Jeff and Clarrie, before ‘Aquitania’ sailed. By the time we got out to the ship, she was hauling her anchor in and we had to climb aboard using a rope ladder, not any easy feat because the ship was spinning around with the drag on the anchor.
Back on board, some of the men who had been drinking decided it was time for a swim. They dived in from the deck despite a warning from the crew that sharks had been seen scavenging on the ship’s wastes. The departure was delayed while the crew coaxed the swimmers out of the water and up the rope ladder. Being somewhat under the weather this task seemed to take forever. One of the swimmers, Wally Kenny, lived in Fremantle and was a member of the 2/4th. I could understand why he took that farewell swim. Fremantle people generally have a powerful bond of affection for their home city and the clean, flashing waters of the ocean send them a cooling wind, the ‘Fremantle Doctor’ on hot summer afternoons. Wally was taking a last lucky dip in the sources of his city’s sanity during what might turn out to be his last summer. Any West Australian will tell you that such behaviour is fully comprehensible. The war would still be there tomorrow.
So many of us had gone ashore that admission of guilt was voluntary. There were people who would not own up but I wasn’t one of them, and for my sins I received the only red mark in my pay book. I was fined a few days’ pay but proud of it (some lost their stripes).
The ‘Aquitania’ took us to the Sundra Straits where we transhipped to small Malaysian freighters which took us on to Singapore.”


Those who were unable to re-board ‘Aquitania

Ninety-three members of 2/4th failed to re-board HMT ‘Aquitania’ on the morning of 16 January 1942. They were detained at Fremantle Prison before being transferred to Claremont Details Camp, charged (AWOL) and fined. For reasons of age or health, five of these men did not continue their journey overseas.
On 30th January 1942 the remaining 88 men were transported to Fremantle with their escort Officer, Lt. Colin Blakeway and boarded convoy “MS 3” departing Fremantle. The small convoy escorted by HMAS ‘Canberra ‘consisted of seven tankers destined for Palembang on Sumatra and four cargo ships for Tanjong Priok, the Port of Batavia on Java. One of the 4 cargo ships was the 7,475-ton SS ‘Marella’ carrying the machine gunners and their escort officer.
The initial intention had been to put these well-trained machine gunners ashore at Java and transship them onwards to Singapore.
Before they arrived in Java, it was apparent Singapore would fall to the Japanese,  it was therefore decided the machine gunners would remain in Java.  They disembarked at Tanjong Priok on 13th February 1942 where they were moved to their barracks at Meester Cornelis, an older European area on the south side of Batavia. Batavia was divided into three sections. The northern section was the old town, the south was the new town of Weltevreden and further south of this was the new town of Meester Cornelis. The towns formed the municipality of Batavia, covering about 66 square miles.

Please read Straw Dyson’s account of AWOL Fremantle.


The machine gunners found they were then reinforcements for the Allied Forces in Java and assigned guard duties at ammunition dumps within the area of Batavia and tasked with movement of stores from the wharves to the aerodromes.
Following the landing of further Australian troops from HMT Orcade’s on 19th February the 2/4th reinforcements joined either the 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion or 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion for airfield defence at either Kemajoran or Tjilitan Aerodromes.
By 17th February the Japanese were rapidly closing on Java from both east and west. Singapore had fallen. The Japanese invaded Bali on 18th February and on 19th February Darwin was subjected to aerial attack. General Wavell secretly notified the British joint staff mission Washington on 18th February 1942 that Hong Kong, Malaya and Singapore had been lost to the Japanese as had most of the islands of Netherlands East Indies.
On 21st February 1942, Lt-Col Arthur Seaforth Blackburn was prometed too Brigadier and appointed to command all A.I.F. troops on Java, to be known as Blackforce. At the same time Brigadier Blackburn was to come under direct control of Dutch Commander, Chief Lt-Gen Hein ter Poorten.
Blackforce consisted of approximately 2,900 Australian, British and American troops. Organized on a brigade basis Blackforce consisted of three battalions.
No. 1 Battalion – Total Strength 700
2/3rd Machine Gun Btn under command of Lt-Col Lyneham
One section from 2/6th Field Company
One Officer and a number of other ranks ex-Singapore and a proportion of reinforcement draft from Australia.
No. 2 Battalion – Total Strength 900
2/2nd Pioneer Battalion under command of Lt-Col J.M. Williams
‘C’ Company No. 10 Platoon, 1st Australian Corps Headquarters Guard Regiment as well as those troops ex-Singapore and the reinforcement draft ex-Australia not allocated to other two Battalions.
This 3rd Battalion was formed 28th February when all surplus reinforcements were allotted to this unit. This included Lt. Colin Blakeway and 40 of the 87 2/4th machine gunners that were transferred across from 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion on this day.


On 1st March Japanese troops simultaneously began their invasion of Java at four different points.
Strategic places like Bandung, Batavia and Surabaya were invaded by two invasion forces totalling 45,000 Japanese troops accompanied by superior Japanese air power.    Following 8 days of fierce fighting and the loss of 1,000s of lives, the Allied Forces surrendered.  The Australians were not happy, they felt the Dutch Forces had’ rushed in’. The Allied troops were advised any further resistance would result in instant reprisals against the civilians.  The Japanese terms of surrender were unconditional.  The Allied POWs were made up of Dutch, Australian, American, British and Naval personnel from Australian and American ships who had survived the sinking of their ships.


Troops retained to defend the Dutch airfields on Java, Batavia, Java, 19-02-1942

Members of ‘Blackforce’ in preparation of invasion of Java Feb/March 1942.


2/4th MGB Personnel AWL Fremantle,
When ‘Aquitania’ Sailed from Fremantle 16 January 1942

Total 88 men sent Java 1942

24 men died of illness/lost at sea


WX8245 Adams E.T. (10 Pln)

WX7064 Allpike B.W.J. (Btn HQ)

WX7905 Annesley F.J. (HQ Coy 2 Pln)      Java No. 4       Died ‘Rakuyo’ Maru Sept 1944

WX9367 Baker J.R. (6 Pln)

WX8682 Baker W.R.S. (‘B’ Coy 7 Pln)         Java No. 4       Died ‘Rakuyo’ Maru Sept 1944
WX10343 Banks N.E. (‘C’ Coy HQ) Recovered Sumatra. MUNDARING TRUCK BREAKDOWN.

WX7587 Barbout T. (11 Pln)

WX7164 Barker F. (11 Pln)

WX6970 Barnes A.J. (4 Pln)

WX10791 Beattie A.R. (4 Pln)

WX8766 Booth H.V. (‘B’ Coy 8 Pln)               Java No. 22     Died Apr 1944 Pakan Baroe, Sumatra

WX7600 Bousefield (13 Pln)

WX7333 Burns A.J. (8 Pln)

WX6155 Byrne L.P. (10 Pln)

WX10365 Caldwell (‘B’ Coy HQ)

WX9551 Carroll F.V. (10 Pln)

WX8240 Carter D.N.H. (9 Pln)


WX16369 Cocking A.J. (8 pln)

WX10048 Cosson E.J. (1 Pln)

WX8855 Davies D.J. (HQ Coy 2 Pln)       Java No. 4       Died Jan 1944 Kanchanaburi 1944

WX9310 Dickson A.A. (6 Pln)

WX7299 Doyle T.F. (14 Pln)

WX8830 Drummond A.McD. (‘B’ Coy HQ)  Java No. 4       Died ‘Rakuyo’ Maru Sept 1944

WX9266 Dunwoodie W. (6 Pln)

WX9199 Farmer A.F. (6 Pln)

WX9070 Fielder, C. (12 Pln)

WX5132 Fisher G. (12 Pln)

WX7569 Foxall S.E. (‘C’ Coy 11 Pln)          Java No. 4       Died Jul 1943 Beke Taung Hospital

WX15422 Frost B.M. (3 Pln)

WX9270 Fury T.J. (‘A’ Coy 6 Pln)               Java No. 4       Killed air raid Thanbuyuzayat Jun ‘43

WX7595 Glass (Btn HQ)

WX6980 Golden P. (6 Pln)

WX8540 Green T.W. (HQ Coy 3 Pln)         Java No. 4       Joined ‘E’ Force at Sandakan died Jan ‘45

WX8265 Gregory W.R. (5 Pln)

WX6975 Ham R.J. (14 Pln)

WX7123 Hampson R.D. (4 Pln)

WX15736 Hansen R. (15 Pln)

WX8695 Harris W.D. (Btn HQ)

WX8408 Hayes A.G. (HQ Coy 2 Pln)          Java No. 4       Died Sept 1944 ‘Rakuyo’ Maru

WX7642 Henderson C.G. (10 Pln)

WX7465 Holdman N. (HQ Coy 2 Pln)        Java No. 4       Killed air raid Bangkok wharf area
WX10795 Hughes R.E. (‘A’ Coy 5 Pln)       Java No. 4       Died Sept 1944 ‘Rakuyo’ Maru

WX9130 Hunter M.A. (9 Pln)

WX5118 Jenkins Cpl J.M. (‘C’ Coy 12 Pln)  Java No. 4       Died Nov ‘42 Thanbyuzayat, Burma
WX7453 Jones E.C. (HQ Coy 2 Pln)                                      Died Jul ’42 Bicycle Camp, Java
WX7612 Kelly C.G.Mc. (‘D’ Coy 13 Pln)     Java No. 4       Died Jan ‘44 Tamarkan, Thailand
WX4949 Kingswell R.J. (‘C’ Coy 12 Pln)                            Died Mar ’42 No. AGH Bandeong, Java

WX8336 Kuhl F.G. (Btn HQ)

WX7230 Lee L.H. (8 Pln)

WX15744 Lee L.W. (6 Pln)

WX11316 Lewis L.H. (‘D’ Coy HQ)

WX7285 Love  H.R. (4 Pln)

WX16341 Martin S.T. (3 Pln)
WX13285 Maude J. (6 Pln)

WX8261 McAskil R.R. (10 Pln) d. Sumatra Mar 1945

WX9825 McLoughlin C.P. (HQ 12 Pln)


WX13562 Moate P.J. (‘C’ Coy HQ)

WX8200 Morris W.R. (10 Pln)

WX15746 Morrison A.E. (13 Pln)

WX5336 Murdoch J.L. (15 Pln)

WX7645 Nicholls W.J. (HQ 1 Pln) d. 10 Oct 1942 illness Bicycle Camp Hospital, Batavia.

WX16417 Ninyette S. (D Coy 15 Pln)

WX8856 Pearce H.W. (C Coy 11 Pln) ‘Rakuyo Maru’ 12 Sep 1944

WX8725 Pryce J.H.L. (HQ 1 Pln)

WX9059 Ramage G.R. (HQ 1 Pln) d. 23 Sep 1943 dysentery  Payathonzu 108km Camp, Burma

WX9563 Randall J. (88th LAD)

WX7493 Rennie R.G.S. (HQ 3 Pln) d. amputation 4 Oct 1943 Tamarkan, Thailand

WX7750 Roberts S.H.G. (A Coy 6 Pln)

WX16427 Robertson D.C. (B Coy 8 Pln)

WX5200 Robinson W.J. (B Coy HQ) d. 17 Jul 1943 dysentery  Hintok, Thailand
WX7939 Sawyer C.J. (Btn HQ) d. 1 Apr 1942 dysentery Bandeong, Batavia.
WX8843 Scales J. (A Coy 5 Pln) d. 11 Sep 1943 illness Chungkai, Thailand

WX 7576 Simmonds N.E.  (C Coy 10 Pln)

WX16424 Sing A. (A Coy HQ)

WX7893 SMITH J.S. (C COY 12 Pln)

WX8506 Smith W.J. (88 LAD)

WX9419 Steele, Harold William (Bill) (C Coy HQ Pln), MUNDARING TRUCK BREAKDOWN

WX9827 Stribling R.H. (C Coy 12 Pln)

WXS8585 Vidler C.J. (A Coy 5 Pln)

WX15654 Walker R.J. (HQ 3 Pln) d. 5 May 1942 dysentery Bicycle Camp, Batavia 

WX7466 Wash, B.J. (HQ 3 Pln)

WX8356 Watkins, W.S.  (Btn HQ)

WX10762 Watters T.M. (HQ 3 Pln)

WX7502 Wayman T.S. (HQ 3 Pln)

WX10049 Wilkinson M.W. (HQ 1 Pln)

WX1138 Williams A.G. (C HQ)

Please read further for overview of Java POW Camps