My father Jack Sercombe was a member of the 13th RAAF Squadron, assigned to the medical unit of the squadron under a doctor named Jenkins.
There are 3 or 4 stories that he told me of his time on the island. The first concerned the need to locate a clean water supply close to the base. This task was given to my father to not only locate but to test for purity. He told me of how regular reports were coming in of the growing numbers of Japanese in the area and of his apprehention of going into the jungle to search. He told me that he did indeed find a clean water supply relatively close to the base and of how when he bent down to collect a sample for test a tremendious commotion occurred in front of him on the other side of the water hole. A heard of wild pigs were using the supply as well and like my father neither knew that the other was there. My father said that he thought the entire Japanese army was upon him!
Another story deals with some of the initial attacks by the Japanese against the airfield and any form of infrastructure. He said that the native villages were also attacked and of how the terrified natives would run directly up paths and roads in an effort to escape the air raids. This made them easy targets to the Japanese and the lose of innocent life was sincerely tragic.
The disgust felt by the Australian troops on the ground as they watched the Japanese pilots machine gun the two downed Dutch pilots was to soon turn to revenge as a similar fate happened to a pair of Japanese airmen, although this time they were not shot at while they parachuted to the ground. Instead they were brought to the hospital where my father worked. A linch mob soon arrived outside the hospital once word had spread of their capture resulting in my father having to post armed guards outside to ensure the prisioners' safety.
How it came to be that my father was one of the 125 that left Ambon is quite remarkable. Shortly after arriving on Ambon my father contracted malaria and along with other Australian personal was sent to Laha for treatment. Word continued to spread of the pending invasion while he was recovering. He along with an Australian pilot decided to make for Ambon. Having left the hospital at Laha they would later be captured by natives and marched 20 miles with spears in their backs to be presented to their village chief who thankfully understood enough English to realise that these men were of no threat to him or his people. From here they again continued to Ambon and passed through a small town. As they did so they were spotted by overhead Japanese planes and were attacked. Realising that they had been seen, both men separated, my father going into the jungle and the pilot running behind a building as a bomb exploded killing him instantly. My father continued on to Ambon alone and flew out to Darwin I believe that night. He also told me of the sickening feeling that he and the others who managed to escape felt as the plane took off. The fate of those left behind is now history.
Several years ago I visited the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and came
across a book titled Ambon: Island Of Mist.
It is written by Courtney T. Harrison in 1988. It does contain some photographs as well as a good account
of Australias involvement in Ambon. May I suggest you contact the Memorial
for further details. I purchased the book to see if my father was mentioned
in it however he is not. You see once he arrived back in Darwin it too was
bombed and he along with countless others had their service records
destroyed. It has only been as late as this year that my family has been
able to receive his full entitlement of service decorations.
Copyright © Rod Sercombe 1999-2000
Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942