Australians in Brunei

As a historian, I sometimes wonder what if... During the second world war, the British virtually left Brunei, or rather the entire Southeast Asia defencelss. Strategically it is a good decision, mounting their might against the Germans in Europe. At the end of the war, it was not the British who came. The so-called Allied Forces which liberated Brunei from the Japanese were Australians. TS Monks who was in fact a Brit came together with the Australians, wrote about the end of the war in his book 'Brunei Days'.

Where the Australians landed on Muara Beach, a memorial has been built to dedicate to the men who served there. So, this coming Saturday, there will be a dedication to the memorial. I also found this on an Australian news website about a World War II Australian veteran who arrived in Brunei:-

"World War II veteran Rex Kawelmacher recalls there were no five-star hotels when he was last in Brunei.

After more than 60 years the Shellharbour resident will return to Brunei Darussalam this week.

He is one of six veterans who will attend the dedication of the Brunei-Australia memorial on Saturday.

The 84-year-old is curious and excited about the journey. His memories of Brunei include the sweltering heat and humidity and the stench of burning oil wells set alight by the retreating Japanese, fires that took three months to extinguish.

"They made a hell of a noise," he said.

More than 20,000 Australians from the Australian Army, Air Force and Navy took part in the operations in June 1945.

The memorial will honour the 114 Australians killed and 221 wounded in one of the final acts of World War II.

Originally from Ardlethan, in the Riverina, Mr Kawelmacher was just 17 when he first tried to enlist.

"They told me to go back home and grow," he said.

The following year - 1943 - the Australian government introduced conscription for 18-year-olds.

"They didn't tell me to go home a second time."

In November, 1943 Mr Kawelmacher joined the 2/17th Infantry Battalion as a reinforcement in New Guinea. The battalion returned to Far North Queensland to train for 13 months, before sailing north for the Borneo campaign.

On June 9, 1945, cruisers shelled Green Beach, just to the east of the Brunei Bluff on Borneo's mainland. The next day the battalion left HMAS Kanimbla and went ashore without resistance.

A forward scout, Mr Kawelmacher's B Company soon came in contact with a party of Japanese soldiers, killing two and taking a wounded prisoner.

Within three days the 2/17th had occupied the Brunei airstrip. By June 16, Brunei and the nearby island of Lauban were in Australian hands.

While the Japanese offered little resistance at Brunei, they faced a more determined enemy in the jungle of Labuan where more than 380 Japanese troops died.

The 114 Australians who died in the fighting are buried at the Labuan War Cemetery.

Mr Kawelmacher's unit continued to move along Borneo's South China Sea Coast until they were ordered to stop at the town of Seria in July 1945 where they remained until the war ended.

After four decades as a sheet-metalworker in western Sydney, Mr Kawelmacher and his wife Norma retired to Shellharbour in 1984. Apart from lawn bowls he remains a keen follower of the Shellharbour City Sharks.

The six veterans will also visit wartime locations in Malaysia and Singapore and lay wreaths and poppies at the Labuan War Cemetery."


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