On our return to Morotai, we were met by Bu Esty’s cousin who picked us up in her air conditioned Avanza car which was truly awesome after the heat from the sun in the open boat. After supplying us with cold pulpy orange juice which really hit the spot, she took us back to their house for a much needed and appreciated mandi before lending us her car and driver to take us around Morotai to visit sites of historical significance.
We first dropped in to have a look at a local history buff’s collection of military paraphernalia that he has personally collected and maintains.
The collection is housed in a tiny shed next to his house with the more important items stored safely in another building. My first impression was that it was a schemozzle, but upon careful inspection, I realised that it was more a problem with too little space for such a varied collection.
He also a collection of dogtags and coins that he has found. He separated the Australian dog tags out for me and I was surprised at how much thinner and rougher they are to contemporary dog tags. Most of them felt more like temporary replacement tags as they were so thin and the writing on them appeared to have been scratched on rather than engraved.
On the walls were a variety of photo collages, most of them unlabeled and some showing definite signs of age, so I doubt they are going to last much longer in their current location. They were all laminated too, so were hard to copy without a reflection from the flash or the sunlight.
I found it very hard to tell which were photos of Australians. This next photo reminded me of a photo my father took many years ago in the Territory, so I photographed it just in case the service men were Australians standing in what looks to be a truly Australian pose!
Looking at the collection really hit home the strong connections between Morotai and Australia yet I had no idea of this until this week. I particularly enjoyed my ‘chat’ with Annie (PEPS) as her father was based in Morotai for 18 months in 1945. The fact that I know someone who has memories of Morotai, heightened my interest and made my research even more meaningful. Here are a few interesting pieces of information relevant to Australia that I have discovered over the past week mainly from the internet and some also from talking to Bu Esty’s family:
The Japanese invaded Morotai in early 1942 as a part of their Dutch East Indies campaign. The Japanese presence on Morotai is not remembered fondly by the locals and I heard many horrible stories illustrating their inhumane nature. Bu Esty’s cousin gave this example; If 5 men were needed to shift a boulder, they would give the job to 4 men and then when they struggled &/or requested help, one of the team would be shot and killed with the same outcome promised to the remaining men if they complained again or failed to move the boulder. Therefore the arrival of the Allied Forces must have been greeted enthusiastically by the locals on Morotai once the bombardment finished.
The Battle of Morotai was launched at 6:30am on September 15, 1944 mainly because the island of Morotai had been identified by General MacArthur as being the perfect location to create a base from which to launch the liberation of The Philippines from later that year. The Allied Forces greatly outnumbered the Japanese Forces (100 to 1) and consequently it only took 2 weeks to gain control of Morotai. By the end of 1944, there were 61,000 personel on Morotai, 2/3’s of them were engineers who were needed to get the base functional as soon as possible! They quickly built 2 runways, fuel stores and a harbour. The runways built during this time were phenomenal and at one time one of them was the 2nd longest in the southern hemisphere.
From April 1945, the base was further expanded for the Australian led Borneo Campaign. Australian Army engineers undertook this which is why, I guess, Annie B.’s Dad was based on Morotai at this time. The building of a hospital which is now the Morotai General Hospital and the harbour to name just a few of the projects he was involved in. Ask Annie for more stories if you are interested. I also love the one about Gracie Field’s visit to entertain the troops. Annie’s Dad helped to build the stage for her performance which she delayed until the officers in the front seats had given up their seats for the soldiers!
Morotai remained a significant base even after the war. Australians stayed on and were responsible for the occupation and military administration of NEI (Netherlands East Indies as Eastern Indonesia was known as then) until the Dutch returned.
Morotai was also where a number of Japanese surrender ceremonies were held following the surrender of Japan. The formal surrender of the Japanese Army in Morotai took place on the 9th September 1945 before 10,000 Australian and American allied troops. The Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Military Forces, General Sir Thomas Blamey, accepted the formal surrender of all the Japanese in the Eastern parts of Indonesia. Upon being directed to sign the surrender document, General Teshima, saluted and then unbuckled his sword and while bowing, offered it to General Blamey in acceptance of their defeat. General Blamey’s speech after the signatures is worth reading. Find it here (link)
The last Japanese soldier to surrender was Teruo Nakamura when he emerged out of the jungle December 18, 1974! He had survived in the wild for just over 30 years and was astonished apparently to discover that Indonesia had since claimed independence. He was immediately repatriated home to Japan!
Morotai was also one of the sites where Australians and Dutch officials conducted Japanese war crime trials after the war.
Fascinating isn’t it! How much did you know already? I had heard of Morotai before but had no idea about any of the details.
After visiting the tiny museum, our driver took us for a drive out of town to the famous ‘air kaca’ (water which is as clear as glass) which is a spring of water that during the time MacArthur was on Morotai, was reserved totally for his use only.
Even today, the water is still so clear and pure that in this photo you can not even see the water and under the jetty, it just looks like ground covered in fallen leaves. We could see what looked like underwater caves towards the back of water pool. We wondered where they led to and whether they would be large enough for a person to enter. Near the top of the steps leading down to the water spring were signs from a recent memorial ceremony commemorating the Battle of Morotai. Most were in recognition of the help the locals received from the Allied Forces.
Along the roads, I took some photos to give you some idea of what I was looking at as we drove along. In this first photo, see if you can see the solar panels. One of the few towns in Indonesia where the entire town is solar powered!