Sparrow Force were tasked with defending the island of Timor from the Japanese military, upon request of the Dutch, and were made up of servicemen from Australia and Britain.
Minister for Defence Personnel Darren Chester has announced that six Aussies will be recognised for their bravery in protecting an air base on the island, which went on to be used as a forward operating base for allied aircraft operating in the south-west Pacific.
“Today we recognise these heroic actions in the face of a numerically superior and well equipped enemy in World War II,” Minister Chester said.
The recognised servicemen are:
- Captain Norman Peterson MADDERN NX34934 – Distinguished Service Medal
“Captain Maddern led an attack, clearing the enemy off a ridge, following the death of the Company Commander and Second-in-Command, and showed extreme coolness and courage under heavy enemy fire.”
- Lieutenant Ronald George WILLIAMS TX2146 – Distinguished Service Medal
“Lieutenant Williams led his platoon in attacks alternating from one flank to the other of the enemy position, which resulted in driving them back. His leadership had a very material effect on the battle.”
- Corporal James Hubert ARMSTRONG TX3283 – Medal for Gallantry
“Corporal James Armstrong showed complete disregard for his own personal safety and enabled a vital position to be secured. Corporal Armstrong was also recommended for a Commendation for Gallantry following his escape from a Japanese Prisoner of War camp, subsequent recapture and execution in June 1943, when he was aged just 24 years old.”
- Lance Corporal Harold Arthur BAILEY NX38000 – Commendation for Distinguished Service
“Switchboard operator Lance Corporal Harold Bailey remained at his post while under heavy shelling and showed extreme efficiency, courage and devotion to duty.”
- Signalman Robert Henry FRAZER NX38179 – Medal for Gallantry
“Signalman Robert Frazer was a motor cycle dispatch rider who volunteered to ride to the battle in order to bring information to headquarters. He did this through heavy enemy fire and in the face of many difficulties.”
- Private John Kenneth POWELL TX3971 – Commendation for Gallantry
“Private John Powell was another motor cycle rider who displayed courage and devotion to duty riding through enemy patrols to deliver messages."
Minister Chester has urged the next-of-kin of the six servicemen to accept the honour on their behalf.
The Australian Army made the recommendations, which were accepted by Minister Chester, after a review of six servicemen nominated by Lieutenant Colonel Leggatt in 1943 alongside Lieutenant Basil Billett. Billett was posthumously awarded a Distinguished Service Medal in 2017 as a result of a review by the Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal.
“It’s pleasing to know that past administrative errors can be addressed in this manner by the Department of Defence, and we can ensure that service men and women are recognised for their gallantry and distinguished service,” Minister Chester said.
The Australian elements of Sparrow Force totalled 70 officers and 1,330 men, and the majority were from the 2/40th Infantry Battalion, which had been formed in Tasmania.