Netherlands East Indies Commission for Australia and New Zealand


Following hastily established diplomatic relationships in January 1942, the Australian Labor Government offered the Dutch, after the fall of NEI, shear unlimited support in relation to facilities and training, while at the same time providing them with a remarkable high level of independence for their operations in Australia.

What became clear was that both countries were hopelessly unprepared for this war. The Dutch had nowhere near enough military equipment available in NEI and most of it was too old to be of any match to the modern gear of the Japanese military. Australia was equally unprepared as it hardly had any military forces available to protect itself in the north, its equipeert was also outdated and many of its soldiers were fighting for the Empire in North Africa.

Also from am organisational point both countries were also unprepared. The Netherlands had put their trust in their position of neutrality which worked in WWI and Australia depended to a large extend on British military leadership. Both countries were caught off-guard when Germany and Japan invaded their territories.

In relation to Australia, in 1941, before the Fall of Singapore, Britain had already secretly decided to concentrate its war effort to defeat Hitler and this left Australia very much on its own, a situation that worsened after further massive British, Dutch and American military defeats in SE Asia.  

During the least few weeks before the Fall of NEI (which happened on 9 March), haphazard evacuations started to take place. In principle the order of the Dutch Government was to fight till the last man. However, those on the ground realised that this would be impossible. This was in contrast to the American evacuation of the Philippines. They started to organise this on February 23 and the actual evacuation to Australia happened on 1 and 3 March.

Some Dutch civil personnel and their families who were able to flee either by ship or plane started to leave in droves, this created an enormous chaos at ports and airports and most people were not able to leave the country. Against the orders of the Dutch Government several people fled the country who were ordered to stay till the bitter end. Other families had lived here for generations and therefore NEI was their home and had no where else to go.

Preparation for the in-exile situation

By mid February, the Governor the Netherlands East Indies Jonkheer (Lord) Alidius Tjarda van Starkenborgh Stachouwer ordered Lieutenant Admiral Conrad Emil Lambert Helfrich  to evacuate to Ceylon in order to direct the Dutch Navy activities from here.

Days before the surrender he also ordered his Vice-Governor Hubertus van Mook to evacuate to Australia in order to start with the liberation of the NEI from there.

The Governor himself ended up in a Japanese Camp as well as all other European and Chinese people, in all more than 100,000 people. Prisoners of War were send to Japan, Burma and other parts of the newly occupied territories for forced labour, many died under the most terrible circumstances. The KNIL  (Royal Netherlands East Indies Army ) was stood down and most of the native soldiers were allowed to go back to their villages. At the time of the surrender there were not more than 140 KNIL soldiers in Australia, who had accompanied Japanese POW to Australia. Later after the KNIL members of the guerrilla force from Timor were evacuated at the end of 1942, they were also added to the very small KNIL force in Australia.

Hubertus van Mook, Major-General Ludolph Hendrik van Oyen and other critical staff  were evacuated from Java to Australia in 7  March 1942. They travelled on the floor of – the last DC-3 of the KNILM (civil aviation company) – the now famous Wielewaal.

This plane was on of three DC-3 planes (the other two being military) all taking senior staff essential for establishing a new command structure to Australia.  All three planes landed safely  in Australia.  The total number of passengers on the three planes was approximately 70-80 people.

The last roundtrip of the Technical Department of the Air Force left Perth to an airstrip near Bandung on March 7.  The DC-3 was commander by Gus Wincel.

Netherlands East Indies Commission for Australia and New Zealand

The Netherlands East Indies Commission for Australia and New Zealand was established by the Dutch government-in-exile in London  following the Japanese occupation of the Netherlands East Indies. The Commission’s purpose was to coordinate the Dutch civilian and military efforts in Australia and New Zealand and to provide support to the Dutch refugees who had fled the Japanese occupation.

The heads of Commission were Dr Hubertus van Mook, Deputy Governor General of NEI and his deputy Charles van der Plas, he was a Dutch colonial administrator who served as the Governor of East Java in the Dutch East Indies from 1936 to 1941.

The NEI Commission established seven Departments in Australia[4]:

  • Defence
  • Netherlands Indies Civil Administration (NICA) for re-establishment of civil rule in reconquered areas[5]
  • Economic Affairs
  • Education
  • Home affairs
  • Finance
  • Public works

At the start, van Mook was also  the official representative of the Netherlands East indies Government in Australia.

After their arrival in Australia, Dutch governmental staff set about establishing offices and organisations to undertake the many administrative tasks required, this in addition to the (limited) resources of the newly appointed Ambassador Baron van Aerssen Beyeren and Tom Elink Schuurman the existing Consul-General in Sydney, representing the Dutch Government in Exile, based in London.

Initially, there was insufficient personnel available, but eventually Dutch staff arrived from diplomatic posts in other countries. The NEI government-in- exile was formally known as the Netherlands East Indies Commission for Australia and New Zealand (NEICANZ) and was created in April 1942. Governor General van Mook brought also  a few moderate Indonesian leaders to Australia. Among them was  Colonel Abdulkadir Widjojoatmodjo. He was an Indonesian civil servant who later– on behalf of the Dutch –  led parts of the Dutch-Indonesian independence negotiations.

NEICANZ looked after all of the NEI interests in Australia from there offices in Collins Street, Melbourne[1].  By mid-1943, more premises had been acquired among them offices on St Kilda Road, Melbourne (where the KNIL headquarters was housed), and the ambassadorial residence and chancellery at 4 Mugga Way, Canberra.

As the head of NEICANZ van Mook preferred a progressive policy towards NEI, based on a Commonwealth arrangement with power sharing. The Dutch Prime Minister in exile Professor Gerbrandy (based in London) preferred a hard-line confrontation. This started to create tensions between the Australian Government and the Dutch Government in exile in London, as Australia was more sympathetic towards a slow change towards more independence for its northern neighbour[3].  Furthermore. the US wanted to deal directly with the NEI Commission and Australia wanted to use the opportunity to independently of the Netherlands strengthen it ties with NEI .

The Dutch Government in London  called van Mook back, to take up his former position of Miniater of the Colonies. In this way he would be less of a threat to the hard-line Dutch interest and the Dutch Ambassador Baron van Aerssen who was also appointed as the special Netherlands Minister for Australia. The latter’s aristocratic personally didn’t sit easy with the Australians and the relationship, especially later, with the post-war Labor Government, was often cool. He was the direct representative of the Dutch Government and  as such could and could keep a close eye on any developments that could foster greater independence of NEI.

Nevertheless the Commission went ahead with its tasks, they created the Netherlands Indies Civil Administration (NICA)  and the Netherlands Indies Army (NIA), which were tasked with governing and defending the Dutch East Indies after the war. They latter was later handed over to the military command. 

The NICA was responsible for the administration of the Dutch East Indies, and included both civilian and military personnel. They were also responsible for providing relief and aid to the civilian population in the Dutch East Indies.

Some of the activities of NEICANZ included:

  1. Management of the overall activities of the commission, including budgeting, financial management, and reporting.

  2. Providing humanitarian assistance to Dutch refugees in Australia and New Zealand. It oversaw the distribution of food, clothing, and medical supplies and provided support for housing and education.

  3. Managing the complex personnel issues, There was an ongoing shortage of staff. Personnel was recruited from other posts, from the Dutch Caribbean Islands and from Australia.

  4. Promoting the Dutch cause and strengthening ties between the Netherlands and Australia and New Zealand. It organised cultural and educational events, published newsletters and other publications, and worked with the media to raise awareness of Dutch interests.

  5. Fundraising activities to support the Dutch war effort. It organised events and campaigns to collect donations from the public and facilitated the sale of Dutch goods in Australia and New Zealand.

Some of the Dutch facilities in Australia

Dutch medical clinic in Kent St (near the Harbour Bridge).Princes Juliana Hospital Turramurra (now Juliana Lodge).NEI Airforce bases in Bundaberg, Brisbane and Canberra.Military base Casino.Port facilities: Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne (naval HQ St Kilda Rd and depot in Middle Park, Freemantle (submarines).NICA – Melbourne first, later Brisbane.Lido, North Sydney and Belvedere at Kings Cross – clubs and accommodation for Dutch subjects.NEI government Information Service (NIGIS) in Melbourne.  

Military Command

After the surrender of the Dutch military in the Netherlands East Indies to the Japanese in March 1942, the Dutch military command ceased to exist in the region. Many Dutch military personnel were taken prisoner by the Japanese, while others went into hiding or joined the resistance. However, some were able to flee to Australia and to Ceylon.

Australia had no military industry of any significance to properly supply its military, let alone to assist the Dutch during its war with the Japanese. This led to diplomatic frustrations between both countries in the early days of the arrival of NEI government officials. The Netherlands expected more military resources from Australia than they were able to provide. With America taking over the  leadership of the war effort in the South Pacific, significant military resources arrived from the US. This only changed when in the following month (April 18) the Dutch  and the Australian military were placed under the command of Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA), supplies now also started be become available from the US.

This was a result of the formation of the Pacific War Council  in Washington, on 14 April 1942, with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and representatives from Britain, China, Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Canada. Representatives from India and the Philippines were later added. The council never had any direct operational control, and any decisions it made were referred to the US-UK Combined Chiefs of Staff, which was also in Washington. The  Asian region stood under British control and the Pacific under American . There was a significant number of senior Dutch civil and military personell at the Dutch Embassy in Washington to liaison with the Pacific War Council.

After the first level of chaos of the totally unprepared evacuation from key personal to Australia had settled down. NEICANZ began to rebuild the Dutch civil and military presence in the region. However, within weeks the decisions was made to split the civil and military activities.

While the Dutch were now under American Command, the Dutch Government remained adamant to keep as much as possible the Dutch presence in place as that would add to their legitimacy to recolonize NEI after the war.

The following are the key military commanders in Australia that had to maximise the contribution of the limited Dutch resource to the war effort.

Lieutenant Admiral Conrad Emil Lambert Helfrich  who was send to Ceylon, just a few weeks prior to the surrender of the NEI, became the Commander in Chief of all of the Dutch and NEI forces in the Far East. Based in Ceylon that was far away from Australia were the largest part of the Dutch Forces were concentrated. Helfrich asked to be stationed in Australia but that was refused by the Dutch Government in London, who also wanted to stay close to the Brits. The Dutch Government wanted have a foot each in both the American and the British camp, this however was problematic with the small force that it had . 

With NEI spreading out over 5000 kilometers some ships had escaped into the Indian Ocean and grouped in Ceylon. While others arrived in Australia. The Dutch Government was split about where to deploy their very limited military resources in the end they decided to keep it split between the British Command in Ceylon and the American Command in Australia.  Helfrich reported to General Sir Archibald Wavell the British Commander of the South East Asia Command (SEAC). All of this complicated the communications issues for Helfrich as well as the Dutch decision making process. 

Major-General Ludolph Hendrik van Oyen served as the commander of the ML-KNIL. During his time as commander, he was able to expand the view of the Japanese advance at the beginning of World War II. He played a significant role in the defense of the Dutch East Indies during the early stages of the war. He was among the last the flee from Java  and became the Commander of all of the Dutch Forces  in Australia (reporting to Helfrich) who had arrived in Australia and were now scattered all over the country including the planes, ships and personnel. He was placed under the overall  command of General MacArthur. As would be the case during the war, the command structures were often complex and personal egos and county politics all played a role in this.

For unknown reason van Oyen himself as well as other senior personnel moved to the USA in April 1942 to set up the Dutch Military Flying School on Jackson, Mississippi. This left a gaping hole in the military top who were need for the active war effort. It was not until November 1943 before van Oyen came back to Australia and resumed his position  as the Commander of all Dutch Forces in Australia.

Ar Archerfield Airport was an important group stationed to take processen of new American B-25 bombers and they were under the command of Major B.J. Fiedelij.

441 St Kilda Road, Melbourne. This residence served as the headquarters of the KNIL in Australia for much of the war.

Other key military commanders

  • Major-General Charles Bischoff,  Commander of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army in Australia and responsible for coordinating the training and deployment of Dutch military personnel in the Pacific Theater.

  • Air Commodore Peter van Straten, Commander of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Air Force in Australia and played a key role in coordinating air operations against the Japanese in the Pacific Theater.

  • Major-General Pieter Johannes Versluijs, Commander of the Dutch Forces in Australia and New Guinea and was responsible for coordinating the deployment of Dutch military personnel in the region.

The Royal Netherlands East Indies Army Air Force

The – in Dutch – Militaire Luchtvaart van het Koninklijk Nederlands-Indisch Leger, ML-KNIL was an entirely separate organisation from the Royal Netherlands Air Force. Like the NEI Army (KNIL) they resorted under the Minister of War at the Dutch Government-in-Exile in London. The Command structure as mentioned above applied to them.

Flying School

At a relative early stage it was decided to evacuate the flying school and the 300 students plus staff and familie from Tasikmalaja (south east of Bandung) to Australia.  In all 450 people boarded the MS Boissevain on February 14. They re-established themselves at the RAAF Airfields of their flying schools at Mallala and Parafield, near Adelaide. The students of the Naval Aviation Service settled at Rathmines on Lake Macquarie. A further dozen single-engine flying boats were also brought to Australia. 

In Adelaide the people were lodged in the buildings at the Show Ground. However, it rapidly became clear that there were not enough planes and maintenance material available and a new decision was made to establish a flight-school in the USA, where the training could be undertaken far more efficient and without the interruption’s because of the war theatre so close by. The Americans cooperated and in April the move started to Jackson, Mississippi. The school would be one of the major contributions from the Dutch to the war efforts. Hundreds of pilots and flight-engineers were trained here and than brought to Australia to be deployed in the various squadrons. ( The Camp Columbia Heritage Association does have information on Willy de Eerens who was trained in Jackson, was stationed at Camp Columbia and tragically died in a plane accident in 1944).

Planes sold to the Allied Force (Americans)

It was only in the last days before the surrender that other military planes and their crews who were able to flee arrived in Australia (most without their families and their ground staff colleagues).

Once evacuated to Australia they were scattered around the country over the next few weeks the military command was busy organising the chaos and the  planes were directed to bases at Bundaberg, Brisbane and Canberra. 

A few weeks before the Fall of NEI a detachment of the Air Force was send to Archerfield Airport in Brisbane to collect B-25 bombers that were ordered by the Dutch Government.  However, the first of these planes arrived after the Fall of NEI. The staff in Archerfield was trapped. They were not allowed to fly back to NEI to pick up their families.

The civil aviation company Koninklijke Nederlandsch-Indische Luchtvaart Maatschappij – KNILM (Royal Netherlands Indies Airways) was already during the previous few month used by the Air Force and the military crew at Archerfield witness the arrival of the KNILM planes that eventuated with families and even household goods. 

After the Fall all military and KNILM planes were handover to the Allied Forces, who were in desperate need of them for the defence of Australia and to stop further advances of the Japanese. This resulted in an already devastated NEI crew sitting idle for weeks on end. So it is not difficult to guess how bad the atmosphere was among these people.

18 NEI Squadron RAAF

Once more planes that were ordered by the Dutch started to arrive from America, the idea was born to establish a Dutch fighting squadron. Most of these planes went to the Americans. Eventually five B-25 bombers were allocated to the Dutch, these had to be shared among the 200 plus crew, so still a lot of sitting-around time. As Archerfield became to crowded, the Dutch were moved to Canberra where the 18 NEI Squadron RAAF was established on 4 April 1942.

Once operative they moved to McDonald, an airstrip  in the bush, south of Darwin. The facilities here either din’t exist or were very primitive. They basically had to build an airbase from scratch. But finally after more than a year they now could be part of the action.

Royal Dutch Navy (Koninklijke Marine)

Unlike the NEI Army and Air Force, the Navy that operated in NEI, was part of the Royal Dutch Navy. They resorted under the Minister for the Navy at the Dutch Government-in-Exile in London.

Once evacuated to Australia, the Naval Headquarters was  established in Melbourne with subsidiary naval establishments in Sydney and Freemantle. The latter became the base of 15 NEI submarines. Many were lost at the start of the war, others participated in successful attacks on Japanese vessels. 

About two third of all of the ships of KM were in NEI at the time of the breakout of the war here. So they were a formidable force and they were very important for the war effort of the Allied Forces.

Following the sinking of his ship during the Battle of the Java Sea , Rear Admiral Fokko Willem Coster had managed to escape and make his way to Australia. Helfrich appointed him as the Commander of the Dutch Naval Forces in Australia.

He also became the Dutch representative in SWPA in Australia. In his book  Allies in bind: Australia and the Netherlands East Indies relations during World War Two,  Dr. Jack Ford  stated that by 10 June 1942, Coster’s command totaled 1,353 personnel comprising 207 officers, four midshipmen, 18 warrant officers, 241 non-commissioned officers, 144 corporals and 739 ratings/other ranks.

In May 1943  Coster retired and his position was taken over by Acting Rear Admiral Pieter Koenraad.

Submarine Beach Seal Rock named after the Dutch submarine K IX stranded here in 1945 (photo 2013)

Several measures were implemented to enhance oversight, administration, and coordination between the Koninklijke Marine (KM) and Royal Australian Navy (RAN). Given that the majority of Dutch naval personnel were stationed in Fremantle, Western Australia, Commander Gustaaf Berg was appointed as the senior Dutch naval officer in the region from July 1942. The KM established its local headquarters by acquiring an entire floor in the Colonial Mutual Life building on St. Georges Terrace in Perth. Additionally, every major Australian port had a designated Dutch naval officer responsible for overseeing Dutch naval and merchant ships that arrived.

To ensure the efficient operation of Dutch warships from Australian ports, larger KM warships carried a British Naval Liaison Officer (BNLO) and a small team of signalmen, radio operators, and coders. For Dutch warships arriving from Europe or the Indian Ocean, an RN liaison team was initially present, but this was later replaced by RAN personnel.

The Navy Airforce

After the chaotic evacuation and the dramatic destruction of many Dutch flying boats during the attack on Broome, the Navy Airforce  concentrated its flying boats and personnel on Ceylon and became part of the 321 (Netherlands) Squadron RAF and was mainly involved in activities Under British command in South East Asia.   One D0-24 flying boat was kept to cooperate with NEFIS and involved in intelligence missions in Dutch New Guinea and Timor. This was later extended with two more PBY-5 flying boats. Their flights generally moved up the east coast  often stopping in Brisbane and Cairns before arriving in Merauke, the main town in unoccupied Dutch  New Guinea. This detachment was further increased during 1945 and at that time they operated from the Qantas Airways facility at Rose Bay, Sydney. Other flyting boast were in May 1944  added to the 18 Squadron in Batchelor, Northern Territory.

The Merchant Navy

A significant contribution to the naval activities was the Dutch Merchant Fleet, one of the largest in the world and they played a crucial role in the transport of troops and material for the Allied (mainly US) forces in the Southwest Pacific. They  operated from the Naval Control os Shipping (NCOS) with of fives in Sydney, Melbourne, Freemantle (this port had the largest concentration of Dutch ships), Brisbane and Townsville.

After the war the Dutch Navy could not immediately return to Indonesia. The Dutch didn’t have enough forces available to take over command from the Japanese, this was done by the British in their section and the Australians in the Pacific section. The Indonesian independence movement used this vacuum and this became a very violent period known ad Bersiap, where European and Chinese people were killed. This also forced  many of the 100.000 women and children who were imprisoned in the Japanese camps to stay there. Furthermore back in Australia the Unions where boycotting Dutch transport to Indonesia- known as the Black Armada –  as they supported the Independence movement.

Another problem were the mines that were laid by the Japanase. KM bought 8 oceangoing minesweepers from the RAN to help clearing these mines.

Most ships went to Indonesia in the first half of 1946. The Dutch depended for nearly 100% on supplies for Indonesia from Australia and the Black Armada made that very difficult. The head office in Melbourne closed in November 1946. However, Navy liaison officers were appointed and stayed in Australia. The last Navy ships left Australia in mid 1947.

Netherlands East Indies Forces Intelligence Service

Next to the Dutch Navy – including the Merchant Navy and the Air Force the most important service the Dutch could offer to the war effort, was intelligence services, through its networks of people on the ground across the islands.

The services started off in 1941 as the Navy and Army Intelligence Service , based in Melbourne. In 1942 the name was changed into Netherlands East Indies Forces Intelligence Service (NEFIS). However, more and more the name used was Netherlands Forces Intelligence Service (still using NEFIS). After the war this service would grow int the Dutch Commandos. An extensive overview of the organisation and its key missions is provided here here

“Lieutenant Commander G.B. Salm was appointed to organise a NEI intelligence organisation in Australia within the SWPA. The Netherlands East Indies Forces Intelligence Service (NEFIS) was born. NEFIS obtained about 50 Korps Insulinde troops from Ceylon. They already had intelligence training, having attended a Special Operations Executive (SOE) camp at Kharakvasla, India. Of the remaining Korps Insulinde members in Ceylon, 40 men were chosen to serve under Major Mollinger in the NEFIS equivalent for the India Theatre. 

 NEFIS recruitment continued in Australia. A NEFIS mapping unit employed Australian female sketch artists. In late 1942, Sergeant-Major H. De Haas (KNIL), Edward Danus (KNIL) and Coenraad Donald Schlette (Customs Inspector) escaped from Java. Due to their detailed intelligence information, NEFIS wanted them.  NEFIS was organised into two sections: General Intelligence and Security. Salm was NEFIS Director.

Memorial General Simon Spoor, Roermond

Major Simon H. Spoor (KNIL) was Assistant Director and headed General Intelligence. Lieutenant-Commander J.A.F.H. Douw Van der Krap headed Security. NEFIS moved into several houses along St Kilda Road, Melbourne to be close to both Salm’s HQ and the Australian Army HQ at Victoria Barracks. The mapmakers were housed in Domain Road, South Yarra. The maps were used in NEI bombing raids or planning future operations. In 1944 NEFIS moved to Camp Columbia in Brisbane”.

The service inserted small parties into Japanese occupied territory to gather information. Casualties among these groups were overwhelmingly high.

We also have some insights from one of the Australian employees of NEFIS, Mrs Jean van Schifgaarde.

NEICANZ changed into the NEI Government-in-Exile in 1944.

The Legislative Council of the NEI Government-in-Exile – comprising of the directors of the seven below mentioned departments, along with Van Mook could, if the need arose, be expanded to include 8 extraordinary members drawn from leading Dutch or ‘Indonesians’. Van Mook appointed the 7 directors on 12 April 1944[6].  The directors held their first meeting in Melbourne on 23 May 1944. They had nine more meetings before reconvening at their new headquarters in Camp Columbia north of Brisbane on 23 August[7] , from where the recolonialisation operation would be led.


The Sultan of Ternate Iskander Muhammad Jabir Syah

The Sultan of Ternate Iskander Muhammad Jabir Syah, only arrived in April 1945 after a spectacular rescue mission from the Australian Z- force[2] . They had snatched the Sultan from under the eyes of the Japanese on the fabled spice island of Ternate. He was fiercely against the ‘communist’ who wanted an independent Indonesia. General MacArthur however, saw the Sultan as a potential leader of the eastern parts of the archipelago under a Dutch Government. He went to Wacol where the NEI Government-in Exile was situated and his children went to school there. After the liberation of the islands, in October that year the Sultan was brought back.  By that time Sukarno had already proclaimed independence. The Sultan later became a minister under Sukarno.

.The official NEI Government-in-exile (1944-1946)

[1] Allies in adversity, Australia and the Dutch in the Pacific War: The NEI government-in-exile  The Australian War Museum

[2] The untold story: how Z Force saved the sultan- Sydney Morning Herald

[3] De garoeda en de ooievaar: Indonesië van kolonie tot nationale staat – Herman Burgers

[4] Allies in adversity, Australia and the Dutch in the Pacific War: The NEI government-in-exile  The Australian War Museum

[5] NICA, Netherlands Indies Civil Administration

[6] Charles Van der Plas for the Department of the Interior and Chairman of the Board of Departmental Heads, Dr N.S. Blom for the Justice Department, Dr R.E. Smits for the Finance Department, P.A. Kerstens for the Education Department, P.H.W. Sitsen for the Public Works Department, General Van Oyen as Head of the Department of War and Emil Van Hoogstraten for the Economic Affairs Department and as acting General Secretary of the Government.

[7] Allies in adversity, Australia and the Dutch in the Pacific War: The NEI government-in-exile  The Australian War Museum