Paul Budde's History Archives

The effect of the capitulation of NEI on Australia

Both Australia and the Netherlands were ill prepared for the rapid conquest of SE Asia by the Japanese. There were no plans or strategies in place until it became obvious that the invasion of NEI (and potentially Australia) was imminent.

So only a month before the invasion by the Japanese of the NEI the Minister of Colonial Affairs Hubert van Mook [1] flew to Australian on January 6, 1942 to discuss the situation with the Australian Government. At that point the discussion was still about supplying weapons and materials needed to assist in fighting the common enemy. At the same time official diplomatic relationships were established between Australia and the NEI Government in Batavia and the Dutch government-in-exile in London. Within weeks official representatives from the countries were appointed and offices were opened in Canberra and Batavia. All to no avail as a few weeks later the NEI government capitulated.

                                                           Hubertus van Mook

Immediately before and after the Japanese invasion on 1 March 1942, all aircraft from the privately owned Koninklijke Nederlandsch-Indische Luchtvaart Maatschappij – KNILM (Royal Dutch Indies Airways) with enough range were evacuated to Australia. On 7 March 1942, one day before the capitulation of Java, the last KNILM aircraft took off from the Boeabatoeweg in Bandung. A number of KNILM aircraft in Darwin were destroyed by the Japanese during the bombing of Darwin[2].

The last who left NEI included: Minister of Colonial Affairs Van Mook, his deputy Van de Plas[3], members of the Governing Council (Raad van Indië) and military leaders. They  escaped to Broome[4] from Tjilatjap – the key port in southern Java – in March 1942.

They all had to leave their wives and children behind. Van Mook’s wife ended up in a Japanese concentration camp for the full duration of the occupation, but some of the Dutch women and children still managed to escape to Australia[5].

Large numbers of NEI warplanes, surviving warships as well as the government archives were rescued.  Large numbers of soldiers and administrative staff had been able to flee to Australia.

Four NEI squadrons were formed from ML-KNIL personnel, under the auspices of the Royal Australian Air Force, with Australian ground staff, they were known as the RAAF-NEI squadrons.

Twenty-one small KPM merchant vessels, loaded with refugees arrived in Australian ports and were consequently obtained by charter for U.S. Army use and became known as the “KPM vessels” in the US-led South West Pacific Area fleet. These ships comprised of almost half the permanent local fleet[6].

A total of approx.15,000 Dutch wartime evacuees were settled in Australia, of which 6,000 were of non-European heritage, however Rupert Lockwood, a Reuters journalist reporting on the NEI at that time estimates the numbers to be closer to 20,000 of which at least 10,000 were natives of NEI[7].  Most of the KNIL soldiers that arrived in Australia were natives of NEI, mostly from the island of Ambon[8]. It was culturally, geographically and politically very different from the main islands of the archipelago and was very much pro-Dutch. It was here that the VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie – Dutch East India Company) established their first head office in 1610 before it was moved to Batavia a decade later.

The logistics of this ‘Dutch invasion’ into Australia was massive, nevertheless, with great efficiency on both sides, this went rather smoothly. The other major issue was that as most of the evacuees where either native from the archipelago or people from mixed blood. This clashed with the White Australia policy, that prevented non-white people from settling in Australia. However, the authorities rapidly developed a flexible solution that allowed the non-Europeans from NEI to stay in Australia with a guarantee from the Dutch that they would go back to NEI, immediately after the war ended.


[1] Hubertus van Mook was born in Semarang in Java on 30 May 1894. As with many Dutch and ‘Indonesians’ growing up in the East Indies, he came to regard the colony – particularly Java – as his home.  He died in France in 1965. Following the Japanese conquest of NEI in 1942, he was appointed as Acting Governor-General by the Netherlands East Indies government in exile. Another interesting aspect of van Mook is that he established in Melbourne a school for civil servants, to train a new generation of Indonesian administrators as a he envisaged the need for a different level of government to facilitate self-rule for the ‘Indonesians’.  Ambonese war hero Samuel Jacobs (see below) was one of the first students.  On 1 October 1945 Van Mook arrived back in Java along with others of the Netherlands Indies Civil Administration. However, their presence generated much outrage from much of the Indonesian populace who were opposed to the restoration of Dutch colonial rule.

On the Dutch side, Van Mook was considered “too lenient” and in November 1948 was dismissed (resigned) following differences with the Netherlands government. He was one of the very few in government who foresaw and understood the unravelling of Dutch Colonial rule in the Dutch Indies.

[2] In all, 11 KNILM aircraft managed to escape to Australia: 3 Douglas DC-5s, 2 DC-3s, 2 DC-2s and 3 Lockheed Model 14 Super Electras. In mid-May 1942 the remaining aircraft were sold to the American military. See Allies in adversity, Australia and the Dutch in the Pacific War: No. 18 (NEI) Squadron, RAAF – Australian War Museum https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/exhibitions/alliesinadversity/australia/nei

[3] Charles Olke van der Plas was born in Buitenzorg (NEI) 15-5-1891 – he died in Zwolle, Netherlands 7-6-1977. In 1908 he went to Leiden University to prepare for the exam for the Netherlands East Indies government. In 1912 he started as an administrative official at the Binnenlandsch Bestuur (Home Affairs) on Java and became in 1913, one of its inspectors. Following his period as deputy or acting advisor for home affairs of NEI, he received assignments concerning education and colonisation. In 1932 he became a resident of Cheribon and at the same time chaired the Transfer Committee. This was essentially the task of completing the transfer of administrative powers from the central government to representative bodies with a large Indonesian majority.  In 1936 he became governor of East Java. In this important province he was able to develop his creative managerial visions on a large scale, demonstrating his special interest in improving the social and economic situation of the ‘Indonesians’.

[4] An interesting historical link here is  that this was not far from where Dirk Hartog in 1616 chartered the Australian west coast known as Eendrachtsland (Harmony land).

[5] Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de tweede wereldoorlog 1939-1945 – http://loe.niod.knaw.nl/grijswaarden/De-Jong_Koninkrijk_deel-11c_bw.pdf

[6] They were: Balikpapan (1938), Bantam (1930), Bontekoe (1922), Both (1931), Cremer (1926), Generaal Verspijck (1928), Janssens (1935), Japara (1930), Karsik (1938), Khoen Hoea (1924), Maetsuycker (1936), ‘s Jacob (1907), Sibigo (1926), Stagen (1919), Swartenhondt (1924), Tasman (1921), Van den Bosch (1903), Van der Lijn (1928), Van Heemskerk (1909), Van Heutsz (1926) and Van Spilbergen (1908). Source Ship List Koninklijk Pakketvaart Maatschappij – http://www.theshipslist.com/ships/lines/kpm.shtml

[7] Rupert Lockwood – The Indonesian Exiles in Australia, 1942-47 https://www.jstor.org/stable/3350634?seq=1/analyze

[8] Ambon is part of the Moluccas. A large group of mainly privileged Ambonese wanted to be independent from the Republic and after WWII the Dutch promised them this independence; which they never received and which consequently led in 1951 to a mass migration of ethnic Ambonese people to the Netherlands, they were not happy that the Dutch had negated on their promise and this even led to them hijacking  a train in the north of the Netherlands in June 1977.