John (Paddy) Kenneally was a young private with the 2/2 Independent Company of the Australian Army which was stranded in Timor by the Japanese invasion of 1942.
After his return to Australia he did everything in his power to make known the story of the Australians on Timor. He often said:
“We went to Timor and brought nothing but misery on those poor people. That is all they ever got out of helping us – misery.”
“In 1942 we were just a handful of men, short of everything and fighting an all-conquering enemy. We only survived because of the Timorese people’s help. We were living off them. We arrived in Timor with plenty of ammunition but only one month’s rations …”
The success of this Australian operation was mainly due to the selfless support of the Timorese people. They helped the Australians by feeding them, housing them, nursing them when most were struck down with malaria, and by acting as lookouts, warning them of the whereabouts of the Japanese. When the Australian forces were withdrawn, these loyal Timorese were left to the mercy of the Japanese who regarded them as hostile. Between 40,000 and 60,000 Timorese were killed as a result of bombing or in reprisal, all civilians under a neutral Portugal.
Paddy returned many times to Timor over the years. He sought out Timorese who had assisted the Australians and did all he could to assist them, saying: “The Government has never really acknowledged our debt to the Timorese from the War. All the Timorese ever got from helping us was misery.”
Paddy’s efforts to repay ‘the debt of honour’ intensified after the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975. He was relentless in his determination to support the people in their struggle for self-determination.
Paddy’s son Gerald is continuing his father’s work of assisting the people of Timor-Leste to achieve their desires. They want good education for their children and secure jobs so that they can live happy and productive lives.