Winnie the War Winner – 80 Years Ago

The few hundred Australians who had moved into Portuguese Timor in December 1941 initially had no contact with the outside world. They lacked their own radio equipment until they constructed a wireless from pieces of machinery, wire, and broken radio sets. They took a generator from an old car to power the batteries. They named the radio “Winnie the War Winner” and made contact with Australia on 19 April 1942.

 

The first communication between them and Darwin was as follows (from Wikipedia):

Sparrow Force: “Sparrow Force Timor calling Northern Force Headquarters Darwin. Anyone there, over?”

Northern Force Headquarters: “Who are you?”

Sparrow Force: “Jack Sargeant.”

Northern Force Headquarters: “Do you know George Parker?”

Sparrow Force: “Yes, he is with us.”

Northern Force Headquarters: “What is his rank? Answer immediately.”

Sparrow Force: “Captain.”

Northern Force Headquarters: “Is he there? Bring him to the transmitter. (Pause.) What is the street number of your house?”

Sparrow Force: “94.”

Northern Force Headquarters: “What is your wife’s name, Jack?”

Sparrow Force: “Kathleen.”

Northern Force Headquarters: “This is Northern Force Headquarters. Sparrow Force, what is your situation?”

Sparrow Force: “Force intact. Still fighting. Badly need boots, quinine, money, and Tommy-gun ammunition.”

Northern Force Headquarters: “Will action immediately.”

 

The Australians were then supplied by air drops which augmented their living off the land and their dependence on the Timorese people. The commandos continued to conduct a rearguard action against the Japanese, employing with success the guerrilla tactics in which they had been trained. Apart from direct hit-and-run attacks, establishment of communication with Australia meant provision of valuable intelligence on ship and troop movements and identification of targets which were then attacked by the RAAF.

 

The Winnie the War Winner” episode of the Timor Campaign was recorded in Damien Parer’s film, Men of Timor. In the film, Jack Sargeant’s wife’s name was shown as “Joan” to protect Kathleen’s identity.