Allies in adversity, Australia and the Dutch in the Pacific War


The Dutch in Australia

Along with a small number of Dutch servicemen, numbers of civilians, including many women and children and some members of the NEI Government, were evacuated to Australia on civilian and military transport ships and aircraft. An NEI government-in-exile was established in Melbourne (but later moved to Queensland). A number of sites around the country were also leased or purchased for Dutch use; these included the Netherlands Chancellery in Canberra, the NEI Commission offices in Melbourne, and Camp Columbia at Wacol, in Queensland, the eventual base of the government-in-exile.

Evacuated Dutch civilians were keen to play their part in the war effort, and many were heavily involved in fund-raising events for the NEI and the occupied Dutch homeland. Others worked in aid organisations for servicemen or took on secretarial or administrative positions.


Several surviving Dutch vessels, particularly submarines, which were based at Fremantle, operated from Australian bases in association with the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) for the remainder of the war. It was to be these submarines and other small craft, such as the minesweeper Abraham Crijnssen, that would be most in evidence in Australian waters, although the cruisers Tromp and Jacob Van Heemskerk and the destroyers Tjerk Hiddes and Van Galen also operated with RAN units at various times.


The KNIL troops in Australia were never sufficient to constitute a fighting force of any great size, but their skills were used in a number of ways. Perhaps the most important of these was the Netherlands East Indies Forces Intelligence Service (NEFIS), which inserted small parties into Japanese occupied territory to gather information. Casualties among these groups were overwhelmingly high. Other soldiers were transferred to work in the Netherlands Indies Civil Administration (NICA). Dutch servicemen also served as interpreters with Australian units or government departments.

Air services

Enough Dutch airmen escaped to Australia to equip an operational squadron, although shortages of ground staff remained a problem for the remainder of the war. No. 18 (NEI) Squadron, RAAF, was raised in Canberra in April 1942 and equipped with US B-25 Mitchell bombers. This unit gained an enviable reputation, operating from bases in northern Australia and Borneo. Training of new Dutch personnel was undertaken in the United States and Australia, and by 1944, there were enough pilots available to raise a fighter unit, No. 120 (NEI) Squadron, RAAF, which operated Kittyhawks from Dutch New Guinea. No. 19 Squadron (transport & communication) and No. 119 Squadron (bombers) were also raised for service.

painting of a pilot, sailor and soldier

William Dargie, Study for Group of Dutch servicemen (1943, oil on canvas, 91.4 x 76 cm)

In this study for his well known painting Group of Dutch servicemen, William Dargie has recorded the typical appearance of men of the three Dutch military services in Australia. While the sailor and air force officer appear to be Europeans, the soldier of the KNIL is clearly an Indonesian, and carries the traditional Klewang, or cutlass, in his left hand. ART26048