This blog’s idea came to me as a result of a deep interest in the events that occurred during World War II in Portuguese Timor, now East Timor or Timor Lorosae. This interest starts with the figure of a granduncle that fascinates me since childhood – an uncle who runs away to the mountains to fight against the Japanese occupation – and ends with the discovery of an history unknown to me and, I suspect, to most of the Portuguese.
The first version of this story I heard was the family’s version. Very much incomplete, it only told that my granduncle Augusto de Mattos e Silva had escaped to the mountains to defend the Timorese he led and fight the Japanese. He apparently surrendered to the enemy’s troops after the menace of slaughtering of a Timorese family he was in charge of and consequently he died in prison due to mistreatments and disease acquired during the months spent in the bushes. It was a version very much near the truth but there was much more to be discovered.
On an occasion I had some spare time, I decided to search on Google my uncle’s name. One of this search’s results was the name of a book: Forgotten Men – Timorese in Special Operations during World War II, by Ernst Chamberlain. The author, an Australian investigator, ex-military, relates in his history the way the Timorese and the Portuguese collaborated with the Military Australian Secret Services (Services Reconnaissance Department – SRD) mainly after the last Australian troops had left the territory. One of the characters in the book, a radio operator at the Timorese mountains charged to send information to the Australian mainland, was exactly my uncle Augusto. It was the incentive I needed to move on with a search that took me much further away: to the neutrality’s issue and the way Salazar dealt this matter with the Allies and the Japanese; to the story of the island’s invasion by the Allied Troops despite the oldest Alliance we maintained with Great Britain; to the division between the Timorese and the Portuguese during the Japanese occupation; to the Portuguese reoccupation by the Portuguese authorities and the role it all played on the agreement concerning the Azores’ military bases, just to name a few of the many examples. I tried then to find out what bibliography existed on this matter and began searching for articles and theses with the help of friends such as Fátima Patriarca who, among other things, patiently helped me to guide myself at the Torre do Tombo*.
Everything I could read in documents, books and articles besides the facts’ knowledge, or the perception some characters had of the facts, reinforced my conviction that Timor’s tragedy, for as we will be able to see further in this blog it was indeed a tragedy, had as main victims people who played no role at all in World War II and suddenly saw themselves pitiless used by the actors of the complicated diplomatic balance of the time. From their own country’s neglect in the name of neutrality, to the Japanese’s tactics of the black columns which divided the Timorese in a way later used by Indonesia, Portugal, Japan and Australia, they all in a way or another used the island’s inhabitants to their own advantage.
This is a personal project and therefore, not being an historian, I do not feel compelled to neutrality on what concerns the facts. I think we, the Portuguese, have a somewhat strange relationship with memory; if on one hand we claim ourselves from Fado and saudade, on the other we are very fast on forgetting some of our history’s events. Maybe this explains the absence in our country of an institution similar to the Australian War Memorial or the American National Archives that preserve the memory of those who fought (or still fight) for their Country. Perhaps because we can not separate history from the still existing political complexes, we continually avoid the facts connected with our recent colonial past or with the authoritarian regime, that don’t serve as an example opposing that same historical period. We also turn away from our failures and that is the only explanation for the shame that the oblivion of thousands of young men killed at the First World War trenches represents. This blog’s subtitle “Contributions for a Portuguese memory of the conflict” is therefore the reflection of the desire to keep as much as possible alive this small part of our Memory. It is also a Portuguese project since the role that Portugal and the Portuguese played will prevail. The criteria of figures will not be the capital one; if so, the thousands of Timorese sacrifices between 1942 and 1945 would have to be the central point of this project. Not forgetting them, we know the Timorese are today independent people with the right to make themselves heard and, sooner or later, they will write their own History.
Note: The texts will appear on the site without a chronological order. I will however try, whenever possible, to insert a date or a tag with a temporal reference. Each article will have a theme and it will not imply this theme can not be retaken in later articles whenever justified. The purpose of the presented texts is to divulge facts and occurrences and not their deeper study. Therefore, one of this blog’s options is not to include notes on the texts unless absolutely necessary. In time, a Section with bibliography and sources will also be available.
* Portuguese national archives