Photos > Ambon
Gull Force Associaton conducted a pilgrimage to Ambon on 5th to 13th September 2007. This was the first pilgrimage back to Ambon in 9 years as the internal situation on Ambon made travel to the island unsafe. In the years from 1967 until 1998 Gull Force veterans were able to conduct their annual pilgrimage to coincide with Anzac Day where a service was held at the Tantui War Cemetery with full military support. We hope to return to Ambon in 2009.
Below are some photos of the 2007 pilgrimage.
Memorial at Laha, Ambon
Memorial at Kudamati, Ambon
Memorial at Tantui War Cemetery - Ambon
Base of the cross which was destroyed during the conflict 1999 -2004 - Ambon.
Tantui War Cemetery - Ambon
Grave stone, one of many similar in honour of an unidentified soldier.
Wreath laying at Tantui War Cemetery
Ambonese Choir sang for us 10th September 2007
September 2009 Pilgrimage to Ambon
Our 2009 pilgrimage was a great success. We flew into Jakarta on 3rd September from Melbourne and caught a local flight to Ambon overnight to arrive early morning. We went straight to Tawari and had a service at the newly refurbished memorial. We then went to the second cairn which has not been visited by Gull Force members in over 30 years. This cairn is in the back yard of a local family and the association has had a plaque forged which will be attached to it.
Our 10 day tour was a mixture of cultural and historical experiences as well as a fitting remembrance and honour to our Gull Force men; to those who came home and those who did not.
While we were there we were looked after by Andre Sitanala and his staff at Tropis Tours and The Hotel Mutiara. The attention to detail and extra things that were provided for us by Andre made the whole experience unforgettable. Anyone wishing to visit Ambon on their own should consider consulting The Hotel Mutiara, the Gull Force Association has no hesitation in recommending their service. The hotel's web site is www.hotelmutiaraambon.com
Below are some photos of our trip.
The welcome banner at the Laha Memorial
The refurbished Memorial - September 2009
Our 2009 Tour Group with some of the Tantui Staff
Our service on 10th September 2009 - Veteran Lionel Penny placed the wreath.
View of the Tantui Commonwealth War Cemetery
Beautiful trees surround the men at rest.
John Gaspersz, Cemetery curator (left) and Sue Head, secretary Gull Force Assoc.(centre) with gardening staff at Tantui
View from the Cenotaph - The damaged cross has been removed.
Kudamati memorial 2009.
Plans have now been completed using the grant from The Australian War Graves Commission
The restored memorial.
The restored front entrance to the Kudamati Memorial - Ambon.
One amazing day on the deserted island of Pombo - unforgettable.
Some of the wonderful hotel Mutiara staff with Andre Sitanala (second from left) who helped to make our trip so memorable.
September 2010 Pilgrimage to Ambon
Our 2010 pilgrimage was another great success. 11 travellers (including 1 veteran) flew into Bali on 3rd September from Melbourne and stayed over night at the Bali Rani Hotel. The next day we caught a local flight to Ambon via Macassar where we had an informative bus tour of the historic island.When we arrived in Ambon we were met by our guides and went straight to Tawari for a service at the memorial cairn in the village square. We then went to the second cairn which is in the back yard of a local family and laid another wreath. Our tour consisted of a mixture of cultural and historical experiences and we had quite a lot of interest from the local media - radio, TV about our trip. Below are some photos of the pilgrimage.
Lionel Penny lays the wreath at the Laha Memorial. Commonwealth War Cemetery,Tantui. 2010
2010 group at Tantui 2010 group with the Mayor of Ambon and the Vice Governor.
Wreath laying at tantui 2010 Lionel gets a hug
Video links appear below.
Our wreath laying service at Laha part 1....
Our wreath laying service at Laha part 2....
Wreath laying at Kudamati....
Tantui Service 09/09/2010 part 1...
Tantui Service 09/09/2010 part 2...
SUNDAY 4th Sept [Melbourne – Bali]
On 4th September, Father's Day, 25 people departed Melbourne International Airport at 0910 hrs for a flight to Denpasar, Bali. Included in the group was Max/Eddie Gilbert, a 2/21st veteran aged 90 years.
On arrival at Ngurah Rai Airport, we saw six fighter planes on the tarmac. Indonesia and Australia were holding a joint air drill, from 5-10 September 2011, called "Elang Ausindo 2011" at the air force base station at Ngurah. Andre, our friend from Tropis Tours and Yoeman, our Balinese tourist guide, warmly greeted us at the airport. After being presented with a necklace of frangipani flowers, we boarded our bus for transfer to the Ramayana Resort and Spa in Kuta, Bali (two hours behind Australia EST). After a welcome drink at the hotel, some of the group rested while others went shopping. A buffet dinner was held at 7pm and we then retired for the night as tomorrow we would fly to Ambon.
MONDAY 5th Sept [Bali – Ambon]
At 0445 ours we departed the hotel for the airport for an early flight to Makassar, change of airlines, and then on to Ambon. There were 15 people in our group making the trip to Ambon for the first time who had a family connection to a Gull Force veteran. The first sighting of Ambon from the air was an "Island of Mist". On landing some of the ‘first timers’ observed the lush, tropical and peaceful ambiance of the Ambon landscape. On arrival at Pattimura Airport Ambon, we were warmly greeted by May, Michael, Ippy and staff from the Mutiara Hotel and presented with a traditional Ambonese scarf which read "Gull Force 2011".
We boarded the bus for our service at the Australian War Memorial at Tawiri village where we were greeted with a sign welcoming back Gull Force, a village brass band and local men, women and children of the village. During a very moving service conducted by Rob, Eddie laid a wreath and we all placed red poppies at the site with time for silent contemplation. The women of the village prepared morning tea for us and then the children with grinning faces gathered around as lollies and small gifts were handed out under the watchful eyes of their parents.
Some walked with the local children, while others bussed to Laha Village just up the road from Tawiri. Another service was held by a memorial in a family’s backyard with another wreath laid by Eddie Gilbert and poppies placed by us on the memorial.
We left Laha Village and meandered our way toward Ambon City hugging the coast line. Some of the ‘first timers’ observed how Ambon was larger and hillier than anticipated and once arriving at Ambon City were struck by an unexpected large and busy CBD. It was late afternoon when we arrived at the Mutiara Hotel, with yet another “Welcome Gull Force” banner. Mutiara was to be our home for the next six nights.
TUESDAY 6th Sept [Ambon]
With heavy rain overnight we awoke to grey skies. Today the majority of the group visited Siwa Lima Museum and the Aquatic Memorial. The rest, Rob, Sue, Christine, Deb, Emily and May visited the Ambon General Hospital and were welcomed by Frona, the Director of the hospital, and her staff. A donation of money was presented to Frona on behalf of Gull Force with the promise of medical supplies when released by customs in Ambon. It was very rewarding to meet the four nurses that Gull Force had sponsored to complete their nursing qualifications (two as theatre nurses, one in dermatology and one general nurse). We were then given a tour of the newly built and impressive operating theatre complex, which will be opened in October.
Next was a visit to the Tantui War Memorial for personal contemplation and visiting the grave sites of deceased family members and other 2/21st A.I.F. We were struck by how peaceful the cemetery was and by its beautiful and very well maintained gardens by John and his staff. Every one of us had a significant connection to this site, with a special story to tell about their Gull Force relative. The depth of feelings and attachment was particularly apparent from those that were there for the first time and particularly those whose fathers, grandfathers or uncles never returned and were buried there in a named grave or an Unknown Soldier grave site.
Lunch was at Namalatu beach with no swimming today because of continuing heavy rain. It was also too dangerous to go to Pintu Kota, the Hole in the Rock, because of the inclement weather.
On the way back to the Mutiara Hotel, we called in to the home of a local Ambon artist to observe him making miniature ships, ‘stick people’ and other items from dried cloves. Many items were bought and orders taken that afternoon, to be delivered before we departed Ambon.
Maya, one of our guides from 2007 tour, came to visit us at the hotel that evening. Before her meal, Maya was happy to show several of us new shopping areas. The T Shirt shop did a thriving trade from Gull Force members!
At about midnight, there was a huge fireworks display not far from the hotel, to celebrate Kota Ambon Anniversary, the next day.
WEDNESDAY 7th Sept [Ambon]
Today was the Kota Ambon Anniversary. Due to the renovations of the oval and construction of an underground car park, no school children's activities were held today. On the bus again, we drove towards Hila, and first stopped at a local school where some students were being sponsored by Lawamena, a Melbourne based Ambon community group, and the Ballarat Rotary Club.
Then it was on to Fort Amsterdam, built by the Dutch in the 17th century. Magnificent views of the bay were observed from the top floor of the Fort. Next, we visited the Christian Church, which has been rebuilt after the conflict of 1999-2004. Many villagers and children came to see us when we called at the Wapauwe Mosque in Kaitetu. Fun games were played with the children and sweets were given out. After lunch at the Fort, we drove to Hitu to call on Rajah Hitu. We were made welcome and introduced to the Rajah, his wife and young son. The village was celebrating the ending of Ramadan. Eddie informed us that Hitu Bay was one of the landing sites of the Japanese Army who then made their way over the tropical mountain to the inland side of Ambon where the Australian Army were based.
That evening the Gull Force group were invited to attend the Kota Ambon celebrations, acknowledging Ambon’s 436 year anniversary, at the new and lavish church hall, just across from the Mutiara Hotel. The night’s entertainment included addresses by dignitaries including all church leaders, choirs, awards for sporting and community achievements and a light meal. Rob was asked to address the audience and Eddie was fittingly welcomed onto the stage.
THURSDAY 8th Sept [Ambon]
After breakfast, the majority of the group visited the Martha Christina Tiahahu Monument. It was a hot sunny day, so very different from the torrents of rain of the previous days on Ambon. Local school children (from May’s granddaughter’s primary school) sang Waltzing Matilda and other songs and then showed us the Ambonese Folk Dance. We all joined in and had a lot of fun and laughter together.
Rob, Sue, Grace and Christine went to the Customs Office where our goods were opened and identified. Later that afternoon, the six boxes were released and delivered to the hotel.
Rob, May and Christine visited the Huitamuri Clinic. Dr. Bonney was presented with medical supplies and a money donation from Gull Force. Rusting of instruments is a problem at the newly built clinic as it boarders the sea.
We drove up through the mountains to Leihari Primary School passing through Soya and Naku villages. We were greeted with a wonderful welcome. Two children presented Eddie with a traditional scarf and the school band played for us. We then walked up to the school with the villagers and red and white flags lining the road. We presented gifts to the School Principal, then watched the children as they entertained us with three traditional dances – what a memorable and wonderful time we had. Lunch was served which was then followed with more dancing and this time we joined in. Some of us who had not visited this school before were quite overwhelmed by the experience and of the deep relationship between Gull Force and the Leihari School. Sadly we boarded the bus. We then headed to a sago plantation, where again we were accompanied by beautiful children.
On our return journey to the hotel we stopped at a beautiful beach and had time for a quick swim and some lunch. There then appeared on the beach a Shell music band of about 30 secondary school children playing various sizes and styles of shells with the accompaniment of other instruments. What an amazing sight to see this very accomplished and unusual band.
The Gull Force group was invited to the Governor’s residence for a private dinner that night. On arrival we were welcomed by the Governor and his wife saying ‘Welcome to "my mansion”’. We were treated to a beautiful traditional banquet in their grand home. Their hospitality and warmth didn’t go unnoticed. It was an extraordinary experience for us all..
FRIDAY 9th Sept [Ambon]
In the morning the Gull Force Group proceeded to Hunimua Beach where we were entertained by young women and men performing the ‘Crazy Bamboo’ dance which involved large bamboo rods on the ground, similar to a Scottish reel and band. Some of our ladies were asked to try out their dancing skills!
Then it was time to wade onto two speedboats which took us to Pombo Island, a 20 minute ride through quiet seas. There Andre and his team prepared a delicious BBQ lunch of chicken, fish and baked potatoes. After fruit, tea and coffee, relaxing swimming in the rain and a stroll around the island, we boarded the boats again for our return trip back to Ambon.
On our return journey the Gull force group called into Waai village to see the Sacred Eels being fed, and a chance to see the local children and give out lollies and small gifts. After a relaxing swim in the Tulehu Natural Hot Springs, we returned to the hotel to find that Tom Pledger, a 2/21st veteran, and his daughter, Nan, and the Edwards, had arrived in Ambon that afternoon.
That evening Christine and her team of three, Shirley, Margaret and Deb, sorted, itemised and packed the donated medical supplies from Melbourne, for distribution to the hospitals.
SATURDAY 10th Sept [Ambon]
In the morning of the 10th we attended the anniversary service at Tantui War Cemetery that commemorated the day that the 2/21st were freed. A very moving service was conducted by Rob that included a student choir from Ambon University (who had recently won the Indonesian university student competition) singing several beautiful and contemplative songs whilst standing in the torrential rain, a bugler playing The Last Post and readings from a daughter, granddaughter and nephew of a 2/21st veteran. A wreath was laid by Eddie Gilbert and Tom Pledger and Gull force members laid red poppies.
It was back to our hotel for a morning tea. Later that afternoon, Christine, May, Shirley and Deb delivered medical supplies to Ambon General, and the Muslim and Christian Hospitals which also received small donations. The Christian Hospital is in the greatest of need, especially surgical instruments. Nine others went to the Suli Village to help serve lunch to the needy. We then met up at the Kudamati Australian Monument, a site of fighting between the Japanese and Australian forces. A Short service was held together with the placing of a wreath and poppies. It was our last chance to pay our respects.
There was some last minute shopping before the farewell dinner that night. The Farewell dinner was a fabulous way to end this part of our trip. We were suitably attired in various versions of traditional dress! Gifts were distributed to Andre, May, Michael and all staff at the Mutiara Hotel for their wonderful assistance to us all while in Ambon. The night concluded with a Congo dance meandering its way around the hotel restaurant involving the entire group and the Mutiara staff – a fitting conclusion to a memorable night and journey in Ambon.
SUNDAY 11th Sept [Ambon - Bali]
The Gull Force Group departed Mutiara Hotel at 0600 hrs for Pattimura Airport for our flight to Makassar with Andre, May and Michael. At Makassar Airport, we were met by our guide, Mutashi, who took us on a bus tour to the port, the busy city area and to lunch at Suyra, a seafood restaurant. Makassar is known for its large Chinese population, fishing, cement and rice flour.
Our flight to Bali was delayed for several hours and we did not depart Makassar Airport until 2115 hrs. A very tired group arrived in Bali who were met by Yoeman and driven to our Ramayana Hotel in Kuta. We had missed our dinner on the beach because of the flight delay.
MONDAY 12th Sept [Bali]
After breakfast some group members decided to have a relaxing day or go shopping while others went on a day tour up to the Volcano for lunch, visiting beautiful Hindu temples along the way. The day concluded watching the sun set over Balinese waters and temples extending out to sea.
TUESDAY 13th Sept [Bali – Melbourne]
Some of us stayed by the hotel or shopped while others went on a half day tour to visit the monkeys, another temple, and silver smithing. After a last dinner together at the hotel the Gull Force group was transferred to the Ngurah Rai International Airport to catch 10.10pm flight to Melbourne Scheduled to arrive at 5.25am on Wednesday 14th. There were many very fond and heartfelt farewells to May, Michael, Andre and Yoeman who were so generous with their time and spirit that ensured a never-to-be forgotten pilgrimage to Ambon.
Video links appear below.
Our wreath laying service at Laha....
Our wreath laying service at Tawiri....
On route to the Mutiara Hotel...
Veteran Eddie Gilbert talk on Pombo Island....
Eddie Gilbert at the Commonwealth War Cemetery, Tantui....
Eddie talks at Namalatu beach....
Leihari Elementary School welcome...
Leihari Elementary School dancing etc...
Eddie talks at Sago processing ...
Tantui Service 10/9/11 part 1
Tantui Service 10/9/11 part 2
Tantui Service 10/9/11 part 3
Some photos of our 2011 pilgrimage
Welcome sign at Tawari village. Our service led by Rob McDougall.
Eddie Gilbert places the wreath on the Laha memorial. The Brass band from Tawiri village.
Laha 5th September 2011
Eddie Gilbert places the wreath on the second site. At the reception dinner for the Ambon Day celebrations.
Our group with the Governor at his residence. On Pombo Island.
Leihari Elementary School The Choir perform for us at The Commonwealth War cemetery Tantui -10th September 2011
Veterans, Eddie Gilbert and Tom Pledger Eddie and Tom place the wreath 10th September 2011
It was heart-warming to connect with the Gull Force Group at the airport and feel welcomed with smiles, handshakes and a sense of anticipation for the journey ahead.
Sue’s calm and gentle leadership style and impeccable planning of our travel arrangements helped those of us who were first timers quickly move into a place of calm for our pilgrimage. Those who had travelled to Ambon previously were very inclusive and helpful and, supported Sue in creating sense of belonging for us all.
When we arrived for an afternoon and evening in Bali, we were warmly greeted by Andre’, who was a great support for Sue throughout the trip. Each of us received a beautiful lei of flowers and welcoming smiles.
The next morning we had another two fights to get to Ambon. We arrived to wonderful greetings from May, who gave each of us a traditional dried clove lei and Michael, who has an infectious smile and had a joyful willingness to support us in any and every way.
We knew this trip was going to be more that special as we drove through Tawiri Village to an Australian War Memorial. We were greeted by the sound of a brass band, smiling children and their parents who welcomed us with open hearts. The ceremony was led by Des. It was simple, very moving and heart-warming. A wreath was laid and we all gently placed traditional poppies. The children sang for us the brass band played and we enjoyed a cup of tea. We also stopped for ceremony at a memorial that sits in the backyard of one of the homes in Laha Village where we also placed a wreath and poppies.
We settled into our hotel in Ambon. It was a perfect start to what would be a very personal journey for each of us.
It was perfect planning for us to visit the Tantui War Memorial the very next day. This was the site of the POW camp and it now stands as a beautiful, peaceful, memorial garden in honour of those brave WW2 servicemen who passed away on Ambon and surrounding islands. Each of us connected with this place in our own way. It was very quiet and very moving. Some of us on the pilgrimage spent personal time at the graves of our departed heroes, while others gently roamed around the site in solemn contemplation.
We were invited to the official celebrations of Ambon’s 437th birthday extravaganza. During the celebrations we learnt that Darwin was Ambon’s Sister City and that the mayor of Darwin was in the official party. The celebrations included an evening at the official function at the Mayor’s residence. The next night we were also invited to the Governor’s official residence for a meal and further celebrations.
We enjoyed a couple of days exploring the island as we travelled to monuments, villages and schools. At each official stop we enjoyed children performing traditional dances, bands playing and an enthusiastic welcome by the community. We were all delighted to see the great sense of community at each village and how the children were so very happy, playful and well behaved with sense of occasion and a respect for their elders.
Prior to our pilgrimage, Sue’s daughter Alison organised fund raising events to support a community who was displaced from their homes by the conflict on the Island some 10 years earlier. Alison arranged for the purchase of packages of rice, food and essential supplies. A highlight of our visit to Ambon was to support Alison with the distribution of the packages to each family. Some of us brought along clothing that we passed on to community leaders for distribution as well.
We also visited Leihari village in the mountains, where there was great celebration as Sue and Des offered the school musical instruments and a lap top computer on behalf of Gull Force. During the war, at great danger to themselves, the villagers had offered wonderful support to Australians who were on work parties. Gull Force offers specific support to their school as a way of demonstrating our thanks and gratitude.
Off the coast of Hunimua Beach is the lovely, uninhabited island of Pombo. We enjoyed a magical day where we were treated to a BBQ lunch and a swim in the clear, calm water. The speed boat journey to and from the island was an experience in itself!
In honour of our visit, we were treated to observe a traditional Ambonese Ceremony and three of us took up the challenge to participate … which was a great honour and a lot of fun!
On the 10th of September, which is the anniversary of liberation day for the surviving POW’s, we went back to the Tantui War Memorial for the official commemorative service of our pilgrimage. It was wonderful to again have the chance to spend quiet contemplative time at the graves of our family members. We were joined by a family from England who came to Ambon to visit the gravesite of a family member. During the ceremony a choir sang for us and a bugler played the last post.
We then travelled to the Kudamati where the Australians and Japanese fought. We lay a wreath and poppies at the Australian Monument that proudly stands there. It was lovey to see the Australian Flag gently flowing in the breeze.
With our journey to Ambon coming to a close, we enjoyed an evening of celebration with the staff of the hotel and others who supported us on the trip. We all knew that saying goodbye the next morning was going to pull on the heartstrings … so the ‘Aussie style party’ was on!
It was wonderful to enjoy a couple of days in Bali on the way home to connect with each other, relax, swim, eat, shop and do some sightseeing.
Twenty of us travelled together and all twenty of us went out of our way to connect with each other and celebrate the unique opportunity that the pilgrimage offered us.
We laughed together, shared happy hour and meals together; some of us shed a tear together. Together we honoured the people of Ambon and brave and courageous men of Gull Force the 2/21st Battalion, and those who served and fell beside them. Together we honoured those brave men who survived and the brave men who lay at rest on the beautiful and unique island of Ambon.
Lest We Forget.
To read the report of the 2013 tour please click on report link Some photos from the trip are below.
Wreath laying service at Laha The second cairn in the backyard of a private home in Tawiri village.
Wreath laying at Kudamati New gates and fencing protect the Kudamati memorial
The new memorial to the 352 men who served on Ambon and returned home after the end of the war is unveiled.
Sons and daughters of the returned veterans of Gull Force at the memorial. The new Stone of remembrance at Tantui Cemetery.
As a very new member of Gull Force and a first-time visitor to Ambon - and indeed Indonesia - this pilgrimage has been a deeply memorable experience. To be tasked with writing the report on behalf of the 2014 group is both an honour and a great challenge.
Each pilgrim has their own special story to tell of their loved family member. Likewise, each of us has reacted in our own way to the many things we experienced in the past eight days.
The whole experience was so well organised for us by a team of fantastic people, Rob, Sue, Des and the Gull Force committee, and led locally by the talented Andre, May, Juliet and Victor, who guided us with such care, grace and humour.
They were backed up by the Mutiara Hotel staff, our bus driver Sam and no doubt many, many others we did not see.
As an acronym, the letters of the word TEAM stand for "Together Everyone Achieves More" and that was evident in spades this week.
We deeply appreciate all their efforts.
My words are not such much a chronicle of what we did but reflections on the experiences we had. So here goes.
In the end, people matter.
Our pilgrimage again proved this true, as it was the warm, gentle, engaging people of Ambon who really 'made' our pilgrimage.
That their fathers, grandfathers, uncles and cousins helped our family members over 70 years ago while they were imprisoned in the worst of conditions one could image, is truly humbling.
Many Ambonese people risked so much and lost their lives in trying to help our men. Such kindness and bravery speaks volumes about the character of the people.
To the best of my knowledge, the number of Ambonese caught and killed for their humanitarian acts has not been fully recorded, let alone the torture many would have suffered. We should never forget them.
The pilgrimage of 2014, a merry troupe of 23 which had both a solemn and helpful purpose, has spent eight incredible days on Ambon.
Arriving at the airport, warm smiles and a fragrant necklace of cloves greeted us as we stepped off the plane. We were all excited to arrive, and us first-timers probably a tad apprehensive.
However, the focus shifted within minutes to the fundamental purpose of why we all traveled here. Honouring the lives of all those who served on Ambon - those who never left and those who did return - is both a rare privilege and a special responsibility.
The 2014 group were here to specifically honour Ben Amor, Henry Robinson, Frank Greig, Eric Kelly, Francis Oakley, Albert Hooper, Jim McDougall, , William Ripper, Des O'Brien and Alexander Moore.
In my case, I felt it a compelling obligation. It was only in January this year that my mother told me about my great uncle Henry Robinson, who died at Tan Tui just six weeks before liberation.
As soon as I heard about Henry, I felt a strong urge to pursue him and his story to the best of my ability. This led me to Max Gilbert and the Gull Force Association, which has proven to be a much more than a valuable partner in this quest.
This important, very effective group is committed to keeping the 2/21st Battalion's story alive, to honour all those who served on Ambon and to work alongside the Ambonese people in small but significant ways.
Put simply - remembering, giving and looking to the future. The annual pilgrimage to Ambon plays a critical part in fulfilling each of the Association's high ideals.
The commemoration at Laha on the very first afternoon was possibly the most poignant. None of us was left unmoved as family members embraced around the memorial and we contemplated the horrible fate that faced the 308 Australian and Dutch servicemen massacred at Laha in February, 1942.
Standing at the place where many bodies were discovered, I found myself suddenly stepping back a pace or two. This was not only out of respect but also for the horror which faced those men, which is too confronting to even contemplate.
The local villagers felt our collective pain. The deep tragedy of the story was softened by their carefully prepared afternoon tea and the classy Tawiri brass band. Their rendition of "Amazing Grace" brought more than a few tears in what was a highly charged, emotional experience.
Later that afternoon, the singing, dancing, smiling Tawiri school children helped lift our mood to a different place. It wasn't long before we are up dancing with them. While we know little of their language, this contact was one way of showing that we cared, despite our strange faces!
That our family members were sent to Ambon by Australian defence command, knowing full well that the Battalion had little hope of survival, and then effectively abandoning them after their defeat makes the work of the Gull Force Association in keeping the story alive imperative.
It is appropriate that the things we do in the Amon community as Gull Force are largely focussed on the long term. Just like the water tank built by veterans, including Naomi's grandfather, in the village of Soya over 40 years ago, what we do should be aimed at having a lasting impact.
Nonetheless, the dire circumstances of the displaced people in the Paso camp are such that more immediate assistance is also a good thing for us to do. The material aid we were able to provide to those families that day in conjunction with Lawamena, small though it was, was more than repaid in their smiles and gratitude.
Meeting Eddie, the magnificent 74 yo camp patriarch, hearing a little of his story delivered in amazingly good English and then joining him singing in perfect pitch "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean", was an amazing, quite surreal experience.
We have much to learn from their spirit. Let's hope they have a brighter future soon.
Like Tawiri, our visit to Schools 2 & 4 was a happy experience. The students danced and sung, shared their joy which seemed as real as you could get. The boxes of school supplies we brought were much appreciated and will be put to good use.
Schools 2 & 4 have been largely re-built after the riots of 1999 -2004. Gull Force, Lawamena and Rotary have been involved in helpful projects at the site and more are becoming evident. Rob McDougall has played a critical role here, in arranging a Rotary Foundation Matching Grant in a way which has never been done before, with a great result.
The Tawiri kindergarten is in far worse condition, needing a new roof, toilets, concrete paving and playground to name a few physical needs. Not that the kinder kids knew it though, as their presentation and the standard of their work was simply amazing. Gull Force should be able make a difference there.
Education and health are always critical components of community development, so the Gull Force support of schools - and now the Tawiri kindergarten - is most worthy, as are the medical supplies given to hospitals and the nursing scholarships, again done in conjunction with Lawamena.
On the anniversary of the day when four Australian corvettes steamed into Ambon harbour on September 10, 1945, the Gull Force pilgrims gathered at TanTui and then Kudamati for our commemoration services. For many, these services were the focus of the pilgrimage.
Both services were simple and respectful. The grey skies and increasing rain which fell that morning were not inappropriate to the occasion. We were joined by two senior defence force officers and Ambon - Darwin sister city representative, Hayley Barich with her mother Helen.
In the midst of the graves at Tan Tui, we stood in silence, contemplating each man lost, the joys of life denied to them. While the beauty of the cemetery looking over Ambon Harbour and the care shown by those who maintain - led by John - is quite a sight, the arrival of the Corvettes on that September morning would have been a far more incredible sight for the survivors.
As our President Des reflected during the service, it would have been a bittersweet moment for those who did survive, knowing the majority of their compatriots would have to be left behind - the triumph and the tragedy of Ambon.
Then at Kudamati, we remembered the veterans who somehow made it through the camp horrors. When back in Australia, many suffered from their long ordeal. However, a number returned in subsequent years to support the people of Ambon in practical ways.
What an important gesture this was, a gracious act in response to the generosity of the people towards them. The quiet pride of the survivors' families was palpable.
If you have a connection to the Gull Force story and have not yet been to Ambon, I warmly encourage you to take part in one of these pilgrimages. It is far more than a tour.
Your experiences will broaden your mind, expand your knowledge, challenge your perceptions and occasionally take you outside your comfort zone. It will leave you wanting to know more.
Our experiences ranged from helping the most dispossessed to dining with the most powerful.
The Ambon Day celebration was a magnificent festival. For the whole group to be invited to the festival and then the reception at the Mayor's official home that evening, is testimony to the high regard in which Gull Force is held.
The pilgrimage also introduces you to the delights, the beauty, the paradoxes and the people of Ambon, a community with a long history which has also seen more than its share of conflict and tragedy.
Ambon is emerging, with complex community, economic and infrastructure challenges. I found Ambon an incredibly engaging place, drawing me in with its colour, smells, vibrancy and ginger & nut coffee!
There is much potential here but much to be done. If Gull Force can continue to help, even in 'micro' ways, it will be worthwhile.
Winston Churchill once said: "We make a living by what we earn but we make a life by what we give." The men of Gulf Force lived this, the Gull Force Association understands it.
In the end, people do matter. The Gull Force Association is all about this, wanting to make a difference to the people of Ambon in honouring the men of the 2/21st Battalion and all who served here. There are few more worthy endeavours.
2014 Pilgrimage group at The Laha memorial. Wreath layed at the second cairn in Tawiri.
Pilgrimage group outside the Mutiara Hotel, Ambon. The stone of remembrance at The Commonwealth War Cemetery, Tantui.
By Melissa Gabriel
It is sixteen years since my last pilgrimage to Ambon in 1998. I decided to return this year as it is the 70th Anniversary of Freedom since WW11. The sense of connectivity, the emotional bond and the gratitude between the Ambonese people and Gull Force is just as overwhelming, if not more so, sixteen years on. I am so grateful that the Pilgrimages have kept going!
On September 3rd, 2015, 34 Gull Force members gathered together for dinner at the Ramayana, Bali. Sue, Rob and Andre greeted us, and after introductions & formalities, Sue & Rob surprised us with a superb Commemorative 70 Years of Freedom – Gull Force 2/21Bn Ambon- Laha medallion, a very special memento to treasure.
The following morning we flew via Jakarta to Ambon where we were met by May R, Michael, Juliet and Mey. The warm breeze, the waft of cloves from the lei we were presented with, the genuine smiles, the delight of reuniting with Ambonese friends, and the lilt of the Ambonese accent was a reminder of this beautiful island and these gentle people.
We travelled by bus from the airport and our first stop was at Tawiri for a moving and emotional service at the Australian War Memorial, led by Rob. A wreath was laid, followed by the placing of poppies and a time for reflection where we contemplated the dreadful fate of the Service Men here. The village ladies kindly served us afternoon tea, respecting our reflections and thoughts. The children were excited to see us and many lollies and gifts were handed out. We also visited the local kindergarten where Gull Force had donated funds to build new toilets and Rob took part in ‘cutting the ribbons’ as part of the acknowledgment ceremony.
Another poignant service was held in the garden of a private house at Laha, led by Rob. We laid a wreath and poppies and spent some time in reflection. This was another very moving and emotional event.
The “Welcome Back Gull Force” sign was proudly displayed on the front of the Mutiara as a group of weary, but grateful, Gull Force members arrived at our destination. After a welcome drink we were allocated our rooms and this would be our ‘Ambon home’ for the next eight nights.
The following day we visited the Tantui War Cemetery where there was time for personal reflection and contemplation in this peaceful and serene setting - a place where each of us has a personal story. The presentation of the cemetery grounds with the beautiful rain trees and the natural tropical plants was immaculate.
The Gull Force 2/21 Bn. Association 70th Anniversary of Freedom Service was held on the 10thSeptember at The commonwealth War Cemetery, Tantui , it also included the Funeral Service for An Unknown Soldier of the Second World War. This soldier’s remains were unearthed during excavation in Kupang, Timor, 2013.
On the morning of the 10th we arrived at the cemetery to see a graceful, floral tribute of poppies and lilies placed in a pattern on the ground, with each veterans name and rank attached. The red poppies were for those who gave their life, the white lilies were for those who returned but had passed on and the blue lilies were for the veterans who are still alive. The floral tribute was a graphic representation of the enormity of the Gull Force sacrifice. The service was led by Des and Rob, followed by the Laying of Wreaths, flowers and poppies. The services were followed by refreshments and an opportunity to mingle with the guests.
We then moved on to the Australian War Memorial at Kudamati where another moving service was held, led by Rob, followed by Flag Raising and Wreath Laying and the placing of flowers and poppies at the cairn and poppies on the Honour Wall.
There were many highlights of the pilgrimage which included a trip to Natsepa Beach where we were welcomed by a Shell Orchestra, watched the Crazy Bamboo Dance (Bambu Gila), ate a delicious BBQ lunch, some tasted the fruit salad mixed with chilli & sugar and had a swim.
We Visited Pintu Kota (City Gate), a natural rock formation by the sea, then on to Amahusu where we watched sago cakes being made and tasted these along with some delicious ginger & almond tea. We also visited a clove souvenir shop at Latuhalat and watched these delicate items being crafted.
Another was a trip to the Village of Naku, in the hills, for a Caring & Sharing Ceremony of Food provided by Ambonesia Foundation. Following a spectacular welcoming musical concert we went to a hall where the acting Raja welcomed us. Mr De Freitus told us that he was sorry for our people in the war, he said he believed that the Australian soldiers saved the people of Naku. He also said he was grateful for the food today. Gull Force then served food to the people of Naku, and in turn they invited us to share the food with them.
A special highlight of our visit to Ambon was that it coincided with Ambon City 440th Birthday Celebration. Each member of Gull Force received a personal invitation from the Mayor to attend the event which was held at Merdeka Field. We were fortunate to be seated in the Pavilion as we watched local dancing, music, The Minister of Police singing a song about ‘all villages being united’. It was a vibrant, loud and colourful event that concluded with a rather noisy fly-over., followed by a long lunch (Makan Patita) in the street outside. The celebrations went long into the night with music and fireworks – a happy time for the people of Ambon.
An extremely rewarding & moving visit was made to the displaced persons camp. These people have not been able to return to their homes since the Conflict and now live in the poor conditions in the camp. Gull Force donated staple food and supply packages and we distributed them on the Monday. They greeted us with songs and were so happy and friendly and then they provide a lunch for US! It was quite overwhelming to see, they were such a happy group despite such tragic circumstances. Robs ongoing Rotary project is also helping to build a much needed shower & toilet block for them.
We visited two schools, one at Rutong where we donated soccer balls & another at Leahari where we made another donation. At Leahari we were provided with a delicious lunch, and merrily dancing and singing as May R played the keyboard so we could sing Waltzing Matilda. A small group also went to the local high school in Ambon City where we told the Gull Force story to some of the classes.
Donations of pillows were given to the Christian Hospital, the Muslim Hospital and the General Hospital. Also baby clothes and some very cute handmade puppets were donated to the General Hospital. All three hospitals were very grateful for the donations, the hospital representative at the General Hospital said that their budget doesn’t allow for such items.
Other visits were made to the Wharf Area to see the site where the 4 Corvettes transported the Gull Force men at the end of the war & to the local food market.
The evening before the Service at the Commonwealth War Cemetery at Tantui, as the pilgrimage was coming to an end, there was a spectacular sunset and photo opportunity at the statue of Martha Christina Tiahahu. This was followed by a dinner at the delightful, aptly- named Panorama restaurant which overlooks the City of Ambon. We were able to eat our dinner looking at the twinkling lights of the city below, while some of the members danced the night away!
It was during the Pilgrimage that our group formed close bonds, we shared many moments together, always remembering the main focus of our trip, we swapped stories, shed laughter and tears, for some it meant closure, and finally it was time for the Farewell Dinner held at the Mutiara. We all dressed in colourful Ambonese attire and ate the delicious food prepared by the staff and following our meal many people, staff included, danced to the music and sang our favourite song Gandong. It was an emotional evening but a joyous and happy event at the same time.
On Friday the 11th September we flew back to Bali via Jakarta, the last night for our Pilgrimage 2015.
Gratitude and thanks go to Sue, Rob and Des for their hours of work, tireless efforts and their ability to coordinate and conduct the pilgrimage in a seamless and effective manner. Also thanks to other Gull Force members for individual contributions, and to all the pilgrimage group for your personal contribution to making 2015 Pilgrimage such a success –each one a precious piece in the jigsaw of The Gull Force story.
Heartfelt thanks to Andre for his continued work, commitment and care to Gull Force and also to the Mutiara staff and drivers.
Special thanks to May Riupassa for her dedication & devotion to our cause and to her fun loving team Michael, Mey and Juliet. You all provided us with valuable information and insight to Ambonese history, information & culture. We loved your enthusiasm, your sincerity, your musical talent and thank you for teaching us Gandong & translating for us over the course of the trip.
Lest We Forget.
Below are some photos from the 2015 Pilgrimage.
Memorial at Tawiri We were welcomed by the Tawiri Band.
Laha memorial behind a private home. The official opening of the toilet block for the kindergarten built with donations from Gull Force
The Tawiri Kindergarten.
The 2015 tour group outside the Mutiara Hotel. Food was donated for 60 families in Passo living in hardship.
Leihari Elementary school received balls, educational equipment and a sound system. Ambonesia's sharing of food at Soya village. A wonderful musical welcome was given to us
Commonwealth War Cemetery -Tantui Our group behind the 779 poppies(those who died) and 352 lillies(those who survived)which represented our Gull Force men
The Stone of Remembrance - Tantui.
Kudamati honour wall
Ambon Bay, simply beautiful. Ambon City at night.
Alex Miles has written an interesting report on the tour. Please click HERE to view a PDF copy.
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