Mission to Ambon

February 08, 2018

A KEEN interest in war history led Lyle Taylor on a journey to find his wife’s uncle.

A KEEN interest in war history led Lyle Taylor on a journey to find his wife’s uncle.

Despite all the obstacles, including missing documentation and unrecorded names, Lyle was able to trace the path of his in-laws’ family back to Corporal Bruce Kay’s efforts in the Second World War at Ambon.

On December 17, 1941 the 2/21st Battalion of the AIF — Gull Force — disembarked at the Port of Ambon to assist the Dutch in defending the Indonesian island from the Japanese advance.

The 1,130 soldiers were marched to a former Dutch army barracks that was to be the home for many of them defending that part of the island.

The area was known as Tan Toey and little did those men know that for many it would become their home for the next several years as prisoners of war after the Japanese landed in January 1942.

Lyle said his interest was piqued when he found a personal connection with a soldier.

“I discovered in 2009 that my wife’s uncle was killed in Ambon during the Japanese invasion,” he said.

“Then I made contact with his son Ron, who is my wife’s cousin — he was four when his dad died — and I was able to fill in some gaps for him through the research I was doing.

“He was interested in the history of it all.”

The pair then decided to make the pilgrimage to Ambon in memory of Cpl Kay and to find out more him.

“Gullforce had an association running and they still did regular pilgrimages to Ambon so we decided to take part and went for 10 days in 2010, to see what else we could find out about Cpl Kay” Lyle said.

“It was a fantastic trip because we were able to make more discoveries, even finding the site where Ron’s father had been shot while defending against the invasion.

“Ron’s father doesn’t have a named grave in the cemetery and so when we found a local family who knew where an Australian soldier had been buried I had a moment and I knew it could be him and thought, ‘the army wouldn’t move a body without keeping a record’.”

Hearing this news spurred the pair on to continue their research, leading Lyle to Canberra.

“The body was relocated back to the Commonwealth war graves and while we couldn’t confirm it was him, there was no other Australian killed for 10 miles so we were fairly certain it was.

“I pushed on to see if I could find the location of the grave however the records linking the site of his death with his grave in the cemetery were missing,” he said.

“The department of unrecovered war dead in Canberra pointed us to some documents where we found a burial card.

‘‘It gave us the first written confirmation Cpl Kay was buried in a slit trench before the soldiers retreated. The co-ordinates on that card matched perfectly with the site we had been shown by the Ambonese family.

‘‘I hope to eventually identify his grave at the cemetery.”

The Gullforce group conducts pilgrimages bi-annually, with 24 people able to make the journey with the group.

Lyle has been on four trips in total.

Of the original 1,130 soldiers of the 2/21st Battalion only 350 survived the war.

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