The Dutch prepare for the liberation of Netherlands East Indies

In June 1944 after the liberation of New Guinea, the South Pacific Allied  Headquarters moved to a new base at Hollandia, the capital of Dutch New Guinea, in order to be closer to the theater of war.

With the war in the Pacific nearing its end the Dutch started to prepare for the recolonisation of the NEI (Netherlands East Indies). Consequently the Dutch decided, with the approval of the Australian Government, to establish the NEI Government-in-Exile, the first and only time that this happened in Australia.

US approval of transfer of Camp Columbia to the Dutch – National Archives
Correspondence re transfer Camp Columbia to the Dutch – National Archives

Ever since their arrival in Australia the Dutch had problems with getting enough Dutch staff. With the Netherlands occupied that avenue was closed and the Dutch Government in London was preoccupied with the liberation of the Netherlands.  The most senior person for NEI affairs was the Dutch Minister for Colonies Hubertus van Mook, who – as the Minister for Colonies – between most of 1942-1944 was based in London. This made communication regarding the recolonisation of NEI extremely difficult. In February 1944 van Mook resigned as Minister and finally became the full time Lieutenant Governor-General of  NEI. Slowly more staff had been recruited from other Dutch overseas posts and now accommodation became a serious problem.

Communication and travel between the various Dutch military offices across Australia had equally become difficult and time-consuming, and to prepare for the return to NEI, consolidation was urgently needed. Thus it was decided to move the various Dutch headquarters to “Camp Columbia“ at Wacol. By  the end of 1944 most of the 2,000 Dutch and NEI staff ended up in Brisbane.

The move of all of the offices of the NEI government-in-exile to one place was a major exercise.

The first group that moved into the Wacol facilities was The Netherlands Forces Intelligence Service (NEFIS), in June 1944. The Australian Government provided a special train for the NEI government-in-exile to move its NEFIS staff and files from Melbourne to Wacol.

The Dutch refurbishment of Camp Columbia began in June 1944. All building work needed the approval of the Australian Department of War Organisation and Industry Works, but the work itself was done by the Dutch.

The NEI Labour Battalion – consisting of interned non-European NEI nationals as well as Indonesians opposing Dutch rule in NEI and overseen by Dutch officers – were brought in as extra labour from the NEI camp in Casino.

The Camp was patrolled by KNIL soldiers from Ambon.

Dutch flag at Camp Columbia
Parade Ground
Dutch offices

Dutch servicemen celebrating in The birthday of Queen Wilhelmina at the Netherlands canteen, Brisbane, 1944
Brisbane John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Jack Ford has been of great assistance in the research in particular about the Dutch during WWII. He has been very generous in sharing his knowledge and material with us. The documents and photo’s above are all from Jack’s research. The photos are from his correspondence with Jean van Schilfgaarde. Here personal story is told here.

Jack published a book: Allies in a Bind – Australia and the Netherlands East Indies in the WWII by Jack Ford


Buildings and facilities during the Dutch period

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