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The Art of



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Christmas card, 1944, from "Sparrow Force" to Lieutenant Colonel F. G. Galleghan, while in Changi.

Christmas card, 1944, from "Sparrow Force" to Lieutenant Colonel F. G. Galleghan, while in Changi as prisoners of war. The inside of the card shows the colour patches of the units that made up "Sparrow Force", many members of which surrendered to the Japanese on Timor on 23 February 1942.

Pryor, Geoff, 1995. East Timor - 1942 [Australian soldiers offered refuge by East Timorese]

A modern take on East Timorese hospitality of Sparrow Force in 1942 by Geoff Pryor in 1995.

'East Timor - 1942' [Australian soldiers offered refuge by East Timorese] [picture] 1995. 1 drawing : pen, ink and wash on board ; image 22.2 x 35.2 cm.

The first Australian flag flown in Singapore after the surrender of the Japanese in 1945.

The first Australian flag flown in Singapore after the surrender of the Japanese in 1945 - made by Sparrow Force.


Description: Handmade Australian blue ensign made from a Union Jack flag stitched into the corner of blue fabric. The stars of the Southern Cross and the Federation Star have been cut out of the blue cloth and pieces of white handkerchief sewn into them. The Union Jack is printed along one arm with 'MADE IN ENGLAND'. Written in black ink along the white hoist of the flag is 'Made By QX.19748 SGT. Smith D R H 17 AUG 1945'. Written in faded ink on the Federation Star is 'Dear Stahl Good Luck. A very game action to fly this flag. F.G. Galleghan LT Col comd A.I.F (P.W) Malaya 20 Aug 1945'. A white cotton rope with carved wooden toggles at either end is threaded through the hoist.


History: This flag was the first Australian flag flown in Singapore after the surrender of the Japanese in 1945. When news of the imminent surrender for the Japanese filtered through to the Allied prisoners, QX6306 Captain Frederick Stahl had this flag made to be flown once peace was announced.


Stahl was born in Victoria in 1909 and enlisted in the Army in Queensland in July 1940. He served with 8 Divisional Signals and was captured by the Japanese in February 1942. He was imprisoned at camp X3 at Bukit Panjang on Singapore Island along with QX19748 Sergeant Darcy Robert Henry Smith, a tailor from East Gympie who enlisted with 2/1 Heavy Battery (Sparrow Force) of the Royal Australian Artillery in March 1941. Stahl asked Smith to make the flag which was made from a Union Jack owned by TX3788 Private Frederick Pegg, 2/40 Battalion (Sparrow Force), who used it for burials and blue Japanese sheet material stolen from the stores. The stars were made by QX19566 James French, 2/10 Field Regiment, from Red Cross handkerchiefs and the sewing thread was unraveled from Japanese socks.


While the material was being gathered it was kept hidden under the prisoner's sleeping platforms and when Smith began sewing QX23706 Private Vivian Gambling, 2/3 Ordinance Stores Company, kept watch.


On 20 August the Japanese surrender was announced in the camp by the arrival of British parachutists. The flag flew above the camp for some days until the men marched out to join other prisoners at Changi. Stahl was then summoned by the AIF Commander at the camp, Lieutenant Colonel 'Black Jack' Galleghan who asked him to fly his flag above the gaol alongside the British flag until a larger, more official flag could be obtained. Stahl agreed and on its return to him Galleghan wrote the inscription which appears on the Federation star.


After their return to Australia, Stahl was discharged in December 1945, Mentioned in Despatches and was made a member of the Order of the British Empire. Smith was discharged in January 1947.

WInnie the War Winner - the iconic improvised radio built from salvaged parts by Sparrow Force to regain contact with Australia in April 1942 - was a masterpiece both in terms of engineering design and aesthetically. It is a national treasure. Click on image to see Winnie closer.

Short upright piano : Changi Concert Party


 Changi Concert  Party    1942-1945.

Robinson short upright piano, originally with olive green wash finish to body, later given cream wash when used by the Changi Concert Party 1942-1945, and subsequently painted cream in Australia.


A steel plate on the upper front board of the piano is impressed:


'This piano belongs to the history of World War 2. It is the piano from Changi Camp and is here by courtesy of 'Happy Henry' Smith, who was responsible for its removal from Singapore to Changi and was finally instrumental in bringing it back to Australia.'


The inside of the lid carries 31 signatures, written in texta and biro, of former prisoners of war. The signatures inside the lid are:


  • Dick Armstrong 2/29 Bn 8 Div;

  • Arthur Dawson 2/1 FLD ENG 6TH DIV;

  • Ken Lacey 2/30 BN.;

  • Bob Davis 2/12 FLd Coy RAE;

  • Allan Mason 2/15 Fld Regt;

  • Alf Stone 2/2 BTN NX1391;

  • Pat Jenkins 8 DIV SIG;

  • P. Hendry 2/10 Fd AMB;

  • JOE FIELD 2/30 BTN NX37612;

  • William (Bill) Rigby 8th Div. Changi/ Burma Rd late of Blackalls Park;

  • Percy Hunt 2/19 NX50914 A. Coy;

  • ANGUS KLOSE 2/10 Fld Coy. RAE;


  • NX47090 Ted Bradley 2/20 BN;




  • Fred Butt NX26185 2/30 BN;

  • Blue Butterworth NX2592 2/1st Batt;

  • Bill HAMMON VX46251 2/3 MG BTN;

  • Bluey Pollock  [NX81839] SPARROW FORCE TIMOR;

  • Butch Curran (McCann) [NX39094] SPARROW FORCE TIMOR;

  • JIM CONNOR 2/15 Fld Regt;

  • WAL BUCKLEY 2/20 Fld Amb;

  • ROLY DEAN 2/19 Bn;

  • Arthur Wade NX745 2/3 Fd Ret 6 Div;

  • Bart Richardson 2/20 Bn;

  • Roy Kelly 2/20 Bn;

  • Max Morris 2/1 Fortress Coy [NX38720];





After Singapore fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942, 15000 Australian prisoners of war were marched in to camp at Changi. By the second day in camp an Australian Concert Party had begun rehearsals. Initial concerts featured a succession of artists performing individual acts, but soon a concert party of about thirty full time performers was formed, and moved into an open-sided steel-framed garage, which was gradually adapted as a theatre, complete with elaborate backdrops, curtains and theatre lighting. The materials used to transform the garage, as well as some of the costumes and musical instruments were scrounged by prisoners on work parties outside the camp, and by small parties of men who went through the perimeter wire at night. Recognising the need for a piano, Keith 'Dizzy' Stevens, the Party's 'female' comic who performed with a red dyed mop on his head, led eleven men though the wire one night to a sailor's mess in the former British submarine base, 'liberated' the Robinson upright piano there and hauled it back to camp, a distance of one and a half kilometres.


The concert party's increasingly professional shows ranged from individual acts, comic and vaudeville routines, to popular songs, many of them written in the camp, and serious dramatic performances, as a well as a traditional pantomime each Christmas. Concerts were so popular, not only with the prisoners but also with the Japanese, that tickets had to be rationed.


At the end of the war in 1945, members of the Concert Party who had played smaller individual instruments prepared to take them home with them. An initial request by the Concert Party as a whole to ship their beloved piano to Australia was refused. When the Concert Party made it clear that they would not board the troop transport Largs Bay without the piano it was finally loaded and lashed to the deck. On arrival in Sydney the question of who would transport and care for the piano proved difficult. 'Happy Harry' Smith, one of the original members of the Party agreed to take it home, although he was a comic and puppeteer, and never played the piano. 


The piano was later lent to the Sussex Inlet Bowling Club on the New South Wales South coast (c 1960) before being placed in the Sydney headquarters of the ex-Prisoner-of-War Association in the 1980s. It is believed that the signatures were added to the underside of the piano lid during its time at the Association. In 1983 eight members of the Changi concert party assembled there to perform around the piano once more. It was lent to the Round the Earth Company in 1992 for their performances of 'A Bright and Crimson Flower', an epic about Australian POWs. The play was performed in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, but the piano was abandoned in Hobart. It was eventually located by 'Happy Harry' Smith's son and grandson and flown back to Sydney by the RAAF. After it had been donated to the War Memorial, Jack Boardman, the Changi concert party's pianist, together with a singer, saxe and bass player from the Royal Military College band, gave a final performance on it, playing popular songs which had been written in the camp. The concert was filmed for television.




Photo taken in 1941 of L/Cpl. Geoffrey Gordon Tyson TX3926. An intelligence staff member in HQ Staff, HQ Company, 2/40 Infantry Battalion, Geoff was Sparrow Force's war artist. As a POW in Timor, Java, and eventually in Japan, he drew day to day life in several prisoner of war camps. After the war, be was the newspaper Examiner’s artist.

The Tasmanian Mail, Tuesday 28 February, 1964.
The Tasmanian Mail, Tuesday 28 February, 1964.

A newspaper feature about Geoff Tyson

- Sparrow Force artist.

The Tasmanian Mail, Tuesday 28 February, 1964.

Click on each image  to enlarge.

A self portrait of Lieutenant Charles Bush, official war artist of TimForce. c1957, oil on hardboard.
Studio portrait of B3/58, official war artist. Vaughan Murray Griffin, holding his palette and paint

Studio portrait of B3/58, official war artist. Vaughan Murray Griffin, holding his palette and paintbrushes.


He was appointed as an official Australian war artist in the Middle East and later in Malaya. He became a prisoner of war of the Japanese after the fall of Singapore in 1942 and was interned at Changi prison for the duration of the war. Many of Griffins art works are held at the Australian War Memorial.

A self portrait of Lieutenant Charles Bush, official war artist of TimForce. c1957, oil on hardboard.

Charles William Bush (1919-1989), artist, was born on 23 November 1919 at Brunswick East, Melbourne, son of Victorian-born parents Andrew Charles Thomas Bush, signwriter, and his wife Alice Maude, née Rohsburn. Charles’s younger brother Gordon was accidentally killed in 1929 and his mother was to die in 1936. He attended Coburg East State and Coburg High schools, and worked with his father but their relationship was not an easy one. At the age of 14 he gained a place at the National Gallery schools, where he won several prizes and met a fellow student Phyllis Paulina Waterhouse (1917-1989). His father disapproved of the trend his work was taking so he moved in with Phyl and her parents at Essendon. The two young artists rented a studio and began living together; they were to be married on 21 June 1979 at the office of the government statist, Melbourne.


In 1939 Bush held his first exhibition. Called up in July 1941 for full-time duty with the Militia, he served in an artillery survey unit, carried out camouflage work and helped produce service publications. By 1943 he was employed as a war artist. He painted in Papua and New Guinea and, after its liberation, on Timor. Having transferred to the Australian Imperial Force in 1943, he finished his service on 23 October 1946 as a lieutenant. A British Council grant in 1949 enabled him to travel to London and study with Bernard Meninsky. He exhibited at the Royal Academy and toured France, Spain, Italy and the Middle East.


Back in Melbourne, Bush was a drawing master at the National Gallery schools in 1953-54 and a member of the Australian cultural delegation to China in 1956. From 1959 to 1962 he hosted an afternoon television show, `My Fair Lady’, in which he commented, sometimes caustically, on the dress and appearance of women. In 1961 he visited Malaya to record on canvas the activities of the Royal Australian Air Force at Butterworth. He accepted commissions as an art critic and adviser. With Phyl Waterhouse and June Davies, he founded in 1962 the Leveson Street Gallery, North Melbourne (Carlton from 1979), which gave young artists encouragement and honest criticism.


Energetic and committed, Bush confidently and enthusiastically embraced painting and considered himself fortunate to be an artist. His knowledge of his profession was profound. One of the few to make a living at the easel, he endured with equanimity times of struggle and enjoyed his increasing success. He painted or drew in his North Melbourne studio nearly every day, and exhibited in Australia and overseas. As a watercolourist he had few equals. His paintings won more than fifty awards, including three (George) Crouch prizes (1945, 1952 and 1961) and two Wynne prizes (1952 and 1955). Examples of his work are in the National Gallery of Australia and the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, most State and regional galleries, and numerous corporate and private collections throughout the world.


Bush was excellent company and a great raconteur. With his sharp wit, flair for the apt word or phrase and forthright delivery, he delighted in deflating the pompous or the boring, but supported and encouraged the sincere. In addition to art, he expressed his passion for life through a love of the sea, the Australian landscape, literature and classical music. He had a very good voice and often sang while painting. Predeceased by his wife, he died of ischaemic heart disease on 13 November 1989 at Footscray and was cremated.


(Courtesy of the Australian Dictionary of Biography)



Portrait of Eric Thake

Portrait of Eric Thake, painting in his studio.


Eric Prentice Anchor Thake was born in Auburn, Vic in 1904. Before the Second World War he was apprenticed to a process engraving company and worked as a commercial artist during 1925 and 1926. He attended night classes at the National Gallery School, Melbourne in 1922 and from 1925 to 1928 he studied part time with George Bell. Thake enlisted in November 1943 as 145552 Pilot Officer Thake and worked as a draughtsman until his appointment to the RAAF Historical Section as a war artist in 1944. He was discharged from the RAAF on 28 March 1946 with the rank of Flying Officer. He returned to a civilian artist's life, completing a variety of commissions for postage stamps, museum murals, medical illustrator and designer. He died in 1982 aged 78 years.




Oesapa-Besar and other remnants by Geoff Tyson. Published by The Examiner Press, Launceston, Tasmania, 1947. 




Lieutenant Colonel William Leggatt by Murray Griffin.

Lieutenant Colonel William Leggatt by Murray GriffinPencil on paper,  Changi, Singapore, 1943. Depicts a portrait of Lieutenant Colonel William Watt Leggatt (VX44907), MC, Commanding 2/40th Australian Infantry Battalion, 'Sparrow Force'. Taken prisoner by the Japanese.




Bush painting Usua Ridge, Timor.

Group of Timor Guerillas by Charles Bush. Oil on canvas, 1946. Depicts several soldiers, recalling the Australian activities on the island of Timor during the Second World War. Japanese forces invaded both Dutch and Portuguese Timor in February 1942, where a small Australian force - 'Sparrow Force'- were deployed, consisting mainly of the 2/40th Battalion (Dutch Timor) with some Dutch troops and the RAAF and the 2/2nd Independent Company (Portuguese Timor). The Japanese attacked Dutch Timor with vastly superior numbers, encircling the defenders and forcing their surrender after four days of fighting. In Portuguese Timor the 2/2nd Independent Company withdrew into the hills to carry on a war of ambushes and sabotage against the Japanese. The guerillas were isolated from Australia and their fate unknown. In April 1942 communications were re-established using makeshift radio equipment and the guerrilla campaign continued, with supplies being maintained by small RAN ships and aerial drops. Sickness and fatigue began to take its toll on the Australian guerrilla and by early 1943 the Australians, with some Dutch and Portuguese nationals, were withdrawn.
The artist took inspiration from several photographs taken by Damien Parer, including 013777 and 013767.

Timor mountains by Charles Bush.

Timor mountains by Charles Bush. Ink and pencil on paper, Timor, 1945. From 1943-1946 Charles Bush was appointed official war artist in New Guinea and Timor. In Portuguese Timor he sketched portraits of Mozambique and Australian troops during the guerrilla campaign against the Japanese. With mountains appearing in the background and a tree in the foreground, this work demonstrates the landscape of Timor.

Ambush at Nunamogue, Timor by Charles Bush.

Ambush at Nunamogue, Timor by Charles Bush. Oil on canvas mounted on composition board, 1946. Depicts the site of an ambush point from where "A"Platoon, 2/2nd Australian Independent Company, successfully ambushed a Japanese Force advancing on Ainaro, Portuguese Timor with Nunamogue is in the background.

Timorese with rooster by Charles Bush.

Timorese with rooster by Charles Bush. Ink and watercolour on paper, 1946, Timor. This drawing depicts a Timorese man holding a rooster. From 1943-1946 Charles Bush was appointed official war artist in New Guinea and Timor.

Road to Hatu Lia and Atsabe by Charles Bush.

Road to Hatu Lia and Atsabe by Charles Bush. Pen and coloured wash on paper, Timor, 1945. The Portuguese 'Posto" at Bobonaro showing the road to Hatu Lia and Atsaba. This 'Posto' figured considerably in the operations of 2/2nd Australian Independent Company in their guerilla operations against the Japanese in Portuguese Timor.

HMAS "Voyager" wrecked and burning at Betano Bay by Charles Bush

HMAS "Voyager" wrecked and burning at Betano Bay by Charles Bush. Oil on canvas, 1946. In February 1942 Japanese forces invaded Dutch and Portuguese Timor, overwhelming the defending forces except for the 2/2nd Australian Independent Company in Portuguese Timor which withdrew into the hills and began waging a guerilla war against the enemy. After contact with Australia was re-established maintenance of the guerillas was undertaken by the Navy and the Air Force. On 22 September the destroyer HMAS Voyager left Darwin carrying the 2/4th Australian Independent Company, which was to relieve the 2/2nd. The ship made passage safely to Betano Bay, on the south coast of Timor, where the change-over was to take place. Disembarkation was in progress when currents caught and swung the ship on its anchors, causing her to ground solidly at the stern. Efforts made to free her were unavailing, and next day Japanese bombers attacked the ship relentlessly. The Voyager crew exploded demolition charges on board and, for good measure, she was fired fore and aft early next morning. The Voyagers crew were later evacuated to Darwin by the corvette, HMAS Warrnambool.

Hulk of "Voyager", Betarno by Charles Bush.

Hulk of "Voyager", Betarno by Charles Bush. Oil on canvas, Timor, 1945. HMAS Voyager became grounded on a sandbank when landing Australian commando troops on Timor in 1942. It became impossible to shift her, charges were exploded aboard and she was set on fire. Any light moveable gear was handed to the commando force.

Strange companions - dilli foreshore by Charles Bush.

Strange companions - dilli foreshore by Charles Bush. Ink on paper, Dili, Timor 1943-46. This work depicts a ship and a tractor. From 1943-1946 Charles Bush was appointed official war artist in New Guinea and Timor.

Unidentified Australian soldier
Japanese awaiting medical inspection
Lieutenant General Kunitaro Yamada
The face of Japan POW No. 1
The face of Japan POW No. 2
The face of Japan POW No. 3
The face of Japan POW No. 4
The face of Japan POW No. 5
The face of Japan POW No. 6
The face of Japan POW No. 7
The face of Japan POW No. 8
The face of Japan POW No. 9
The face of Japan POW No. 10
The face of Japan POW No. 11
Eric Thake working on a portrait of Lieutenant-General Yamada, Timor, 1945.
Thake sketching General Yamada.

This series is a collection of pencil on paper sketches by Charles Bush and Eric Thake in Koepang, Timor, in 1945.


From 1943-1946 Charles Bush was appointed official war artist in New Guinea and Timor.


Thake depicts Japanese military and naval POWs who were employed reconditioning the roads and airstrip at Koepang. The artist drew these portraits as he felt a record was needed of the men against which the Australians fought. Eric Thake (1904-1982) was born in Melbourne and before the Second World War was apprenticed to a process engraving company and worked as a commercial artist during 1925 and 1926. He was a founding member of the Melbourne Contemporary Group in 1923 and the Contemporary Art Society in 1939. Thake enlisted in the RAAF in 1943 and worked as a draughtsman until his appointment to the RAAF Historical Section as a war artist in 1944. During the next two years he traveled to central and northern Australia, Timor and Dutch New Guinea. On the completion of his appointment, Thake's paintings and drawings were distributed amongst the Memorial, state art galleries and the RAAF. After the war Thake worked on a variety of commissions, including postage stamps and museum murals, and as a medical illustrator and designer.




Japanese wreckage, Penfoei airstrip, Timor by Eric Thake.

Japanese wreckage, Penfoei airstrip, Timor by Eric Thake. Gouache, pencil on paper, Timor 1945. Thake shows Japanese prisoners of war clearing up the wreckage of their own planes at the air strip in Penfoei, Timor. This work is typical of Eric Thake, whose paintings and drawings are finely crafted vignettes of the aftermath of war, bombed buildings, crashed planes and deserted camps. His carefully observed studies speak eloquently of the waste and futility of war. Unlike many war artists who felt frustrated when 'left behind', Thake relished the surreal stillness of the aircraft dumps and the abandoned runways, the destroyed towns and the return to peace.

Koepang Bay by Eric Thake.

Koepang Bay by Eric Thake. Gouache, pencil on paper, Timor 1945.View of Koepang Bay from a Consolidated Catalina flying boat from Royal Australian Air Force, No 43 Squadron; on the day after Japanese in Timor had surrendered. Vessels conveying Australian occupation force are visible in the Bay. The Catalina was piloted by Squadron Leader Seymour, Commanding Officer of 43 Squadron, Doctors' Gully, Darwin.




Ordinary Seaman Edward Sheean, HMAS 'Armidale' by Dale Marsh.

Ordinary Seaman Edward Sheean, HMAS 'Armidale' by Dale MarshDepicts the figure of Ordinary Seaman Edward Sheean, HMAS 'Armidale' from back half prone on deck at stern of ship dressed only in shorts and boots, a wound on his right thigh, firing an Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun at Japanese bombers; a number of seamen are in the water having abandoned ship. Ordinary Seaman Edward Sheean went down with the HMAS 'Armidale' firing his gun to the last. Click on the video on the above frame to find out more.

Grounding of HMAS "Voyager" by John Papworth. Brush and ink on paper, Betano, Timor, 1944. Depicts HMAS "Voyager" in the midground at Betano Anchorage in Portuguese Timor. The ship is grounded and troops from the 2/4th Australian Independent Company are debarking on lifeboats and rowing into shore. On shore in the forground people from Timor and men from the 2/2nd Australian Independent Company watch the scene unfold. Palm tree fronds in the upper right corner.

Jan Senbergs collaborated with Col Madigan, one of the Armidale survivors to create this work which forms part of a series of ten pastel drawings depicting the sinking of HMAS Armidale on 1 December 1942. There were eighty three crew and sixty six soldiers on board when Japanese torpedo bombers and Zero fighters finally sank the Armidale after a fatal two day battle.

Pte. Donald John McCulloch TX3852

The Express, 11 February 1958. Pte. Donald John McCulloch TX3852 Company staff, B Company, 2/40 Infantry Battalion (d. dysentery, Burma 100k camp 7/8/43).

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