The 2/40th Infantry Battalion was the only battalion in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) recruited almost entirely from Tasmania. Initial training was at Brighton camp followed by Bonegilla Camp, near Wodonga, then to Katherine and Darwin.
Following the Japanese attacks throughout the Asia-Pacific region on the 7th and 8th of December 1941, including Pearl Harbour, the 2/40th was sent to Timor to defend the airfield at Penfui as part of “Sparrow Force”. With less than 1000 men, they were ill-equipped and were likely to be overwhelmed by enemy attack.
The Japanese attack on Dutch Timor began on the morning of 20th February 1942. On 23rd February, the Japanese delivered an ultimatum to the battalion to either surrender or be bombed. Under these impossible circumstances, the decision was made to surrender.
The remaining members of the battalion became prisoners of war and were enslaved in Japanese prisoner of war camps throughout the South-East Asia region, including the notorious Thai-Burma railway. Many men were slaved to death, and many others died of cholera and malnutrition and in torpedoed Japanese transport vessels.
Following the surrender of Japan, the remaining men of the battalion were liberated in early September 1945 and repatriated to Australia. Of the original 1000, the battalion had 271 men killed in action or died while prisoners of war, while a further 79 were wounded.