History Matters: The Casino Boys

Smiling faces: Some of the troops at Camp Victor. Photographs of the time appear to show the troops did not have a bad time at the camp.

Smiling faces: Some of the troops at Camp Victor. Photographs of the time appear to show the troops did not have a bad time at the camp.

With the final German surrender on May 8, 1945, attention switched to the defeat of Japan. As part of this process, the Dutch government recruited 200 trainee pilots who were sent to Australia on the New Zealand Shipping Company’s RMS Rangitata for pilot training.

The group knew little about Australia. At Sydney, they were put on a troop train for travel to an unknown destination.

After a long trip, the men found themselves at the Dutch East Indies Army base at Casino, Camp Victory, for basic training. 

We know from photographs that conditions at Camp Victory were fairly primitive, with the men living under canvas or in huts. Despite that, we also know from later records such as interviews, that they enjoyed themselves.

They got on well with the Dutch East Indies troops, enjoying the food. With the exception of the Aboriginal settlement in South Casino which was out of bounds, they could move around freely, including visiting Casino or the nearby beaches.

Chopping wood at Camp Victory.

Chopping wood at Camp Victory.

A number acquired local girlfriends. Three of them, including Jill Spilsbury’s stepfather Jacobus Johannes (Koos or Jack) Dalmayer, would marry local girls. They were also able to visit Sydney and, in some cases, Melbourne for R and R.

The experiences built on the bonds formed on ship, creating a tight-knit group that would come to be called the Casino Boys.

Their biggest problem was that the military authorities really didn’t know what to do with them. Cornelus (Corry) Koedam recalled that they didn’t even have proper uniforms, wearing American uniforms at one point, Australian uniforms at another.

The men’s main frustration was that they had come to train as pilots. This depended on the Royal Australian Air Force and kept being deferred. The Pacific War was winding down, and the Dutch trainee pilots were not high on the list of immediate war priorities. They were effectively in limbo.

On August 15, 1945 Japanese time, the Japanese announced that they had surrendered. The official surrender document was signed on deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2.

The Dutch government still wished the men to be trained, but the RAAF had no further interest in the matter. Other events now intervened.

The RMS Rangitata which brought the Casino Boys to Australia.

The RMS Rangitata which brought the Casino Boys to Australia.

In March 1945, the Japanese had organised an Indonesian committee on independence. On August 9, 1945, Sukarno, Hatta, and Radjiman Wediodiningrat were flown to meet Marshal Hisaichi Terauchi in Vietnam. They were told that Japan intended to announce Indonesian independence on August 24.

With the Japanese surrender, Sukarno and Hatta decided to take immediate action. Two days after the Japanese surrender, they unilaterally proclaimed Indonesian independence. Indonesians were called upon to refuse service in the Dutch East Indies armed forces.

Word of the independence proclamation reached Camp Victory in September. With that, everything changed.

Jim Belshaw’s email is ndarala@optusnet.com.au. He blogs at newenglandaustralia.blogspot.com.au/ (New England life) and newenglandhistory.blogspot.com.au/ (New England history)

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