A  SHORT  HISTORY                          

2/40th march banner

Leaving Brighton camp

HQ 3 platoon (mortars)

Universal carrier

Noonamah camp

The story of Sparrow Force begins with the 2/40th Infantry Battalion in Tasmania, in mid-1940. Colonel G.A.D. Youl was announced commander of 2/40th on 1st July and a recruiting drive was launched; many men transferred from local militia units. A training camp was established at Brighton, just north of Hobart city and the battalion strength continued to grow through September to the end of the year.


On 7th January1941, the 2/40th departed Hobart on the Zealandia and arrived in Melbourne two days later. Then they entrained to Bonegilla in northern Victoria near Albury, where training continued alongside two Victorian battalions, the 2/21st and 2/22nd. These three units comprised the 23rd Brigade of the 8th Division and they were all destined to defend Australia on islands to the north.  


In February 1941, some Victorian reinforcements joined the Tasmanian 2/40th. The 23rd Brigade units marched through Melbourne and Albury in February. This show of strength reassured the public as Australia served alongside British, Canadian, New Zealand and South African forces against Germany and Italy in North Africa and later in Europe.


At the end of March, the 2/40th left Bonegilla by train for Adelaide. Then they continued to Alice Springs where the battalion camped for a few days. In mid-April, the men took trucks of the Darwin Overland Maintenance Force and travelled over four days to Larrimah. At Larrimah they boarded Vestey meatworks train cattle carts and continued to Katherine where they remained for a few months. In July the companies moved closer to Darwin, to a new camp they constructed at Noonamah, the Twenty-Eight Mile. The battalion was essentially stationed there until its departure for Timor near the end of the year.


Although training continued, many of the men worked on roads and bridges in the Top End. There was some discontent as they 'worked like navvies' building roads, communications and infastructure to accommodate other units moving north to defend Australia. They had joined up to fight Hitler and Mussolini on the other side of the world rather than to shovel gravel, build camps, roads and bridges.


Other units were camped around Darwin, these included other infantry, gunners, engineers, signalers, medical personnel, service corps, air crew and naval personnel. Some were allocated to the 'bird forces' infantry battalions as support units. Sparrow Force was designated to secure Penfui airport on Dutch West Timor while Gull Force was to defend Laha airfield in Ambon. Another group was nominated as Lark Force and they were sent to Rabaul. In November 1941, Lt.-Col. Youl of the 2/40th was replaced by Lt.-Col. William Leggatt after friction with the 23rd Brigade commander, Brigadier Lind.


Sparrow Force comprised of the 2/40th Infantry Battalion, 2/1st Heavy Battery, Fortress Engineers and Signals, 2/11th Field Company, 2/12th Field Ambulance, 22nd Dental Unit, 18th Anti-Tank Battery, 75th Light Aid Detachment and Australian Army Service Corps as well as the 2nd Independent Company (Commando) destined for Portuguese East Timor.

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Ian D. Skennerton

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