Amid the saga of events in Jakarta over recent times, the red over white horizontal halves of the flag of the Republic of Indonesia have figured in high prominence.
Displayed vertically, those red and white colours for long have been recognised by seafarers the world over as the international pilotage flag while white over red, horizontally, has long since been the national flag of Poland.
When men of the 2200 tonne frigate HMAS Hawkesbury first sighted the horizontal red over white flag in the first days of November away back in 1945 just weeks after the end of WW II, it puzzled them a shade.
It was spotted as the “Free Indonesia” movement’s flag displayed by a small group of agitators at a colourful ceremony at a place called Poso in what was then the Dutch East Indies.
HMAS Hawkesbury had given naval escort to transports returning the Changi prisoners of war from Singapore and had then raced to Timor for the surrender of the 48th Japanese Army division at Koepang.
Returning to Morotai, the warship took on board a contingent of AIF troops headed by Major DC Wilson, plus a group made up of Netherlands East Indies experts, interpreters, RAAF intelligence personnel seeking knowledge on “downed” wartime airmen, plus a range of other experts.
HMAS Hawkesbury then undertook a prolonged and detailed surveillance of vast areas of the Japanese-occupied Netherlands East Indies. The Official Proclamation declaring the cessation of hostilities and reintroducing of civil administration was promulgated at a series of colourful ceremonies and local Japanese surrenders. The welfare of the local people was checked, Japanese forces pinpointed and their stores usually were dumped in deep waters.
At Poso, HMAS Hawkesbury landed the Contact Party from its motor-cutter and brought back on board the Rajah of Poso District, a little wizened old man who spoke only the Toradja dialect, which necessitated use of the interpreters aboard the warship.
The Japanese army officer who commanded the local force in Poso was also brought aboard the frigate and given orders for the disposal of arms, stores, money etc., and was informed he would be obliged to surrender his sword to Major Wilson at a public ceremony next day.
That evening HMAS Hawkesbury put on a searchlight and pyrotechnic display with its two 20 inch searchlights piercing the night sky as a variety of rockets added touches of colour, much to the delight of the local populace.
At 0800 next day when the surrender ceremony took place following the reading of General Blarney’s Proclamation, there was a slight delay. The new “Free Indonesia” flag was fluttering over a small section of the crowd.
Leaders of this section were found to be two agitators from Macassar. They were asked to remove the flag and complied.
Within five years the movement had won the nation’s independence and that horizontal red over white flag has long since come to be recognised as the national flag of the Republic of Indonesia.