Lieutenant Arthur Seaforth Blackburn VC was awarded his Victoria Cross at Pozieres in France during the First World War. During World War II he formed and commanded the 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion, which fought in Syria in 1941. Blackburn and his battalion were part of the 7th Australian Division, which was returning from the Middle East.
The troopship Orcades was diverted to Java in late February 1942, with the 3000 troops on board ordered to disembark and assist the Dutch in the island's defence against the Japanese. Blackburn was promoted to Brigadier and placed in command of 'Blackforce', the assorted group of over 3000 Australian troops from various units.
Japanese forces landed in Java two weeks after the fall of Singapore. The Allied force, under the control of the American-British-Dutch-Australian (ABDA) Command, were unable to successfully defend Java and the island soon fell to the Japanese. The 3000-strong 'Blackforce' was forced to surrender on 10 March after just 10 days of fighting, when the Dutch commander on the island formally capitulated. About 100 men from 'Blackforce' had been killed or wounded in battle and many of those who became prisoners of war died in captivity. In addition, over 200 members of the RAAF including 160 men of 1 Squadron and over 300 men from HMAS Perth sunk in Sunda Strait became prisoners of war in Java, suffering the same ordeal of captivity as their Army comrades.
You are to take the first opportunity of telling your men that this surrender was not my choice or that of Gen. Sitwell. We were all placed under the command of the Commander in Chief NEI and he has ordered us to surrender. In view of medical reports on the dangers of living in the mountains and the impossibility of obtaining food in the mountains and the fact that no reasonable prospect of escape in ships from the South Coast exists, there was considered by Gen. Sitwell to be no alternative except to obey the order.
[Transcript of the surrender document]