Alone on Guadalcanal: A Coastwatchers Story

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Kavieng is the main port and commercial centre of New Ireland, it was invaded and captured on the same day. The Japs had already conducted a 'study tour' of the Island well before the outbreak of war - Harry Murray, a decorated Australian War War One Veteran, Local RSL President and Community Leader had a fall out with them at the time, Harry, having a premonition of impending war refused to give them any cooperation or the 'cooks tour' of the Island and its airstrip, incurring the wrath of the Japanese Officer in charge.

Harry knew what was coming. When the Japs landed in January '42 they went hunting - on their list was Harry Murray. When it became obvious to everyone that Japanese ships were nearby and invasion was imminent. The decision was made by District Officer MacDonald to evacuate all civilians from Kavieng, and Major Wilson withdrew most of his small force to nearby Kaut, located on the West Coast, where separate camps for civilians and military had been prepared.

The small Australian commando force, the 1st Independent Company, had arrived in Kavieng in July Its effectiveness was minimal, spread as it was over thousands of kilometres, and it was in effect sacrificed, being unable to resist any determined Japanese force of any size, and in fact not one of the men stationed in Kavieng survived the war, only the officers, who by good fortune, had been sent to Japan on a different vessel to which the 'Other Ranks' had been loaded on to, survived.

Murray awoke surprised by the landing of the R Invasion Detachment at about midnight on the Kavieng waterfront and ran for his life towards the airstrip and the few Australian commandos there. The Japanese War History says the invading forces, arriving from the Japanese administered island of Truk, north of Kavieng, had captured the airfield by 3. This conflicts with markedly from Australian reports that there was a fierce firefight as the commandos retired from the airstrip leaving an estimated Japanese dead.

Harry Murray and the commando unit blowing holes in the Kavieng airstrip retreated through the mangrove swamps at the back of the airstrip towards the camps near Kaut. A track through the swamps, which was purposely cut for this specific reason, could not be found in the darkness and confusion and it took two days to wade through the crocodile infested mangroves. Harry Murray so narrowly escaped the advancing Japanese at Kavieng that he had to cross the swamps in his pyjamas, barefoot and without his false teeth. They would not use the East Coast highway, assuming correctly that the Japanese would also land in the Maiom now Utu school and Panapei plantation area, cutting the road and isolating Kavieng.

At that time the road only went as far as Lamernewai plantation and one, Caulfield Kelly, decided not to go. Others dropped off at plantations on their route when they met managers still working undisturbed on their plantations, while others joined the escaping party which was desperately looking for some kind of boat to allow them to leave New Ireland.

Among many of the Plantation owners there was an air of complacency, believing they were of more use to the Japs by staying on continuing to manage their plantations. This assumption proved lethal for they were all to die. After long delays the group crossed from Ulaputur to the East Coast with the help of Father Neuhaus, the Namatanai parish priest, and stayed for a while at Muliama where they met nine Australians escaping from Rabaul.

Eventually an escape was made possible by going to Tanga Island and forcefully requisitioning a small boat the Quang Wha belonging to Chin Pak, and returning to Muliama.

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On 30 April, over three months after the Japanese invasion, and overcoming many difficulties, they left New Ireland and on the afternoon of the 5th of May made a landfall at Mi-Mi on the North coast of Papua and on the 6th were at Buna. One very small step ahead of the Jap invasion of New Guineau. The saga of the escape from New Ireland is the stuff of legends.

Harry Murray's inspirational leadership and unwllingness to give in to adversity not only, inevitably, saved his life, but set him up for for even bigger and better feats of courage and endurance later on. Nearly all the civilians who complacently or otherwise remained on New Ireland and became prisoners of the Japanese, died. Early in July , Sydney, Australia was bulging at the seam with Allied Servicemen of all branches of the armed forces and from many different nationalities - Americans, Dutch, Filipino, Free French from New Caledonia, as well as Englishmen, New Zealanders and of course, the locals, Australians.

The war with Nippon was now a mere seven months old but in that short seven months, Sydney had undergone a major transformation, from virtual indifference to a far off war in Europe and North Africa, to a startling awareness of a major war right on its door step!

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Indeed, this awareness had been heightened by the bombing of Darwin by the Japanese on 19th February and the subsequent attacks on Sydney Harbour itself by Japanese midget submarines on the night of the 31st May In fact, with her best fighting troops serving overseas Australia was very vulnerable and almost in a state of panic.

After his escape from the Japanese in New Ireland Harry eventually arrived in Sydney only to see many of his old mates already in uniform. Harry Murray re-enlisted as soon as he could. Wondering what he had to offer the Australian Military, if anything.

"The Coast Watchers" - Guadalcanal 1942 (Part 1 of 2)

Harry waited. Harry Murray had spent many years of his life on his plantation at Kavieng, New Ireland he knew the area as he knew the back of his hand - He was soon to find out just how useful he was to become. The wait was over. Harry Murray now found himself attached to the highly secret organisation known as "Z" Special Unit.

Semaphore: The Coastwatchers and Ferdinand the Bull

One of a number of units under the control of Colonel Mott. The men recruited for this unit were men who had a special knowledge of all areas now occupied by the Japanese. The unit comprised men who were willing to return to these areas and work behind the enemy lines, obtaining information on enemy strength and disposition of forces, coastwatching, carrying out sabotage by disrupting communications, mining ships, destroying arsenals and generally harassing the enemy. Parties were formed consisting in most cases of four members: one leader, two utility men and one wireless operator.

All members, however, were given instructions in wireless operations, which would be their life line.

Al men were skilled in clandestine operations, weapons and explosives. Left to right: Lieutenants D. Chambers, H.

Book Review: Alone on Guadalcanal – A Coastwatcher’s Story

Murray, R. Cambridge, G. Greathead, G. Stevenson, and P.


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After completing the course at Cairns on the use of limpet mines the unit received orders to return to Melbourne where accommodation was provided for them at various hotels. When all was ready for departure, Murray was called to Colonel Mott's office to receive last minute instructions and the necessary movement papers.

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It was then that he learnt that the contents of the containers labeled "valuable supplies" would be under his charge for the journey and that they contained the new highly powerful plastic explosive C4 which was still on the secret list. The party moved from Melbourne to Adelaide then north to Alice Springs. They then travelled by train from Alice Springs to Darwin where they were conveyed five miles out of the township to the Quarantine Station which had been taken over for the use of "Z" Special Unit.

To hide their true identity, they were referred to as the "Lugger Maintenance Section". Commander Feldt succumbed to illness in March and his job was taken over by Lieutenant-Commander J. McManus, R. McCarthy had reported that natives from almost every island and township throughout the territory had been found and that arrangements were under way to transport them to Brisbane.

Murray's job was to establish the training camp as a centre to accommodate and train outgoing parties, and act as a rest centre for incoming parties. Murray established the camp a few miles south of the Beaudesert township. Within a few days, the camp was a hive of activity with stores and equipment arriving daily. Towards the end of the first week, the first members began to trickle in. Among these were Sergeant R. Bill Dolby, Corporal R.


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Percy Cream, and Corporal C. Snow Evans. Ten days later natives arrived by army trucks and commenced special training. Left: Commander J.

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McManus, O. The larger coastwatching stations such as Port Moresby and Rabaul had contingency plans to continue operating nearby in the event of Japanese occupation. Japanese air raids in the Bismarck Archipelago began on 4 January when Rabaul was attacked by 22 heavy bombers. On 24 January a coastwatcher signal reported that Kavieng had been occupied. Contact with Rabaul, however, had been lost and two coastwatchers from Talasea, Keith McCarthy and George Marsland, began a km trek to report on the situation.

At Pondo on Open Bay they met 12 soldiers who had evacuated from Rabaul and were told that some people, including those from the coastwatcher station, were now scattered on both the north and south coasts of New Britain. What ensued was a remarkable search and rescue effort involving coastwatchers in New Britain and New Guinea in which more than people, starving and beset by malaria, were rescued and ferried to safety.

As civilians, most coastwatchers were advised to cease their operations and evacuate as the Japanese advanced into their territory. However, the vast majority of them chose to continue their activities in the knowledge that capture could result in their execution as spies. In March , following the execution of an elderly planter by the name of Percy Good, the coastwatchers were given ranks or ratings, mostly in the Volunteer Reserve, in the hope that this would provide them some protection in the event of capture.

In many instances, it did not. They were both posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The rescue of stranded Allied servicemen became one of the coastwachers primary responsibilities. One of their most important contributions in the Pacific theatre was the intelligence provided during the Allied campaign at Guadalcanal, which involved some 16, US marines, 48 combat ships, 28 auxiliaries and aircraft.

Native Solomon Islanders took work in the Japanese camps and later related what they had seen to the coastwatchers. This intelligence was used in maps of Lunga, Tulagi and Gavutu, identifying the position of Japanese guns, defence works and other installations. Following the landing on 7 August , coastwatchers on Buka, Bougainville and New Georgia Islands alerted the Allied forces on Guadalcanal to incoming Japanese air raids allowing them to prepare for, and repel, the enemy aircraft.

The landing did not, however, mean immediate victory for the Allies. The fight that ensued on the island over the next six months has been described as some of the most fierce and vicious in the Pacific theatre. This remarkable memoir tells the compelling story of the near-mythic British district officer who helped shape the first great Allied counteroffensive. Scottish-born and Cambridge-educated, Martin Clemens managed to survive months behind Japanese lines in one of the most unfriendly climates and terrains in the world.

After countless partisan and spy missions, in he emerged from the jungle and integrated his Melanesian commando force into the heart of the 1st Marine Division's operations, earning the unfettered admiration of such legendary Marine officers as Vandegrift, Thomas, Twining, Edson, and Pate.

This book is based on a journal Clemens kept during the war and might well be the last critical source of analysis of the Solomon's campaign. His eyewitness accounts of harrowing long-distance patrols and life on the run from shadowy Japanese intelligence operatives and treacherous islanders are unmatched in the literature of the Pacific war.


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