Stan Gajda

Guadalcanal Battlefield Visits

I flew across to the Solomon Islands on Tuesday 27th February 1996 and checked into the Honiara Hotel. I looked into hiring a car but you guys were right, their charges are now ridiculous at S$220 per day plus they wanted me to put down S$500 cash before I could take the car away. I only had a Westpac bankcard and they wouldn't accept it, only cash, so I took my money back off them and left (Budget)

So I found a taxi at random and asked the guy if he was interested in a steady job for a few days and he readily agreed. This guys name was Ben and he proved to be equal to the task and very reliable. Also he took a keen interest in what I was doing and accompanied me everywhere, he said he had never seen or known about places like the Gifu before.

On my first day there I went to the Ilu River to view the massacre site. It had been raining and the track in was very muddy so we walked down to the coast and the river mouth. On the way we had a look at the excavations and there is a vast amount of aircraft stuff there, a place I would like to explore properly one day. I soon found a nice undamaged pair of stainless exhaust stacks from a P-40 Kittyhawk but I left them there. On the way out of that junk-yard I jagged my right shin on a broken-off twig. I was still in shorts and this scratch was to cost me dearly.

At the Ilu I roamed about in the old coconut grove which is now just random bush and scrub with some areas bordering on mangrove swamp. The lumpy pot-holed appearance as seen in the wartime photos is the same, this is partly due to incessant excavations by mud crabs and (although I didn't see them) feral pigs.

I did not find any bones or military gear but other junk and glass broken Jap bottles is in evidence. I was only in there for less than an hour. A metal detector search would probably have been fruitful. I was planning to come back to do just that after I done the Gifu......

Then later in the afternoon of that first day (Tuesday) I got the taxi driver to take me up to Mt Austen and on to the village at Gifu. Neither of us knew just exactly where this was because that Star memorial was not there last time I was up that way but eventually by blundering about a bit we accidentally stumbled upon the village we were looking for and immediately spotted the aircraft wing section from a fair distance.

Everybody came out to greet us and I initially had a look at the stuff around the big tree. The piece of plane is the left wing-tip of a G4M Betty. It is in amazing condition. The leader of the group, Willy said they collected it off the old military area at Lunga Point ages ago. The throttle console and some other bits are from the crash site of another Betty on MT Austen itself. This one was near the old Jap observation point on the peak of the mountain. I actually found a piece of this plane myself back in 1992. The wreck has been cleared and nothing substantial remains there.

Also there was a reasonable Zero drop-tank against the tree and a Jeep windscreen frame, and the rusty Garand and M38 rifles. There was a lot of other stuff under the huts and at other villagers places which were brought out for my inspection. The village is on the site of the eastern edge of the original Gifu pocket and when they cleared the jungle to establish the village a lot of war junk and bones were cleared up in the process.

Late in the afternoon of the 27th we all went over to Hill 27 for a quick orientation and look-around. There are numerous foxholes and war debris all along the way to the hill. The hill itself is covered in shell and mortar splinters and as you would have seen for yourself, bullets, grenade levers, cartridge clips etc.

I found it quit amazing to see the hill and the surrounds are unchanged except for the memorial for more than 50 years. In one of the foxholes near the crest of the hill we recovered an asbestos mitten for changing the machine-gun barrels, in other places are K-ration tins some of which are bright and shiny with the stencils still clear. Anyway, after having a look around and inspecting the holes where the 70mm gun wheels had been, we arranged to meet the village boys early next morning by the Betty wing and to mount a proper pillaging expedition into the Gifu area.

Next morning we were all ready to start from the village at 0830hrs and first went back to Hill 27. We searched around with Rod's metal detector (M-D) to see if we could locate more of the 70mm gun. No luck, this particular MD has only shallow penetration which limited it's use somewhat. From that little spur where the wheels had been we worked our way north down along the lower slopes of Hill 27 and the overhanging knolls were above us in this area.

Jap helmet perforated with canister shot, Gas mask filter with camo paint, type 38 bayonet, water bottle with brown paint and bullet hole, Jap combination mess tin & cooking pot.US dogtag marked "Gerald Eckhart"

The grass was very thick and high and it was extremely hot. There were five of us in the party including the taxi driver. Below the knoll we found another 70mm ammo box just like Rod collected and was so excited about. This one was in similar condition (maybe better) but without the lid. One of the boys picked up an expired .45 cal projectile (probably fired from the top of the hill) and I picked up a nice US grenade fragment which comprised of two square segments and excellent yellow paint on the outside. I also picked up a perfect Garand clip, a brief search uncovered the last round fired when the clip was ejected. I kept these.

These bits were just random relics we picked up. This slope is just covered with this kind of material. The old guy from the village the day before had said there had been a lot of bones below that knob and he helped the Jap war graves people clear them up in 1985. I reckon there would still have to be more bones up there.

Then we entered the jungle and picked up a path heading down at about 30° all the way. It is about 1,000 ft down to the stream at the bottom with much heavy jungle in between. The area we entered was the western edge of the Gifu pocket (consult your campaign map) just north of the stream shown running down to the west ( actually a ravine). Along the way holes and depressions are evident where there had been log bunkers and fox-holes and we searched some of these. Nothing significant. Some good MD readings but with our little gardening trowel we didn't uncover anything of significance. Also the earth here is very stiff and firm, a lighter shade of brown and very glutinous making excavations difficult.

At random about half-way down to the main stream (at the bottom of the Gifu) we went into the jungle near the ravine. Here the steep slopes are just covered with Japanese war debris. You name it, its there. You don't even need a metal detector to pick up relics. There seemed to be a lot of gas mask equipment here. The rubber masks have long since gone, but the lenses, fittings and charcoal canisters are everywhere. There are grenades, 50mm mortar shells, bullets, helmets, water bottles etc etc all over the place. Apparently the whole jungle covered area of the hill is like this.

I selected a water bottle with nice original brown paint but holed by a bullet. This bullet did not go right through and made a big dent on the opposite side of the bottle. Close inspection later showed the lead core still impinged in the dent. Also I kept a charcoal canister which, after cleaning proved to be almost in perfect condition complete with yellow and green two-tone camo paint. This item is amazing. Other stuff I kept (selected) from here was one of those kidney shaped black mess kits the Japs used which we also see here on Nauru. Mine from Gifu is complete with two covers and an inside tray. One of the covers has Jap writing scratched on it. I left all the ammo alone because I already had samples in Nauru and I didn't want to fool about de-fusing this stuff. There is also a large amount of US 75mm stuff in this area as well. The Yanks must have fairly plastered the place with shell-fire.

After dumping all the goodies beside the path we continued down until we reached the stream. It was very steep here with many vertical drops and very slippery. All of us often skidded down on our backsides. Needless to say we were all extremely filthy by this stage. We decided that we were going to have lunch by the stream and Willy sent the young boy back up the hill to the village to get some corned beef and rice. In the meantime we were going to climb another hill which is never visited and also full of war relics.

Before going on we went upstream a short distance and had a look at a cave where there had been a Jap skeleton at its mouth when it was discovered recently. The remains have since been recovered but the cave is quite long had there were rusty tins and a bottle scattered about. A check with the MD picked up a fired .45 case near the cave entrance. Maybe this was the shot that killed the Jap?

The hill that we were headed for was only about 200ft high but coming up from the stream through heavy jungle it was heavy going. The clear peak was small covering only the area of a house and to the west it tapered off into a narrow timbered ridge and then fell away steeply on all sides. All slopes were jungle covered.

The clearing was just above the stream (further down from where we climbed up) and there were many wild pineapples growing there which everybody got stuck into. These were delicious. While I had a bit of a rest the others went off for a look and soon came back with an Arisaka type 38 rifle complete, still with a bit of wood. They found it with the MD a couple of inches below the surface. Also a grenade, a charcoal canister and two helmets, one with the star on the front. I was surprised to see that the star is made of steel. The badges I have seen on helmets in Tarawa are brass.

Then I went off with Willy and the taxi driver onto the spur and down the slope and we searched that area a bit. Here there were many vertical drop-offs and we had to hang on to trees to negotiate the area. In one place we found a shallow fox-hole and soon found gas mask remnants and then some bones. We found the remains of a boot with the MD and numerous foot bones. It looks like either someone lost a leg here or the body was later recovered and the lower leg was missed. Willy would not touch the bones!

After this we got our gear together and headed back to the stream for lunch. We took only the rifle, the helmets were damaged and we left them in a tree. After our meal we started our ascent back towards Hill 27. I made it alright up to the place were we left the other stuff but after that I began to tire rapidly and soon I had to stop every 50 yards or so.

To the boys credit they left me alone and did not help, saving me (I suppose) embarrassment, but they did carry all the gear for me, even the water bottle. By the time we got back to the village I was totally exhausted, as knackered as I can remember ever being in my life. We just all lay about by the big tree and some others got some coconuts for us to drink, a refreshment that was very welcome.

After a while I was able to get going again and did a bit of dealing with the villagers. As well as the relics I have already mentioned, I bought the nice Jap grenade that was by the tree (which I defused and cleaned out in my hotel room), the remains of that Garand, a Garand bayonet, a broken off Jap bayonet with the curved quillon and a helmet which I liked with three canister shot holes in it. Also from the Gifu slopes I kept a full clip of 6.5mm ammo.

I was hoping to pick up or acquire a Jap LMG but the boys said they just don't see them around. On chap that knew of one (a Type 11) on the Galloping Horse went out specially for me (a two day trip) because I promised to pay him well came back empty handed, it was gone. Even the LMGs that used to be at the Betikama SDA display in 1992 are now gone. I am suspecting that these weapons are being collected and stolen for the Bouganville guerrilla army and are being smuggled over to them. If they get enough bits they would certainly get something that operates.

When we left the Gifu that day (Wednesday) we went off to see the guy about that Type 11 Light Machine Gun. He lived by the Matanikau River below the Galloping Horse, which is a fair way out of town along a dirt road. There is a tank bogged in the river bed at this point. It is submerged but the turret hatch is visible. One bloke reckons its a Jap tank, another says its an Amtrack. I don't know, I simply didn't want to wade out to it at this stage.

Anyway, I had to wade across the river to see this guy and make a deal with him. Soon after that, the scratch on my leg from the previous day began to sting quite seriously. By the time I got back to the hotel an hour or so later my leg was starting to hurt. I had a good look at it and with my pointy Tanto knife I dug out a small splinter and then put on some Savlon and a Band-Aid.

That night I awoke with my leg burning and starting to swell. I could not sleep any further. Next day was worse and I finally went to the hospital on Friday morning where they opened the wound and cleaned out a shocking amount of muck from inside and gave me anti-biotics. By this stage I was unable to walk. I flew back to Nauru that night and was at the Nauru hospital next morning. There they gave me more anti-biotics and told me to rest up at home over the weekend.

On the Monday I was admitted to hospital and the wound again cleaned out. I had a serious fever and I was on a drip with more anti-biotics and various other medication. I ended up pretty sick. After four days I took myself home because I couldn't stand it in hospital any longer. The doctor was not very happy but I was on various anti-biotics and pain-killers and just lay about the house, not being much good for anything.

A third operation finally cleared all the remaining foreign matter inside my leg and I was more or less ok after about 14 weeks from the initial injury. So much for going bush in the Solomons!

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