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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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!