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Morning on Guadalcanal
by John Innes, February 2005

Click For EnlargementIt is 5:45 in the morning, the traces of dawn starts, and the morning chorus of bird noises wakes me. After about 60 seconds of not wanting to get up, I swing out of bed, put on my shorts, t-shirt, walking shoes and begin my one-hour walk. Wrestling with tiredness I grumpily convince myself that this is a good habit to have. The morning exercise is good for you, gives you time to think and balance up for the day ahead.

It is still quite dark as I leave the house, walk the 100 yards down to the road. The road runs alongside the shoreline and the lights of the ships in the sound stand out. I turn right and at a brisk pace walk along. There are usually a few other people already out jogging or walking. A few cars go by as the town starts to wake up. About 500 yards later I take another right turn and go up a steep hill that starts to test the fitness. Half way up the heart starts pumping and the breaths come quicker. Nearing the top you anxiously want the hill to end. With relief you finally arrive panting at the top.

Click For EnlargementHesitating while getting your breath back you find yourself facing inland where dawn is now breaking and the sun is just reaching for the trees. The view is of grassy ridges and jungle, a special jungle, this is Guadalcanal. As I walk along a jungle trail you start to imagine the dawns taking place in 1942. At this very time in this very place the combatants of those days would also be welcoming the dawn. For the Americans mostly it would probably have been relief that the Japanese did not attack that night. All Japanese attacks occurred at night.

One sunset I remember asking visiting veteran Marine Wilbur Bewley (G/2/1), did he enjoy the spectacle of Guadalcanal sunsets during the war? “Hell no”, he answered “The Japanese sea and land attacks always took place at night, I’d be thinking about what the night might bring.”

As backdrop to the jungle I look at Mount Austen and the Japanese stronghold known as the Gifu.  I think of veteran Bill Fisher of the 2nd Raiders who ended their epic patrol there. I think of the ring belonging to Fred A Kucera (132nd Infantry) that I found in a foxhole there. Fred died from wounds received there on 2nd January 1943.

Click For EnlargementIn my imagination, as I walk down the trail, I exchange good mornings with the Americans (and occasionally the Japanese) in their foxholes. At the end of this trail I cut back to a road on a ridge that will take me back to the main road. As I walk through the crest of the Ridge I remember that Marine Fighter pilot, Jefferson De Blanc, pointed out the area where he was had a bivouacked on this ridge. I try to guess exactly where his tent may have been.

Walking on down from the ridge I find myself facing Honiara golf course. In 1942 I would have been facing Fighter Two or Kukum Strip. In fact today’s line of factories behind the golf course are built on the coral runway of the runway. This runway was De Blanc's favourite. When I asked why and he told me that “On landing you could approach from the sea and on take you could immediately turn towards the sea.  If you used Henderson or Fighter One it meant you had to fly over land where someone might take a pot shot at you”.

Click For EnlargementAs I walk down towards the runway I can ‘hear’ the sounds of piston engines of Corsairs and Lightnings and I reflect that this was the runway used on the mission to shoot down Admiral Yamamoto. Trees on fairways of the Honiara Golf Club built on Kukum (Fighter Two) complex. Buildings in background are built on the original coral runway. When I reach the main road I turn left walking parallel to the golf course. I walk past a ridge that comes down to the edge of the road. Across the road is the western end of the golf course. This Ridge was part of the western perimeter in August and September. The front line was subsequently moved down to the Matanikau River.

On 14th September 1942 L company 3rd Battalion 5th successfully defended this position, defeating a Japanese attack (Oka) attack supporting Kawaguchi’s attack on Bloody Ridge. I think of the late Ore Marion who helped maintain the history of his company and whose book L/3/5 has just been released.

Last year Japanese remains were found in a playing field about 50 yards west of this Ridge. They were discovered while Telekom were laying cables. The workmen came to my office and told me about the bones. While examining the recently found bones in the pit I stood up and found myself looking straight at the ridge and thinking “L Company”.

Click For EnlargementContinuing now on my way back home I pass a roundabout and walk on what used to be a minefield laid to protect the runway if Japanese tanks made it across the Matanikau.  The Engineers cleared them in February 1943. I wonder if they missed any and hope if they did they were anti-tank not anti-personnel mines. Turn left at my street and I go back for my shower and a spot of breakfast. It is now a twenty to eight and time to drive to the Post Office to check the mail before I go to the office.

The road runs parallel to Iron Bottom sound. Across the waters are Savo Island and the Floridas. I imagine the violent sea fights that gave the Sound its name.  I think of friends I have met that fought there. I especially remember Frank Teague of the USS Portland that was torpedoed but survived and ‘Red Snipe Garing who was stationed at Gavutu on an APC.

Click For EnlargementAs I approach the Matanikau Bridge, I pass the hospital known by locals as ‘Number Nine’ a term inherited from the Americans who had named it "Number Nine Field Hospital" in 1943. I cross the Bridge 75 yards inland from the mouth of the river the scene of many actions.  I think of Raiders fighting their last battle on the Canal on the 8th October when they should already have been relieved from the line. I think of Al Deleara of 3rd Battalion 1st Marines facing the Japanese tank attack later in October.

Click For EnlargementJust the other side of the River I see the site of the ill-fated Geottge Patrol. We are undertaking another search for their remains, seen but not recovered by L3/5 on their patrol of 19th August 1942. One of the knocked out Japanese tanks can still be seen at low tide. I drive on to the Post Office past Point Cruz Yacht Club where I will go for a beer after work and to the Town Grounds where my friend the late Bishop Paul Moore, 2/5, earned his Navy Cross. I collect the mail and return to the office by eight o’clock. Saturdays and Sundays I visit and explore the battlefields but going to work helps keep me focused!

 

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