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Warren Frederick Martin Clemens  







WWII; Solomon Islands; Guadalcanal; Coastwatchers  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
28 May 2002

  • Solomon Islands
  • Honiara
  • -9.433333   159.95
  • Mono
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Equipment Note
  • Two-Track Mono; Electrovoice RE50 Dynamic Omni Microphone

Show: Guadalcanal -Martin Clemens Intv
Log of DAT #: 4
Engineer: NC
Date: 5/29/02

MC = Martin Clemens
NC = Neal Conan

Track one
car zooms by





more cars

1:04 NC
Rush hour in Honiara.

young voices

close car

1:33 - 1:39
multiple cars

large car with interesting rattle quality


large car w/rattling

adult voices

faint voices

6:53 Track 2

6:53 - 11:43
waves lapping, with gurgly sounds at each break.

11:43 Track 3

12:10 NC
when did you first se the Japanese arrive?

12:13 MC
The Japanese arrived about may in tulagi and the RAAF people who had an airbase there, moved out in a hurry, leaving behind one of their catalinas which was badly damaged. Saying that they'd send a rigger down from fort Moresby, and they left this Catalina on my doorstep, which was not very pleasant news - so we had to destroy that. So it was on the 4th of May, I think, which was the same day as the battle of the coral sea, and people down here thought this was the battle of saving Australia, which of course was the day the japs arrived on the Solomon islands. They didn't come over to Guadalcanal for a few weeks, until they got settled in, and they got fairly well bombed and lost a lot of casualties on the first few days. Then they came over and started surveying, and it was quite obvious they were going to build and airfield so we kept close tabs on that. Of course they tried to get the Solomon islanders to work for them, which they did, they went and worked and of course they came back every night and told me the progress of the building. And so we followed that right through until it was ready to be used. The day after it was supposed to have been finished, by some unknown chance the marines arrived and started the battle, which lasted 6 months. So having spent the last few months with very little to eat and waiting for something to happen, here was another 6 months when we got bombed every morning and shelled every night, so I became a liaison officer to the first marine division and worked with the intelligence section, in fact I controlled what was outside the perimeter and the marines controlled the inside. Every marine patrol that went out had Solomon islanders with them, to make sure they didn't get lost or came to no good - and they were able to deal with the Japanese.

15:07 NC
One of the questions that still puzzles me, particularly in those early days, even right after.. The loyalty of the Solomon islanders. Was it ever a question? Why do you think they stayed loyal?

15:24 MC
well, this is what happened. I called a lot of the headmen in to tell them what was going on, and there was a crowd of about 3 or 400 outside my office. They said 'what's going to happen?" and I said look here, I can't tell you what's going to happen, but I'm quite sure that someday, somebody's going to come and it will be all right again. In the meantime, I you do what I tell you, and we all work together; we'll make it

16:05 NC
and they were happy with that?

16:07 MC
there were a few people who, you know, got a bit silly and grabbed a rifle from somewhere and rushed up and down going 'bang bang' and that sort of nonsense. There were an awful lot of scare mongering, but on the whole they didn't do so badly. Of course Sgt. Major Boozer was sent over from Malaysia where he was in charge of the police, he had retired by then, he was about 55 actually, and it was his district, tasamboko, which was down near the Lunga, which had been treacherous and was spending rumors.. And so I sent Vouza down there to keep some quiet¿ so he had quite a good effect on them. And he was the first one to contact the marines, of course he was carrying an American flag, and they tied him up to a tree over an ants bed, and stuck him in the ribs and in the face. () And he didn't say anything and passed out. This is Ichiki's outfit, they set out to attack us and took Vouza with them, but when they ran into opposition so quickly, they forgot all about Vouza and he managed to roll his way out, and he came on down to the marine perimeter, fairly well inland, where he ran into a chap call Bill Bughly, who was a first marine, and the first marines were holding the eastern wing of our perimeter. He was called in, and I got a call about this time in the morning, just after 7, to say that Vouza had arrived badly wounded and wanted to talk to me. He also used to ask for "my officer," and that was me, and I went down and took a detailed sort of.. notes of what he had to say, and I also took a dying statement from him to give to his wife. But he survived, he was amazing, really.. And we finished the battle off the next day in the afternoon, and that was so much for Ichiki's outfit.. Knocked off about 8 or 900 of them. Something like that. That was about all of that action and then I got instructions to go down and join the marines, which I did.

19:37 NC
well tell me about that - there are descriptions in the books, a remarkable scene coming down the beach.

19:46 MC
oh coming down the beach! Oh I don't know how I got in touch with a military force who didn't know their password, so I broke out the union jack and had it on a poll, and called them up.. There weren't very many of us, there were about 8 of us I suppose, and we just marched along my dog in front. And we came down to the beach, with an outpost.. I tried to shout at them but my voice didn't work. Somehow or other we managed to make contact without any shooting. Of course I haven't got any ¿ McFarland, the liaison officer up at the gold ridge, he lent me a pair of shoes, which were far too small for me. And they were like city shoes, with the point and I could hardly get them on. But I kept them for my last ..last twenty minutes of my walk on the beach. And then by the time I got in there I managed to get a pair of marine shoes.

21:23 NC
tell me a little bit more about Jacob Vouza. What kind of a man was he?

21:27 MC
what kind of a man was he.. he was a simple Solomon islander, to start with. But he when he joined the police force, he couldn't read or write, he taught himself to read and write when he was just a constable. And became a very good police officer. He ended up as a sergeant who was in charge of about 25 or 30 police later with his last job, and he served in different parts of the Solomons during his career. But for a man of 5 to go through what he did is quite remarkable. Quite remarkable..

22:26 NC
I'd heard at one point when the Japanese first arrived, he said "we should just go down and arrest him."

22:36 MC
Oh, I don't think I said that! I only saw Vouza when I was down on the coast, he never sa me after hat. He said "well I'm a retired policemen," and¿

22:57 NC
Was he the single most important individual among the scouts?

23:01 MC
oh no, I don't think so. He was the one who got caught. I had my .. the Guadalcanal police force wasn't very large because they're a very law - abiding people. There were only 14 of them, we had 14 rifles. And the chap in charge was corporal, and then sgt., and then sgt maj. And that was Andrew Langabuya, and then there was Daniel Poule who was in charge in the government office, and he sat just behind the old government station. We had to evacuate, we had 3 or 400 carriers come in and rounded it and we took every darn thing out, record, government or anything like that and evacuated. And Daniel, we had the police go and trailing in pairs, and they had to pick up the information, take it to Daniel, and Daniel can pilot with other controllers and somebody would bring it up to me in the bush and I'd carry them out, that's roughly how things worked I had 400 people working for me, something like that. Only 14 police was enough to keep the government going, and we just managed.

24:50 NC
I assume you also needed the support of the headmen.

24:53 MC
oh yes, absolutely. They managed pretty well. One or two of them got a bit shaky, but we sent someone around to talk to them, and that would do all right

25:11 NC
in other situations, in France, people worked with the Germans. Did you ever worry about the people of Guadalcanal going over?

25:22 MC
well I wanted them to work with the japs to find out what the japs were doing, it was rather essential, they worked on the airfield and came back and told me what was going on .. I don't think the japs realized that, but they obviously heard me broadcasting, some fairly local source.. and so I don't know what they thought, really.

25:59 NC
but presumably, they said at some point 'tell us where this man broadcasting is.'

26:06 MC
yes, well some of the mission boys got rather silly, they said 'well we don't like to not tell the truth." And I said all you have to say is that the district officer is gone, and you don't have to say where he's gone because I won't tell you - you can just say he's gone. Apparently later on in the business there was a mission boy had asked him, the CO of the Japs and he said 'he's gone,' and the Solomon islander said he said 'bullshit!' and he managed not to get tied up like Vouza. I don't know anyway¿ he managed to stay free.

27:07 NC
the system obviously, coastwatchers all up the Solomons along the coast, of aircraft raids and the Tokyo express later.


28:30 NC
anyway, the system of coastwatchers, and the alerts..

28:34 MC
the thing was, it was the idea of a chap called Eric felt, now Eric felt had joined the Australian navy in the first world war, and had become a midshipman, and the war was over, and so they didn't make any more appointments for midshipmen, so he got axed as they said in those days. So he went up to new guinea and was hired by the forestry department so he had lots of time to sit and watch the trees grow, and he had certain ideas on what ought to happen, and what might happen and that sort of thing. And so eventually he went back to see his friends in the navy and kept on putting this idea of people who would stay on as long as possible and so on. The government, and he then went up to the Solomons and new guinea, but I can't tell you about new guinea because I wasn't there, but there were far more coastwatchers in new guinea because it's a much bigger area, of course, but in the Solomons we just had coastwatchers in each of the districts, and there were only about half a dozen. San cristobel, malaitia, Guadalcanal, tulagi, Isabel, and the shortens. There was only one or two people in each area, and that's all there was. Bouganville had jack reed, who had been a district officers, and a fellow called Paul Mason who had been a planter, and they were the two in bouganville and then we had Jeffrey Cooper on Isable, and he was ion medical, he belonged to the medical department. But he stayed on at isabel, and then on malaitia, we had a government commissioner and a district officer there and he had a certain amount of staff and they handled the coastwatching in malaitia - of course there were no japs on malaitia until the very end until we knocked them off. They didn't affect the battle at all. But on Guadalcanal, I was in the middle, and we then took on roads up the north,

31:45 NC
snowy roads

31:46 MC
snowy roads, and we could see any ships coming in. and the Mcfarland, didn't know what to do, didn't arrived with the resident commissioner, should have arrived with the resident commissioner because he's supposed to be the liaison officer with the government - anyway he decided to stay with me for a long time until I moved up, and then he went down to Grandy and went up to gold ridge is where the gold fills were, and settled in there with a chap called Hey who was very fat, and hardly the sort of chap to go bush but he managed to do it - and he helped Mcfarland who hadn't the slightest idea about the Solomons or the people or anything. But he was no liason officer - I think he had been on the staff on one of the big stores before the war, but anyway he managed to do a little reporting and I lent him two or three policemen to stop any attack on him, so I went on running the district the whole thing, but the executive side of the coastwatching was done by the Australian navy - I shouldn't say mmm, that's silly isn't it? ¿ the Australian navy went on doing the executive side and receiving all the messages- and we had two frequencies and so when the japs actually arrived, we'd only put out 5 groups on one frequency and switch quickly to the other one, and then another one, like that .. and they knew what was going on down in the Hebrides, 400 miles away, and that was a position that was going on until the marines arrived

34:14 NC
you must have seen the marines, the dawn came up and¿

34:19 MC
yes,. Actually I got very depressed the night before and i actually wrote in my diary "is nothing going to happen after all?" mcfarland tried to pretend he knew something, I don't think he knew much but he got some sort of an idea that there was going to be an attack. He'd been trying to get an answer from the navy people - I couldn't do that.. anyway the next morning, of course it was very misty at 2 or 3 thousand feet¿ so there's nothing to be seen, but we had this terrific bombardment and so we had to wait until all the mist cleared and here's this enormous fleet, and one of the Solomon island scouts rushed up to me with tears in his eyes said "master, Japan fleety come" and I said "don't be damned sill" and I turned the radio on and heard all these voices and planes and ships and shouting messages all over the place in plain language - and I knew what was going on and was plain relieved, so for a couple of days we just sat there and watched what was going on and I got a signal to say I should go down a certain way and join the marines. And I did. As a mater of fact I put in a request to knock off a jap coastwatching station, which there were two of them one down there near¿ the other near Lunga, and we could easily knock them off and they said "no, leave them alone," and I said we'll deal with them later. And we did.

37:05 NC
you said the coastwatchers and Eric felt organized them, and the idea was to stay beyond as long as you could for as long as possible¿ for as long as possible, the fatality!

37:27 MC
the point was it got to the stage that it was just as unsafe as it was to try and get out as it was to stay - and so we stayed - and we stayed just long enough. I don't think we could have stayed much longer. If we had stayed on longer, they would have soon found out our tracks, and we would have been cut off from Lunga, and so it is just as well I sort of went from the frying pan and into the fire.

38:13 NC
six months inside the perimeter, the shelling must have been terrific

38:15 MC
yes, it wasn't very nice. It was like seeing red hot billiard balls rolling along base plates of 15inch shells, boiling hot. These particular nights, the bombing was in October. In the morning there were about six holes, into which you could have driven a jeep, and you wouldn't have seen it if you would have stood fifty yards away, of course by these 15 inch shells. And of course by the.. The shells arrived before you heard them, you see what I mean? Which is rather alarming.

39:21 NC
as you know so much better than I, the situation was touch and go for a while. At what point did you think "it's all right, I think we're going to do all right."

39:33 MC
I never thought that, I don't think¿ until right towards the end when we got 3 divisions. That was.. oh well on into December, really. I went on leave when the marines left. Their place was taken by the 14th corps, and they had the 2nd marine division and the American division, what was the 3rd one? 32nd? 37th? Yes, that's right. After that I was given a battalion of Solomon islanders, Fiji commandoes, two or three cades that had gone through training. So the next attack, everything was obvious what was going to happen by then. It wasn't my business any longer.

40:58 NC
I'm going to thank you with that, and there's a couple of moments of silliness that I need to ask you to indulge me in¿.

41:24 -
room ambi

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