Thursday , January 14th 1999
I arrived at Henderson Airport from Brisbane at 1.35 a.m. at the new terminal building , which opened last August (very nice) . I got to the King Solomon Hotel on Hill 83 (site of a battle on 27.9.42) at 2.40 a.m., at which point I realised that I had left the keys to one of my bag padlocks at home . Luckily I was able to open it with a pair of pliers from my other bag (brought to souvenirs some wire at Edson's Ridge) . I finally got to bed about 3.00 a.m.
Friday , January 15th 1999
After breakfast I walked down to the bank to change some money then on to the Customs building at Point Cruz to see my friend Timothy , who I had met when I was here in 1998 . I gave him a book on Guadalcanal and some other paperwork for his wife Margaret , who is a teacher at the Honiara High school on the East bank of the Matanikau River . Timothy said he could drive me around on the weekend and had a friend , Milay , who could drive me during the week . We arranged to meet at the hotel at 2.00 p.m.
I bought some malaria tablets downtown and then went to the National Museum to talk to Lawrence the Director and give him a book on Guadalcanal and some other items . In the course of conversation he said that at present there has been no more discussion of changing the name of the Airport . I noted on the new terminal it said "Henderson International Airport" in big gold letters . No more of this Jap inspired change the name stuff ! Martin Clemens informed me the same thing was tried 20 years ago too.
After seeing Lawrence I went for a walk East towards the Matanikau river .
Stoping at the market I looked at the stall of Samuel Poa ,the guy who sells the wartime dated Coca Cola bottles . He had about 40 bottles for sale , plus some battered American mess trays and a quantity of .50 and .30 calibre cartridge cases . Near the Matanikau bridge are about 6 remaining US Nissen huts from 1944 / 45.
I walked down to the west bank and along the beach area where Marine Colonel Frank Goettge and his patrol were killed on August 12th 1942 . I talked to a lot of kids and teenagers and showed them my 1942 comparison photos . They were very interested , so I gave them a lot of the photocopies .
As we walked down to the Matanikau sandbar the smaller kids kept pointing to the beach and shouted "Japani tank ! Japani tank !" . They were of course referring to the 1 remaining tank hull of the 8 Japanese tanks that were knocked out here in October 1942 . It was high tide , so I could not see the turret above the waves as you can at low tide . There were 3 kids out there using it as a diving board and having a great time .
Retracing my steps I crossed the Matanikau bridge and lined up a couple of comparison photos on the East bank . There is a pedestrian overpass just pass the bridge that gave a good view down the road to the East and over towards Kukum beach and Lunga Point . This is the area where the 1st Marine Raider Battalion fought the Japanese Company that had a bridgehead on the East bank .
I walked up the Matanikau East bank through Chinatown to the bend of the river to the "Bailey" bridge we crossed in 98 . Just a little further upstream was the site of the original "one tree bridge" . Honiara High school was a little farther up the road . Timothy said his son had found a couple of cartridge cases in the playground recently . After taking some photos I crossed the bridge back to the West bank and walked up Hill 82 to take another shot of the Nissen huts across the road and enjoy the view towards Lunga . The day was warming up now , so I went back to the hotel and spent 30 minutes in the pool .
Timothy introduced me to Milay at 2.00 p.m. and then he had to go back to work . Milay and I drove to Edson's Ridge battlefield . I noticed that some land opposite Henderson was been sold for development . I was told a hotel was to be expanded and possibly a beachside suburb created near the old American living area . There was also talk of tourist cabins for divers etc . They were bulldozing a new road towards the beach a couple of hundred yards north of Pagoda Hill . I noticed one plot not far from Pagoda Hill was fenced off and had a building on it . There had been a lot of rain over the Christmas / New Year period and there was grass everywhere .
As we got to the ridge the first think I noted was that the sign saying "Bloody Ridge" at the foot of the final knoll had gone only the pole remained . Good thing I took a photo of it in 1998 . The memorial pyramid near the site of Colonel Edson's command post was dirty and run down and needed a clean and to have the grass cut away from it . Walking down the ridge road we picked up one expended US .30 calibre cartridge case lying on the track .
I was wondering if there would be more huts on the Ridge after we were told last year that the area had been sold be become a housing estate . I only noted 2 new huts as we reached the first ridge line . The kids that were usually around with relics were nowhere to be seen and the hut owners that usually had some said they had none .
We walked down the front of the ridge where the remaining stakes and barbed wire were and I got a few pieces as souvenirs . At this point one of the kids came along and offered 6 single US . 30 calibre rounds and two full Garand rifle clips . The Garand clips were very rotted , but I got the single rounds from him (after pulling the heads and emptying the powder) .
The Japanese memorial on the first ridge looked a bit overgrown , which was a bit unusual . The Japanese Embassy pays the villagers to keep it neat . Milay said they gave them a lawn mover for that purpose looks like it had not been used for a while .We didn't get across to the October 1942 battle area , intending to come back later in the week . If I had known how much rain would fall later I would have gone there then .
Walking back to mid ridge we veered off the path into the grass to the left . This area would have been full of Japanese firing across to the final defensive knoll ,so I hoped to find a few cartridge cases. We looked around , but the grass was so thick all I came across was a single Springfield rifle ammo clip sticking out of the soil . There must be a lot of stuff just under the surface . You would really have to burn off the grass and go digging it was damn hot in there too . Walking back down the path we found one US bullet head and encountered a few more kids who said they had no relics .
The grass was thick in front of the final defensive knoll but I wanted to find the line of barbed wire stakes and wire I saw there in 1996 (they had burnt off the grass that year) .We walked down to the area where 200 Japanese had fallen . After a few minutes we found the stakes, ending in a full roll of wire still sitting in the dirt 57 years on , like it was frozen there . 20 feet down the slope in front of this roll we found the live US grenade in 1996 . I got a few pieces of wire as souvenirs .
It was very hot in the high grass here . Climbing back on top of the ridge I had a last look at the memorial and took a few photos of the ridge area that C Company Marine Raiders defended . We drove back down to Henderson and had a couple of Cokes at the old terminal building (now the domestic flights terminal) and I took photos of the memorial pillars and Jap 75mm AA gun out the front .
Once again a lot of grass around the memorials that needed to be cut back . Of all the US memorials I saw these and their metal plaques stand the test of time best (apart from Skyline Ridge) . Now that the new International Terminal is open it is a pity that arriving overseas tourists do not see these as they arrive on Guadalcanal .
Driving East we came down to the track to the Ilu river battle area . Last year we were told that this area had been sold for development . There was now a gate across the track , so we couldn't drive down . Leaving the taxi we walked
towards the beach . The track was pretty overgrown and obviously had not been used by a vehicle since last year . There were still plenty of aircraft parts and other wreckage in the bushes and trees on both sides of the track (and mosquitos of course) . I saw no sign of development .
The memorial pillar on the West bank near the sandbar was as I remembered it from last year obscured by 7 foot high grass , dirty and with the plaque ripped off (in fact the same as when I first saw it in 1995) . Pretty sad I thought . The beach had beer cans and other rubbish scattered about . This could be a great tourist site with a bit of clean up work . Apart from most of the palm trees gone the terrain is virtually untouched .
I took some photos and video and we walked back up the track to the car . Eagle eye Milay spotted a fired US .30 calibre cartridge case and the head of a Japanese Nambu pistol bullet about 50 feet up the track . This was my fourth visit to the site but the first time we had found any evidence of the battle (not counting all the post battle stuff dumped here) .
I called it a day and went back to the hotel . After jumping in the pool for a while I cleaned the rounds I had found . They were in pretty good condition for being out in the open so long . I had dinner and then wrote up this diary .
Saturday , January 16th 1999
I met Timothy at 9.00 a.m. and we drove out to Henderson to see Alistair at Security about taking some photos out on the airfield . Prior to my trip I had written to the Airport Manager and obtained permission to match up half a dozen 1942 photos I had found in various books . We got to the Lunga bridge about a minute after two cars had an accident . One had a small dent in the side the other had his bumper bar spread all over the road ouch !
It turned out Alistair was not working today , so we decided to come back on
Monday . We drove East to Red Beach to the memorial plaque marking the spot where the 5th and 1st Marine Regiments landed . On the way to the beach we crossed over a small US Bailey bridge across the Tenaru (I thought of the "Amtrac bridge" on the morning of the landing) .
The memorial pillar was dirty and the perspex of the plaque half smashed . Wait a moment - did I say "plaque" ? The wording was simply typed on a piece of paper and inserted between two perspex pieces . Half of it was now water damaged and unreadable . Surely a better plaque than this could be put on it .?! It looked really cheap On the other hand it might have been a quick replacement for a better plaque that had been stolen ? I walked down to the beach and took some photos . A few hundred yards to the west I could see the 2 Jap 75mm AA guns I had visited on my first trip in 1995 . Then you could drive right down to the beach near them , but the last few years have seen more houses and fences go up along here , although you can still access the beach at 2 or 3 points .
Continuing East to Tetere I had another look at the dump of 30 Amtracs near the village . The villagers said they had no relics , which I found hard to believe with the Gavaga creek battlefield less than a mile away (I guess they had not heard that crazy white men actually pay money for this "junk" ) . I walked down to the beach to photograph the US Memorial pillar . Yes , you guessed it in 7 foot of grass , dirty and the plaque ripped off (as in 1998) . This memorial sits on a concrete base with a circle of stones , but you can barely see them through the grass . Another spot to wield a machete regularly !
We drove back towards Henderson , and it was only after we crossed the bridge over the Nalimbiu river that I remembered I was going to look at an 1890's memorial near Tetere . An Austrian cruiser had left a memorial to a shore party killed inland by natives . Ah well , another thing to look at next trip .
Back at the airfield we stopped at the old control tower . Oh boy - grass and weeds were growing wild here . We had to hack our way through 8 foot weeds just to get to the foot of the steps ! The Seabees memorial was engulfed , the Edson's Ridge memorial was surrounded by grass , very grimy looking and some of the local kids had sprayed a bit of graffiti on it . The concrete air raid shelter was likewise overgrown . There sure must have been a lot of rain recently , as when I went to look inside I found there was about 4 feet of brown water in it , with empty beer cans glinting on the floor .
We climbed to the top of the tower and found more graffiti sprayed on the wooden railings . In 1998 the west facing wooden rail was missing now in 1999 the north facing rail was gone as well . I t certainly needs some new wood and a touch of paint . I took photos of the Edson's Ridge , Fighter strip #1 and Pagoda Hill areas and then we returned to the hotel , as cloud was massing over Mt. Austen and rain starting to fall .I had another swim in the pool and arranged to meet Timothy again at 2.00 p.m. , by which time the rain had stopped .
We drove 30 minutes west to the Bonegi river mouth and the beached remains of the Japanese transport ship "Kinugawa Maru" (beached and sunk 14.11.42) . There were a few cars on the beach having a picnic and some kids swimming near the ship . While we were there another taxi arrived bearing 2 young Japanese tourists . I had never seen any Japanese at any sites before , apart from the guy at Skyline Ridge in 1998 . They walked down towards the ship and one of the guys went in for a swim , but it must have been a bit cold , so he did not stay in very long .
I had a few pages of photos of the ship in 1942 , so I gave them to these two guys and had a chat with them . They did not seem to really know much about the war and looked at me blankly when I told them I was interested in collecting relics . All they seemed to know about Guadalcanal was that "..lot of Americans die here..". When I heard that I "educated "them on the extent of Japanese losses . I don't think they had heard that before ! They really don't teach them much history at school , but at least they were interested enough to make the trip . The local guys on the beach liked the photos and were very interested though .
Leaving the taxi parked on the beach we walked across the road and along a track about 600 yards south east of the road to the one remaining Sherman tank hull ("Jezebel") . 7 foot high grass all around and hot as hell ! The basic hull looked good and would restore well nothing much left inside though . It is a late model one , circa 1944 , and where it sits used to be a firing range . I was told that over the next hill was an extensive US rubbish dump . 1944 photos I had seen showed US tents and huts down at the beach , so a junk heap was to be expected .
We hacked our way up a hill south of the tank hull , got to the top and looked around , but couldn't see anything in the growth . There was a very good view towards Kokumbona from the hilltop though . We were getting pretty sweaty by now , so we made our way back to the beach . One of the local villagers confirmed the junk pile was there , but told us we had walked up the wrong hill we should have gone east of the tank .! We didn't particularly feel like trekking back again , so we arranged to meet him here on Tuesday morning and he would show it all to us .
We drove back along the coast road and I took a few snaps of Kokumbona beach (after crossing a US Bailey bridge over the Kokumbona River). Nothing in the way of relics to show for the day , just photos and a lot of sweat , but any time outdoors without rain was a bonus .
Sunday , January 17th 1999
I met Timothy and Milay at 9.00 a.m. . Light rain began to fall as we drove up Wright Road towards the Gifu position . As we got further up Mt. Austen the rain got heavier . There was a lot of mud and water on the 500-yard track to the village , but we negotiated it without getting bogged . When we arrived in the village most people were in church and the rain was heavier (bad timing) . We sheltered from the rain under the porch of a nearby hut .
I dashed out and had a quick look under the village tree where the relics usually sit . The Zero drop tank and Betty bomber wing I first saw in 1995 were still there , the wing still deteriorating and losing a lot more paint . All the grass from last year under the tree was gone and no relics around the base any more . The nearby table only had some rotted helmets , a burst US 81mm mortar shell , a US 75mm shell , crushed Japanese mess tins and gasmask filters , rusted metalwork of an Arisaka rifle , two live Japanese grenades (one with knee mortar propellant charge attached) and a live knee mortar round . The only good item was a nice US canteen cup . It looked like all the other items that were there last year had been cleaned out by somebody .
Dashing back to cover I talked to Peter , the hut owner , who I knew from previous visits . He owned the items on the table , so I got the canteen cup . The only other item he had in his hut was a single US Army button . It was raining too heavily to walk up to Hill 27 and nobody was about , so we left and , of course , as we drove back down Wright Road the rain eased . (there was a small memorial plaque by the roadside near Hill 35 - in good condition !)
I decided to go down to Kukum Beach and take a few comparison photos there . We drove up past a lumberyard and walked down to the beach . Timothy said the whole area used to be a tip . Now there are marine businesses and lumber yards along the shore . There were a few cargo ships offshore loading timber from barges .
Behind the beach area at Kukum (Army/Marine supply landing point) there is a Taiwanese Government sponsored agricultural mission . They teach rice growing and other crops and have a pretty large area between the beach and the Lunga under cultivation . we drove along some dirt tracks between the fields and emerged further up the beach towards Lunga Point , about where the coastal artillery used to be situated . Last year we tried to get to Lunga Point by a road East of the Lunga and almost got bogged . I took photos here , but once more the constant rain hampered exploration . Pity most of the palm trees are gone!
It had stopped raining now , so we crossed the Matanikau and drove up to the US Memorial at Skyline Ridge . I must say there was a big difference to the year before . In 1998 there were weeds about , the writing on the marble slabs showed weathering and was hard to read and the brass map plaque was showing the effects of 6 years in the sun , rain and salt air eating into it .
Lawrence had told me on Friday that the US Government now gives a monthly amount of $1,000.00 for the upkeep of the site , which is split between the two nearby village communities . I was very pleased to see that the brass plaque had been reconditioned (sent to New Zealand I was told) and looked almost brand new .Fresh paint had been applied to the lettering on the marble slabs and it really stood out now . Also no weeds in sight altogether a very good change .!
From here we drove down across the Matanikau again and down the East bank for a couple of kilometres , past Hill 49 to roughly opposite Hill 54 . On the West Bank is Tuvaruhu village . My friend Stan had been here in October 1998 and met Michael Ben and Patrick , who are tour guides and very knowledgeable about the "Seahorse" and "Galloping Horse" hills battle areas . The river here is only about 1 foot deep , so Milay waded across , but was told they were both out and would be back later . We said we would return at 3.00 p.m.
It was now about midday , so I went back to the hotel and arranged to meet as usual at 2.00 p.m. Back in the hotel I started to clean the canteen cup and discovered it must have belonged to a Marine . Gifu was an Army battle and the only Marine participation I had read of was some attached Marine artillery observers on Hill 27 (They amused themselves by firing the Jap 70mm gun captured on the hill ) .
The canteen cup is in pretty good condition and the handle still folds . As I scrubbed I noticed on the bottom "US 1918" and what looked like a name "S AETY(?)" faintly scratched there . On one side of the cup was clearly scratched "PARRIS ISLAND" and underneath that "NEW RIVER NC" . After cleaning the cup I went for a swim .
At 2.00 p.m. we drove back to Gifu . There was no rain now and the track was still driveable . There was a soccer game going on and most of the village was watching that . As we looked at the remains near the tree a guy came over and informed us that the village council wanted to improve the church and so had decreed that "from now on" anyone wanting to climb Hill 27 would have to pay a fee of S$50.00 (US$12.00) .!
This took me by surprise and Timothy as well . We were undecided if he was serious or just trying to pull a fast one . I briefly thought of telling him where he could shove his $50.00 but thought better of it . I had not come all this way to walk away . I merely told him what a good idea that was to drive any tourists away and that we would pay when we came down from the hill .
Lots of grass everywhere . Looked like there had been a general clean up of relics . There used to be a pile of shrapnel and Garand clips near the Japanese memorial pillar , but now there was nothing . We walked across the hill looking in overgrown foxholes , but all we saw were totally rusted through and rotted C ration tins . All I found was a couple of pieces of shrapnel and one bottom to a Carlisle bandage packet in reasonable condition with 60% green paint still on it .
I know that a couple of years ago the villagers excavated a lot of the foxholes on the hill and probably found most of what there was to find then . Walking down the rear slope the grass was even thicker and you had to be careful not to fall into a foxhole . All I came up with here was one fragment of US hand grenade body and a couple of grenade handles .
The slopes down towards the Matanikau are the place to look a lot of stuff still down there , but with all the rain it was too slippery at the moment . As we returned to the village the soccer game was still in progress and most people were more interested in that than bringing relics out of huts . It would have been different with no game on .
I did get talking to one villager and he went to his hut and emerged a few minutes later with a rice bag full of stuff . He had a rusted Arisaka bayonet , some Japanese water bottles , gasmask filter cans , an Arisaka rifle butt plate and assorted small items . I ended up getting a pull through from a Japanese rifle cleaning kit , two Arisaka ammo clips , 5 Jap cartridges , 3 US . 45 calibre rounds and the top of a Carlisle bandage tin (this was the WW2 version the previous one I had found on Hill 27 last year was dated August 1918 with the paper still on the back of the lid ) .
The guy who demanded the $50.00 fee was nowhere to be found , but another villager confirmed what he had said . This guy was friendlier and after talking to him I was convinced (well , half convinced) it was for the church.although still a rip off . We paid , but if the priest from the morning service had still been there I would have handed it to him personally . As we drove off down the track a teenager waved us over and offered me a live US grenade and 60mm mortar shell sorry mate , but I cant buy those !
A little further down the track another villager stopped us . He had a Japanese Nambu light MG magazine and 2 Browning Automatic Rifle magazines . Unfortunately they had been buried a long time and were very rotted . I had seen about a dozen BAR magazines excavated from a foxhole in 1996 on Hill 27 , and regret not picking one up then . As I was about to say "thanks , but no thanks" and leave he produced a Japanese Type 91 hand grenade . The others on the village table had been live , but this one was minus fuse and explosive and was a good example , so I got it .
It was now 3.30 p.m. , so we returned to the Matanikau to see Michael Ben . He was back and waded across the river and we had a chat . I showed him the photos Stan (he remembered him) took in 1997 / 98 . I gave him some battlefield literature and he agreed to take me for a hike across the "Galloping Horse" battlefield at 9.00 a.m. on Monday .
Then it was back to the hotel for a swim and dinner and then a cleaning session on the relics in the bathroom . The writing on the Carlisle bandage packet top came up very well when the dirt was scrubbed off .
Monday , January 18th 1999
Light rain was falling when I met Milay and we drove down to the Matanikau . Wading the river we talked to Michael and Patrick , who guided Stan up to the "Seahorse" hill in October 98 .
The rain had stopped by 9.30 a.m. and we set off uphill towards Hill 55 and 52 along the original American trail . Michael pointed out a few other US trails too , and I could start to get the idea of the area from aerial photos . It had rained during the night , so just keeping my footing on the trail was a full time job . We stopped near Hill 52 for a breather and Michael pointed out the various hills and features , including Hills 43 , 44 , 31 , 42 and 27 . Over this area the 27th US Infantry Regiment fought in January 1943 .
There is a great view down the valley towards Ironbottom Sound and Kukum / Lunga . Michael had a Japanese map of the battle area . He said a while ago some Japanese students doing a project on Guadalcanal came over and he took them around . They walked the Murayama trail and wrote a book about it . They sent him a copy , but of course it is all in Japanese .
We walked past Hill 52 and Exton Ridge and up the northern slopes of Sims Ridge (Thin Red Line) , where the Japanese fire held up the 27th Infantry . From here there was a good view across to Exton Ridge , Hills 53 , 57 , 55 and 66 . They were building on the top of Hill 66 and it was being levelled off a bit .
From the aerial photos I had looked at in various books I imagined the battlefield covered a larger area . I was amazed how small it looked on the ground . There were huts on the top of Hill 55 and some on top of Hill 52 and Sims Ridge . The path up the ridge was pretty slippery . When we got to the huts the first two things I saw were a US equipment clip (pack strap clip) lying in the dirt . A good condition Jap helmet was lying near the hut no holes , the star still attached and even a bit of original green paint inside the bowl . The owner said he had found it in a Jap position on the ridge . Michael said it was one of the best he had seen it was the best I had seen in 4 trips too . Pointing towards the jungle south of Hill 53 he said there were a lot of Jap helmets there , but most were rotted .
The local villagers are all very keen to see the movie remake of "The Thin Red Line" As a lot of them were hired as extras . They were amazed that most of the filming was done in Australia and not on the actual battlefield , but it was too difficult to move equipment . There is only walking track access and no vehicle road access to bring up cameras etc. Sims Ridge is the "real" ridge that is fictionally portrayed in the movie . The movie ridge bears some little resemblance to the real battle area . The father of the guy I was talking to had worked for the Americans at Lunga Point during the war and was given a US flag by them .
Looking down from Sims ridge there is now a small village in the valley between the ridge and Hill 53 . We walked down the trail to the northern end of Sims , past numerous overgrown foxholes . I was thinking of what I had read about the battle here. Michael pointed out the ledge that Captain Davis and his assault party crawled along before they threw grenades , stormed the position and killed 17 Japanese defenders . We even found a hand grenade ring still on the ledge .
Near a large Jap foxhole (MG bunker position?) on the crest I picked up a couple of pieces of shrapnel and a shell or mortar bomb fuse . Pointing across to a large tree on Hill 53 Michael said a Jap 70mm artillery piece had been thrown down the hillside there .
We made our way down the reverse slope to the village , where they had a very nice condition Japanese 37mm anti-tank gun under one of the huts . This gun had also been on Hill 53 , but had been left intact there . Last year the villagers heard that an unnamed Australian expatriate was on the verge of removing (stealing) it , so 10 of them manhandled it down the hillside to the village .
It was minus the wheels and the trail arms , but apart from that 95% complete with no really heavy rust and the shield still intact . It would restore very well I wondered if it had a round up the barrel ? The only other item I saw in the village was the rusty metalwork of a Japanese Arisaka rifle that one guy showed us . Michael said that there was still plenty of stuff scattered about in the jungle , including at least one Japanese machine gun in the Hill 57 area .
We walked back up to the huts on Sims and had another chat to the owner . He produced a US helmet shell , which he said he had found on the East slope of Sims . There is a 2-inch square rust out where the rain has collected in it , but apart from that it is a good relic example of a 1st pattern M1 helmet . A friend of his then pulled out a full Garand clip , which only had light surface rust . He had carefully pulled the heads and disposed of the powder again the best clip I had seen . Another Jap helmet was also on the table , but was not in as good condition as the first .
Black storm clouds were gathering , so we did not continue on to Hill 53 , but decided we had better start back . It had taken us about 90 minutes to walk from the Matanikau river to Sims Ridge , so we all knew we were going to get soaked coming back . What the hell as long as the video camera stayed dry !
We were just passing between Exton ridge and Hill 52 when the heavens opened and the view towards Lunga was lost behind mist and cloud . Oh for a waterproof video camera that I could have filmed it all ! Within a few minutes we were drenched and it was slosh , slosh , slosh with the wet socks in the wet boots . I could not help but think of reading that after Hill 53 was taken "..a sudden cloudburst cooled the troops.." . I understand now what I had read in the histories about lack of water . I got through 2 canteens , but brought more in my pack and this was in overcast weather with no blazing sun ! Milay kindly carried the pack for me . I think if I had been carrying that on the way down with the extra water and the helmets etc I would have fallen over a few more times for sure .
The path became a stream and it required full concentration to keep my footing on the wet ground . As it got steeper grasping clumps of grass was the only way to stay upright . Michael and Milay were both barefoot , and I remembered again reading how Carlson's Raiders were amazed at how agile the natives were with bare feet while they slipped and slid ! How true it is soft white fella feet need good boots ! The last 50 feet Were the most treacherous , but I made it without falling .
Back at the village I took off my jacket , socks and boots . Michael showed me his recently started collection of items he has brought down from Seahorse / Galloping Horse . The hut was pretty dark , so I could not take video footage (the camera was still dry hooray!) only flash photos . He had an impressive selection ; mess tins , water bottles , helmets , cutlery , ammunition , shells , ammo tins , Jap gasmask tins,
US 75mm shell container lids and many other items in the shadows even the spring out of one of the Japanese 75mm guns on the Seahorse (not 70mm as described in the histories) . There are parts of at least 2 guns up there , plus some ammunition tins . I resolved to come back and see him during the week , have a better look at his collection and with any luck get Patrick to take me up to have a look at Seahorse .
Michael said that some people wanted to sell the Seahorse area for development , but the Government has bought up all the land and put a freeze on development . Likewise the housing development at Edson's Ridge we were told about last year was not allowed to go ahead (good) . A committee has been formed to preserve the battle sites . Lawrence is Chairman and Michael is one of the members . He gave me his Post Office box number (P.O. Box 824, Honiara , Solomon Islands) , so I will send him some photos and battle histories .
He mentioned to me that the Mendana Hotel gift shop was selling copies of Don Richter 's book about Jacob Vouza "When the Sun stood still" . I have been looking for a copy of that for a while , so that was good to know .
We waded the river (a bit higher now after the rain) and I almost fell on the slippery rocks with the video , but Milay steadied me , so the camera stayed dry . Back to the hotel . I must have looked a sight walking dripping and barefoot across the hotel foyer carrying my stuff and boots . The security guard laughed when I said ".just a little wet in the hills.." .
The next hour was spent rinsing and attempting to dry my jacket , trousers , socks , boots and pack etc . I then sat in the shower for 20 minutes scrubbing the helmets and other items . Afterwards I walked down to the museum and saw Lawrence and went down to the Mendana to buy the book . Back to the hotel for dinner and a read .
Tuesday , January 19th 1999
Heavy rain was coming down between 2.30 and 5.30 a.m. Cyclone Danni was heading towards New Caledonia and Fiji and we were getting these storms . I hoped the forecast for the next few days would be better . I was told it would be ,but doubted it .
I met Milay at 9.00 a.m. (Timothy was working) and we drove down to Bonegi River . When we got there nobody was about our "guide" was nowhere to be seen . The rain was getting heavier , so we decided there was no point in wasting time here . We drove back east out to Henderson to see Alistair about taking the airfield photos .We found him at the old domestic terminal . I had not seen him since 1996 (he was on holidays last year) and it was good to see him again . I showed him the letter of permission from the Airport Manager and he said no problem . However the rain was coming down steadily by now (the car park was 75% flooded) so I arranged to come back and see him again at 2.00 p.m.
Back at the hotel I wrote out a list of the items I had found so far and delivered it to Lawrence to obtain an export permit . Then I walked down to the Solomons Airlines office and confirmed my flights home . Light rain and drizzle continued to fall .
From here I continued down to the market (east of Pt. Cruz) and bought three 1943 dated Coca-Cola bottles (US$4.00 each) . Back to the hotel for a 20-minute swim . Cyclone Danni was dropping the temperature , which would have been pleasant if not for the damn rain .
At 2.00 p.m. we returned to the Airport . While they were finding Alistair I showed my 1942 comparison photos to some of the other airport staff and had a good chat to them . One guy , Michael Piri , did a bit of tour guiding as well and asked me about the Pagoda hut . He confirmed that the tunnel entrance under the hill was still there , but overgrown . He said that in the 15 years he had worked at Henderson Airport these were the first wartime photos of the area he had seen .
Alistair checked with the air traffic people and they said a plane was due in 30 minutes . This was not enough time to properly take the photos , but we walked out onto the tarmac anyway and I got my bearings as to where they were taken . Light rain started to fall again and the low cloud obscured Mt. Austen and the hills . The rain got heavier , so we vacated the tarmac . The forecast for Wednesday / Thursday was for the rain to clear , so we arranged that I come back at 1.00 p.m. on Wednesday when the airfield would be clear of planes and I could take the photos .
As we drove in the rain back past the old control tower Milay pointed out to me roughly where the tunnel entrance was . He said he knew it well , as he used to play in there when he was a kid . That was good to hear I would not have to waste time searching for it . I have been corresponding with Aubrey Buser in the States , who was a Marine who served in Signals at the Pagoda and in the tunnels . I was looking forward to taking some photos for him . Back to the hotel for a swim and dinner .
Wednesday , January 20th 1999
More heavy rain during the night (curses!) . I was not meeting Milay until 1.00 p.m. today , so after breakfast I walked about three quarters of a mile west to the Guadalcanal tennis club down by the shore . I took some photos of the Jap 150mm gun they have on the grounds and then walked down to the beach . This was the area where 1st Battalion / 5th Marine Regiment landed on 27th September 1942 before being trapped on Hill 84 and being evacuated .
Some of the Solomon Islands patrol boats were manoeuvring near Pt. Cruz , and as I started to film them the film jammed in my camera (the high humidity) . It took me 10 careful minutes to extract if without damaging it and inserting a new one . It was humid now and I walked a bit further west to the grounds of the Ironbottom Sound Hotel .
After taking some photos and video of the coast here I walked back into town to change some money at the bank . It was very steamy now and I had drained one water bottle in an hour . I walked down to Customs at Pt. Cruz to see Timothy . He was not there , as he had to drive out to Gold Ridge on business .
I was now drenched with sweat . After a detour to the National Museum to take a photo of their Jap 37mm anti-tank gun (98% complete) I returned to the pool for a while and read more of Don Richter's book . The sun was out now and I was hoping the rain would hold off .
At 1.00 p.m. we returned to Henderson . I talked with Joseph at the service desk . He also worked as a tour guide , so I promised to send him some material as well .Alistair had worked all night and was now off duty , so Jenny from Security helped me out . I met Alan , who confirmed no planes were due and then Rex , who accompanied me out onto the airfield . We walked down past the old tower and the now unused portion of the runway towards the area where the Jap hangars used to be . I took comparison shots of the photos I had and video . I could have spent all day poking about out there , but of course that was not possible .
As we walked back to the terminal I noticed a rusty propeller lying in the grass near a helicopter hangar . I went over to look and it was the prop and nose of a P400 fighter . The blades were bent back might have been the result of a crash landing . It is a pity it was not on display where the public could see it (the new terminal for instance) . I also took some photos of the 2 ex-Russian helicopters parked there . We saw them in 1998 and they are still parked there doing nothing .It was hot out on the tarmac and very dark clouds were looming in the north . I thought I had better get over to the tunnel before it poured again .
We drove across and parked on an old concrete hut foundation just as the first drops fell . Milay plunged through some bushes to the side of the hill . Green vines covered the entire slope but half a dozen blows with the machete uncovered the tunnel entrance and we clambered in as the rain really came down . I would never have found this by myself it was so well hidden by the vines . When I saw where it was I cursed myself when I was up on the hill last year I must have walked within 6 feet of it without knowing !
The tunnel looked in pretty good condition and was dry . Being hidden by the vines meant that the local boys had not left piles of empty beer cans everywhere , like at the control tower bunker . My flashlight was not very powerful , so it was difficult to take any video footage . I took flash photos and so got glimpses of what was ahead . There had been a few small roof cave ins leaving piles of dirt 3 4 feet high , but it was still passable .
As we got 20 30 feet in the bats came flying past us and I cursed my weak light .
Not really good for exploration , but I didn't really care because the most important thing is that I know where it is now , so next time I will come prepared and in the dry season . If this was cleaned up and a track put in it would be great for tourists .
I was determined to take some shots on top of Pagoda Hill , rain or no rain . Forget the "rain clearing" forecasts it was here to stay . We dashed back to the taxi (slipping and sliding) during a brief lull in the rain and I dumped the video there and went up the hill with my waterproof 35mm camera . Milay was smart he stayed in the car !
There were 6-foot high grass and bushes everywhere and of course by the time I got to the top I was soaked . I had photocopies of 4 photos of the Pagoda to do comparison shots of , but they were now just wet mush in my pocket , weren't they ?! I took a few photos , but it was hard to keep the water out of the lens . The trees and mist obscured the view towards Henderson and the old control tower .
In 1998 I had assumed that the white pillar on the hill was another US memorial marker with the plaque ripped off , but I think I am wrong . On closer inspection it is more likely one of the metal ventilation shafts for the tunnel below (the top was been sealed) . So there is really no memorial on the hill to mark its historic significance a pity.
Cursing the weather I sloshed back down to the car (but remembered that this was nothing compared to what the troops put up with) and we went back to the hotel . As we drove along I was surprised to see a . 50 calibre cartridge case on the dashboard . When I picked it up the top of a Jap 7.7mm bullet fell out . Milay said that as he was about to get back in the car and I was going up the hill he found them on the ground .The . 50 calibre case was dated 1941 all the rest I had seen were 1942 dated .
Back at the hotel again for another drying session . I was starting to run low on money . Tomorrow would be the last chance to see Michael Ben and go searching for a few more relics before I had to pack up . The plane to Brisbane was leaving at 2.15 a.m. on Friday morning . I also hoped to get back to Gifu again .
Thursday , January 21st 1999
The rain started again at 7.00 p.m. on Thursday night and kept coming down all night . I knew I wouldn't be going anywhere much today (sigh) .
Milay and I went off to see Michael Ben at 9.00 a.m. . One look at the Matanikau told me I would not be wading across . It was a raging brown torrent and a lot of huts on the West Bank were flooded . Milay said he had been flooded a bit too . We drove down to Tuvaruhu and the 1-foot trickle of water on Monday was now an 8-foot flood .
Luckily they were not flooded . I cursed myself for not seeing Michael earlier .
So we stood on opposite sides of the river and yelled across to each other ;
P;"..Michael , I don't think I am going to wade across that!" M;(laughing) "Nome neither !" P;"I guess I will see you next time I come over" M;"Yeahyou still have to walk Seahorse.!."
It was a pity there is no access road to the village on the West Bank oh well , it would have been flooded anyway . There was no point trying Edson's Ridge or Gifu again they would have been seas of mud . On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the market and I bought 3 more Coca-Cola bottles . I thanked Milay for all his driving and assistance during the week . I would not have got to a few places without his knowledge of the roads .
I sorted my clothes and relics and packed my bags . I had use of the room till 11.00 p.m. , then the hotel minibus went to the Airport at midnight . It was light rain now ,so I went down to Customs to say thanks and goodbye to Timothy . He took me out to the tip of Pt. Cruz (Customs property) for a few last photos .
I went back and saw Lawrence and picked up my permit and then down to the Mendana Hotel , where I had lunch (the only time I ate lunch while I was on Guadalcanal) . Buying a few T-shirts on the way I returned to the hotel for another swim , then went downstairs for dinner . The food is good at the King Solomon and all week I ate a "Marine meal" of fish and rice . No doubt tastier than the 1942 variety with spice and fresh vegetables . One lesson I learnt always bring a bottle opener with you there is no such thing as a screw top drink in Honiara ! During dinner they always used to have Honiara Radio playing songs in the background . As I sat there tonight they were playing ;
"I'm leavin' on a jet plane,
Don't know when I'll be back again.."
I couldn't help thinking how appropriate that sounded . Waiting in the foyer for the bus that night it was cooler than usual and no bugs were flying about . Driving to the airfield was the first time I had seen Guadalcanal "after dark" . Now I appreciate more how pitch black it can be in the tropics when you get away from an electric light . I am sure night landings would have been fun . The plane departed Honiara at 2.20 a.m. on Friday morning and we got in to Brisbane at 4.20 a.m. I got a connecting flight to Melbourne at 5.10 a.m. and was home by 9.30 a.m.
GUADALCANAL SITUATION; APRIL 2000
Over the years many other Solomon Islanders have come to Guadalcanal to live and work . There has always been ethnic and economic tension between these arrivals and the Gauadal natives . In June these tensions exploded into ethnic violence . Local people have tried to drive out all Maliatia Island people . This has resulted in murder , arson and a flood of refugees leaving the island . This has also extended to all non-Guadal Islanders .
Areas East of the Ilu River are now unsafe to travel freely . Similarly the area West of Kokumbona is controlled by the "Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army" and can be unsafe . Crime has increased in the wake of this , divers at wreck sites West of Honiara have been shot at and tourists robbed at resorts . The phone system is not working regularly , with non Guadal natives having their phones cut off .
The village at Vilu is deserted , but at present the relics have not been damaged . Similarly the village at Edsons Ridge is deserted . Anyone looking around battle sites now is regarded suspiciously and runs the risk of being accused of being a "spy" . Some Guadal islanders have been shot dead in "payback"killings .
After having driven the non-Guadal natives into the area around Honiara there is a stand off . They cannot safely go outside Honiara and the locals cannot safely come into Honiara . This has of course had an effect on the Honiara market . Local Clan chiefs want to calm things down , but there are plently of young militants . Not a safe environment for tourism in general or any sort of battlefield exploration in particular .
Copyright 2004. Peter Flahavin