Peter Flahavin / Sue Erickson
AUS$1.00 = S$4.20
US$1.00 = S$6.50
Monday, 2 August 2004
We departed Brisbane at 2.16 a.m. and landed at Henderson about 6.00 a.m. This was my 5th visit to Guadalcanal and Sue's first. She had cruised by on a liner in 2002, but the passengers were not allowed to land due to the ethnic fighting. There was no transfer bus there from the hotel, so we hired a taxi for the trip into Honiara (Taxi transfer cost S$50 - 5 years ago it was S$15).
We had just crossed the bridge over the Matanikau River and were about 1 km from the hotel when the taxi ground to a halt in front of some 1944 Nissen Huts. The driver had run out of petrol, so he went to get some while we minded the taxi as dawn was breaking. About 15 minutes later he returned with a Coca Cola bottle full of petrol and we got to the King Solomon Hotel.
As we were checking in we met Guadalcanal historian John Innes, who we had just missed at the Airport. I had met John on my first trip in 1995 and we have kept in touch with email since then. After a shower and a rest we had breakfast at about 8.30 a.m. and then walked down to the Solomons Museum near Pt Cruz to say hello to Lawrence the Director. There we were told Lawrence was attending a conference in Palau and would be back on August 9th.
So we then went down to the Kitano Mendana Hotel on the beach at Pt Cruz for a Coke and then walked east along Mendana Avenue to show Sue a Japanese 150mm gun at the Guadalcanal Club. Alas, the Club had gone under during the years of ethnic unrest and the Japanese Development Corporation now used the site. The gun had been moved to the back of the club and was now facing out to sea. After looking at this we went back to the Mendana for another drink, as the days humidity was starting to build.
One thing I noticed on the trip was that the further west you went along the main street in Honiara the cheaper a Coke became;
King Solomon Hotel bar; S$10.00 Mendana Hotel restaurant; S$ 9.00 Mendana Hotel bar; S$ 8.00 Mendana Hotel gift shop; S$ 6.00 Point Cruz Yacht Club; S$ 4.00
We walked down to the Customs House at Point Cruz to see if my friend Timothy (1998/99 trip) was still there, but were told he did not work at Customs any more.
By this time it was getting warm so we returned to the King Solomon for a swim in their excellent pool. At about 4.00 p.m. we wandered down to the Mendana again and then on to the premiere Guadalcanal watering hole, the Point Cruz Yacht Club, where we met up with John again. After a few drinks and a good chat Sue and I walked back to the King Solomon for dinner. We had arranged with John to drive to Edsons Ridge at 10.00 a.m. on Aug 3rd.
Tuesday, 3 August 2004
At 10.00 a.m. John picked us up and we went up to Edsons Ridge along with Police Commissioner William Morrell's son and his cousin. We drove up the ridge trail to the front of the ridge and had a look at the Japanese memorial. Squatters used to have huts on the ridge, but they left during the ethnic fighting. No trace remains today of their huts, only growth where they used to be. Then we hiked down the ridge to the flat area between the ridge and the Lunga River where the initial fighting was.
Over the last 6 months people planting vegetable gardens have cleared a lot of this area and John wanted to ask then if they had found any battle relics. We went down past the lagoon area. From the literature and maps of the battle I had always accepted that this lagoon was half way between the ridge and the Lunga. However it is much closer to the slope of the ridge. 7 Marine Raiders are still listed as missing in this battle area and they could well be in this lagoon area.
We hiked further, parallel to the ridge, trying to reach the front line area of Sept 12 1942.
After a lot of sweating we emerged from the jungle onto the bank of the Lunga and a cool breeze. The jungle was still a bit too thick to get to the front of the ridge and we were all pretty sweaty by now, so we retraced our steps back up the ridge and drove back into town. It was really good to get the different perspective of the ridge from the flat area towards the Lunga.
After this we dived into the pool again for a few hours and then walked down towards the Honiara Market. On my previous visits Samuel Poa had a stall there selling relics and WW2 Coca Cola bottles. I had heard that during the ethnic fighting the market had closed down, so I was not sure if he was still around.
Luckily he was, and with a good supply of Coke bottles, including some mint 1942 dated ones, which we bought for S$30 each. After looking around the market we went across the road to a T-shirt shop and browsed there for some Sols Souvenirs. Around 6.15 p.m. we returned to the Point Cruz Yacht club again for a few drinks and a chat and afterwards tried the dinner menu next door at the Mendana Hotel. John invited us to go with him to Rove Police barracks the next day to watch the Solomons Police band practice for the Aug 7 commemoration, which he was organizing.
Wednesday, 4 August 2004
At 9.00 a.m. we drove down to Rove and watched the band practice "The Marine Hymn", "Waltzing Matilda", "The Star Spangled Banner", and "Taps" they were very good.
After this we drove down the road a few kms to Tanagai Marist church near Kokumbona.
Only 3 weeks previously John had been made aware that the church was built on the site where 2 US marines were buried on 27 September 1942 and that a plaque marked the spot. There is always something new to find out on Guadalcanal!
After driving back to the hotel we had a swim and then got a taxi and organized with Festus the driver to drive us around for the rest of out stay (S$50 per hour - about A$12.00).
First stop was Henderson Field to visit the 1943 tower and Edsons Ridge memorial. However we could not access these sites, as the gate was locked. In August 2003 Australia and other countries sent RAMSI (Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands) forces in response to the ethnic fighting and instability. They dug in around Henderson and some of their fuel tanks were near the tower, hence the locked gate.
The tower and memorial were overgrown with trees and bushes, the tower railing was gone and the center of the wood planking was rotted away. It was sad to see they were not being maintained as a tourist attraction. A chainsaw and a machete was all that was needed. I noted that the Japanese 75mm AA gun that was previously at the old terminal had now been moved to the new International Terminal (built 1998/99). The 3 memorial pillars that used to be in front of the old terminbal have also been transfered to a very nice memorial garden near the new terminal. There are rows of trees there dedicated to various units and individuals.
Next we drove down to the Ilu River area. On my 1995 - 98 visits there was free access down the path to the beach. In 1999 there was a gate across the path but still free access. Now there were people there demanding S$10.00 per person entry fee to "their" beach....yeah, sure its "theirs".
But we paid and went down to the beach. I thought it might be totally overgrown, but a lot of the area near the sandbar along the west bank had been cleared. I noticed some piles of wartime wreckage that had been cleared mostly rotted vehicle parts. It looked like a house was going to be built on the beach, as there was a pile of bricks ready. The Sols Government should be putting its foot down to stop people claiming battlefields like this. I noticed that a few other trails had been cut through to the beach from the airfield road and people had been driving their cars along the beach.
We walked across to the east bank and down the beach to the Ichiki Unit memorial. It was a bright, sunny day. Visiblity was great across Iron Bottom Bay and the water sparkled in the sun. As we walked back to the sandbar we heard an aero engine and suddenly an Australian Air Force transport zoomed over the treetops towards Henderson lucky it wasn't a Zero!
Next we asked Festus to drive us further east to Red Beach. However, after we bumped along the road for 20 minutes he admitted he didn't know how to get to Red Beach, so we turned around and went back to the hotel, before we ended up all the way to Tetere! So we went back to the pool to wash off the sweat.
At 4.30 p.m. John Innes drove us up to Hill 66, which was the anchor of the Marine Line. We inspected foxholes and saw the magnificent view from the ridge towards Lunga, Mt Austen and Cape Esperance. We then drove down the ridge and stopped at the area of "Pullers Ravine", where the Japanese 4th Infantry were trapped and almost wiped out.
From there we went back to the PCYC for drinks and then on to the Mendana for dinner.
On Wednesday nights they do a good buffet with native dancing. After a swim back at the King Solomon we downloaded the digital photos we had both taken so far into Sue's laptop computer. We took over 2,000 photos during the trip.
Thursday, 5 August 2004
After breakfast at 8.30 a.m. we met Festus at 10.00 a.m. to go up to the Mt Austen area.
We stopped at the Jap memorial on Hill 35 and then drove further up Wright Road to the Gifu/Hill 27 battle area.
As we pulled up in the village I noted that the village relic table was well stocked with helmets, water bottles, mess tins, ammo tin lids, grenades and boxes of assorted smaller items - bottles, ammo, rifle bolts, gun accessory kits etc. They had certainly been busy looking for things. The Betty bomber wing and Zero drop tank of 1995-99 were still there, a little more paint gone. While we looked at the relics Sue handed out some Licorice to the kids, which proved a great hit.
I met again old Peter, who owned the table, and Willie, a younger guy, escorted us up towards Hill 27. As we walked through the upper reaches of the village I noticed 2 guys with a table obviously full of stuff with a tarpaulin over it. One thing that was not covered was the Betty instrument panel. There was a sign over the table but more on this later.
We walked with Willie and some village kids up onto Hill 27, past the Japanese memorial pillar and down onto the rear slope. He showed us foxholes (this area had been totally overgrown on my 1999 trip) with ration tin lids scattered about, some US 37mm ammo tin lids and the jungle area where the US medical post was.
Going back down the hill into the village we return to these 2 guys and their table. As we had come up I had glanced at the sign and read "$2.50 per photo - thank you for your understanding". He asked me did I want to take a photo, and it was then that I noticed that the sign said $25.00 per photo.! My "understanding" didn't extend to that sort of rip off, so I declined. You had to give them full points for good honest greed though! Rain started to fall and we were invited to take shelter in a hut with the women and children.
Back at the table Willie informed us that all this stuff was his, and that there was a lot because they were now digging up the Seahorse battle area across the Matanikau River. We looked through the stuff he had and picked out a few items. When I asked the price I found out that inflation had well and truly hit here since 1999.
Then a helmet was about S$10.00 (In 1996 the villagers had laughed at a guy who tried to sell one to us for S$30.00) but now they wanted S$300.00 for a helmet and S$30.00 for the smallest relic. There was even a tin of Japanese teeth for sale - no thanks, we didn't even ask how much. They will never turn communist at Gifu - capitalism rules!
After some negotiation we got some stuff at a more reasonable price. I think Sue's licorice got a discount. She swapped old Peter a bag of licorice for a bag of wild bananas that were excellent. I got a Jap helmet with remnants of the canvas helmet cover still sticking to bits of it, a Jap water bottle with 95% paint and name, three glass jars, three 60mm mortar tin lids, two US ration tin lids from Hill 27 foxholes and a bakelite Jap mess tin spice holder..
Then it was back to the hotel and a swim in the pool. Afterwards we walked down to the market again to get a few more Coke bottles (price now S$25.00). Samuel pulled out a USMC dog tag and offered it to a German tourist for S$250.00. When I came by a few moments later the price had magically gone up to S$500.00. I told him that he had better keep something that valuable..it looked fake anyway..especially as the name on it was AL SCHMID!
We went back to the hotel for dinner and then Sue went to bed, as she was pretty tired.
I went back to the PCYC and saw John, who had to meet the Valour Tours group, who were flying into Henderson at 10.00 p.m. We had arranged for Festus to come and pick us up at 10.00 a.m. in the morning.
Friday, 6 August 2004
After breakfast we drove back up Mt Austen to the Japanese OP lookout area. A great view across the American perimeter. No sooner had we got up there and pulled out our cameras than there was the "crump" of ordnance being exploded down at the Ilu river near Henderson and a tell tale black cloud going up. Perfect timing. There had been a similar cloud visible from Hill 35 when we had stopped the day before, so they must have blown some more then.
We stopped again at Gifu village on the way down for some more bartering and back to the hotel again to scrub the relics and download some more photos. Then a dip in the pool before Festus came to pick us up again at 200 p.m.
As usual he was there on time and we drove west to visit the wrecks of the Japanese transports KYUSYU MARU at Doma Cove and KINUGAWA MARU at Bonegi beach. As we drove west along the coast the most obvious sign of the ethnic fighting was burnt houses and the blown bridge across the Kokumbona River vehicles not get across by fording it.
As we drove up the coast road it was much as I remembered it, just a lot more growth by the sides of the road. We arrived at Doma Cove and paid the now expected S$20.00 to go on the beach. Scrap dealers had cut up the ship and the piles of plating still lie on the beach. The 1996 photo I took of the wreckage appeared on the May 2000 cover of AFTER THE BATTLE magazine, so I took a comparison of the cover. Some of the wreckage had rotted away further and there were a lot more trees growing wild.
We retraced our steps down to Bonegi Beachhere it was S$20 each to come on the beach (S$5.00 per car in 1995 - 99). After looking at the wreckage of KINUGAWA MARU and taking our photos I gave the guys on the beach a color 1943 photo of the wreck. They had a stand of WW2 Coke and Pepsi Cola bottles for sale, plus a US water bottle and a Japanese 37mm shell case. I got 2 of the Pepsi bottles (S$5.00 each, cheaper than the market!). Back to the hotel for a swim and then dinner.
Saturday, 7 August 2004
At breakfast Sue informed me that she would not be coming to the commemoration service. She thought she had got a touch of food poisoning from dinner and was going to rest and take some pills.
I walked down to the Mendana hotel and got a lift up to Skyline Ridge with John Innes. People and cars were starting to gather for the service RAMSI troops and Police, local islanders and expatriates were arriving. The US Ambassador and embassy military attaché were there and two Marine officers had flown in from Hawaii to represent the US Pacific Command.
It was a beautiful morning and the Solomons Police band were in fine tune. The group from Valor tours arrived and I finally met Bill Davis. We had corresponded by email before our respective trips, so it was good to meet him at last.
The ceremonies got under way with the band playing "Anchors Away", followed by 'Waltzing Matilda", followed by a fine rendition of the "Marine Corps Hymn". The two Marines of course snapped to attention, as did another Marine veteran in the crowd.
Various speakers then made their remarks. The Solomon Islands and American anthems were played. The laying of wreaths followed this by the US and Japanese Ambassadors and others. Afterwards many people took photos and paid their respects. As the gathering broke up I ran into Michael Ben, who had guided me up to the THIN RED LINE battlefield I 1999. It was good to see him again and I promised to come and see him later in the week.
We then went down to the Jacob Vouza memorial at Rove Police Station for more wreath laying. John then informed USMC Colonel Shaw (there to represent US Pacific Command) about the two US Marines buried at Tanagai church a few kms down the road. No service had ever been held there. Upon hearing this the Colonel and aide at once drove down the road to render honors to these two Marines and lay a wreath. They both joined the Valor tours group later that afternoon to hike over Edsons Ridge.
When I arrived back at the hotel Sue announced that she was feeling much better, which was good. It would have been lousy to come all this way and then be laid low with a bug for days on end. After a swim in the pool we met Festus a 1.00 p.m. and drove down to the beach at Ilu again. Of course they wanted the S$20 entry fee again, but it was a chance to get rid of all my Solomon dollar coins! We walked down the west bank beach for a while and took some comparison photos. There had been some mist in the morning, but now it was another glorious sunny day with great visibility.
After a while here we drove back towards the Airport and then turned right towards the coast again. We drove down past an incomplete beachside hotel (now RAMSI HQ) and emerged onto the beach a few hundred yards east of the Lunga lagoon area. In front of us on the beach were the remains of the steel and wood American wharves and piers of the Lunga base.
A few Australians came past us from the base on their afternoon walk and we ambled west along the beach to the lagoon area. Wartime photos show the lagoon mouth open to the sea, but nowadays it is silted up and there is 20 feet of beach between the lagoon and the sea. We poked around in the growth here for a while...very thick trees.
It was getting pretty warm now, so it was back to the pool for a swim ..lots of Australians in the pool today. No doubt Police or Customs personnel. After the dip we went down to the PCYC and met John and the Valor Tours group headed by Bob Reynolds. After a few drinks Bill, Sue and I went off to the Mendana for more drinks, dinner and a good chat. Back at the hotel later there was no TV reception, so we had a late night swim in the pool and then to bed.
Sunday, 8 August 2004
We had a free day today, as we had given Festus a "rest" until 10.00 a.m. on Tuesday.
After breakfast we walked down to Pt Cruz to look at the cruise ship PACIFIC PRINCESS, which had come in early that morning for a brief stopover. This was the sister ship to the one Sue had cruised by Guadalcanal on in 2002. People were crowding the railings to watch some native dancers on the wharf.
We looked at the ship for a while and after taking some photos walked down past the market towards the Matanikau river sandbar to look at the Japanese tank still in the water. First we went down to the beach on the west bank behind the SEA KING Restaurant and I matched up some photos of one of the knocked out tanks from 22 October 1942. Of course this quickly drew a crowd of kids, so I gave them photos of the "Japani tank!"
Crossing over the bridge we walked past the Honiara hospital and down onto the east bank beach, retracing our steps west towards the sandbar. Sanitation on the beach was as I remembered it not good. I was surprised to see TWO Japanese tank turrets emerging from the sea. I had been told there were two tanks here, but had only over seen one. We took more photos, but every step towards the river mouth encountered more shit on the beach literally. So after taking a lot of pics and video clips we "retreated" back towards the market and the hotel for lunch. As we walked back we noticed a lot of tourists from the PACIFIC PRINCESS wandering the street.
After lunch and a dip in the pool we downloaded our photos onto the laptop. Around 5.00 p.m. we went down to the Yacht club for drinks and picked up Bill for dinner at the Mendana. He gave me a CD of Canal related photos, so we went back to Sue's room and looked at them on the laptop.
Monday, 9 August 2004
We were up bright and early for a very quick breakfast and were down on the beach in front of the Mendana hotel by 7.00 p.m. The Valor tours group was going across to Tulagi Gavutu Tanambogo and we could tag along.
After being ferried out in a dingy to the LALAE we left for Tulagi at about 7.20 a.m. It is a 20-mile trip across Iron Bottom Sound and took about 2 hours. Going across the sea was not too rough, but it was pretty misty early in the morning and we could not see Savo island very well. As we approached Tulagi and got inside the reef the sea was a lot calmer. I found it very interesting to get the different perspective of being on the ocean and come over to this area, which I had not visited on my previous trips.
First stop was the remains of LST 342. This LST was torpedoed off Rendova Island on 18 July 1943 and cut in half. The front half was towed back to Tulagi and ended its days there as a floating Post Office before being beached and abandoned at the end of the war. One of the guys with Valor Tours was Navy vet Mac Mackay, who was a crewman and was wounded in torpedo attack. Mac laid a wreath on the deck to his shipmates and a prayer was said.
We then cruised to an inlet known as Tokio Bay to see the remains of the Japanese destroyer KIKUTSUKI. US carrier aircraft sank it in May 1942 and later in September 1943 the US Navy on Tulagi raised it for use as a floating depot ship. After the war the scrap dealers cut a lot of it up, but there is still the hull and some gun mounts and barrels to be seen above water. I was told a crocodile lives in the wreck, but we did not see him.
After cruising around the wreck we made out way over to Lions Point, Purvis Bay, where US ships used to anchor and landed there for a walk around. Old US huts were visible and we walked by the church and up a hill to there a plaque was dedicated in 1944 to honor the sailors killed in Iron Bottom Bay. On the way up we met an islander named Daniel, who was born in 1931 and here during the war. The mist had cleared and it was a beautiful clear day. Te view across the bay was excellent and there was a nice breeze. More peaceful and cleaner than Honiara, that's for sure.
We reboarded LALAE and cruised over to Gavutu and Tanambogo Islands, scene of fierce fighting. We landed at the wharf area at Gavutu. Dolphin pens are next to the wharf, part of a research project, and we were told a resort is being planned for Gavutu.
We made our way down to the causeway area between Gavutu and Tanambogo. Tanambogo was the site of the Jap seaplane base and the seaplanes still lie where they were sunk in their moorings by US aircraft. At this point Steve the skipper pulled out a Japanese Rising Sun battle flag. The flag had been captured by Marine Leonard Skinner from a building close by on 7 August at Gavutu and sent to him a few weeks previously.
Len's unit was K Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, which attacked across the causeway.
So next we walked across the island to go up Hill 148.As we walked across Steve pointed out old hut foundations, the area where the first US cemetery was, old US fuel tanks and drums and a large pile of US. 30 cal links for machine guns. As we walked up the path to the top of the hill he pointed out a Jap cave defensive position. Nearby were two discarded 1943 dated Coca Cola bottles no doubt remains of a sight seeing trip when Gavutu was a US base in 1942-45.
On top of the hill were two huge concrete water cisterns that the Seabees had built in 1943 - still okay for use. Nearby was a Jap gun mount. It must have been a US gun position later, as there were some lids of US 75MM shell containers nearby...a great view towards Tulagi from the top of the hill. The flag was produced again and we all took a few photos of it. A house is being built right on this site, so who knows if it will be possible to go up again in the future. Steve pulle out the flag again and we took some photos.
Then it was down the hill again and back on board LALAE for the trip across the bay to Tulagi. We approached Tulagi past Hill 281 and went towards the dock area. At first there was some doubt about being able to land, as all the wharves seemed to be taken and the ones remaining were pretty small. However Steve maneuvered the ship into a dry dock area and we were able to get off. Half the party preferred to stay with the boat and get some lunch organized. The rest of us went with John for a walk up to the top of Hill 281 and a look around the Island.
As we went towards the hill John explained the direction of the Marine attack and pointed out the cricket pitch area and where the US and Japanese lines had been. As we went up Hill 281 we could see evidence of Jap gun positions and trenches and gun mounts.
On top were a Japanese 13mm gun mount and a few weapons pits. Here John found a fired case near one gun pit. At first I thought it was US .50 cal, but it was in fact a fired case from one of the 13mm machine gun dug in here, no doubt fired in defense on 7 or 8 August 1942. Down on the road he had also picked up a Japanese Arisaka stripper clip.
Climbing back down the hill we walked around the coastal road to the area of Blue Beach where the Marines landed and John pointed out some other landing areas along the coast. By this time we were feeling pretty sweaty, even though the sea breeze was great. The day was drawing on and we had to get back to Guadalcanal, so we made our way back to LALAE to shove off.
On board they had some sandwiches from the Tulagi hotel and they were very welcome after our little stroll. As we crossed Iron bottom Sound the late afternoon sun was shining on the water and I kept thinking of how much it looked like the opening waves sequence of the series VICTORY AT SEA. Half way across I really got a sense of why they called it "THE SLOT" the mountains of Guadalcanal on one side, Savo Island in the center and the mass of Tulagi and Florida islands on the other side.
As we approached Guadalcanal I kept trying to take photos of the approaching coast, Cape Esperance and Savonot easy with the roll of the boat, but they all came out okayI was just glad I wasn't seasick! Steve's wife Elmah produced a tray of snacks at this point crackers, cheese, salami and tuna dip - it was great and really hit the spot!
We stepped onto the beach in front of the Mendana at about 5.20 p.ma very enjoyable trip. After dinner with Bill at the Mendana we went back to the King Solomon and downloaded our photos and video clips
Tuesday, 10 August 2004
We had arranged to meet Festus at 10.00 a.m., so after breakfast we walked down to the Solomons Museum to see if Lawrence was back from his trip. He was, so I gave him some paperwork and a USMC jacket and we had a good chat. When RAMSI arrived they gave a lot of weapons to the museum, so we arranged to come back and see those later in the week.
As usual Festus was on time (and always made sure he had petrol in the tank), so we set off west again to visit Vilu War Museum up at Cape Esperance. I had last been here in 1998 and wondered how the relics had fared during the ethnic fighting. Were they destroyed? Where they all overgrown? John said they were still intact, so off we went up past Bonegi and Doma Cove.
The Museum sign was shot up a bit but the track there was clear and there they were, still as I remembered them. Anderson, nephew of the original owner Fred Kona, greeted us. Mrs. Kona used to live in a house nearby, but it had been burned during the troubles and she had returned to Malaita Island.
Anderson walked us through the relics. He was able to tell me things about a few items that I didn't know and we were able to identify a few items for him. There was no obvious damage to the items that I could see since I had seen them last. The wing of the Wildcat fighter still folded!
After we had walked around and taken photos and video we had a chat and I gave him some of my "then and now" photo sheets. As we drove out along the track the Valor tours minibus was driving in. We drove back down the road towards Honiara and took a few snaps at the Bonegi River Bridge.
As we approached Bonegi beach opposite KINUGAWA MARU I wanted to stop and show Sue the Sherman tank on an old firing range a few hundred yards inland. Just past the tank is a US rubbish dump I wanted to visit (the palm groves along the beach near KINUGAWA were US camp areas in 1943-45).
When we got out of the car there was a lot more growth across the road than there was 5 years ago. As I crossed the road I think I knew what was coming and sure enough it did. As soon as he saw us making a move across the road the old guy at the "toll booth" at the beach came running across waving his arm at the sign at the trail to the tank.yes, you guessed it - S$20.00 each to walk it. I thought "not again mate*" and so we got into the car and kept going.
We stopped and took some photos at Tassafaronga beach and the blasted bridge at Kokumbona before heading back for a spell in the pool. Then we drove out to Henderson to see my friend Alistair at Security. I wanted to see the Airport Manager Nicholas to secure permission to take a few shots out on the airfield, but he was not there.
So it was back to the pool and to download more photos before meeting Bill for dinner and compare notes of our days activities. Bill came back with us to the King Solomon and had a dip in the pool.
Wednesday, 11 August 2004
At breakfast we read about the attempted inmate breakout at the prison camp in Rove the morning before, as reported in the Solomon Star newspaper. Sue remembered hearing police sirens early Tuesday morning, and we had noticed a lot of police and RAMSI vehicles parked inside the prison gates as we drove by it on our way to Vilu. Fortunately, it had been quickly contained.
Festus picked us up at 10.00 a.m. and we drove out to the Airport again to try and track down Nicholas, still not around. After a chat to Alistair we went to visit the relics at Betikama 7th Day Adventist School across the Lunga from Henderson. They have two Jap 37mm AT guns, a Japanese 75mm gun, P400 aircraft, SBD and engine, Bren gun carrier, US 75mm gun, assorted wings and props, a tractor from Henderson and a building with various smaller relics guns, shells, helmets, equipment and photos.
We returned to Henderson but Nicholas was still not around, so back to the pool. At 2.00 p.m. we went and saw Lawrence and he showed up the guns he had been given a large pile of rusted weapons, including Arisaka rifles, Garands, Thompson Sub machine guns, Browning Automatic rifles, Japanese Nambu MGs, a lot of US .30 and .50 cal MGs and a Jap 13mm MG.
In another room we had some more weapons in better condition 2 Nambu heavy machine guns on mounts that looked very good, some pistols, an M3 grease gun, some more .30 cal guns and a selection of weapons used by the militants during the fighting. They looked like they would have been equally dangerous behind the trigger or in front of the barrel.
At 3.00 p.m. we went back out to the Airport, but still no Manager. We drove around and took some photos at the back of Henderson Field and then down to the Lunga car wash yes a tradition started by the Marines that still goes. Some guys had set up here as the "official" RAMSI and Police vehicle car washers and they were doing a good trade.
Then back to the hotel and the pool and then dinner with Bill at the Mendana. On Wednesday nights they do a good buffet dinner and there was native dancing in the courtyard facing the restaurant. Valor Tours members were leaving on Thursday afternoon and so Bill had the morning free. So we decided we would take him for a walk along Edsons Ridge.
Thursday, 12 August 2004
After breakfast we met Festus and Bill at 9.00 a.m. and drove out to the Airport again. Nicholas was there this time, but said he had to check with the Airport security manager re going out on the field. The security manager was not there of course. So rather than waste time we went straight to Edsons Ridge, as Bill had to be back at the Mendana by 11.45 a.m.
We drove up to the final defensive knoll and got out of the taxi near the US memorial pyramid. On my previous visits there had been huts on the ridge, but they were now gone only a few burnt pieces of wood marked where they had been. We walked up to the front of the knoll and found some foxholes in the grass. After looking around here we told Festus to drive the taxi up to the front of the ridge as we walked up along the ridge trail, ever watchful for a relic.
When we reached the front of the ridge I showed Bill and Sue some positions and we took some photos. The huts here were also gone and jungle growth had take over. Down in front of the ridge there are still stakes and barbed wire in position, so we had a look there as well.
Walking back down the trail we branched off to the right on the track towards the October 1942 battle area and examined a post battle Nissen hut. The trail area here was a lot clearer on my last trip and the further we went the more overgrown it became. We had to get Bill back to the hotel to get ready to leave, so we could not spend as much time here as we wanted. So Sue and Festus drove back down the trail while Bill and I walked back along it. In the course of this Bill found two personal souvenirs, fired US bullets on the trail. When we returned to the taxi, Festus showed us some US Liberty half-dollars dated 1931 through '42, found by his brother. We got Bill back to the hotel at 11.50 a.m.
After a swim in the pool Festus took us out to the Airport at 2.00 p.m. for a last try at taking photos on the field. Nicholas was not there again, so I gave up the idea. We had a chat to Alistair and then went into the jungle across from the terminal to take some comparison shots for Sgt Bob Brock, whose Ordnance unit camp was in this area.
Yes back to the pool again after this and then a walk down to the Honiara Market area.
After this we walked west along Mendana Avenue and had the good fortune to bump into Michael Ben. I had been meaning to go see him at his village on the Matanikau, but had not managed to get there, so it was good to catch up with him.
We invited him for a drink at the Mendana and had a chat about Guadalcanal ad the items he had been finding at the Seahorse battle area. I gave him some books and paperwork and my entrenching tool to put to good use finding more relics.
After seeing Michael we went down to the PCYC for a few drinks and saw John there. After a chat we went across to the Mendana for dinner. It wasn't the same without Bill there to tell us what his group had been seeing that day. Then back to the King Solomon to pack our bags, as we were leaving at 4.30 p.m. the next day.
Friday, 13 August 2004
We had arranged for Festus to come and pick us up for a drive at 9.00 a.m., but he sent another driver instead, as he was busy with family matters.
So we briefly drove up to the Parliament for the view of the coastline and down to Kukum beach and took a few shots there before returning to the Hotel. Check out time was 10.00 a.m., but we had the use of the rooms. We walked down to the museum to say goodbye to Lawrence and secure our relic permits. Then we walked down to the T-shirt shop opposite the market for a few late purchases and drank a few Cokes.
On the way back to the hotel we checked our flights at the Solomons Airline office. They informed us that the Air Nauru fight to Brisbane would not be leaving until 6.00 p.m. That meant that we would miss our 8.00 p.m. connecting flight from Brisbane Melbourne.
Therefore they rebooked us on a 6.00 a.m. flight to Melbourne. We hoped the times were correct, as Sue had to catch a plane at 10.30 a.m. from Melbourne to LA.
After a late lunch we drove out to Henderson at about 3.00 p.m., took a few more photos, checked in and had another chat to Alistair. He said Air Nauru was flying in at 4.30 p.m. and leaving at 5.30 p.m., which they did.
So we arrived in Brisbane and just missed the last plane to Melbourne. Most hotels were full, but we managed to find one with a single remaining room. So we got some sleep between 10.00 p.m. and 3.00 a.m., when we got a taxi out to Brisbane Airport for the 6.00 a.m. flight. We arrived into a freezing 7 degrees Celsius Melbourne about 9.00 a.m., which gave Sue plenty of time to catch her LA flight.