Saturday 8/11/2008

I arrived in Brisbane at 8.25pm and went to the Airport 85 Hotel. There I met my friend from NZ Craig Douglas, whom I had not seen since 2000. We had a good chat and I crashed into bed at 11.40pm.

Sunday 9/11/2008

I got up at 5.30am and had breakfast before getting the transit bus to the airport at 6.30am.We got to the airport about 6.40am and I was smoothly through check in and customs by 7.10am. Still feeling hungry I had bacon and egg roll and orange juice, then went to the departure lounge. We took off at about 10.00 am and arrived at Henderson Field at 1.45pm Solomons time.

My friend John Innes met me at the airport and I checked into the King Solomon hotel and got room 413, the same room I had in 1999. After unpacking and having a shower I met John at the Point Cruz Yacht Club and had a few cans of Cola Cola. On the 1995-2006 trips the coke was in bottles, but it is  in cans now that are smaller and fizzier.

While there the Tulagi Tours boat docked at the yacht club pier and let off a Japanese tour group. I sat talking with John and a group of his friends until about 6.00 pm, looking at 1942 photos I had brought along.

Then I went to the Kitano Mendana Hotel for dinner. The old dining room is closed and a brand new one is on the site of the old outside lounge area. Very nice and modern with Japanese TV playing with English voice over. I had a coke and a nice plate of pork and vegetables in the cool air conditioning.

Leaving the hotel I found that the shortcut to the King Solomon Hotel by the road past the Solomons Museum not has closed gates at night. This meant a detour past the dimly lit National Bank building up the street back to the King Sol. I never had a problem doing this and noticed less people on the streets late at night than in 2006.

On this trip I have brought my laptop, so I have just downloaded and captioned today’s photos and typed this out. I am meeting John for breakfast at 7.30am.

Monday November 10th 2008

I got up at 6.30am and went down to breakfast about 7.10am. John came about 7.40pm and had a couple of cups of coffee and we talked about various photos etc. He is currently busy producing a series of guide booklets about various battle areas. After that he dropped me off at the Goettge patrol area near Matanikau sandbar. The Goettge patrol was wiped out here on the night of Aug 12/13 1942. The 1942 Matanikau village area is now occupied by a Church and a Chinese Restaurant. I wandered around there for a while taking various photos and video.As I walked back past the market I bought another 1943 dated coca cola bottle.

I went to the museum to see if Lawrence the Director was there. They now have a guard at the gate and he told me Lawrence was still on leave and he did not know when he was coming back…great.

After that I climbed up Hill 83 where the Parliament building is and took various shots and video along the ridgeline, looking towards Cape Esperance and Lunga. By this stage it was getting pretty hot in the sun, so I went back to the hotel, downloaded the morning’s photos and jumped in the pool for a while.

After lunch I grabbed a taxi and we went to the Gifu position (Barana village) on Mt Austen. The relics tables have a fence around them now, but of course as soon as another “crazy white guy who likes this rusty stuff” {a previous trip definition from a villager} turns up the sellers are there in a flash. A couple of the guys remembered me from 2008 and we had a chat while I looked over the selection. They had a lot more canteens and mess tins than in 2006.

I ended up getting;

1 Japanese canteen
6 Japanese coins
1 Japanese belt buckle
2 Japanese water purification kits
1 Japanese dog tag
1 Japanese toothbrush
1 Japanese anti gas paste bottle
1 US 60mm mortar ammo tin label

I asked if villager Tom Kuria was here, who I met in 2006 and got a chunk of Japanese bomber from, but he wasn’t around.

I was looking for a good Japanese helmet, but they were all rotted. The villagers said “not have many good Japanese helmets…all no good”, but then one guy walked up behind me with an intact one - no holes and with the star still on it, so I got that one. At this point I ran out of money. One betel nut chewer was trying to sell me a coin for S$100...keep chewing buddy!

After Gifu a quick stop at Panatina Plaza shopping centre at Kukum for a coke and to get some money out of an ATM, then back to the hotel for a relic scrubbing session. I think the helmet is going to be a scrub in the shower job.

After scrubbing the relics I went down to the Mendana hotel to change some money and look at the new construction work. A new 5 star hotel is going to be built on the beach next to the Mendana. I bet they love that!

Next on to the yacht club for a few cokes and chat to John and others. Instead of having dinner at the Mendana I went back to the King Solomon hotel and caught up with Andrew noble and his wife Rachel. I hope to have a meal with them later in the week and show them the photos etc.

Back down to the restaurant for dinner and then typing up these trip notes.

Tuesday 11/11/2008

I met John for breakfast at the King Solomon hotel again. He was going to drop me off at Kukum for me to walk around there, but his car died outside the hotel - alternator problems. We got a taxi to Panatina Plaza Shopping Centre and then I hired the driver to take me up to the Japanese OP on top of Mt. Austen. Great views as always and I took more photos.

After wards we drove down to Barana village at Gifu. As well as the relic tables in the centre of the village I was invited to hut after hut…everyone has their own table of stuff. After buying some items we were driving back down the village track when I met Tom Kuria, who sold me some good stuff in 2006. He has a new hut on the hillside of Hill 42 with great panoramic views across Pt Cruz, the Bay and the THIN RED LINE battle area. I got some good stuff from him, including another chunk of Betty bomber. Tom had a lot of 60mm mortar fuse tin lids. He said when he moved to this area he found lots of US 60mm mortar rounds on the ridge line, which the police had taken away to blow up last week.

Back to the hotel for a relic scrubbing session - I didn’t even have time for a dip in the pool before it was 1.00pm and the taxi was back again. This time we drove west up the coast to Vilu museum near Cape Esperance. In 2006 they had been starting to resurface the road and now have it almost complete. It reverts to gravel just after Bonegi Bridge, but the driver said that should all be resurfaced too by early 2009. What took us 2 hours in 2006 took about 30 minutes in 2008.

The sign showing the turn off to the museum was gone, so we initially “overshot” and had to ask a kid by the roadside. His great reply was “go back down the road a bit to where the sign isn’t and turn right there”. The museum grounds were pretty overgrown and a lot of the exhibits are showing serious metal fatigue. The P38 fighter in particular is really crumbling away. I left a F4F WILDCAT cap and T shirt for Anderson the owner and got a lot of delicious bananas in return.

On the way back we stopped at the KINUGAWA MARU wreck site at Bonegi beach and I had a chat with a Canadian who was there snorkeling around the wreck. I was hoping to but some wartime Pepsi bottles there, but none were in sight.

Back at the hotel for more relic scrubbing and a shower and then down to the PCYC for a few cokes. I chatted with John and Tom and Cathy Crafton, Alaskans who are here on their boat. Afterwards we took in a great native music and dance show at the King Solomon. I had been moving around so much today that it didn’t occur to me till too late that I had not eaten lunch today and they had stopped serving dinner, so I feel pretty damn hungry right now. Ah well, a big breakfast in the morning.

Wednesday 12/11/2008

Met John for breakfast, then had swim before waiting for taxi at 9.00 am. Taxi didn’t turn up by 9.30am, so went down to the museum to see if Lawrence was there. He was, so I saw him and his secretary Edna. I was lucky to catch Lawrence as he flies to Malaitia on holidays on Friday. He introduced me to the deputy director john and I handed in my relics list to get a permit on Friday.

I chatted to Edna, john and a US diver before walking with Lawrence to his new family store opposite a new rugby stadium China is building. We sat on the porch in the breeze and chatted for a while. Then I went down to the bank and changed money and bought another coke bottle at market.

After lunch I got a taxi and we drove to Lunga beach to explore the remains of the US naval supply base at Lunga lagoon. Lots of concrete hut slabs in evidence and the remains of the roadways and tracks and scrap metal being collected. Also overgrown remains of concrete structures from the base. Piles of the Marston Matting and vehicle parts being cut up etc. It started to rain and as we walked back to the taxi I saw 3 US trailers lying by trees…As we drove back down the road to the airport I noticed a few new houses built or being built. By the side of the road was the freshly dug up rear half of a Stuart tank near the old Japanese and then US camp areas. More scrap to be got rid of? I also noticed a Stuart tank road wheel on the scrap in the base area. If the rear of a Stuart tank in there then where is the rest of it?

We drove to the wartime Henderson tower…The gate has a large hole in it, a wrecked car lay on its roof nearby. The tower and Seabees and Edsons Ridge memorial totally overgrown…trees and graffiti…the metal plates have been ripped from the Edsons Ridge memorial to sell for scrap at 50 cents a kilo…very sad. The Government talks about encouraging WW2 tourism. A new 5 star Hyatt hotel is under construction on the beach next to the Kitano Mendana Hotel. Will there be anything left to see in the future?

Pagoda Hill near Henderson now has 2 new houses and parking areas on it, a new road gouged through the centre of the hill and fences and leveled areas ready for more construction. Will this collapse the radio tunnel under the hill?

We drove across the Lunga and visited the relics at Betikama School on the west bank. The aircraft and guns were still in good order and there was a stack of US Jerri cans and an aircraft fuel drop tank there as well.

More rain. Storm coming…back to the hotel for a swim and then Point Cruz Yacht Club. I went to Mendana Hotel for dinner, but it was as hot as hell in the restaurant…air conditioning not on. Joe Mueller’s large Military Historical Tours group were there. After a sweaty dinner it was to the hotel for more relic scrubbing. I arranged to meet the taxi driver at 9.00am.

Thursday 13/11/2008

Breakfast with John. Waiting for taxi…met by Tom Kuria outside the hotel, who said he had Japanese bomber radio and wanted S$1000 for it. I told him to come back at 1.00 pm and we would go up to the village. The taxi arrived and we went up to Edsons Ridge. Now there is a boom gate across the trail and an S$20 entry fee. Large areas of grass on the ridge had recently been burnt off…the scrap hunt.

Two guys walked with us to show us stuff. There were barbed wire stakes in the burn grass along the edge of the ridge trail, plus the lid of a US machine gun ammunition can. Piles of airfield matting and vehicle parts. I walked down the trail east of the final knoll and down into a gully on eastern side of the post battle New Zealand camp area. I found the battered top of a Japanese mess tin near the final knoll. More lids of US MG ammo tins…… intact US .45 bullet near us foxhole. Pits full of metal in gully, probably camp rubbish area…NZ beer bottles etc

The guys said “Japanese plane in swamp area“. Probably the same one as I saw in 1995, and that was mostly cut up by 1996....too long a walk…..We went to the knoll where Vandergriffs CP was in September 1942….There are concrete foundations of later 1944-45 buildings there………..I was shown tunnel to a bunker under the hill This was the 1943-45 CP for the AA guns…..We found a rusted US bayonet and a crushed US canteen cup in a pile of scrap.

Back to Panantina for cokes and pies and back to hotel to scrub relics and download pics.

The taxi was back at 1.00 pm and we drove Tom up to village. The radio turned out to be a piece of rubbish, just some rotted batteries and a metal back plate…oh well, but I got some other small items from his table.

His new hut on edge of the hill really does have a magnificent view of the battle areas. He showed me some fabric remains of sandbags and had some US Army ration tins that, unlike the rest I had seen, retained their content markings. It doesn’t take much imagination to visualize the mortars here firing at THIN RED LINE and the Hills 43 and 44 “Seahorse “battle area.

So we then drove up to Hill 66 behind Pt Cruz for more photo comparisons and panoramic views. This area was occupied by the US Army 164th Infantry Regiment in Nov 1942 - Jan 1943. Still lots of rusted ration tins in the long grass. I wanted particularly to match up a color 1943 TIME photo showing Army troops here displaying a Japanese flag, with Mt Austen in the background. No trouble finding the spot for this. Lots of ships in the bay on a brilliant, hot clear day. Getting hot now, so back to hotel. More scrubbing and downloading. Got some nice mosquito bites in the jungle at Edsons Ridge.

I met john at the Yacht Club and we went next door to the Mendana. The Japanese tour group included a 90 year old veteran. John had arranged to talk to him through the two interpreters with the group (who he knew). The veteran had landed at Kamimbo Bay near Cape Esperance in October 1942 and was in the heavy artillery of the 38th Nagoya Division. Not many of his unit survived, and he said they were glad to leave. Afterwards I met the Military Historical Tours group and talked to Joe Mueller, Joel Bromberg and John Edwards. I talked to Joe Mueller till about 10.00 pm.

I was invited by John Innes to go to a memorial ceremony at Kokumbona tomorrow with the Japanese group. There is a Japanese gun towing tractor and memorial at the village here. I last saw the tractor in 1996. Then back to meet Joe Mueller at mundane at 11.30am and see about relic permits. I must also check airline flights.

Friday 14/11/08

Breakfast, then a dip in the pool.

I got at taxi out to Panatina Plaza, met John and we drove out to Kokumbona - his car was finally back on the road after 4 days of walking.….Shinto ceremony…90 year old Japanese and about 8 others, 4 of whom lost fathers on Guadalcanal..

Solomon’s anthem
Japanese anthem
Shinto prayers
Honoring the dead
Japanese song I didn’t recognize, then another I did - UMI YUBAKI, the warrior’s song.

It was very hot in the open sun and the veteran stood there for an hour before sitting in the car for a while to cool down.

He and I were almost taken out by a falling coconut from a tree - I moved from under the tree a few minutes before the coconut came crashing down. It bounced into the half closed door of the car he was sitting in. If the door had been fully open it would have bounced into him. I walked over and handed him my fresh water bottle, and he smiled and said “thank you”. Everyone was wilting a bit in the sun now, so I passed the bottle around. Most of the group had lost fathers here, so were all in their late 60s.

Villager Bruno Nana was there too. Bruno rescued Pug Sutherland, the first US pilot shot down over Guadalcanal on Aug 7, by ace Saburo Sakai.).

Back to Honiara, but too late to meet Joe, so I walked over to the Museum and picked up my relic permit. Then I had lunch and then got a taxi out to Henderson to say hello to my friend Alistair at Security and then down to Ilu River.

The small  1995 - 2006 gate at the west bank path to the  beach  is now replaced by a large red and black one with a sign “PRIVATE PROPERTY - KEEP OUT -  $10,000 FINE“. Houses and huts where the track was and trees obliterated. Fences and no access. So we drove over the Ilu Bridge to the east bank. I thought I would approach the sandbar area from the east.  I walked down the path to the beach and tried to get through jungle for a few hundred yards to emerge at east side of sandbar, but the jungle was just too thick…Normally it would have been simply a walk along the beach, but the tide was coming in and the beach was awash. Back to the taxi and back to Panatina Plaza for a break and to drop off some Tulagi photos for John.

I paid off the taxi driver for the day and walked down to Kukum beach for a few photos. Then did a hour “route march” from Kukum beach back along the coast to the King Solomon ON Hill 83……got a lot of good photos, but also got lots of diesel fumes from passing traffic. Pretty hot and sticky when I got back to the hotel so a long cold shower.

Off to the yacht club and then to dinner at Mendana and talked to the MHT group. Joe Mueller invited me to go with them to Tulagi on Saturday.

Pretty tired tonight after trek.

Saturday 15/11/2008

Breakfast at Mendana at 6.30am and them shoved off for tillage in 2 boats about 7.30am.I missed going to Tulagi in 2006, so it was` good to know I would make it this time. The boat I was in had more power so we got to “Blue Beach” about In 2004 it took 2 hours to get across the bay.

We cruised west along Blue Beach and then into the channel around the western end of Tulagi into the harbor and across to the “Todd City” PT base on Florida island. Then we docked at Tulagi wharf and walked around the island through “The Cut” to the southern side and saw caves, cricket pitch, tennis court and areas of heavy fighting and the Japanese counter attack.

Back to the dock for boxed lunches of sandwiches, chicken and fruit in the shade. Very nice.

Shoved off again and went over to Gavutu/Tanambogo...more people living on Tanambogo and huts on the causeway that were not there in 2004. Unfortunately we didn’t land on Gavutu because the dolphin guys there want S$75.00 per person to land. As we cruised past Gavutu docks I noticed some plane wings and pieces of fuselage on the beach. Could not tell if they were Japanese or US.

We cruised by Sasapi and the Halavo flying boat base area and then to the beached LST 342 and into Tokyo Bay to see the wreck of destroyer KIKUTSUKI. The other boat was slower than us, so we drifted a while waiting for them to catch up. Boy, I really wanted to jump into the beautiful blue water, and I wasn’t the only one! Some of the MHT group had not brought hats or water with them; luckily we carried enough bottled supplies on board.

We joined up and started to make way out of bay to return to the Canal. The other boats Captain was concerned about low fuel, so we went towards Banana Island (to get more fuel I thought). Half way there we were met by 4 guys in two canoes. Our boat crew talked to them and I later leant that they were trying t to put the word on us for money, but our crew talked us out of it.

We took off across the bay in the wake of the other boat to keep an eye on them - they had decided not to top up the fuel. I sat going over, but stood going back to take pics and not get a sore butt…..great high speed trip back across bay. Other boat stalled as we neared the Canal, but they managed to restart their engines. The joke of the day was a line from the 1944 John Wayne film “THEY WERE EXPENDABLE” -”if you are attacked burn your boat and we will try to pick you up“. Luckily it didn’t come to that and we all docked safely at the Yacht Club at about 4.30pm.

Dinner with the MHT guys at 6.30pm and then back to the King Sol. Great glorious sunny day, but tired now.

Sunday 16/11/2008

Breakfast then a dip in the pool. Down to Mendana to show Joe and the MHT guys some photos on the laptop. I t was a pretty hot day, so I didn’t want to commit to anything too far field. I paid AUS$70 for day use of the King Sol room, as the plane doesn't’t go until 8.00pm, so I will be out of hotel at 5.30pm.

After doing last minute washing I packed all my bags and made sure the relics were well padded. Luckily everything fitted into the bags.

The MHT group were heading out to the Airport about midday, so I had lunch down at Mendana and a last chat before they left. I also had a chat with Wilson, tour operator who used to run the Solomon’s Tourist Office.

Then a last walk about town to the market and the t shirt shop and back to the King Sol for a swim. I went out to Henderson about 5.00 p.m. and sat outside the terminal to get the elusive breezes. The plane was due to leave at 8.00pm.

Alistair turned up to work about 7.00pm and we had a chat. I put my bags through check in and he personally walked my relics bag and permit through the X ray machine for me - no problem.

I went up onto the observation deck and filmed the aircraft coming in for the night landing. W e took off on time and arrived in Brisbane about 10.00 pm. Customs was smooth and I got to the hotel at 10.30pm.

On Monday morning I got a 9.55am flight down to Melbourne and was home by about 2.30pm, sunburnt and mosquito bitten.

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