GUADALCANAL NOV 6 - 16 2009
(Exchange rate AUS$1.00 = S$6.22 US$1.00 = S$6.74.)
Friday, November 6th 2009
I departed from Brisbane on Solomon Airlines at 9.45 am and noted that there was a Japanese tour group on board.
We flew in over the south coast of Guadalcanal, and then turned to approach Henderson from the west, so I got good photos of the northern coast as we approached and landed at about 1.45pm...30 degrees.
I got a taxi into Honiara, driven by Stanley Auga who gave me his card;
(Cab #AB6625 mobile 7475906 ($80.00 per hour). He drove me around for the time I was there and I can thoroughly recommend him to anyone going there. He is a friendly guy, punctual and interested in the WW2 history.
After checking in to the King Solomon Hotel I had a shower and downloaded the day’s photos onto my PC.
I walked down to the Point Cruz Yacht Club at 5.30pm for the breeze and a few Cokes… I have a new Kodak 10 mega pixel camera that took good shots across the bay. I noticed a new breakwater being made just west of the Mendana Hotel.
After a few drinks and photos I went around to the Mendana and took a few more photos. I was going to eat here, but then a big storm blew in with lots of wind and rain, so went back to the King Solomon Hotel during a break in the rain and ate there - coke $15.00 garlic bread $30.00 chicken curry $130.
I had a swim after dinner and worked on the photos on the PC, then watched a movie on TV. I was tired, but did not sleep too well. I was a bit dehydrated I think.
Saturday, November 7th 2009
I felt better after breakfast (cereal and fruit -S$40.00) and met Stanley at 9.00 am for drive up to GIFU village at Mt. Austen.
I was surprised to see a BIG hole next to road to the village…about 20 feet deep. I was later told some villagers had sold their land to a Chinese businessman for a gravel operation in May/June, but now its all before the courts….Now you can stand on the road in front of the US memorial star and see the coast – its was all obscured by trees there before. We drove into the village and checked out the relic tables. It was mostly the same stuff I saw in2008 but there was less of it. I met Willie from 2004 and also met Thomas Kuria again from 2006/2008.
I talked to Willie and got a Japanese canteen, mess tin lid, belt buckle, 2 anti-gas paste bottles, a Carlisle bandage packet top, a Nambu MG ammo clip and a US dog tag all for S$300.
I walked with Tom to his hut on the edge of Hill 31 (great view) and got 2 US Dog tags for S$300.00. Tom’s relic table was gone and when I asked him he said he had “thrown it all back into the jungle”.
Willie said there was more stuff at “a mission (?)” at Ranadi, so we drove down to a yard behind fighter 2 strip. There was a large selection of WW2 items – field equipment, parts of a Jeep, headgear, grenades, rifles, machine guns, shells, assorted artillery and aircraft parts etc, etc.…Willie said his boss paid people to bring items in. It was a very impressive selection of stuff. That was where Tom’s stuff had gone. They let me walk around and take photos for about 15 minutes, and then they laid on me an S$150.00 entry fee….
After looking at the collection we stopped at Panatina Plaza shopping centre at Kukum Beach for lunch, then back to the hotel for a break. I arranged to meet Stanley at 1.30pm to go to Bonegi beach. 1.30pm came, but a big storm blew in with torrential rain. I told Stan I would see him 9.00 am on Monday. He said his Uncle and family lived at Lunga ridge, so he can show me stuff there. He also said there would be no problem getting up the road to the Army V-mail camp site at the bend of the Lunga River.
It was pouring, so I jumped in the pool for a while then downloaded and sorted more photos and started typing these notes out. My friend John Innes is normally on Guadalcanal, but this time he was in Brisbane, but gave me the name of Dave (a Federal Police officer) as a contact. I got Dave on the phone and he said I was welcome to join him and his friend Mick tomorrow for a walk out to “Coffin Corner” along the October 42 battle line of the 164th Infantry Regiment.
Sunday, November 8th 2009
I met Dave and Mick at 9.00am at the King Solomon and we drove out past Henderson Field and St. Joseph’s school on the east bank of the Ilu River. There is an AFP firing range down that way, and Dave said he had heard there were buried Stuart tanks too. A vet had commented to me he saw 6 tanks parked in this area in 1945. I am hoping to get some photos sent to me in due course (area out of bounds except when they are on duty). Dave served in the USMC in 1985-89 before coming to Australia.
St Joseph’s was previously a US hospital we drove down the road until we were due south of the Oct 42 line and Coffin Corner area and then walked north towards the 1942 line. Palm trees cover the open area of 1942, but the grass was not too high.
We got to the edge of the jungle and walked around looking for signs of the line. I had a “then and now” map we consulted. We found some wire stakes, a roll of wire and foxholes. After a lot of sweating we came to what I think was the trail the Japanese advanced up and where the two 37mm guns were positions. It was sort of a trail that comes off a dry watercourse from Ilu River.
The jungle area seemed to match the map and in the end we were pretty confident we had found coffin corner or very close to it. Growth was thick and we couldn’t find much on the ground, but did identify the line. There were fence boundary lines of wire from postwar, when the then open area was used for cattle grazing, but you could tell the difference from the wartime wire. So after much sweat we walked back through the palms to the car.
After this we drove towards Tetere beach. Just short of Tetere we were stopped by a very upset girl on the road, who was going on somebody wanted to kill her.
We got a somewhat confused story, so Dave drove here to Tetere police station, then continued on to the beach, parked and walked up to the Gavaga creek battle area……….a nice sea breeze.
We drove back to Tetere police to check about the girl, but Mick was informed he had to return to RAMSI HQ at Lunga to organize picking up a guy in a remote village who had badly injured a girl. After dropping Mick back to sort this out Dave and I walked across the road from RAMSI HQ. The tall grass in the field had only been burnt yesterday and there were many US vehicle parts scattered across the ground, plus the upturned partial chassis of a Stuart tank…….I picked up a few .50 cal links in the field. Dave then dropped me back at the King Solomon hotel and said to call him on Wednesday, as he might be free Friday and Saturday. I was rapt that I had finally got to coffin corner and brought away some barbed wire.
Dinner at the King Solomon. Crayfish fried rice (S$100.00).
Monday, November 9th 2009
Stanley came at 9.00 am and we drove down to Lunga beach and walked west to the USN base area at Lunga lagoon (Naval Advanced Base 145) and looked around there, then walked further west to the other lagoon. Remains of hut concrete foundations were obvious, plus a still intact metal landing barge.
Stanley said he used to dig on the west bank when he was a kid and find dog tags, paperwork and other buried stuff. So we headed up there and talked to a guy who had some 1920s-30s New Zealand and British coins, but he wanted too much for them ($200). Another guy showed us a stainless steel USN marked soup ladle.
We walked back to the car and drove off past rows of wood boxes near the beach, reminding me of what the USN supply piles must have looked like. We stopped at Henderson to see my friend Alistair and went and saw him at his house nearby, where I gave him a small DVD player.
Stan asked did I want to go up onto Lunga ridge near the bridge, so we went up there and saw the wartime concrete hut slabs and what might have been a searchlight or radar metal base. Then we saw Stan’s Brother Andrew who works at a building near the radio tunnel under the ridge. For s$10 he showed me the tunnels. They have been cleaned out and looked good. He said they had installed lighting, but kids got in through the 2 front entrances and stole them.
After looking here We drove west over Lunga bridge and them went north up to the big bend in the Lunga where the US Army V-mail camp area used to be…There is a gravel operation on the riverbank nearby – trucks were coming and going. Looking downstream I could see the site of the original wartime bridge across the river. There were still some metal posts were sticking up midstream.
There was thick grass and trees on the V-mail site, so I couldn’t find the concrete slab, but it was in there for sure. The remains of the sunken Japanese barges in the river were only recently removed by the gravel guys. I took photos and video and then we went to Panatina Plaza shopping centre at Kukum beach for lunch and back to the hotel at 1.30pm...
I met Stanley and went up to Gifu at 2.30 pm and bought some stuff from Willie.
I got 2 Japanese mess tins (with names), I Japanese canteen, 4 fired .45 cases, 2 .50 cal heads, an 81mm mortar container lid, Japanese water purifier, fuse, mortar bomb storage plug, Japanese officers fork, Japanese anti-gas paste bottle,,3 Japanese oil bottles, I Japanese mess tin lid (with name), I Japanese mess tin insert.
We drove back down Mt Austen and took photos at the Wright Road memorial then down to Kukum beach. We went half way up the beach. There was lots of metal scrap from Lunga on beach to be sold. Stanley then took my right up to the Lunga mouth at the northern end of beach, where the Japanese first landed and had their camp. The camp is now covered by a rubbish dump There are lots of new buildings going up in this area now.
When I was there in 1999 it was pretty empty. Back to the hotel at 5.30pm to download photos. I sat in the shower for a while scrubbing assorted relics with steel wool and soap till they were clean and I was wrinkly. Down to the restaurant for another delicious plate of crayfish fried rice and then back to the room to type this up.
I have a free morning on Tuesday before I meet Stanley at 1.00pm for the drive to Bonegi beach.
Tuesday, November 10th 2009 (USMC birthday)
After a shower and breakfast I went back up to the room to work o the photos.
I walked down to the museum and saw Lawrence and had a chat. He said come back at midday and we can have lunch. Then I walked down to the Goettge patrol/Matanikau sandbar area, then up to the church on the hill, then through Chinatown and back to the hotel to download photos and have a shower. A hot and humid day.
I was intending to meet Stanley at 1.00pm, so I left a message at the desk that if I wasn’t back by 1.00 pm to tell him to return at 2.00pm. I met Lawrence, his wife, son and daughter and had a very nice meal at a Chinese restaurant in the main street. I must go there again.
I walked back to hotel at 1.36pm and Stanley had been waiting for 30 minutes. They had not passed on the message. The security guard had not checked with the desk, just said to him “he went out”.
So we drove off west towards Bonegi beach. At White river there was a large police group supervising the tearing down of illegal market stalls, but as Stanley said “they just rebuild them”.
We drove in and paid the S$25.00 toll at the gate (.50 cal MG holding up the boom gate) and went down towards KINUGAWA MARU. We got bogged in soft sand on the beach, but Stanley got us out after some maneuvering. In 2006 the beach was clean and had wood seats set up, but now they are gone and there were coconuts, plastic bottles and general rubbish about………sad. The road out to Bonegi is quite good now though.
On the way I took some photos at Tassafaronga beach. The bridge over the Kokumbona River is completed now – it was under construction when I was here in 2008. We continued through town and up to the US Memorial at Skyline Ridge, overlooking the Matanikau valley – a nice breeze up here I took more photos and went to the hotel at 4.30 pm. I jumped in the pool for 20 minutes and then had shower.
I will give Lawrence list of relics in the morning for a permit and will meet Stanley at 10.00pm to go see Edson’s Ridge, Alligator Creek and Red Beach.
Wednesday, November 11th 2009 (ARMISTICE DAY)
After breakfast I walked down to the museum and gave Lawrence my list of relics to get a permit on Friday.
Afterwards I walked up the hill to the parliament and took some panoramic shots. There was a nice breeze but it was still as hot as hell. Back down to the hotel to meet Stanley at 10.00am.
Driving east over the ilu river bridge we saw red flags out, signifying live firing exercises by RAMSI (Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands).. We went out to Red Beach and walked west along the beach to the mouth of the Tenaru River, where there was a really nice. We met local guy Robert who has a hut on the beach. He said that the Japanese 75mm gun on the beach that I saw in 1995 had fallen off its mount into the ocean now. We had a chat to him and I gave him some WW2 Red Beach photos
We drove back towards ilu river, but the gate to the beach was locked, so we entered a few hundred yards west, past an old US hut and paid the S$25.00 fee to get to the beach…very thick jungle and a winding road, but we came out a few hundred yards still west of the sandbar, at the small lagoon midway between ilu river and Lunga lagoon.. We could have walked east to the sandbar BUT it was a matter of the safety of the car. The 1st Marines command post was in this area during the Aug 21 1942 battle.
So we drove back up towards Henderson Field. I was glad to see that the long grass along the airfield fence obscuring the field had all been cut back. We stopped at the International terminal and got some beef curry rolls and cokes for lunch and ate those in the shade of the trees at the memorial garden.
After lunch we drove past the wartime control tower and the 1992 Edson’s ridge memorial. Here too all the grass and trees had been cut back, but the area was all fenced off, so you couldn’t get there either….great for tourism. The 1992 memorial was still stripped bare of the metal plaques that had been sold off for scrap and an upturned car body was still lying there, sealed in by the new fence.
We went down the road to Edson’s ridge and I noted that the metal US hut by the side of the road that I had seen every trip since 1995 was now gone. Stanley said it had been cut up for the scrap metal. Half the back metal wall was still there, but soil had been put over the concrete floor and a garden was growing. When I took photos I noticed there were 3 more still intact US metal huts between it and the airfield. I had never seen them before because of the growth, but now hut owners had cleared the area and one guy walked me over to them. There is always something new to see on the Canal.
We went further up the trail and branched off to the left to Vandergriff’s CP area a few hundred yards behind the main ridge…more overgrown that when I was here in 2008. I wanted to get into the AA gun command bunker under the ridge, but the entrance was likewise overgrown and getting down the hillside would have been a problem. From here you get a good view down the ridge trail a few hundred yards further south. It must have been quite a view on 12-13 September 1942.
Martin Clemens once told me that he and 13 scouts were a blocking force in a draw on the left flank and had killed a few Japanese during the night. He said the scariest thing was some US shells hitting the tops of the palm trees as they went towards the ridge.
We continued on to the main ridge (S$25.00 at the toll gate) and drove up the front of the ridge. New gravel had been put on the road, so you could drive up there okay. The downside was that it covered any cartridge cases on the trail We went down to the barbed wire at the southern end of the ridge and got a few pieces. Walked around in a nice cool breeze – the coolest I ever felt on the ridge…………dark clouds were gathering over Mt. Austen and sure enough it started to rain.
We drove back down the ridge and stopped at the toll gate to see a few relics. Dashed through the rain up to the house of Thomas, the area chief and had a chat. I bought a US canteen from his son and signed his guest book. His son said he found the canteen by the Lunga. It was post battle (1943 dated) but a good example.
It was 3.00 pm by now, so we called it a day with the rain and went back to the hotel. I arranged top meet Stanley at 10.00 am tomorrow to go to Betikama School. He said he would show me all the buried stuff in the area too. I sat in the shower and scrubbed the canteen for a while, then downloaded the day’s photos.
Before I went to dinner I rang Dave at the AFP at Lunga and arranged to meet him at 10.15am on Friday. Dinner of crayfish fried rice and then writing this up.
Thursday, November 12th 2009
I went downstairs at 9.45am to meet Stanley at 10.00 am. Stanley arrived on time and I ran the gauntlet of some guy trying to sell me a carving.
We drove out to Betikama and Stanley took me for a sweaty walk through the jungle to show me the concrete abutment of the old US Bridge over the Lunga. We had to watch out for red ants…..Stanley used to play here in the 70s` when the area was cleared for cattle. Man, it was sweaty in there, but I didn’t mind….much!
We went to the Relics but the hut out back was shut, so took photos of the planes and guns out front etc. Stan said he had asked the headmaster if he could take me to take photos of the buried items area, but the answer was no after recent unauthorized digging. Stanley then took me to a hill overlooking the Betikama hills and pointed out to me the area where the Americans had buried everything. I would have liked to look there and take photos but it was not to be.
We drove back to Henderson to buy lunch and I took some photos of the Japanese 75mm AA gun outside the terminal. Next we drove to Pagoda hill. In 2008 there was a gravel operation next to the old control tower, but now it’s moved across the road. There are lots of new buildings and worker huts nearby…I was going to look in the radio tunnel, but the workers had been using it as a toilet…I went in about 2 feet and the stench was foul…
So we walked up the path up onto pagoda hill. Most of the growth has been cleared and there is a 2 storey house approximately where the pagoda flight operations hut was. We walked over there and had a nice chat with the owner’s sister Samantha... I showed here wartime photos and promised to send her a DVD of wartime photos.
It was a really clear day, so we drove up Kukum beach again to Lunga river mouth and took photos of the beach and bay. It was a lot clearer than the other day. By this time is about 2.30 pm, so I went back to the hotel for a shower, cool down and photo downloading.
I had a few Cokes at the Point Cruz Yacht Club and then walked around to the
Mendana, but there was not much of a breeze tonight, so I returned to the King Sol planning to have dinner. But when I got there I saw a sign saying “Restaurant fully booked for function” so it was back to the Mendana for dinner…..then back to write up this journal.
I am meeting Dave and Mick at 10.15am tomorrow to go to Bonegi, o will try and get my permit from Lawrence and confirm my Monday flight early in the morning.
Friday, November 13th 2009
After breakfast I walked down to the Solomon airlines office to confirm my Monday flight and then walked to the museum to get me relic permit. However Lawrence in his office, so I went back to the hotel and met Dave and Mick as planned
We drove up to Bonegi beach and down the track to the Sherman on the firing range. After looking over the tank we walked up the track to the 1943-45 US
rubbish dump…..hot in there but not as many insects as previous times……explored the slopes – jerricans, rubbish bins, engine parts, beer, coke and Pepsi bottles, ammo tin lids, US beer cans, a helmet and other stuff strewn everywhere. I put 2 good Pepsi bottles in my pocket. We climbed back up the hill and walked up the next ridgeline for a panoramic view of the bay and reflected on the November 1942 naval battles……also picked up a couple of fired US
From here we went back into town and drove up hill 66 for more panoramic views and match up a few photos and then drove down past the ravine where Chesty Puller’s Battalion wiped out the Japanese 4th infantry regiment.
Mick had to go on duty at 3.00 pm, so after lunch at Panatina plaza Dave dropped him back at the base and we drove to Henderson and went up onto pagoda hill again and I took a few more photos. Dave commented that on the USMC birthday on November 10th he drove to the airport memorials and performed the birthday ritual.
From here we drove to Edson’s ridge and looked around the area to the left flank of the final knoll, down in front of the hill where Vandergriff’s HQ was.
A bunch of kids followed us down and were eagle eyed spotting stuff in a burnt off area - .barbed wire pigtails, wire, us cartridge cases, an intact .50 cal round a shell fuse, 2 Arisaka rifle clips, one with 3 exploded bullets missing heads….
Friendly little guys. From here we drove down the front of the ridge and checked out the barbed wire emplacements and the flow of the battle, plus the view east towards Coffin corner...
By the time Dave dropped me back in town it was about 4.45 and I went down to the museum to see Lawrence for the permit, but he had gone home. I met John, who I met in 2008, and Secretary Edna. She said Lawrence had gone home, so I will see him on Monday. Dave said to ring him tomorrow and he might be free to go to the 7th Marines lines east of Edson’s ridge on Sunday. Stanley said to ring him if I wanted to go anywhere on Saturday. After dinner I downloaded photos and wrote up the Journal.
Saturday, November 14th 2009
I had intended this to be a rest day, but when I looked out the window after breakfast it was another bright, clear day, so I couldn’t waste it. I rand Stanley and arranged to meet him at 10.30 am to go up to Vilu museum near Cape Esperance, , stopping to take a few photos at Kokumbona beach – a beautiful spot.
We reached Vilu (overshot the turnoff as usual!) and had a walk around. The exhibits much as I saw them in 2008, but the grass it cut now. The P38 Lightning fighter wing is really rotting now and a few small items I saw in 2008 gone now. We drove back east towards Honiara and stopped at 2 beaches for great views if the bay and the sea breeze. Damn I wish I had brought my bathers in the pack that day!
Driving through Honiara we stopped for lunch at Panatina plaza and then drove down to Ilu River again, to see if the gate was open. It was and Stanley walked down to find the guy in charge. Lots of the former jungle has been cut away and there were piles of US vehicle parts and metal landing barge chunks. Stanley came back with the boss guy and we walked down to the sandbar. Neat gardens put in on the way and a lot of growth cut back…when we got down to the beach I saw a soccer field and goals laid out on the west bank where you see the photos of the dead Japanese. A large building was going up on the west bank next to the river, overlooking the sandbar. This was a new bar they told me and that the Solomon Islands beach volleyball team now practices on the beach……certainly a change from when I was last here in 2006. Gazing East I could see fires in the Koli Point area. It looked life the aftermath of a bombing raid!
I asked him if they had found any relics when they dug to start the building and he said yes, but RAMSI had taken it away. He had a single live .50 cal round in his hut. It was very interesting taking in the new look of the area, which altogether was not too bad. I gave him a pile of 1942 photos and said put them in the bar, so people know what happened here and have respect. I wonder if there will be beer cans everywhere by 2010, but the area seemed to be set out very orderly and no rubbish was in evidence... If they cut down the remaining growth on the sandbar it would look like 1942.
It was about 3.00 pm now, so we headed back to town. As we passed Henderson there was a big plume of white smoke near Pagoda hill. They were burning off growth, but it looked like it was a bit out of hand and the fire truck was there. I told myself it was a fuel dump hit by Japanese bombers as I took photos! I had planned to go up Mt Austen again, but didn’t have the energy.
Back to the hotel where a very hot and sweaty Pete showered and downloaded his photos. I then went down to the front desk and contacted my email friend Shane Elliott, who had arrived from a trip to Munda. He had been to the Canal as a 15 year old in 1981. We met and went down to the yacht club for a drink, then across to the Mendana for an air conditioned meal of beef lasagna.
Afterwards we went back to the king Solomon and looked at some photos on my pc. I gave him Stanley’s card in case he wanted to drive anywhere, but he said he was pretty tired. I had arranged to meet Dave and Mick at 9.00am to go to Edson’s ridge, so we both headed to bed.
It’s now 7.12am on the 15th as I write this up and I am about to go down to breakfast and fortify myself for a long day of sweating. Hopefully the 4 of us can get together for a meal tonight.
Sunday, November 15th 2009
Had breakfast at 7.30 am with Shane and had a chat then got ready to meet the guys to go to walk the 7th Marines line……We drove around the eastern end of Henderson and then south west across the former Fighter strip # 1.
We got to the southern end of the ridge about 10.00 am and drove down the trail branching east, past a US metal hut and parked. We then walked east along the line on the ridge and down towards the flats...thick growth, but foxholes and rifle pits were clearly visible…we found some lines of barbed wire and a fired and unfired .30 cal rounds…….We tried to find John Basilone’s MOH position, but growth too thick. We finally emerged sweating back at the (still intact) car about midday and drove back into town and I cooled down in the shower about 12.30pm, then downloaded the photos and scrubbed some relics.
Afterwards I met Shane for lunch at the Mendana and then a few drinks at the Yacht Club. Then back to the hotel for more cooling off and starting to pack things for the flight back to Brisbane on Monday. I was to meet Dave and Mick at the Mendana at 7.00pm for dinner. Shane was going to come, but he rang and said e was too tired. Pity, as he and Dave were both in the USMC at the same time 1985-89 and could have compared notes. We have a good meal, and then chatted about WW2 in general and Guadalcanal in particular. I am really glad to have met them and driven around with them. Good guys.
Back to the hotel about 9.30 pm for more packing. I leave at 2.45 pm tomorrow, so have to see Lawrence in the morning to add a few items to the relic permit.
Monday,November 16th 2009
After breakfast with Shane at 7.30am I did more packing, and then walked down to the Museum at 8.40 am to see Lawrence, but he was busy.
I went back at 9.30 am, but Lawrence was still busy, so I chatted to Edna for a while and then went back to the hotel. I was going to check out at 10.00 am and get Stanley to drive me to the airport. But it was easier to pay the day use rate for the room and tell him not to come until midday. I returned to the museum and saw Lawrence and got my permit. He was meeting somebody on the incoming flight that I would take back to Brisbane, so offered to drive me to the airport at 12.30pm.
I saw Stanley at midday and said don’t worry about going to the airport. I thanked him for all his driving and pleasant company during the week and gave him some boots, hat and a t shirt as a thank you. A nice guy.
I met Lawrence down in the hotel foyer and introduced him to Shane, and then we went out and had lunch at Panatina plaza. Down to Lunga beach for some final photos and then out to the Airport to check in. Very hot and sweaty standing in line but finally got the boarding pass.
I passed through Customs with no problems and then into the departure lounge.
We boarded about 2.20 pm and the plane was due to leave about 2.45pm. However we sat on the tarmac for an hour and didn’t take off until 3.50 pm. “Paperwork problems” they said, but we were finally up and away.
When I got back to Brisbane my friend John Innes met me and drove me to my hotel, where we had a good chat about the Solomons.