US Development Aid serves to open-up stories of heroism involving Coastwatchers from the Solomon Islands and New Zealand
Yesterday I told the story of how the US Agency for International Development had donated US$400.000 to the Solomon Islands in response to the humanitarian crises in Guadalcanal caused by Tropical Cyclone Harold.
It struck me as significant that the US Government’s representative in the Solomon Islands had visited the storm stricken areas of Guadalcanal and personally handed out relief supplies that had emanated from the US aid.
It was significant because of the historic connection that the US has with the Solomon Islands now stretching back almost 78 years since the Second World War battle of Guadalcanal when over 7000 US marines lost their lives on Guadalcanal in the epic defence of the Solomoms against tough, determined Imperial Japanese soldiers that had invaded the Solomon Islands.
The epic account of the Guadalcanal campaign and the Battle of Guadalcanal is brilliantly told in the book by Don Richter and titled, ‘Where the Sun Stood Still.’
The author also tells in his book of the pivotal role that ordinary Solomon Islanders, farmers, fishermen amongst them, like the legendary Sir Jacob Vouza, played in the fight to defeat the Japanese.
Those dedicated and heroic Solomon Islanders were known as Scouts and Coastwatchers.
Often risking their lives, families and their homes, they provided crucial information about Japanese troop and ship movements to their intelligence contacts.
Today, the memory of those brave Solomon Islands Scouts lives on and there is a monument to their sacrifice and historic deeds in Honiara.
Some years ago the Australian Government specially struck medals to the Scouts and presented them to their surviving relatives. The exception, I recall, was the presentation of the medal to the last surviving member of the war-time heroes.
It has been said the Solomon Islands Coast Watchers saved Guadalcanal and Guadalcanal help save the Pacific.
I believe there is a good deal of truth in that statement, believed to have been said by US Admiral William Halsey Jnr.
It is often overlooked; however that New Zealand developed its own coastwatching scheme. From the outbreak of war, the New Zealand Naval Board controlled coastwatching stations located around the New Zealand coastline and in the eastern Pacific.
Radio New Zealand this week has highlighted the role of the unsung heroes who took part in the war effort in the South Pacific supporting covert intelligence operations for the New Zealand government during WW11.
I would like to share what Radio New Zealand has had to say of their heroes, and I quote.
“They were the eyes and ears of the Pacific Ocean; watching for strange ships and aircraft, while listening into radio activity and diligently reporting any activity back to New Zealand Headquarters. Their native tongue gave the Pāsifika coast watchers an added advantage, they leapfrogged secret encryptions from one island to the next before it was sent using morsecode to Fiji and onto New Zealand.
“Very little is recorded about their efforts or the jeopardy these Pacific Islanders placed themselves in to defend our freedom and our futures.
“Researcher and grandson of an original Native Wireless Operator, Willie Cuthers is on a mission to change that. Cuthers wants formal acknowledgement and recognition for his grandfather and namesake William Cuthers and the other men who served New Zealand.
“Cuthers’ grandfather was part of a network which included hundreds of operators, technicians and support workers from New Zealand. Working alongside them, the Pacific Islanders were recruited to operate outstations on most remote Pacific atolls in what would be a lonely, isolated and dangerous job.
“As a New Zealander with Pacific and Māori heritage, Cuthers set out to learn more about his grandfather’s efforts, the journey took him throughout New Zealand and finally back to Rarotonga where he met many grandchildren of the Native Wireless Operators.
“The Pacific Islands were of strategic significance to New Zealand in defending Japan against reaching New Zealand shores but they have been all but left out of our military history.
“These Pasifika men played their part in New Zealand’s defence system during World War II, but their contribution has never been formally acknowledged by New Zealand in contrast to the contribution of the New Zealand European Coastwatchers which was formally recognised in 2012 by the New Zealand Defence Force.”