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24 August 2010


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I have followed the story regarding the Tarawa Coast Watchers as it develops on Radio Australia.

I have looked for references to these men in Eric Feldt's book and can find none.

Were they part of the 'Ferdinand' network or was there another network set up?

It's a relief to know that a few other people have misgivings about this book.

When I read it I thought it owed a bit too much to Eric Feldt's book of the same name - a sort of abridged version.

If you haven't read it yet I would suggest reading Feldt's book first.

I can not agree with the comment above which endorses the book by Patrick Lindsay.

He is factually wrong in a number of instances, i.e., he states the Gilbert and Ellice islands were placed under a Japanese mandate given by the Treaty of Versailles and the claim that Fr De Klerk actively hunted Japanese and islanders who collaborated laughable.

I really feel this book cheapens the memory of the Coastwatchers

Everything I have read as to why the twenty-two Tarawa Coast Watchers were executed by the Japanese in October 1942 refers to the bombing of that island by American aircraft. However, having done just a minimum of research I came up with the following: Lexington was sunk at Coral Sea in May of that year, and Yorktown was sent to the bottom the following month at the Battle of Midway. Enterprise was at Pearl Harbor undergoing repairs for damage inflicted in the Solomon Islands. In October 1942, Wasp and Hornet were involved in the Solomons, and both were sunk later that month. At the same time, I couldn’t find any information that led me to believe that we had any land-based bombers capable of reaching Tarawa from any of our bases at the time. Besides, they were desperately needed in the Southwest Pacific Theater of war at the time, and there weren’t that many available anyway.
What I did find, thanks to some networking, was that after escorting Enterprise to Pearl, USS Portland (CL-33), on her way back to the Solomon Islands, paused off Tarawa, launched her two SOC float planes, and then commenced to bombard the island. Eyewitness sightings of the two float planes probably led them to believe that they had been bombed, when in fact they had been bombarded by Portland.
According to another source, it is rumored that the coast watchers were heard cheering as the shells hit home and this may have also led to their executions.
As a reference: SWEET PEA AT WAR: A History of USS Portland, by William Thomas Generous Jr.

I can't understand why he would give his book the same title as Eric Feldt's excellent account published in 1946.

Feldt was tireless in his efforts as commander of the coast watchers and wrote the book recovering from a heart attack.

It seems disrespectful and could create confusion for future serious students of the subject.

I called John Jones this afternoon, Jones being the last surviving member of the Tarawa Coast Watchers.

He was with a group of seven on one of the northern-most of the Gilbert Islands (Kiribati), and captured soon after Pearl Harbor.

This group escaped death by being shipped almost immediately to Japan--Zentsuji Camp. (Note that others in this camp were from Guam, Wake Island and the PI at least in the beginning.)

Those executed in October 1942 were in the southern Gilberts. Jones found out their fate in 1944 when an American, flying out of the Gilberts, was shot down and captured, ending up in the camp mentioned above.

The individuals from this camp had regular reunions until recent years, the last one being in California. Jones also told me that he has been in contact with a Japanese researcher by the name of Yuichi Nagura, who is writing a book about the Pacific War.

I hope to get more details on all of the above when I interview Mr Jones, sometime in the near future.

For many years now, the maritime element of the PNG Defence Force (that's our small navy for those who came in late) was responsible for the maintenance of the PNG Coastwatcher Organisation.

But alas this has declined somewhat due to a lack of foresight and funding support by both the government and the Ministry of Defence.

The PNGCW in its heyday was a very good and well run organisation with the RAN and later the maritime element being given the job of making sure this somewhat secret operational organisation worked for the good of the country's security.

I intend to remind the PNGDF and others in Waigani of the good work that PNGCW did in the past and the country's need to revive and reactivate it now.

Something new has come to light regarding the whereabouts of a group of British subjects— mostly New Zealanders — who were captured on Tarawa,and then beheaded by the Japanese during the war.

They are known today as the Tarawa Coast Watchers.

As I write this, JPAC (Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command) out of Hawaii, is on Tarawa exhuming the remains of a number of Marines who were buried on Tarawa, and then lost.

At the same time, it came to light that the remains of the Tarawa Coast Watchers have also been located.

Furthermore, I discovered that the last surviving Coast Watcher, a Mr John Jones here in New Zealand (one of several from another island who were sent to Japan as POWS), has been pressing the New Zealand government for years to try and find the remains of his murdered comrades, but to no avail.

I am now in the process of tracking Mr Jones, but am not getting a reply from the New Zealand TV station that interviewed him recently.

Without going into too much detail, if I can get interested and necessary parties involved in this, then I plan to fly to Tarawa — if possible — and be there for the search and recovery of these long-forgotten British subjects that made the ultimate sacrifice, and then were forgotten.

I can only imagine that there are still family members both in New Zealand and Australia who would like this chapter in our history closed with the recovery of those remains.

You can contact Bruce at

Stephen, I agree with you about 'Coast Watchers' being a good read. On the whole, due to my marine background, I like reading adventure books and novels with a sea flavour.

I can highly recommend this book (The Coast Watchers) having just finished it over two nights.

It gives a good coverage of the men and women involved and does well in expanding how successful the local people were in so many, but not all, cases in taking the initiative to help in deciding the path of their future for the better.

This book is just as valuable as an historical account of the times and the people of that time for Australians and their Allies.

Though the title portrays the main focus, our worthy and faithful friends from PNG are not forgotten and, as with the people of other Allied nations, both the good and the bad, are covered for history is our foundation stone.

There are good lessons within these pages for those living today that need to be given the respect they deserve, for so many gave everything in giving us both this history and their fine examples of character to emulate and build upon.

History has bound our peoples together and united we prosper divided we perish.

This book is a must on your bookshelf for you would not be in this particular corner of the Internet unless it was an area of interest and passion to you.

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