A Coastwatcher’s Diary

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6 August Is nothing going to happen after all? If not, the Hebrides will be bombed from here and we shall be too far away to be of any further use. Nothing doing on the wireless all morning. Disgusted, hungry, and depressed—and feet in bad shape. …

7 August Starting at 0610 very heavy detonations heard Tulagi and Lunga direction at very short intervals, which continued indefinitely. “ Dies irae ” at last!! I can hardly realize that someone has come at long last. Judging by the bomb-to-bomb descriptions I am picking up on the air, Gavutu, Tulagi, and Kukum are being attacked by landing forces, mainly American. Many planes in the area emanating from “orange base,” “red base,” “purple base.” I presume these are the carrier code words. … 1200 Calloo, callay, oh what a day!!! On combat radio I hear that Tulagi is taken and at 1205 Marines land on Gavutu. Wizardl Lookouts keep coming in with reports of their pet objectives at Lunga going off with a loud bang and a cloud of smoke. The Kukum oil dump and ammo dump which we described both hit beautifully. We heard the targets being given. … 1550 Several flights of dive bombers flying home down weather side. We cannot resist waving madly. Morale has gone up about 500%. … 1645 Complete control of Tulagi established. … This is better than a football match, but what wouldn’t I give for a beer and a grilled steak or so. …

8 August I can now see the amazing panorama laid out as far as the eye can see. From Savo to Rua Sura, from Lunga to Tulagi—ships everywhere. Can make out fourteen troop ships off Makile and about six cruisers and twelve destroyers, which presumably are their escort. … 1200 In spite of smoke, mist and low cloud obscuring the view, I observe a solid air attack on our vessels. After it, three of them have black columns of smoke over them, and they may have been hit. … Can’t see a thing for an hour or two afterwards, there is so much smoke. When it clears, one transport is on fire—must have been hit or had a plane crash into it. [This was the transport George F. Elliott of Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner’s amphibious support force.— Ed. ]

… Three scouts come in with report from Lunga [that] Nips definitely expected their own land planes very shortly. None of us have eaten all day for excitement. And so ends another splendid day.

9 August Much gunfire 0200 till 0300 so must be a naval battle off Savo. 0800 Heavy enemy air attacks on cruisers, but do not reach the transport fleet. … These all disperse about ten o’clock. Some fifty small landing launches remain scattered in all directions. One of cruisers is unmistakably Australia or Canberra , Burning vessel exploded early on, but must have sunk as no sign of it by lunch time. Air activity now all friendly. Smoke still floats over Tulagi—must have been stiff fighting. … 1500 Convoy, now unloaded, moves off with what looks like a County Class cruiser as part of the rear guard, which now looks a bit smaller. [Clemens was observing the aftermath of the stinging American defeat in the Battle of Savo Island. The vessel that “exploded early on” was the Canberra , put out of her misery by a U.S. destroyer. H.M.A.S. Australia helped cover the withdrawal of Turner’s supporting force.— Ed. ] Now what happens, I wonder. I wish I had something civilised to eat.

12 August Grouse season opens in Scotland. Nips do not have feathers, but send out instructions to all headmen to deal faithfully with any stray Nips they may find. … I take advantage of the spare time. It is grand after so much hiding from enemy planes. I do not bother to pull down the Union Jack when we hear aircraft now. …

13 August From 1615 to 1630 gunfire heard at Kukum. Local attack, or practice? At last Koimate’s scout arrives from Macfarlan. Is a “U.S. Marine Corps Field Message” from Widdy [the Solomons manager for Lever Brothers]—“Proceed Lunga, hitting coast at Volonavua. U.S. Marines have landed successfully in force. Will be very glad to see you.” Three rousing cheers—at last! …

15 August … Once on the beach we close up and march in two ranks, as we have no identification or password, and I doubt whether the enemy would proceed in this fashion. As we came down the beach, suddenly see hosts of Marines hauling trucks on the beach. The outpost stood fast with his rifle, but luckily did not fire. I felt a queer lump in my throat, and felt very nervous as to what an English voice would sound like after not hearing one for so long. I was given a cigarette and a piece of chocolate and taken to a Captain Ellison who seemed very glad to see me. He had the word from Widdy. After shaking several dozen hands, we clambered into a jeep and I was taken to regimental headquarters, the carriers following. Beach piled with gear, and arms everywhere. Frightfully glad to meet Colonel Gates [Clifton Bledsoe Gates, commander of the ist Marine Regiment, afterward (1948–52) Marine Corps Commandant], and especially Widdy. We patted each other on the back for some minutes, and tears streamed down my face. …