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World War II in Solomon Islands



Key battleground in the Pacific War

Mat McLachlan's Battlefield Tours

Suggested WWII
sites to visit

1. 4th Division storage tunnel, Guadalcanal.
Bloody Ridge, Guadalcanal.
Beach Red, Guadalcanal.
Gavutu Island, Central Province.
Beach Blue, Tulagi, Central Province.
Enogi Inlet, Munda
7. Fighter 1 and Fighter 2, Guadalcanal.
Cape Esperance, Guadalcanal.
Maruyama Trail, Kakabona.
Ichiki monument, Guadalcanal.

By Richard Moore

WWII sites pictures pages

HE STOOD there in the heat of a Solomon Islands afternoon with his head bowed, sagging slightly under the emotional weight he was carrying.

Tracing his finger over the white words inscribed on the glossy granite wall he took a moment and then stood back placing his right hand over his heart.

His left hand then went to his mouth, covering it.

Steeling himself, the man with cropped silver hair then bent down and tucked a folded piece of paper in between the base of the granite block and the white stones bordering it.

The words began “In loving memory of my father Charles …”

Having watched this moving moment I walked across to him and quietly asked if he was okay.

He nodded several times and said: “My Dad fought here. He was a marine with the 1st Marine Division.”

That’s unusual, I thought, Terry sounds Australian. And he was.

The 67-year-old was a retired public servant from Canberra. His American father and Aussie mother fell in love when they met in Melbourne where Charles was posted with his fellow Marines in World War II.

The Marines had just been fighting in the Solomon Islands as part of the United States’ first counterpunch to the Japanese invasion of the Pacific.

They initially landed on Tulagi, an island about 30km north of Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942. What followed was a bitter, three-day struggle for control of the former capital.

From where I stood at the US Memorial, on top of Skyline Ridge in the capital Honiara, I could see the island of Tulagi in the distance.

It was just a name to me, but we would soon visit Tulagi and also the battlegrounds on Guadalcanal where Charles and his mates entered into the bloody contest with the Japanese.

We were part of a group of 20 people – Australians, Americans and a New Zealander - on Mat McLachlan’s Battlefield Tours visiting the Solomons on a WWII tour.

Mat is an experienced battlefield historian and has a deep knowledge of the Guadalcanal and Solomons campaigns.

Never having been on such a tour before – five days in total – there was some uncertainty about who would be within the party.

Would they be difficult? Know-it-alls?

There was no need to worry because the group was great, b

onding well and quickly and Terry’s story helped in doing so as we all took his journey with him. He had come on the tour with his mate David, also from Canberra, who was a Vietnam veteran.

“I wanted to – and I hate using the words – follow in Dad’s footsteps. I wanted to see where he fought. I wanted to actually see it.”

“When I hopped on the plane I was looking forward to it. I was curious and excited.”

And tour leader Mat McLachlan was excited for Terry as well. He was able to show Terry where Charles had fought at Bloody Ridge and explained to everyone how that battle to defend the vital airbase at Henderson Field from the Japanese played out.

Being on Mat’s tours you learn so much about the struggle for Guadalcanal, a campaign that has become synonymous with bravery, suffering, viciousness and hard, bloody fighting.

He skillfully mixes the overall strategy with the on-ground tactical events that happened at each battlefield and wraps it all up with how the clashes made a difference in the campaign.

And while there are plenty of sites to visit, the schedule is relaxed with plenty of time to talk over some really great evening meals in Honiara.

The battle for Guadalcanal was the turning point for the Pacific War because after their defeat in the islands the Japanese never again went on the offensive.

The men who fought there – on both sides - faced incredible hardships and some 8000 men on each side paid the ultimate price.

At Bloody Ridge, or Edson’s Ridge as it is also known, Terry came face to face with the cost of war.

Sitting in an overgrown foxhole dug by one of the Marine defenders, possibly even his father, he looked out across the valley from where the Japanese launched their attacks.

We left him to his thoughts of the events of 73 years before and afterwards he told me: “Sitting there I was sad.

“My dad was badly wounded by a mortar burst,” he said, although Terry is not sure where. Terry said he was taken to Melbourne and that’s where he met his future wife.

“A lot of bad things happened in WWII, but a lot of good things too … me,” he added with a small smile.

Then the sadness in his eyes returned. “My Dad had four operations over the years as they tried to get all the shrapnel out of him. “He died 21 years later from the wounds he got.

“He was only 39. I was 15.”

With his pilgrimage to Bloody Ridge done, Terry had one more important place to visit during the tour.

It was our boat trip out to Tulagi where his Dad and the Marines first landed in the Solomons.

The weather gods were kind to him as it was a beautiful sunny day that showed off the Solomons’ stunningly clear waters at their picture postcard best.

But Terry had other things on his mind.

“As we approached the beach where they landed I got choked up. “I thought these guys were 18-year-old kids who had never faced combat.

“All they see in front of them is the naval and air bombardments of the Japanese positions they will attack.

“They could see the smoke billowing over Tulagi and knew that’s where they had to go.

“These guys would have been scared as shit. For the first time they realized they could get killed.

“Those poor 18-year-olds were heading to God knows what. What would I do? What would I feel? Shit scared I reckon.”

Gathering himself once again Terry did something else he came to the Solomons to do. He poured some of his Mum’s ashes over the waters of the bay where his Dad sat 73 years before waiting to head ashore.

He said it was her wish to be with him again.

On our return to the Honiara jetty Terry had one last ceremony to perform. He had bonded very closely with an American former serviceman Paul, whose Dad had fought in the US Army on Guadalcanal.

The pair shared an emotional rollercoaster as we toured the battlegrounds where their dads had fought and they had decided to “pour one out” for them.

On the jetty they stood and poured a beer each into the sea, symbolizing the ones that should have been enjoyed by their dead fathers.

There were few dry eyes and not just from the duo.

It was a precious, privileged moment for all of us, one that made the visit to the Solomons even more special.

Visit Solomon Island Visitors Bureau website by clicking here.


Copyright 2014 RICHARD MOORE