Friday, September 17, 2010

The Coast Watchers

I have just finished reading The Coast Watchers, by Patrick Lindsay.

The Coast Watchers is the true story of the men (and a few women) who stayed behind enemy lines in the Pacific in WWII to report the Japanese position to the allies. The book focusses mainly on the efforts of the Coast Watchers in New Britain and Bougainville in New Guinea, and Guadalcanal. With help from the local populations, both indigenous and ex-pat (missionaries and planters) the Coast Watchers were a valuable source of intel to the allied forces in the Pacific who, up until Guadalcanal at least, had been losing the war. Chapters focus on events such as the fall of Rabaul, the American landings on Guadalcanal, and the rescue by Coast Watchers of a young JFK. The book is sometimes horrific as well: the desperate flight of the Lark Force soldiers out of Rabaul, the sinking of the Montevideo, and the inevitably tragic endings of many of the Coast Watchers. It is a fascinating book about a little-known part of the war.

As a child I spent several years on Bougainville and we travelled throughout the islands, so many of the place names here are familiar. I played on abandoned tanks and war memorials, and I remember my father pointing out the place on the hillside where Yamamoto's plane was shot down, but the war was a sort of vague mythology to me. It had shaped the world I knew, but I didn't know what it was. I don't know that I even asked. I remember running and up down the hill in the war cemetery in Rabaul, pretending to be chased by crocodiles.

Sometimes Andrew babysat me and my sister. Andrew was from Jacquinot Bay. His mother was a princess there. We knew it was a magical place. We loved Andrew because of his smile and the stories he told us, and for months we were Jacquinot Bay this, and Jacquinot Bay that. Until I read The Coast Watchers, I didn't know where Jacquinot Bay was, let alone how to spell it. Now I know about Palmalmal Mission on Jacquinot Bay, and the massacres there.

When I lived in New Guinea the war still cast a long shadow. Sadly Bougainville has had a different war since then, and the places and people I knew as a child aren't there anymore.

Buy the Kindle edition from Amazon here: The Coast Watchers

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