Appendix C: Native Help During the Guadalcanal Campaign
The native of Guadalcanal and the vicinity, operating as members of the native constabulary, as laborers, or as scouts and assistants to the coast-watchers, rendered invaluable aid to the American forces. The constabulary was composed of men chosen and trained by the British for law enforcement purposes. It consisted generally of men from other parts of the island or from different islands of the group. This may have been conscious policy on the part of the British, followed to prevent the intrusion of family or clan loyalty in matters of official nature. The fact that the native police came from areas far from those in which they operated made it necessary for them to employ pidgin English when speaking to the local inhabitants. The compiler of this monograph noted the additional fact that the local British officers, used this minimal speech even when speaking to constables who had an excellent command of colloquial English.
The first contact, according to Colonel E.J. Buckley, with the indegenes was made about 11th August when Sergeant Major Vouza appeared in the perimeter. This individual, who was a native of the vicinity of Tetere, had been in the constabulary for twenty-five years and had retired from the service in April of 1941. The coming of the Japanese and the subsequent activities of Captain Martin Clemens had indicated to him that he might be of service, and he put himself at the disposal of the Marines.
He proved to be a valuable assistant. His years in the constabulary had given him an intimate knowledge of the terrain of the island--something that the average native lacks because of having no incentive to travel and because of the linguistic difficulties involved in traveling--as well as a high reputation among the natives of the coastal plains and the foothills. He was a courageous man and he had a sense of duty and responsibility in the European meaning of the terms.
He was one of the authentic heroes of the campaign, one of those who, by his own personal courage and integrity, stood out above his fellows. The Japanese, under the coaching of one Ishimoto, an obscure but obnoxious individual who had resided for some time at Tulagi prior to the outbreak of the war, captured Vouza one day in a native village about twenty miles from the perimeter. The old man refused to give them information about his American friends, and after binding him to a stake they went to work on him with swords, stabbing him in the chest and the throat. He still refused to talk, and they left him for dead--as indeed he should have been, for in addition to the wounding he had been kept almost a full day in the sun, without water.
He succeeded in slipping his bonds, however, and in making his way to the perimeter, where he was put in the hospital and acclaimed as a hero. For this exploit he was given the U.S. Silver Star Medal and the British George Medal.
Afterward, when Vouza was asked what he thought about his experience, he replied, "I remember my training in the Police, and
how they tell me always to be faithful to my King. I think about how naughty I was when I first joined the Police and how much trouble I cause Government. So I tell myself this time I do something good for my King to pay him back for all that trouble. . . ." (Among Those Present, p. 29. His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, England, 1946.)
Native labor was employed through the efforts of Commander Widdy, an old inhabitant of the island and a former employee of one of the great soap companies. A large portion of the natives so used were brought from Malaita, an island with a reputation for warfare and intransigence, although many of them came from the Nggela group, of which Florida is a part. The natives so employed were paid in cash and fed--there is reason to believe that the rate of pay was higher than that given by the British plantation and that the procedure was looked upon by the British with something approaching dismay.
Such labor was used in and around the supply dumps and for the handling of material being unloaded from cargo craft. No records can be found of the number so employed, but the total ran high into the hundreds.
There was little evidence that any of the of the local people were disaffected. One case arose in which the division staff was warned by a coastwatcher to avoid dealing with a certain man who had been working for the enemy, but aside from that isolated instance, the records tell only of willing and loyal assistance from the local inhabitants.
The native constables and scouts had as their primary mission the gathering of intelligence data and were given to understand that combat was to be avoided when possible. The report of Saku, a scout operating in the vicinity of Sunahavi, is incorporated in the body of the narrative. This report gives a clear picture of the type of activities in which the native scouts indulged.
The Japanese attitude toward the natives of the island was one more outstanding example of the enemy's utter lack of intelligence. The compiler of this monograph met a young and well educated native on about 7 January 1943. Beli had been educated in mission school and spoke and wrote English with some facility. he came from the neighborhood of Cape Esperance, and he had had first hand experience with the Japanese. He said that one small thing had incurred the wrath of his fellow Melanesians perhaps more than any other one item.
The problem of establishing and maintaining a garden anywhere on the island is a tremendous job for the native, with his few and primitive tools. The great trees of the jungle have to be girdled and killed--itself a long process--and when they are thoroughly dried they are felled, generally by burning. The small limbs are then removed and used, and the larger ones and the trunks are likewise burned In situ. It is then possible to begin the actual gardening, sometimes more than a year after the process is begun.
When the garden finally begins producing, therefore, it is the object of much solicitous care and is regarded as a valuable, if not an indispensable, possession. The produce is used with discretion and with a minimum of waste. When the first Japanese arrived, carrying the minimal rations that had been issued them, they sought out eagerly the fresh fruit and vegetables of the native plots. Instead, however, of taking only what could be eaten at once in order to conserve the rest, they followed the indefensible practice of ripping up an entire vine for the sake of getting one tomato and of cutting down a banana or a papaya tree to obtain one piece of fruit.
This deliberate and obtuse ignoring of all the tenets of primitive economy and common sense did more to alienate the natives, according to Beli, than did the subsequent enforced labor and heavy taxation that the enemy attempted to impose. He is likewise the authority for the information that this alienation had begun to take place even before the coming of the Americans, and that as a result of it, the natives fell upon small groups of the enemy as they fled the perimeter on the day of the landings and wiped them out. Similar tactics were used against
straggling bands after each of the great attacks upon the perimeter. It is probable, although it cannot be supported by documentary evidence, that a large number of casualties occurred among the Japanese as a result of the activities of an angry and essentially warlike people.
There is one piece of documentary evidence, however, that tells without possibility of error of the stupidity of the Japanese attitude toward the native people. It is contained in section L, Folder 3HH, Guadalcanal documents, in the Historical Division of the U.S. Marine Corps, and consists of an extract taken from a translated enemy document that is not further identified.(Items of Interest.) 1. Also, if you discover natives, it is necessary to shoot them at once.
By the end of the year, it was apparent that all natives had left those sections of the island under Japanese control--the area lying between the Bonegi River and Beaufort Bay, roughly. This statement is made on the basis of the fact that prisoners taken during January by the 6th Marines had not seen any natives prior to being taken behind the American lines. It is interesting to note that in some cases those prisoners were men who had been on the island for several months, which may indicate that the indigenes had withdrawn from the infested areas even before the end of the year.
The American forces carried out the practice of paying adequately for the help that the natives rendered. It developed at once that the American and the British definitions of the term "adequately" differed widely and fundamentally. The British, including Commander Widdy, considered that the American authorities were overpaying and "spoiling" the natives. It is undoubtedly true that the natives for a time after the withdrawal of the American forces will be a little reluctant to resume their former low pay status. They will also miss the chance to purchase a variety of small items that the post exchanges made available to them during the American occupation.
Beginning in 1947, news items originating in Australia began to tell of native unrest in the islands to the north of that continent. In New Guinea there began to grow up a strange cult--designated by students of primitive sociology as the cargo cult--whose adherents believed that the great ships, bearing great varieties of food and tobacco and tools, some day would appear again over the horizon. Farther away, in Malaita and in the great copra groves of the neighboring islands, the native laborers showed themselves reluctant to resume their pre-war status in the matters of term of employment and compensation. There were near approaches to violence in the neighborhood of Point Cruz, where far too much blood had been shed already, and on Malaita itself, always cool toward any attempt at intrusion, the natives refused to allow any ship to tarry at the island.
At the time of the completion of this monograph, in the summer of 1949, copra production on the great island plantations was at a standstill, awaiting the settlement of demands by potential laborers for an increase of approximately 400 per cent in wages and more adequate and varied supplies of imported food.
Compiled and formatted by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation