|Guadalcanal is one of the six largest islands in the Solomon Islands, characterised
(very relevant to this story) by precipitous, thickly forested mountain ranges,
intersected by deep narrow valleys. At the time of the story in the book, it was part of
the British Solomon Islands Protectorate and under the jurisdiction of the High
Commissioner for the Western Pacific islands stationed in Suva, Fiji. A foreword to
the book is written by Sir Philip Mitchell KCMG, MC in 1953. From 1942 to 1945 he
was High Commissioner in Suva (before going on to be Governor in Kenya). Another
foreword is written by General Alexander Andrew Vandegrift of the US Marine
Corps, also in 1953. It has taken Clemens from the early 1950s to find a publisher for
this book, which is an entirely personal story. The Naval Institute Press in the USA has
done him proud.
Clemens was a great rower at Christ's and gained a place in the College First Boat, with
Sam Taylor as cox. In 1937 he accepted an appointment in the British Colonial Service and
stayed on for another year for the usual Colonial Office course. Then in 1938 he received a
posting to the Solomon Islands for a three-year probationary appointment on the island of
Malaita. In 1942 he was appointed District Officer on Guadalcanal, and took over coast
The book has a section of 30 pages at the beginning on 'Guadalcanal and Martin
Clemens' by Allan R Millett, Professor of Military History in The Ohio State University.
He writes 'The Clemens diaries (on which the book is based) are the last great unpublished
source on Guadalcanal from the allied side of the campaign. The work is one of the critical
sources of analysis of the campaign since Clemens served as de facto assistant G-2 and chief of scouts for the 1st Marine Division. Clemens is a gifted writer and an astute
observer of men and nature'.
It is very fitting that the book should become available for reading just when, in May
1999, the Commemoration of Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service from 1837 to 1997
(i.e. when Hong Kong was handed back to China) is to take place, with a service in
Westminster Abbey and a reception after the service in St James's Palace, Marlborough
House, or Lancaster House. The book is a proud example of what one overseas civil
servant had to do in an emergency and did so splendidly, and how he led, and was so well
supported by the simple islanders of Guadalcanal whom he was there as District Officer to
serve, and who, in return, served him and the Americans so well. It is a tremendous tribute
to the Overseas Service of Great Britain.
It will be remembered that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbour on 7 December
1941, with the result that the mastery of the Pacific had, for the time being, passed into
Japanese hands. In 1942 began the first attempts of the Japanese to sever Australia's
lifeline with the United States. This was to include the capture of Port Moresby in New
Guinea and the seizure of Tulagi in the Southern Solomons, opposite the large island of
Guadalcanal. Tulagi was seized in May 1942. Meanwhile in February, Clemens had settled
in at Aola, which served as the administration centre for Guadalcanal with the DO's house,
the Cadet's house, the prison, police and hospital etc. Clemens withdrew later to a tiny
village called Paripao on the 19 May, with 190 carriers to take every last useful thing off
the station in one lift. Later still with the Japanese on the move, and reported landings, he
withdrew higher up still to Vungana (3,800 ft) with .splendid views over the sea channel
(but with a serious shortage of food), where they were able to give vital reports by teleradio
to the Americans, before the Marines made their own landing, and Clemens was able to
join forces with them.
After the Japanese came ashore at Guadalcanal they began building an airfield. Then the
American 1st Marine Division came, took the Japanese by surprise, and won possession of
the airfield. After that the Japanese poured in wave upon wave of attackers to regain
possession of the airfield which they considered vital to their operations. In repelling the
invaders, the Americans were constantly aided by the coastwatchers giving them vital
information by teleradio about ship and aircraft movements.
You will have to read the book to understand all that happened between May and
December 1942. 'The nigh impossible dealt with day after day'. Clemens writes. It is truly
an amazing story of endurance. Those seven or eight months must have seemed like seven
or eight years.
The High Commissioner for the Western Pacific, Sir Philip Mitchell, paid a visit to
General Vandegrift's headquarters on 2 December 1942. The General suggested to Sir
Philip that Clemens should be given leave. It was approved and on 3 December he left en
route to Sydney, Australia. So the story ends.
After the war the muddy strip on Guadalcanal called Henderson's Field (christened in
honour of a Marine squadron leader lost at Midway) became Henderson's International
Airport and a new administrative centre for the Solomon Islands (in place of Tulagi which
was in ruins from the war and the Japanese occupation) was built nearby called Honiara - a
thriving town of 15,000 - standing where there was nothing but an especially perilous
stretch of jungle during the campaign.