Patrolling On Horseback

TAPE: #90
SPEAKER: Tommy Wells
TOPIC: Helpem Ol Man America
DATE: 8/18/88
PLACE: Lorethia Village, Santo

In 1940(1) we heard the declaration that war had broken out. All of the Japanese that lived in Santo left. We were sorry because we had good friends among them, but that was too bad. What happened was we had a missionary in our village with a radio. He was English. He listened to his radio and then he told us that in six days the Japanese would invade the New Hebrides(2).

With this news then the Americans came here and said, "During these six days, we will patrol night and day to protect you here." So after a while they came and landed at Port Vila(3) and then they landed at Espiritu Santo. Then they wanted to come but they could not find roads here. They came through my coconut grove and saw that a cliff was there. They knew that there was a missionary living here, but they did not know where because they could only see the cliff. That morning, they fired a rifle to let us know [they were there]. We heard it, but did not know if it was an American rifle or what. Then some men ran through the forest and found the group of Americans who had come. When the Americans saw them, they asked, "How do we find Missionary Anderson?" The ni-Vanuatu(4) said, "He is over there, but you have come the wrong way." Then they took the Americans to old Mr.(5) Anderson and the Americans said to him, "We would like some guides." Old Mr. Anderson said to me, "You go with them because you speak some English." I was the first one [chosen] along with my cousin(6), who is now dead. His name was Song.

TW(7): Yeah, thank you for coming to see me. My name is Tommy Wells. I tend to live alone. OK, I would like to talk a bit about when I was with the Americans during World War II. Before I joined up with the Americans, we three, me with my brother John (now dead) and another named Ham (who no longer lives with me; his village is over at Kole(8)). My [ancestral] village is Lorethia(9). All right, during the war I was living at the mission headquarters at Hog Harbour(10). The war started in 1940. The Americans came and I was with them during the war. Many things happened here. I can discuss some, but some I will be unable to talk about too much. When the Americans came I patrolled with them on horseback. I was employed(11) to go with them as a guide into the thick forest, and it was difficult to travel on the narrow trails on a horse. Sometimes our patrol was annoyed because vines called "loeaken"(12) had torn our clothes. But nevertheless we patrolled the trails for six months. I went to Luganville and returned to Port Olry(13). This was the end of my travels like that. We patrolled looking for any Japanese that might come down from planes(14) and if so we would report this to headquarters in Luganville(15). We did this about one year and six months. After the war was finished(16) the rest of the company went to the Solomons, leaving me behind. This I have told you but if there are some things you want to ask, it is all right. ML: What was the name of your company? TW: It was Company 25. They were encamped up at Surunda. My captain's name was Mr. Burg and my Lieutenant's name was Lieutenant Kruger. Twelve of us ni-Vanuatu went with them. We ni-Vanuatu had our own camp where we lived. After that, we moved to a section of another place. And after that we went to another place to feed horses and herd them around to find feed for them. We did not live in one place, but moved around. ML: Was part of your work also searching for Japanese? TW: Yes, we also searched for Japanese. ML: Did you find any or not? TW: At that time we did not find any, but we found one who had parachuted down outside of Luganville but was wounded(17). It was a woman(18) who flew a plane that flew around Espiritu Santo. She flew down the west coast, but she flew a crooked course because the west coast is very mountainous. She flow around and we could hear the air-raid siren and knew that a Japanese plane was near, but it was difficult to actually see it. But it wasn't long before the plane was over Luganville Harbour. The Japanese planes wanted to bomb this place because there was much war materiel like gasoline storage tanks and other things. The Americans let her go like this until she reached Tutuba Island(19) where they shot [at her plane]. The Americans shot down the Japanese woman. The woman was not dead; they took her and put her in prison. ML: Did the Americans give you a uniform? TW: Yeah, I still have a uniform. ML: What kind of uniform? TW: It is khaki. I have a khaki one. Sometimes on important days like big celebrations down at Hog Harbour, I wear that American uniform. When I wear those clothes, my friends and I remember World War II. ML: What did all of you ni-Vanuatu eat during this time? TW: The Government supplied food. We were not short of food. I can say that we ate all the world's best food(20) during this time. ML: Do you know some names of others? You already named two. TW: Captain Burg, Lieutenant Kruger, and one called Bob and another one, Henry, and one called "Young Pik"(21). And one named Stanley, William Stanley, who was a good friend of mine. I worked with him a lot; he liked talking with me. We two had a special horse. That horse could jump over gates and similar things. When we two cantered up to a gate, Stanley just said "Ju" and the horse jumped over it. Also there was a guide who came from France, his name was Fredie. Fredie was also a good friend of mine. He had a horse that acted up on him when you lifted up its tail(22) - it bucked(23). ML: When you were at Surunda, did you see black Americans? TW: Yeah, some were my friends. The day came when the [Americans I worked with] went to the Solomons and I returned home to Hog Harbour. At that time I ran Anderson's launch. One day some black Americans, Negroes, they caused me some trouble about the boat; they wanted me to deliver them to Luganville. When they requested the launch, Anderson told me to take them to Luganville, but when we reached Luganville they said, "No, our camp is on Malekula(24)." But old Mr. Anderson did not know that we would go to Malekula. When the black Americans told me [they wanted to go to Malekula] I said I was sorry because there wasn't enough gasoline to go to Malekula. They said, "Don't worry, we will supply the gasoline, but would you be happy to take us to Malekula?" Now I told them, "I have never been to Malekula, but we will try it." They supplied two forty-four gallon(25) drums of gasoline. After we went and I was ready to return, one said, "You keep the rest of the gasoline and take it back to your old missionary, Mr. Anderson." When I got back [to Hog Harbour] Old Mr. Anderson asked, "Where were you for a week?" I replied, "I went to Malekula." He said, "What did you do there?" I told him that the boat had had some problems but they had fixed it. Then everything about the launch was forgiven. ML: When you went to Malekula did you see the black American's camp? TW: When we went I saw a workshop where they fixed my launch. That workshop belonged to a Frenchman named Gario. That place was Bushman Bay(26).

Bislama Interview Transcript provided by Lamont Lindstrom, University of Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA and James Gwero, Vanuatu Cultural Centre.

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Translation ©S. Combs, 1998.