TAPE: 91
SPEAKER: Ian William
DATE: 18 August 1998
PLACE: Hog Harbour, Santo
TOPICS: work at coastwatch station, Cape Queiros; work as houseboy; dresses up as black American; injured hand

I am Ian William, my name is Ian William. I live at Hog Harbour, Espiritu Santo. I would like to talk about the time of World War II. In 1942, we lived at Hog Harbour. The war had already come to Vanuatu, but we in Hog Harbour had not heard of this. Two friends and I went to roast some meat(2) inland, in my coconut grove. While we were cooking, we heard the Triton shell trumpet blow(3). The chief had sent a man onto the road(4) that goes to Port Olry to blow it. Everyone came to Hog Harbour because then a large ship carrying American soldiers anchored in Hog Harbour. They came ashore at Hog Harbour.

When we heard the Triton shell trumpet, we went to the road. The man who blew the trumpet said, "The chief wants everyone to go to Hog Harbour." We ran there. When we arrived at Hog Harbour, everyone had taken their place. So, an American Officer came. He didn't ask, "Who wants to come work?" No, he just said, "You, you, you, you." Just me and some others joined with the Americans.

So, there were three of us. We joined up with them and went with them to a point called Cape Queiros(5). We stayed there to watch for Japanese planes. It was in the forest, nobody lived there. Isolated in the forest. It was on top of a mountain. We watched there. Watched for ships. Or planes. We lived there with the soldiers in the forest. There were no buildings. There were no food gardens. but we brought food for ourselves(6) ; we went with the soldiers and we lived there.

We stayed a long time; when a soldier wanted to communicate with a ship or we saw a ship, the soldier wanted the message to go, there was a - Fortunately now we just press a button to radio a message - but then radio-telephones were like a bicycle that you pedaled(7). That was my job. I pedaled the bicycle so soldiers could talk with Port Vila or Santo or ships or planes in the air.

I was with them, all three of us ni-Vanuatu. We lived there with the soldiers. When our water ran out, it was a long way to fetch water. I had to hike through the forest carrying a big haversack with a water container inside it. We went to a plantation near Port Olry. We fetched water there and turned back. The soldiers just had to hold rifles, but we had to do all the walking. Carrying those haversacks.

OK, we returned [with the water] to the village, to the village where we lived(8). Some small tents, too small for the six of us, we lived in them with our food. We lived in them for some time, then some local people(9) came along. We asked them, "Can you help us build a small building(10) here in the forest? They agreed. We built the house with wild pandanus(11) that grows all around in the forest near the sea. All wild pandanas. We built a building with it, then we moved our supplies into it. After that, the local people built some houses for us.

We lived there. We lived there for six long months in the forest. Then when I was finished I returned to Hog Harbour, but then I went all the way to Surunda. I worked with the soldiers there. I worked for an officer named Mister White. Mister White was a Captain. I worked in his sleeping quarters. I washed his clothes, I washed his bedding, I swept the floor, I looked after him for six months.

After six months there, I was finished. I returned to Hog Harbour. So, this is the end of my story about my work with the Americans back then.

And another thing, I was friends with a black man, a black American. He came and told me, "Today if you would like to see all the many things at our camp(12) inland from here, you come with me. You dress like me, and we two will go. When we go [there], do not speak. If you speak they will punish you(13). Only I will speak." I went with him, dressing up like a soldier, and off we went. We went into the interior of the island, somewhere in Espiritu Santo, Surunda up in the forest. Heaps and heaps of materiel. They were watching a movie in the dark. Together, my friend and I watched the movie. A soldier came. He came over to me and asked me, "What movie is this?" I was terrified to speak! I was terrified to speak, but when my friend heard this he came quickly and said what the name of the movie was.

So when we two returned, I stayed with the Americans there for six months, then after six months I returned to Hog Harbour. Soon after returning to Hog Harbour I started studying at the Teacher Training Institute. I stayed there until the war ended. The war ended.


When we lived at Surunda, when the air raid siren sounded, it screamed in the night, the sirens screamed in the night, men who had trenches went into them. but you know a stream ran near Surunda by the road, under a bridge. We dove in here in the night! We dove in it in the night to hide! We waited until the siren(14) sounded again(15), then we came out. But when you had a trench it was better. We could go hide in a cave in the hill, but if you didn't have a trench, whew. You just had to go into the stream. Dive in it in the night.

Afraid of bombs. Suppose an enemy came. [When] they saw the enemy, a plane, the siren sounded. All the trucks ran without headlights. Blackout. Blackout. Big, huge flashlights(16). Very big flashlights. When an enemy plane came flying through the air, all the searchlights searched for it. One was at Surunda. One was at Ratard. One was somewhere inland. All of them searched until one found the plane, then every searchlight shined on the plane. Shined on the plane, okay. Soldiers manned large guns. They watched [for planes]. When they saw one, they fired at it.

I saw a Japanese plane they shot down. They downed it between Espiritu Santo and Malekula, nearer to Espiritu Santo(17).

We lived in the forest there.(18) Long after, they built a big place there. Yes, many people live there now.(19) I have never returned to this place. But when we first cleared the site, only a few of us went there. The three of us ni-Vanuatu went just to watch. Watch in case a ship, invasion, a Japanese warship should come, or a plane should come, or something like that, we watched. Three Hog Harbour men, three Americans. One was named John Duff. Unfortunately, I don't know the other names.

I worked on something like a telephone. Like a bicycle, you pedaled. Two pedals(20). Two pedals must work it. This was my job. Just like a bicycle. One leg(21) there, one leg there; the machine was between them. Yes, two pedals. I pedaled, pedaled like this [probable gesture]. You talk. You talk how long, but my legs were like what! He would talk up to about one hour. I would work for an hour!

When they watched, if a ship was out there, they did this: They would ask the ship, "Who are you?" They talked like that.

They had food. Tin cans, they had tin cans. All food, including meat, came in a tin can. We ate all of these foods. We all shared the food. It came in tin cans. It was ready to eat.(22) It came for us to eat. When you opened the tin, there was every kind of food inside.

Sometimes we hiked around, sometimes we went down to the sea. Long way to the sea. Then we returned, climbing the hill to go on top. There was no trail.

After, I worked with Mister White. He was a Captain. In the Army. My job was what we now call a housegirl(23). But I did this! Sweep the room, make the bed, wash the blankets and sheets. I did all these kinds of work(24) for him. Me, a man. I was his wife, [doing] this work for him!

Many men worked on ships when they came with cargo and such. Many men worked at the dock. Many men. But I did housework. There was a house for us. All the ni-Vanuatu workers slept at this place in Surunda.

We ate rice(25), all of us. You know at this place there was plenty of food. Not like in the forest. And there was a place where everyone ate. It was a large building. They ate in it.

I only saw Captain White when he came to sleep or something like that. But when he left in the morning I didn't see him anymore. I only worked. Sometimes I finished my work in the afternoon and went home. I don't know what time he returned. I think he had his duties; he went to perform them. And he did not swear at me.

[doesn't see drinking; Pentecost and Ambae dance kastom; no American woman](26)

I saw something I will never forget. Something like a truck. But it had a gun on it. When it ran, you could see two such guns. It went through the forest, along roads, when it went down into the sea, hey! It went ahead through the sea. It just became a launch.(27)

Back then there were many black Americans. I saw them, they were friendly, I studied their ways, which were good.

The American hospital was large. Men from all over came to it. Men came who had been wounded in the Solomon Islands. Yes, they came here.(28) I saw some who lay inside the hospital.

One time, I told a friend, "I am tired of working in the white man's(29) house. He worked at the dock at night. "We will go, I will help you, we will do some work at night, because at night I just sit around(30). We two went and built a house from bamboo. We made this kind of stick [probable gesture] from bamboo. While carrying a bundle of them, the bamboo cut my hand(31) here [probable gesture], it cut these tendons(32). I went to the hospital. I went to the hospital right away. Then I saw all the men laying there. The doctor sewed up my hand. In this place the tendons were cut, these tendons [probable gesture]. Just because my boss didn't want me to take a labouring job, but I just wanted to go take a night job!

[SINGS, "You Are my Sunshine", counter 271]

My opinion about that war [is], I know that if a different country had won, like Japan. If Japan had won, maybe Vanuatu(33) would not exist today. It wouldn't exist. Because I heard some stories about some countries that Japan conquered. I think that Vanuatu would have been like them. Oh, I am very glad that America helped us ni-Vanuatu(34), so today things are good for us. What if America had not helped us, America and also some soldiers from New Zealand? Yes, it is true, it is very true. If those two nations had not helped us ni-Vanuatu, perhaps today there would be no Vanuatu. I am really very glad that today we ni-Vanuatu have true independence.

[his Ambae roots]

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

Return to "Wol Wo Tu - Ni-Vanuatu Perspectives"

Translation ©S. Combs, 1998.