War oral history programme

Page 9 – Notes and questions, Pacific

Pacific – 1942–1945

They thought we were a bunch of coconut bombers, sitting under coconut trees, just lapping up the sun. That was their attitude ... it was people's wrong ideas.

Rob McLean, 3rd New Zealand Division, Pacific

Before you interview any veterans of this campaign, we recommend you read our Guide to recording oral history.

Background notes

United States forces had been at war in the Pacific since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. All three New Zealand services later became involved in the campaign.

In 1942 an army division, 3rd New Zealand Division, was formed specifically to serve in the region. Commanded by Major-General Harold Barrowclough, it was sent to New Caledonia in late 1942. Other New Zealand army units were based in Fiji, Tonga and Norfolk Island.

In 1943 New Zealand troops assisted United States forces in driving the Japanese out of the Solomon Islands. They took part in three landing operations – at Mono Island, Nissan Island and Vella Lavella – before being withdrawn in 1944.

New Zealand nurses also served with the 3rd Division in the Pacific, staffing a hospital in New Caledonia.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) made a more prolonged contribution to the war against Japan. A New Zealand fighter squadron had participated in fighting in Singapore before the fall of the base in February 1942, and New Zealanders serving in the RAF also served in Burma. A more extensive RNZAF effort was made in the Solomon Islands. The first bomber reconnaissance squadron was sent to New Caledonia in July 1942. Fighter squadrons later helped drive the Japanese from the skies around the Solomons. Dive bomber and transport squadrons also took part in the campaign. By early 1945 more than 8000 New Zealand airmen were serving in the islands.

The Royal New Zealand Navy also fought in the Solomons. The cruisers Achilles and Leander operated in the area and were badly damaged. Achilles was bombed by enemy aircraft at the beginning of 1943 and Leander was torpedoed in the Battle of Kolombangara in July 1943. In each attack there was loss of life. New Zealand also sent four small anti-submarine vessels to the theatre. Two of them, Kiwi and Moa, destroyed a Japanese submarine in early 1943. The Moa was sunk by a Japanese bomb in Tulagi Harbour in April 1943 with loss of life.

New Zealand casualties in the Pacific campaign

Army – 203 dead, 239 wounded
RNZAF – 350 dead
RNZN – Leander 43, Achilles 21, Moa 19
Merchant Navy – 25 dead (in Pacific, Indian, Tasman), 56 POWs

Later in the war Achilles and Leander's replacement, Gambia, operated with the British Pacific Fleet in the final drive on Japan. Many New Zealanders attached to the Royal Navy took part in the campaign and served on British warships, and they were especially prominent in the Fleet Air Arm.

Questions

These questions are suggestions only. You can choose those that are relevant to your interviewee, and add your own, too.

Background questions

  • What is your name, date of birth and place of birth (don’t forget to spell out names)?
  • Tell me a little about your life before the war (parents, school, childhood and early working life).
  • Did either of your parents serve in the First World War? (If so, where? Did they talk about it? What did they tell you?)
  • Where were you when you heard about the outbreak of war? What were your feelings?
  • What were your reasons for joining up (enlisting)?

Into the Pacific

  • Did you know where you would be sent?
  • What was your rank?
  • What was your role (i.e., what job would you be doing?)
  • What were your first impressions of (wherever you first landed in the Pacific)?
  • What were your living conditions like? Describe your sleeping space, washing facilities and food.
  • What sort of training did you do?
  • Were you ever bored ? How did you cope with that? What did you do to fill in time?
  • Did you have any leave? If so, what did you do?
  • How much contact did you have with padres in the Pacific? Was their role useful?

If posted to Fiji

  • When did you arrive in Fiji?
  • What was your initial impression of Suva?
  • How easily did you adapt to the heat?
  • Where were you based?
  • Your was your role?
  • What about your uniform – was sweat a problem? How did you wash it? Did it wear out?
  • What were your living conditions like?
  • What was the food like?
  • Laundry: was it done for you? If so, by whom?
  • How much of a pest were flies, mosquitoes and bed bugs?
  • What did you do on leave?
  • What were your impressions of the Fijian people? Did you sense any resentment about intrusion of foreign powers?
  • Did you have any trouble with skin disorders, varicose veins or any nervous disorders? If so describe/explain these.
  • How aware were you of the incidence of VD among the troops?
  • Did you know anyone who visited brothels in Suva?

If posted to Norfolk Island

  • When did you arrive in Norfolk Island?
  • What did you do there?
  • What were your living conditions like? Describe your sleeping arrangements, food and washing.
  • What sort of duties were you on?
  • Did you do any training while you were on Norfolk Island? If so, describe this.
  • Were you ever bored? If so, how did you cope with this?
  • Describe any sports or concerts that took place.

If posted to New Caledonia

  • When did you arrive?
  • What was the purpose of being in New Caledonia? What was your job?
  • Were you working with the Americans at all?
  • What was that like for you? Did you mix with them? Did you form any friendships?
  • Describe your training.
  • How difficult was the adjustment to tropical conditions/jungle fighting?
  • What were your living conditions like?
  • What was the food like? Did you have B, C or K rations? If so, describe these.
  • How bad were the mosquitoes? What precautions did you take? Did you ever burn niaouli leaves?
  • What entertainment was there? Were there movies?
  • What did you do on leave? Did you visit Noumea?
  • What did you know of the prostitution in Noumea?
  • Did you know anyone who visited brothels in Noumea?
  • What instruction did you all receive about VD and sexual health in general?

If posted to Guadalcanal

  • When did you arrive?
  • What were your first impressions?
  • Was there any evidence of battle? If so, describe this.
  • Did you see any Japanese skeletons or skulls?
  • How extreme was the heat?
  • Did you have any difficulty adapting?
  • What was the location of camp? Was it in the jungle?
  • What were the living conditions like?
  • What was the food like?
  • What water was available (for drinking and washing yourself and clothes)?
  • What training did you do there?
  • Did you do any training for an amphibious landing? If so, describe this.
  • Did you train at all with any of the American forces? If so, who? Describe what that was like.
  • Do you remember the first time you experienced the Japanese bombing?
  • What were your feelings/reactions?
  • How often did the bombing happen?
  • Describe the bombings. (Were there warnings? What did you do? Where did you go?)
  • Did you see any air battles? Describe these.
  • Did you do any jungle training? Describe the living conditions, food, water and  sleeping.
  • What did you do for recreation? Were there movies?
  • Did you mix with Americans?
  • Were there any African Americans? Did you mix with them? What was their attitude to the other Americans? Note: in the United States forces at that time, African Americans were segregated from the others.

Vella Lavella

  • Where did you land?
  • Where were you living? Were you in the jungle? Describe where you were living.
  • What were your living conditions like? Where did you sleep? What did you eat?
  • Describe the jungle. How dark was it? What do you remember of mud?
  • What sounds at night do you remember? Were you allowed to use any light at all at night?
  • How damp did things get in the humidity? Describe this.
  • How often did it rain? What was that like? How did you all feel about the rain?
  • How often did Japanese bombers come over? What was that like?
  • What work did you do on Vella Lavella?
  • Did you come into contact with any Japanese prisoners?
  • What was your attitude to the Japanese at this stage?
  • What was the attitude of those around you to the Japanese?
  • How did you occupy your time?
  • How was your morale at this time?
  • Did you have any contact with indigenous people?
  • What did you drink?
  • Did you ever make jungle juice? How did you make it? What was it like? What effects did it have?
  • What can you remember of Christmas 1943? Did you have American turkey?
  • Did you see the Kiwi Concert Party? Describe this.

Gizo Island landing (undertaken from Vella Lavella)

  • What was the plan as you understood it?
  • The local, indigenous people were involved in the landing – how did they help? How obliging were they?
  • Where did you land?
  • What did the place look like? What was there?
  • What signs were there of past life (official’s houses, Japanese drawings on walls, official papers littering area)?
  • Were there any Japanese left? One prisoner was found – did you see him? If so, describe him.
  • How long were you on Gizo? What did you do there?
  • What did you eat? (Did you eat fresh fish? How did you cook?)

Nissan Commando raid

  • What preparation did you undergo for the raid?
  • Were you told what the purpose of the raid was?
  • What were your expectations of what it would be like?
  • Did you know where you were going?
  • Describe being taken by landing craft personnel (LCPs) to the destroyers.
  • Describe putting on the green make-up.
  • What was the state of anticipation among the men? What can you remember of your own feelings at that time?
  • What time were orders given?
  • Describe the landing.
  • At daylight what did you do? What contact did you have with the indigenous people?
  • What was your role in the attack? Describe this.
  • Can you describe what happened in the later air raid? (Did men dug deeper into trenches/foxholes?)
  • Describe the withdrawal from Nissan? How did you get back to Vella Lavella?
  • What was your reaction afterwards? (Exhaustion? Relief?)

Mono Island

  • What was the first you knew of plans to attack Mono Island?
  • What preparation did you undergo?
  • Describe what you wore (pattern jungle suits).
  • Describe the time before landing. How were you transported to Mono?
  • Did you apply face paint? Describe this.
  • If you were on the deck of the United States destroyer what could you see? What could you hear?
  • What was the weather like?
  • What could you see of Mono? What was its physical appearance?
  • What time was it just before the landing?
  • What was that like for you?
  • Describe getting into the landing barge.
  • Describe going ashore.
  • What could you see? What could you hear?
  • How did you feel at this time?
  • Where there bombers overhead?
  • Were there any wounded around you?
  • What did you do once on shore?
  • In action: where were you? What were the conditions? What were your actions/reactions?
  • Were there wounded or dead soldiers around you?
  • How well equipped were you? Describe this.
  • Did you still have British arms at this stage? If so, how suitable were they for a campaign like this?
  • Were you wounded? If so, describe what happened.
  • What do you remember of your first night on land (tension, sleeping in trenches, Japanese infiltration of your lines, aerial bombing, mortar fire)?
  • How did you spend the subsequent days?
  • Did you set up in better positions?
  • Were you involved in patrolling? If so, describe this.
  • What food and water was available?
  • What were the nights like, in general? Describe foxholes. What were they like to sleep in? Describe the rain and any noises you remember.
  • How well can you sleep in those conditions?
  • How far did you feel your training had equipped you for the real thing – for opposed landing and jungle fighting?
  • How long were you on Mono Island?
  • What were your daily tasks, living conditions and hobbies?
  • Did you contract either hepatitis or malaria?
  • Did you contract any skin disorders/diseases?
  • If so, how were these treated?

4 General Hospital, New Caledonia

  • Were you ever invalided out to 4 General Hospital, New Caledonia?
  • Did you ever serve at the hospital?
  • What was the hospital like?
  • What do you remember of your time there?
  • Did you spend any time in a convalescent depot? If so, where? What was that like?

RNZAF in the Pacific

  • Why did you choose to serve with the Air Force?
  • Where did you train?
  • What sort of plane(s) did you fly in, operationally?
  • Which squadron(s) were you assigned to? Give the dates.
  • What was your role (pilot, navigator, air gunner, etc.)?
  • Did you enjoy flying? Why?
  • Where were you based?
  • What were your living conditions like? Describe the sleeping arrangements, food, spare time, leave.
  • What do you remember of your first operational flight?
  • How did you deal with fear? How did you deal with tension? How did you deal with tiredness?
  • If you were flying with a crew were you close-knit?
  • Were you commissioned? If so, when? What was your rank?
  • Describe any particularly memorable operations.
  • Were you ever captured?
  • If so, did you have to bail out of your plane? Describe what happened. What time of day/night was it? What happened before the order was given to abandon the aircraft? If you were with crew, what happened to the others? Where did you land? What happened then? Describe this.
  • If captured under other circumstances, describe your capture. Describe what happened then.

See Suggested questions for POWs.

The end of the war

  • Where were you when you heard that the war had ended?
  • What was your reaction?
  • What did you do between the time the war finished and your return to New Zealand?

Returning to New Zealand

  • Were you met on your arrival back in New Zealand?
  • How did it feel to see your family again? Did New Zealand seem different to you after your time away?

After the war

  • When did you go back to work? Describe how it felt to be back at work?
  • Did you feel as though you had anything in common with people who had not been fighting?
  • How was your health? Did you ever experience nightmares? How long did they continue after the war? Do you have them now?
  • Did you drink much alcohol after the war?
  • Did you join the RSA on your return? (Reasons?)
  • What level of involvement did you have?
  • What was your attitude towards conscientious objectors?
  • What did the battle for the Pacific mean to you at the time?
  • What does that battle mean to you now?
  • Why do you think it is so well remembered by those who fought there?
  • What did you do on Anzac Day? Has that changed over the years?
  • What does Anzac Day mean to you?
  • What are your feelings about war in general?
  • What is the impact of your war experiences on your life?

Community contributions

1 comment has been posted about Notes and questions, Pacific

What do you know?

Leo Blake

Posted: 09 Jun 2010

I took part in Operation Grapple. I went on both Rotoiti and Pukaki to Christmas Island. After reading Govt report about the tests, I find a lot of false statements. I find this rather distressing. I have, so far, been one of the lucky ones to come through the whole thing pretty unscathed, but I know a lot haven't. Isn't it about time the truth was told?