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Martin Clemens
Guadalcanal Coastwatcher
by Peter Flahavin interview on August 8, 1998

In Memory: Born 17 April 1915. Martin Clemens passed away on 31 May 2009

Click For EnlargementHow many scouts were in your command?
On Guadalcanal it was about 300 in total. Around November 1942 about 150 Fijian commandos arrived. They were keen to get into the fight and were sent up to us . In June 1943 the scouts became the Solomon Islands Defense Force . With the Fiji commandos added I was made Battalion Commander and we all went up to Munda.

When and where was that well known photo taken?
Click For EnlargementOh that was taken a couple of days after I joined the Marines about August 15th..down at the airfield near Headquarters. I was attached to the Division Intelligence section. After Colonel Goettge got himself killed on that patrol Colonel Buckley took over as Intelligence officer a nice chap, but not really trained in Intelligence work, although he never pretended to be. Two of the scouts are still alive [bottom row, 2nd from left.

Did the scouts carry .303 rifles or American weapons?
We had the .303s . We had 7,000 rounds of ammunition that the Australian Air Force left us when they pulled out... well actually they just left it and I had to organize rescuing it from Tulagi.

When did you first meet [Solomon Scout ] Jacob Vouza?
That was in 1938 when I was first posted to Malatia. He was a Sergeant then in charge of a contingent of 20 policemen the largest contingent on the Island.

What did the islanders think of the Japanese soldiers?
They didn't like them at all from the very start. The Japs kept pinching food from their gardens.

What was your first impression of the US Marines?
Well , I was no military expert to comment on them, but they were all very friendly and took me in.

What did you think of General Vandergrift?
I had great respect for General Vandergrift..He was a fine man and stuck out his chin and did what had to be done..

What was your impression of the aftermath of the Ilu River?
Well of course I went down and viewed the battlefield..When you haven't seen war before and you see the remain of 700-800 men lying dead it is a shattering experience .

You looked and thought there but for the grace of God go I. Ichiki was a fool attacking so hastily not even waiting for the rest of his Regiment...

Did you visit Bloody Ridge after the battle?
"Yes, I was up there. The boys [scouts] and I were deployed further back near the Division CP . It was all going on to our front..the artillery was firing over us and some rounds were hitting the trees and showering us with shrapnel. We tossed a few grenades and took care of one sniper who had got up a tree.

One thing that I should like to correct the term Bloody Ridge is a journalists invention. To those of us who were there it is Edsons Ridge or Raider Ridge. War is bloody enough without naming a ridge like that. It should be named after Edson, the fellow who defended it. I organized to put the Pyramid memorial up there and was also involved in the memorial near the [Henderson Field] control tower that was dedicated in 1992.

I was surprised to hear from you that the Ridge has been sold for a housing estate? Apart from the historical aspect I would have thought it wasn't wise to build over an area where 2,000 bodies were buried. Disease etc bad luck to build on a battlefield!
[ Construction on the site forgotten about after ethnic violence flared in June 99 ]

Did you inspect the Matanikau / Point Cruz battle area?
Oh yes , I was down there regularly taking down scouts and bringing them back and talking to the Marines to ensure they and the scouts understood each other.

Click For EnlargementLike when scouts were spotting artillery?
Yes , that's right . This [pointing to a 150mm shell case next to his desk] is one of the cases from General Kawaguchi's "Pistol Pete" artillery pieces. On the mantelpiece there is a [ blue / white] cup from General Kawaguchi's personal dining service. I used to have a few others but they broke over the years.

Did you examine the tanks at Matanikau after Oct 23?
Oh yes…I went down there and climbed into, oh.. I think about four of them. Do you know, in every one of them I found small bottles of British Whisky. The only other place I ever saw that same brand was at Kennedy’s coastwatching station up at Segi.

I bet the bottles of whiskey did not last long!
Oh no,they did not!

What was the worst food you had on Guadalcanal?
The worst food? Oh God, it was all the worst! The Marines had tins of C rations that we all had {listed contents} . You were fed at 10.00 a.m. and again at 3.00 p.m - 10.00 a.m. because there was always a bit of fighting or something in the mornings .Sometimes we also had pancakes Well , most times I would be out in the afternoon taking out scouts or bringing them back in and by the time I got back dinner would have already been served..! I lost 3 stone in 3 months.

Where were your quarters at Henderson? Were you near the CP?
Yes , they were near headquarters . One point I would like to make is that the hill near the Lunga where the HQ was mostly isn't there anymore . Over the years the Lunga has changed course and then its course was a bit farther to the west . In the 1960s they had a flood that washed half the hill away .

There was a coral outcrop that was a protection from incoming fire , then you walked up the hill to where General Vandergrift's tent was and then down towards the Lunga . Some of the 90mm AA guns were nearby too one of my more vivid memories is following Colonel Buckley to get under cover during a raid when a strafing Zero put a burst into the ground between us!

What did the islanders think of the Americans?
They thought the Americans were much better than the Japs of course! Friendly people to them and people you could get as much out of as possible..!

What was the quality of the information from Japanese prisoners?
I talked to a lot of them of course. They were quite talkative after capture and you could get quite a lot out of them about their unit organization etc. but as for any higher information about plans etc. They didn't know anything.

What did they think of Guadalcanal?
Some of them didn't have any idea of where they were.

When did you leave Guadalcanal?
When the Marines were relieved in December I went for a months leave in Australia about December 15th I think. When I came back we organized the scouts and Fijians and then in June we went up to Munda.

What did you think of the commemorations?
Click For Enlargement[During the 50th Anniversary] there were about 5,000 people from the States , New Zealand , Fiji etc..all over. I spent 2 weeks there then and was interviewed for Bob Ballard's documentary The Lost Ships of Guadalcanal. At the moment I am helping organize a new metal plaque for the US Skyline Ridge memorial.


Any books that have impressed you?
Yes , the one by Sam Griffiths, who was Edsons right hand man in the Raider Battalion.

Last Updated
March 26, 2012

 

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