Major Martin Clemens USMC - RIP -

Information about veterans of the Second World War in the Pacific, including friends and family.

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Major Martin Clemens USMC - RIP -

Post by West-Front »

Major Martin Clemens, who died on May 31 aged 94, was the district commissioner responsible for supplying the American 1st Marine division with intelligence as they sought to dislodge a 30,000-strong Japanese force from Guadalcanal Island in the Pacific during the Second World War.

Aided by some 300 islanders, policemen and planters, he established a hideout on Mount Austen. It was not as high up as he would have liked, and mountain mists affected his transmitter. Nevertheless he and his men had a good view of both Tulagi, the Solomon Islands' capital 25 miles away across the straits, and the airfield directly below the mountain, which the Japanese were frantically trying to build.
General Archer Vandegrift's marines landed on August 7 1942, capturing Guadalcanal and renaming it Henderson Field. A week later, Clemens descended with flag and scouts. Although cutting an unprepossessing figure – gaunt, bearded, dressed in rags and barefoot – he was not shot by the astonished sentries, but welcomed and appointed British liaison officer with US XIV Corps.

As commander of the Solomon Islands Defence Force, he now led a battalion, which included a former police sergeant-major who was awarded a George Medal after being tortured, bayoneted and left for dead. His scouts proved invaluable since the Americans knew little of the terrain, had a habit of becoming lost and lacked combat experience. They detected an enemy attack being launched along the Tenaru river; the attack was duly annihilated, and they accompanied Colonel Merrit Edson's men who held what is locally called Bloody Ridge in the heaviest fighting of the campaign. Clemens's gallantry was recognised when he was awarded an MC and the American Legion of Merit. The son of an organist of Moravian missionary stock, Warren Frederick Martin Clemens was born in Aberdeen on April 17 1915. He won a scholarship to Bedford School and then to Christ's College, Cambridge, where he read Agriculture and Natural Sciences and had the novelist CP Snow as his tutor. He was one of the notorious "night-climbers of Cambridge", whose feats included capping the pinnacles of King's College Chapel with chamber-pots and hauling an Austin 7 above the Senate House. Although he narrowly missed a rowing Blue, Clemens was a reserve for the winning Eight at the Empire Games in 1938, the year he joined the Solomon Islands protectorate service.

When war was declared the following year his reserved occupation meant that he was refused permission to join the Army. But as a member of the coastwatching network set up by the Australians after the First World War, he was ordered to rescue all the expatriate missionaries, planters and officials, then to move to Guadalcanal as the only government representative, with responsibility for the 15,000 native inhabitants.

Since it was clear that the Japanese were coming, he paid off the staff at his government station at Aola with several months' advance salary. Then, exuding characteristic self-confidence, he sat down in a circle of sympathetic tribesmen, who feared that he was going to leave until he assured them in pidgin that he would remain and that their only hope of deliverance was to stick together. Reassured by his promise and happy at the thought of returning to their traditional occupations, they set about gathering information, working mostly at night and keeping him constantly on the move to avoid regular Japanese patrols. One of his major problems was food. He persuaded his scouts to bring a large crate containing tins of assorted meats, and on the first night was delighted to find one with his favourite scallops, which went well with wild yams. But it soon became clear that the crate contained nothing else, with the result that he ate scallops fried, smoked, boiled, curried and cold until he could not face another. There was one welcome present of a duck. By the time he came down from the mountain he had lost four stone. Clemens remained district commissioner in the western Solomons until the end of the war, then was sent to Samaria and Gaza during the British withdrawal from Palestine, where he learned to speak Arabic in a month. After being transferred to Cyprus as district commissioner in Nicosia, he arranged with Sir Hugh Foot, the governor, that the two of them should demonstrate their confidence to the public by walking the length of Nicosia's Ledra Street – the "death mile" where British forces were murdered periodically by sharpshooters; he considered the experience more hazardous than his Guadalcanal exploits.

After being promoted the island's defence secretary, Clemens was offered a post in Sarawak. But his wife, Anne, had been left a house in Australia. So he resigned and emigrated to Melbourne, where he was pastoral superintendent of her family's grazing property in Queensland. Highly gregarious, he was president of the Australia-Britain Society and a frequent visitor to Henley as a member of the Leander Club. His wife died earlier this year, and he is survived by their three daughters and son.

Martin Clemens was appointed OBE in 1956, CBE in 1960 and OAM in 1993. At his funeral the congregation sang Onward Christian Soldiers, just as his men had done while they removed the bodies of 17 marines and 450 Japanese killed on Bloody Ridge.

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Re: Major Martin Clemens USMC - RIP -

Post by joad »

gee there are a few errors in the above.
Not to diminish Martin Clemens in any way at all
Clemens was not a District Commissioner - He was a Cadet Patrol Officer. The District Commissioner_ Marchant - stayed in office and moved to Auki
When war came to the Solomon Islands he was seconded to the British Solomon Islands Protectorate Defense Force. He was not appointed a BSIPDF Liaison officer, it was a role he assumed.
His hideout was in the hills behind Aola Bay, not mount austen. There is a good view from Aola that includes Tulagi, but you can not seeTulagi from Mount Austen.
As a Liaison officer Clemens never led a battalion but he and his scouts did accompany some American patrols.
Clemens scouts did not really detect the attack east of the airstrip, that was a combination of a lot of things including Japanese hubris, American luck and American initiative and the local knowledge of the scounts, mostly BSIP Policemen.
I am quite sure Clemens and his scouts were not at Bloody Ridge for the battle. Although I am sure they did go out on patrol with them at other times.
Clemens was not ordered to rescue all the expatriate missionaries, planters and officials as a coastwatcher. He was ordered to do that as one of his responsibilities as a Cadet Patrol Officer, he also had to repatriate all the indentured labour working on plantations back to their home villages.
Clemens was acting as a coastwatcher in his capacity as a Cadet Patrol Officer. The British Colonial office was not entirely happy about it. He was only given a Naval Reserve Rank and badges of Rank when it became clear exactly how far behind the lines he was. He was not the only coastwatcher on Guadalcanal, there was also Snowy Rhoades, Ken Hay, and another guy who moved from Savo to Guadalcanal - Leif Schroeder.
Clemens appointment as a Cadet Patrol Officer was suspended by the colonial office while he served as a naval reserve officer until the ends of the war.
I think it is correct that at the end of the war he quit the Solomons only coming back twice, once in the 1960s and then again in the 1970s.

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