From Maj. Graeme Andrews, NSW, Australia


September 2007

Thank you for forwarding an autographed copy of your book to us here Down Under, I spent last weekend reading it and I enjoyed all the little bits of information that you correctly point out are not contained in many of the other books on the battle. There are a few other books about that cover the islands, their history and very loosely the battles leading up to and including Galvanic and they also provide some more information about the people and their history. I see from your notes on the back cover that we also share the rank of Major, you after some time in the Air Force me after some time in the Army (36 years) as a regular. I am a member of the Royal Australian Army Ordnance Corps with a specialisation as an Senior Ammunition Technical Officer (see page 196 of your book - yes that is in effect what I am also). Let me share a little of my own aftermath with you, I hope it will bring back a few memories.

I first became interested in Tarawa after a series of serendipitous events had me attending Betio to destroy a US AN-M30 100 lb aerial bomb about 25m north east of the 'Admiral's cabin' in Nov 1986. Of course as with many things on Betio, this task was just the tip of the iceberg and we subsequently destroyed quite a few more items on the causeway and off Takaronga Pt. Immediately following this trip I spent a time getting acquainted with Betio and Galvanic (to some of us it becomes something of an itch once scratched!). I managed to track down a copy of the Operation Order for Galvanic and a few of the many books on the topic including Tarawa The Story of a Battle by Rob Sherrod. Things went quiet for a long time (it was after all some years before the www became a household must) but when I recently returned to an old posting here, I found we were following up two requests from the Governments of Nauru and Kiribati for assistance to deal with unexploded ordnance. The itch had returned, I found myself with a comrade on a plane to Nauru and points beyond to examine and scope the task ahead last July. As I mentioned, the advent of the world wide web makes research so much easier and I was able to track down a lot of information that I had previously not seen. Our journey was to take in Nauru, Tarawa (Betio) and Butaritari.

While Nauru proved to be interesting, what it lacked was any pieces of unexploded ordnance despite the concerns of one local who thought he had found something buried behind his house. I was to find out that time changes may things, it had been 21 years since my last visit there and the phosphate industry was (to risk a pun) at absolute rock bottom. I knew Tarawa would be more interesting as we had been sent a series of images by our Maritime Surveillance Authority (Mike) contact on Betio. Time had also had its impact on Air Nauru our principle means of transport, it had now changed to Our Airline and had ceased regular twice weekly flights through to Majuro, once a week terminating in Tarawa was all one could expect. The journey from Nauru to Tarawa was a very early start, despite the absurdities of flying out of tiny islands from airports with about three regular staff the last leg of the journey has an expectation - how much had Betio changed in 21 years?

As we arrived over Tarawa the sun was on the ascent, we had a good glimpse of the atoll from the plane. Not long after arrival we were collected by our friendly MSA and conveyed the length of the atoll in a westerly direction. It was the day after independence day and the place was alive with festivity and people everywhere. West past the Otintai where I stayed on my previous visit, the island seemed full of mini buses and they were in better condition than I remembered the cars once were (tin worm works effectively when so close to the salt water!). Past the new Parliament building, the embassies (and the Chinese one is now empty thanks to termites and the recognition of Taiwan). Arriving at Mary's Hotel on Bairiki right at the end of the causeway, I could see the little harbour where we used to mount the ferry to Betio, now it was only a 20 cent trip across the causeway. Dai Nippon were working on it when I was last there and I recalled the US 8" HC projectile we had to destroy on the reef near the 8" guns at Takaronga Pt.

Over the causeway we pause for a look over those same guns, I soon became aware of the way the locals use these 'facilities' as a convenience and make a mental note to watch my step! Spare spaces near the causeway are packed with 'campers' down for the festival, the Maneabas are in use with festivities and people. Mike tells me Betio is now second only to Hong Kong for median population density. We journey on to meet your friend John Brown for an informal tour. He takes us around the island (past your M1A2 Sherman) and I see how crowded it has become, all the open spaces from my last trip have gone replaced by buildings or sports stadium or junk piles. Around past the Admiral's Bunker, it was once very open space but is now squeezed on all sides. The old site of my last aerial bomb task is now overgrown with a tree, the whole area seems much smaller than it was. Off to the Betio Police station to catch up on the collected bits and pieces, out back the big power house with its rusty reobar. At one side in an open shipping container a pile of bones gathering ... I ask John why they are not offered the respect they deserve. It is suggested that they are only Japanese bones, how do they know? An old soldier vents his frustration, should disrespect be so common place?

The next morning the scoping continues out on the reef behind John's place. This is obviously where the Seabees pushed the collected pile, I find a complete clip of Garand ammunition amongst the stack, we have some work ahead of us here. Afterward the cool beer and the only ice cream on the island fresh from Molly's machine go down well, how it might have felt 63 years ago lingers on the mind. The rest of the afternoon at the Captain's Bar to contemplate, looking back down Red 3, the lagoon to the right and bobbing gently in the swells a new series of large sea craft at the lagoon entry. Taiwanese fishing mother ships, the Kiwi helicopter (spotter) pilot shares our table. A lot can be said about expats in a foreign port!

The following morning it was off to Bonriki International for the local ride to Butaritari aboard the somewhat nondescript Chinese Y-12 aircraft of Air Kiribati. The large birthday cake that came aboard to be placed on a front seat for the ride to Butaritari a lasting example of modern life meets island remoteness. The twin turbo props certainly do not lack punch as they haul us skyward for the 45 minute flight, below the remoteness is apparent, sea surrounded by sea and rarely a little triangle or oval shaped atoll full of coconuts and crashing surf. What remains of the wartime strip on Butaritari is still quite serviceable after all these years, long wide and smooth. The airport terminal is the remains of the soft drink factory, our transport, a light truck a gift of the Taiwanese government. Heading down the broken road to the Government Guest House our home for three days, we duck the overhanging breadfruit nuts not wanting to spend the days carrying a sore head. Behind a 'postie bike' (Honda 90 used by the Aust Post office to deliver mail and later gently retired to places like Nauru or Kiribati) and what is that on the back? Yes there it is the big birthday cake on its platter nursed by a young lady pillion. Hope they make it! This island is beautiful, green, unspoilt, relatively unpopulated, coconuts, breadfruit, pandanus, babai (taro) and bananas everywhere. The road is bumpy and filled with washouts from the heavier rain, we slow and suddenly swing wide of the road - yes the birthday cake made it, about as far as it was ever to go, the sight of the bike rider and pillion covered in cake standing next to their upended bike and the laughter on their face says it all. Island life is joyful, it is not nor should it ever be a serious as life in the cities you and I call home. The locals here are friendly, they wave and the children rush to collect the sweets we discard over the back in handfuls.

The Guest House is sparse but effective, it holds up to five people at a time free of clutter. Basic is a good description, but it is home. On arrival our local Police guide asks us if we have seen the bomb nearby yet? The negative answer sees us clamber across the inner reef edge not 50m behind the house where we find a Japanese 60kg bomb and two US 5" HC projectiles nearby. From our place on the lagoon at the sand spit Yellow Beach runs west to On Chong's the rusting hulks that long ago held the threat of Japanese snipers were still visible. To our right and not far away King's Pier and the wreck of the Japanese 'Emily' seaplane, that and the extremely rusted bottom remains of two LVT nearby are about the only visible reminders of a time long ago. There are few old people (70 plus) here so the memories have gone, the youth of today know nothing of the markers of battle. We spend two days travelling the length of the island west to east finding and identifying UXO legacies that will need to be dealt with. The most memorable was our journey to Kumu village out at the eastern tip. It took 1.5 hours to rattle and bounce the 17kms from our start point to reach the village. We were, as to be expected, greeted by the village chief who took us to his maneap where we were fed a simple meal of pancakes and banana, after  the meal he selected three of his men and we climbed aboard his outrigger heading out across the pristine lagoon (none of your Betio pollution here thank you) to a point at the north east tip of the atoll where the outer reef forms a shelf at low tide. With great care the chief steered the craft through the crowns of the reef until we had to swim the last few metres in that clear light blue water to the white topped reef. Not far away were two US AN M30 100lb bombs, it was suggested by the Chief that they were the result of some target practice by an aircrew. Returning back across the lagoon the Chief steered the craft to an isolated island smack in the middle of the fringing reef. The quiet maneaba could be seen adjacent to the lagoon beach. Here, we stopped some 600-700m out in order to wade the shallow waters to the beach. It was truly a beautiful day, after wading the waters and watching the marine life scurry about in our wake one could spare a thought for others wading ashore all those years ago. If only they had the same welcome awaiting us. The Chief took us first to see the island spirit, we were given the history and an offering of Irish Cake tobacco to place in the clam shell then it was off on a hike around the broken shore. It seems one has to prove ones capability in order to be a guest in the Maneaba and to partake in the moimoto (fresh coconut milk). The rest after the walk and the cool fresh coconut was magnificent, but we had to fight the ever present bush rats in order to get any peace - they were everywhere. 

Returning to the village we were again provided lunch, a chance to taste the local fish, taro, breadfruit and bananas. We left a donation to cover the outboard fuel and returned to our digs for the day. Our time on this part of the group drew rapidly to a close, we had chartered the island and found at least a dozen tasks to be completed and a few more we were unable to see first hand. The return journey to Tarawa was via Little Makin, it seemed that the little Y-12 could not take any more load in the form of passengers, luggage (including the three hands of bananas given to us by the council but which the airline wanted us to pay $430 in extra baggage - it helps to have local Police on your side, they redistribute the asset to locals without baggage so you pay nothing). Once again the horsepower showed and off we went for the short hop to Makin, passengers exchanged (many with obvious medical problems that needed attention) loaded on for the ride to better facilities. It seemed that there were an extra two people over the limit riding on the back floor but the god of horsepower was again on our side and we eventually made it back to Tarawa. The bananas were distributed amongst the locals on arrival - probably along ancient tribal custom lines. We adjourned to our abode at Mary's for a nice meal, unfortunately it was the last good food I was to enjoy until well after my return to Australia. Partaking of customary hospitality is not without its risks and I was to suffer for some ten days. Giardia carries its own sense of priorities and they tend to put a dampener on most enjoyable things. My travelling partners all missed out though, must be my luck I guess. In the end it was probably something that caught me after Nauru and not something from Kiribati at all. Leaving Tarawa behind I could reflect on the passage of time, there had been many changes to Betio. What was once visible on the fringing reef as you chugged slowly by in the ferry had all but gone replaced by the convenience of a causeway and the demons of saltwater. The causeway and the new container terminal point the new direction of Betio, it is the city lights that draw the life. Lets hope it does not end up like the cities we are accustomed to.

Back home again, we are in the process of planning our return journey early next year to deal with the UXO legacies of Op Galvanic. We will return with a representative bunch of Navy divers, Airforce and Army technicians, Medical support team and a small PR crew to help clean up the growing pile. I had a message from Mike last week, he said "Dai Nippon were digging roadwork's on Betio and had discovered more UXO to deal with". While I was in Betio, I asked John Brown about your book having spent a deal of time on your (and other) websites, unfortunately he was out of copies so I tried chasing you through an e-mail address that petered out. Nevertheless our efficient library staff looked kindly on my request, found the details and through your generosity we now have an addition to our library. Hope the attached images bring back a few memories.

Kind regards

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