Daily Archives: 19 February 2007

Origins of the South Pacific Coastwatching Network

The idea for a coast watching network originated in the year 1919, beginning as a defensive measure to protect the long, and virtually unprotected, coastline of Australia. At that time, the country’s population was concentrated primarily in the southeast section of the continent; in the event of war, an enemy could launch a surprise air attack on this area by crossing a wide expanse of desolate territory. To counter this threat, a plan was developed to use civilian spotters as coast watchers. They were equipped with telegraph and radio sets and were expected to act as an early warning system to report unidentified aircraft.

In September 1939, Lieutenant Commander Eric Feldt, Royal Australian Navy, was stationed at Port Moresby, New Guinea, and placed in charge of intelligence gathering operations. The coast watching organization comprised about 800 people—the majority positioned along the Australian shore. A Solomon Islands screen, to the north, consisted of a few hundred plantation owners and managers. This group of spotters was spread very thin along the coasts of Buka, Bougainville, New Georgia, and other islands of the Solomons chain.

Lieutenant Commander Feldt gave his Solomon Islands watchers the code name FERDINAND, after the storybook character Ferdinand the bull, who preferred to sit under a tree and smell the flowers rather than fight. Although FERDINAND comprised a small group of spotters, its intelligence-gathering network covered more than a half million square miles of islands and ocean. The nickname not only suited this band of observers but also reminded them of their assignment as lookouts, not fighters. During World War II, however, there were many times when the Solomon Islands coast watchers, with their backs to the wall, were forced to battle the Japanese.

SOURCE: Coast Watching in WWII: Operations against the Japanese in the Solomon Islands, 1941–43, by A. B. Feuer (Stackpole, 2006), pp. xvii–xviii

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Malabari’s Impressions of Englishwomen, 1893

What strikes you most about Englishwomen is their look of health, strength, elasticity, all proclaiming a freedom of mind, to begin with. How they walk, and talk, and carry themselves generally! How they rush in and out, saying good-bye with the right hand turned towards themselves, meaning what our women in India always say, “vehela aujo,” come back soon! How they kiss one another, and offer their children, even their cats and dogs to be kissed by the friends departing! Does this last ceremony show heart-hunger, or is it affectation? Here they are, half a dozen of them rushing into my omnibus (the Lord have mercy on an unprotected orphan!) squeezing themselves into their seats. I am between two of the prettiest and quietest, feeling a strange discomfort. As the bus hobbles along, I feel my fair neighbours knocking against me every moment. They do not seem to mind it at all; it is a matter of course. Why, then, should I cry out against the inevitable? Evil to him who evil thinks. We are all too busy here, reading the paper, chatting about the weather, minding our packages and our toes. Further, I find both my neighbours resting their parasols between them and me on either side. A straw shows how the breeze blows. The breeze that I have just discovered is very refreshing to my soul. I have also noted that respectable Englishwomen rather avoid entering a carriage occupied by men. It is mainly through such experience that I am learning to take a charitable view of ladies sitting on the knees of gentlemen, or gentlemen on the knees of ladies, when three of a family happen to be in one hansom, or more than ten in a railway carriage. These sights, queer as they are, do not offend me now. They would be an eyesore amongst our own people. I myself could hardly bear them at first; but that is no reason why I should judge others in such a matter, before I am well equipped to form a judgment.

I have said above that the average Englishwoman strikes me most by her healthy looks and active habits. But, as usual, there is another side to this picture. One often meets with the anaemic and the consumptive, victims of overwork, starvation, or dissipation, in themselves or their parents. How pathetic is the sight of one of these girls, moving softly like a ghost, with a frame so fragile as to be driven by the wind behind, with a transparent skin and glassy eyes, exhausted by the effort to creep on to the platform, and going directly to sleep in the carriage, with the delicate little mouth half open, as if to allow the breath of life to ebb out without a struggle! It fills me with grief to watch this fair slight being as if in the process of dissolution. And yet I sit there, fascinated by her presence, unmindful of time or distance.

SOURCE: “Malabari: A Love-Hate Affair with the British,” in Other Routes: 1500 Years of African and Asian Travel Writing, edited by Tabish Khair, Martin Leer, Justin D. Edwards, and Hanna Ziadesh (Indiana U. Press, 2005), pp. 374-375

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Filed under India, U.K.