The Coast Watchers force had its beginning in 1922 when the Royal Australian Navy received approval to recruit a network of unpaid, carefully selected civilians, including merchants, missionaries, planters and public servants who were living or working on or near the coast of the northern mainland of Australia and the islands to our north.
Station 12 The eyes and ears of the Pacific Campaign
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The Coast Watchers force had its beginning in 1922 when the Royal Australian Navy received approval to recruit a network of unpaid, carefully selected civilians, including merchants, missionaries, planters and public servants who were living or working on or near the coast of the northern mainland of Australia and the islands to our north. The network was established for the purpose of reporting in wartime, any unusual or suspicious happenings along the coast. Initially the headquarters were in Rabaul.
When Japan began its move southward in January 1942, the network was enlarged. More people with local knowledge were recruited as well as personnel from the Australian armed forces. Such men were Lieutenants Jack Read and Paul Mason who, from their positions on Bougainville, were able to alert the US forces at Guadalcanal, when Japanese aircraft and ships were heading south to the American positions.
The network spread from mainland Australia to Papua New Guinea, New Britain, New Ireland, the Solomons, New Hebrides and later to Fiji. It was absorbed into the Allied Intelligence Bureau which decided to replace personnel in previously over-run or abandoned positions, many still occupied by the Japanese. These men were landed at various vantage points, mostly at night, to observe and report by radio, movements of enemy shipping, planes and troops and any other information deemed important.
Most of them were helped by the indigenous people in the area where they operated despite the threat of instant reprisal if they were discovered. Some of our men were accidentally betrayed and taken prisoner which earned them instant execution. Theirs was a lonely death, not in the company of comrades in battle, but alone against a brutal enemy.
The names of many of the Coast Watchers who died are recorded on the only other memorial to them which is located at Madang. Details about this memorial, its dedication and inscriptions can be viewed here. The memorial is listed on the DVA Overseas Memorial database.
Group portrait of Australian Coastwatchers, members of the Naval Intelligence Division, RAN. Identified left to right: back row: Sub Lieutenant Malcolm Hugh Wright RAN; VX48785 Captain Richard Ian Skinner MC; Sub Lieutenant Kenneth William Tweeddale Bridge DSC, VX81159 Captain Rolf Charles Cambridge; Lieutenant Lionel Arthur Walker; Robertson; NX91635 Captain Carden Wyndham Seaton Seton DCM (a planter in the Shortland Island, British Solomon Islands Protectorate before he joined the AIF and later a decorated member of M Special Unit) and Lieutenant H. L. Williams. Front row: NGX256 Captain Laurence Edward Ashton; NGX253 Lieutenant Lyndon Charles Noakes; Lieutenant Commander Frederick Ashton (Snowy) Rhoades; Lieutenant Commander Eric Augustus Feldt OBE; Lieutenant Hugh Alexander Mackenzie DSC; 255565 Flight Lieutenant George Harold Rodney Marsland; Koch and Campbell. (AWM 304727)
The Coast Watchers Memorial at Madang, Papua New Guinea. The memorial is a lighthouse and was opened on 15 August 1959, and was built following public subscriptions and funds from the Commonwealth Government. (Source: DVA Overseas Memorial Search)
1942: A group portrait of Coast Watchers at Finschhafen. Left to right: Lieutenant K. C. Douglas; Warrant Officer A. P. H. Freund; Sergeant J. Champagne, USAAC; Radio Air Gunner Graham, USAAC. (AWM 304753)
The plaque on the Coast Watchers memorial at Madang. The inscription reads: "In honour and grateful memory of the Coastwatchers and of the loyal natives who assisted them in their heroic service behind enemy lines during the Second World War in providing intelligence vital to the conduct of Allied operations. Not only did they transmit by means of teleradio from their jungle hideouts information which led to the sinking of numerous enemy warships, but they were able to give timely warning of impending enemy air attacks. The contribution towards the Allied victory in the Pacific by the small body of men who constituted the Coastwatchers was out of all proportion to their numbers." Image: courtesy PNGAA Library
Map of Coast Watching teleradio stations 1941-1943. Source: Eric Feldt ‘The Coast Watchers’
Postwar, United States Admiral William Halsey Jr (the South Pacific Area wartime commander) thanked the service of coastwatchers at a function in Brisbane. Photo: The Courier-Mail, Brisbane, 28 April 1954 (via Trove).
PNG stamp featuring Coast Watchers issued in 1967 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of World War Two. (Source: Colnect.com)