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Episodes & Studies Volume 2

The Record of the Service

The Record of the Service

THE RECORD of the coastwatchers in the Pacific is a proud one. The many steadfastly endured the tedium. The few who were tested in war bore themselves well.

The chief military value of coastwatching stations must always be precautionary. Although in the latter stages of the war in the Pacific the stations were reporting the progress of friendly shipping, their information had been vital in the early years. During the critical days after Pearl Harbour, the coastwatching stations supplied news of Japanese movements on the northern fringe of the island screen which could not have been obtained by any other means, for at that time the shortage of aircraft prevented reconnaissance patrols of the forward areas. It was the accident of the decisions of Japanese strategy that the coastwatching stations controlled by New Zealand did not feel the weight of war to the same extent as those in the Australian Navy's area to the west.

The fine response of those coastwatchers who came in contact with the enemy speaks for the spirit, as well as for the efficiency, of the rest. Coastwatching experience embraced both the heat of the tropics and the cold of the sub-Antarctic. The vigil of the coastwatchers in the southern Gilberts after the Japanese conquest of the northern islands of the group, daily expecting capture and daily seeing the enemy's reconnaissance planes in the sky and never their own, was one calling for a type of endurance described by a naval observer as ‘cold courage—a rarer thing than courage in action.’