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On Guadalcanal and New Georgia

On Guadalcanal and New Georgia

Shortly before Padre Taylor left Fiji for Espiritu Santo, Father Ainsworth4 was posted to Guadalcanal to look after the Roman Catholics in the forward area. He had previously started on a tour of the Pacific at the end of 1942, but as a result of an accident in New Caledonia had been forced to return by hospital ship to New Zealand. On arrival at Guadalcanal he found, as did all chaplains in the forward area in the early days, that his facilities were strictly limited. No tents suitable for services were available and no provision was made for transport, which was essential as RNZAF units were scattered over a distance of twelve miles. At first he used American chapels for Sunday services and a small tent for weekday Mass and evening meetings. The transport problem he solved by acquiring a jeep for his own use and he also obtained permission from the Americans to fly a Piper reconnaissance aircraft.

Father Ainsworth shared all the difficulties and discomforts of the squadrons—not the least of which were the air raids which were frequent at Guadalcanal at that time—and he spent most of his days among the men working on the landing strips. As the only RNZAF chaplain on the island for some months, he looked after men of all creeds in other than strictly denominational matters. To many of them he was already well known, as most of the aircrew had passed through the Initial Training Wing at Levin when he was stationed there.

In October 1943 two New Zealand fighter squadrons moved forward to Ondonga, on New Georgia. A month later, Father Ains- page 168 worth, who had been doing a tour of the rear areas in the Pacific, joined them there. The New Zealand units had been the first to occupy the airfield, which was in territory that had only recently been taken from the Japanese. At the time he arrived they were engaged, with American squadrons which had joined them, in providing daily cover for the forces that had landed at Torokina, on Bougainville. All ranks, ground staff and aircrew, worked strenuously, the maintenance crews often working through the whole night to have aircraft ready to fly at daybreak.

The chaplain was a welcome figure in the pilots' mess and among the ground crews working on the airstrip—a never-failing supplier of encouragement, cigarettes, and chewing gum. In his clerical rôle he endeavoured to follow the precept of St. Paul, in being ‘all things to all men’, helping those of all creeds as far as was possible without interfering with individual religious beliefs. Besides his duties with the RNZAF, he ministered to American Roman Catholic personnel stationed at Ondonga. Two American chaplains, Padres Wilder and Burcham, also took a friendly interest in the New Zealanders and ministered to them as opportunity offered.

The readiness of American chaplains to help the New Zealanders, both in the exchange of services and in the loan or gift of chapels and equipment, was a very notable feature of service in the Pacific. Particularly in the first two years, the RNZAF chaplain in the Pacific was very much on his own. He had nobody to go to for advice on his duties and no organisation in the area to which to look for the supplies he needed in his work. He had to take them with him or have them sent from New Zealand, and this often meant long delays. The Americans, with a well-established, well-equipped chaplains' organisation, were unstinting in their generosity.

Christmas, 1943, was celebrated throughout the Pacific as far as possible in the traditional manner, with special services and a special Christmas dinner cooked from rations flown up from New Zealand. At Ondonga a combined service was held by the American padres, Wilder and Burcham, on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas Day services were held by Padre Larsen,5 who had just arrived from New Zealand, and Father Ainsworth.

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There were by this time six chaplains with the RNZAF overseas. Padre Churchill was at Nausori and Padre Venimore6 at Lauthala Bay; Padre Williams at Guadalcanal; Padre Osmers7 at Espiritu Santo; Padre Larsen and Father Ainsworth at Ondonga. The last four looked after all the men of their denominations in the forward area. This involved much travelling, for the RNZAF, besides the units at the main bases at Espiritu Santo, Guadalcanal, and Ondonga, had small detachments scattered throughout the islands. Many of the isolated units were not visited by New Zealand aircraft, and the priority for chaplains on American transport planes was low. The individual chaplain thus had to use his initiative in finding means of transport.

The programme of a chaplain stationed at Guadalcanal late in 1943 illustrates the amount of travelling which was involved:

Tuesday Leave Headquarters Camp early in the morning by APC8 for West Cape, where there was an RNZAF Radar Unit. This involved a trip of six hours. Hold Communion there and another service or a meeting. Move round among the men.
Thursday Return to Guadalcanal, arriving in the evening.
Friday and Saturday At Guadalcanal visiting the various camps: Headquarters Camp at Bloody Knoll, Islands Group Headquarters, Radar Headquarters, No. 2 Servicing Unit's camp, and a sawmilling camp some miles away. Hold various evening meetings and mix with the men.
There were also various hospitals to visit.
Sunday Hold two or more Communion services in the morning. Leave at midday for Halavo Bay, on Florida Island, where an RNZAF Catalina squadron was stationed. Arrive there at 6 p.m. in time to hold an evening service.
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Monday Leave Halavo at 8 o'clock in the morning by Catalina to visit the Radar Unit at Malaita.
Thursday or Friday Return to Guadalcanal by APC and carry out the usual programme there.
Monday Leave Guadalcanal in the morning by SCAT9 plane for Munda. Spend some days there and with the Saw-milling Unit on Arundel Island and the Radar Unit on Rendova Island.
Friday or Saturday Return to Guadalcanal.
The next week two or three days were spent at Halavo and the rest on Guadalcanal, and then the whole round started again.