The Brits

Well, we didn’t call Major Sinclair and his wife Brits - the term wasn’t even in use then, and anyway they were New Zealanders. Once they invited us all over to London for a party. The island almost encircled the shark-filled lagoon something like a crab’s claws. One point of land (or claw) was called Paris. It was the abandoned site of a French missionary’s attempt to colonize the island and was now the home of thousands of sea birds and their eggs. (It is now a bird sanctuary.) The tip of the other “claw” was called London, and was Major Sinclair’s base of operations.

The Spitting-Mad General

Perhaps their prayers were answered. As time went on we had to send GIs with extended overseas experience home, and this included radio operators. Finally we were down to only enough operators to man the radio station 12 hours/ day (as I hazily recollect) and not at all on Sundays. At the same time a like situation had developed with the pilots who had flown the weekly plane from Oahu down to Christmas. We simply had no planes at all.

Blister Bugs and the USO Troop

The “blister bug,” a night flying creature much attracted to light like the moth, yellow, winged and about half an inch long was about the only prominent insect species on the island. Lt. Roeber warned me early never to slap one of these creatures if it happened to light on me, because if I did I would soon find that its juices would raise a nasty welt. At that time pyrethrum spray cans were the insecticide weapon of choice, and pyrethrum was totally effective in knocking these creatures down from around the light fixtures in the base office.

The Scientists

I found the two physicists from Carnegie much more to my taste. Their work was important, because it provided much needed information on radio transmission interference for much of the Pacific. As a result they felt needed and important and were happy and easy to get along with. One was a ham radio operator and I asked him once to send a message to one of the stateside GI’s families when our regular radio communication became very limited.

The Medical Officers

Two medical officers, both majors, served on Christmas Island during my time. The climate was so pleasant and the work so untaxing that they had very little to do other than treat the Gilbert and Ellice Islanders for yaws, a venereal disease apparently endemic among them. As a result both men, and particularly the last, who had previously been a neurosurgeon at a military base on Oahu, felt over-qualified and their conversation consisted mostly of grousing and complaining.

The Base and the Island

The base had once been the site for the island hopping planes that took troops to the South Pacific and once when Japan was a threat in the Eastern Pacific had garrisoned an infantry division. But that was long past in 1945 and most living quarters were now deserted with ineffective insect protection. However, there were still large sheds with thousands of spare parts, C-rations, and tropical chocolate bars, which I often commandeered. I was never alcoholic, but chocolate was another matter. There was also a tank farm of aviation gasoline that was a particular responsibility.

The Island Commander(s)

The American Island Commander was 1st Lt. Ferdinand P. Roeber. He was a kindly looking gentleman of about 55 who had served in World War I. He was a native of Chicago and a house painter by trade. He had served faithfully as a second lieutenant in the Reserves ever since 1918, had been declared over-age-in-grade, and had been relegated to recruiting duty for the whole of World War II.

A Christmas (Island) Story

In about October of 1945 I found myself in a rapidly disbanding Engineer Light Ponton Company in a location amid the sugar cane fields of Oahu. I was bored, there being little to do except stand inspections, and I knew that with my limited overseas experience I would have a long wait before being allowed to leave the army and return to civilian life. So I applied for a transfer to a “forward area.” My request wended its way up through various echelons of command finally coming to rest in MIDPAC, Army headquarters in the Middle Pacific.

Army (US) Garrison Force Dec 1945- July 1946

As a second looie I was second in command on Christmas when you Brits had only one major (Sinclair) and an Indian mechanic. We had only 27 GIs on the island to maintain the airfield. This year when I happened to call up my college class’s web site, I was shocked to find how many of my classmates have passed on. It was a wake-up call for me to put on paper some reminiscences of my last months as a second lieutenant after the end of World War II. My experiences seem to me fairly unique, so I have decided to put these accounts out to be seen in the form of A Christmas (Island) Story.

Distant Memories of a Grapple Guy

I was a National Service chap, got called up (after getting deferred for several years) in November 1955, spent 2 weeks training at Malvern and another 4 at Worcester. As I was a Quantity Surveyor they then sent me to Brompton Barracks, Chatham to go on a Quantity Surveying Course but after a week or so there they discovered that they had too many Quantity Surveyors (typical army organising!) and not enough jobs to go round.