17 February, 2008

World War II Gun Relics

Read below an article reproduced from the Sunday Times on gun relics from World War II located around the country. Some of these are located at Nasonini (near Forum Secretariat), Veiuto (next to Parliament House) and Bilo, Suva.
"Fijis forgotten guns of the second World War, Fred Wesley, Sunday, February 17, 2008
Historys hallowed ground

Structures and memory sometimes combine to remind us that certain places are special. They prick at the inner sanctums of our memory. They inch out different emotions in different people. They may be rich in historical value that they deserve a significant place in the mechanics of life.

But unlike prominent structures and figures that have become part of us, they are sometimes taken for granted, slowly enveloped by the passage of time, fading bit by bit into the very distant recesses of our minds.

Such places once stood proud as a vital part of our lives. They stood up for what we believed in, and had a hand in carving a better tomorrow for future generations.

Sadly though, historical places like the gun batteries at Bilo outside Lami, and Momi and Lomolomo in the western division have moved on to the endangered list.

They have become places we must save.

Its hard to imagine well be taking time out a decade from now to remember an era that had a hand in changing our lives.

Such places, says Jone Niukula, the National Trusts project officer for the Momi Gun site in 2007, are historically significant.

The years have not been kind to these sites.

I believe we must value them, he says.

They were built to protect Fiji.

Sadly, he says, their place in our lives is being threatened by the advent of a generation not too well versed in their historical significance.

Youngsters these days, he agrees, have little idea of the grave danger Fiji faced as the Japanese military swept across the Pacific in the early 1940s.

On December 20, 1941, the Prime Minister of New Zealand wrote to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs: The following is a telegram addressed on 14 December by Lieutenant-General Short, then Commanding General, Hawaii, which has been received by the Chief of the Air Staff: Completion of base for heavy bombers is imperative. We are rushing completion Christmas. Canton doubtful but planes can hop from Christmas to Fiji. Fiji essential. Strongly recommend your Government take all possible steps for its defence. We will send additional construction equipment for aerodromes as soon as possible and have instructed Sverdrup to rush completion. Advise.

A message has been sent in reply by the Chief of the Air Staff giving particulars of the strength of the forces in Fiji, of the dispositions made for the defence of the island, and of the reinforcements being despatched. A summary of this information is given in my immediately following telegram.

The defence of Fiji has assumed a high degree of importance as, with the development of the landing ground at Nadi, it will be a vital link in the United States air reinforcing route. On this account the Japanese can be expected to attach importance to the capture of the island, and they may be able to employ greater forces than were previously anticipated for this purpose in view of their initial successes.

At the beginning

More than three million people brave crowds and traffic to take in the sights of one of the 400 or so units in the United States national park system annually.

They find nature rejuvenating.

But theres barely a trickle of visitors to the Lomolomo gun battery, between the countrys second city of Lautoka and Nadi and the battery at Bilo which overlooks the Suva harbour.

Theres a better turn-around of visitors to the Momi gun battery between Nadi and Sigatoka.

Of the three batteries, mystery surrounds the Lomolomo gun site which sits on a hill with a majestic view of the Pacific Ocean, overlooking the Mamanucas to the west and the beginning of the Yasawa chain of islands to the north-west.

Lomolomo

My research at the National Archives, the National Trust and on the internet met a dead end.

A website falsely claimed there was only one gun at Lomolomo. The overgrowth revealed two guns pointed at the Navula Passage towards the seas off Nadi.

While it was difficult to find records of the gun battery at Lomolomo, the only mention of a military presence anywhere near it I discovered, was in notes by Lieutenant-Colonel Oliver A. Gillespie of the New Zealand Army in a publication dated 1952 of the Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939-1945.

Part of it read: New Zealand troops landed in Fiji on November 1, 1940, having left Wellington on October 28 on board the Rangatira after the traditional speeches of farewell from the Governor-General, Lord Galway, the Prime Minister, Peter Fraser, and the Minister of Defence, the F. Jones. HMS Monowai, a converted cruiser, was both escort for the convoy and transport for the field artillery. After disembarking troops at Suva the Rangatira ran a shuttle service, transporting the remaining two flights, one of which went direct to Lautoka.

Major General W.H Cunningham decided to defend the two most vital areas on Viti Levu-the Suva Peninsula in the east, with its harbour facilities, communications, cable link, supply depots and stores, and the Nadali airfield, 15 miles away on the left bank of the Rewa River; and the Namaka area in the west which included the small own and port of Lautoka, the Nadi airfield (later to play a vital part in Pacific strategy), and the Navula Passage, the entrance to Nadi anchorage, which was overlooked by the barren, rolling hills of Momi.

Cunninghams problem was to defend those two vital zones with the inadequate force at his disposal.

Two principal camp sites were selected, one at Samabula, four miles from Suva, beside the golf links where undulating country met all reasonable requirements, and at Namaka, 17 miles from Lautoka, in the western coastal region of sugar-cane and pineapple plantations.

The 30th Battalion went direct to Lautoka from New Zealand, travelling from ships side to camp area in the Colonial Sugar Refining Companys unique railway, the only one in the Colony and used principally for hauling cane to the crushing mill.

At Cunninghams first unit conference on 4 November, areas were allotted and defence roles defined. The immediate task was the denial to a possible enemy of the beaches and harbours in both zones. Four of 35 Batterys 18-pounder guns were despatched to Momi to defend the Navula Passage between the mainland and Malolo Island; the remaining two guns were sited at Lami village to cover the entrance to Suva Harbour and assist the fixed guns sited on Mission Hill behind the town.

Roads were constructed by the engineers through both zones to give the battalions greater tactical mobility. These new roads, to this day commemorating the names of the first commanders, Cunningham and Mead, enabled them to site supply dumps at strategical points throughout the defended areas in accordance with Cunninghams policy of building up a three months reserve of oil and petrol and six months reserve of rations, slowly accumulated as they arrived from New Zealand. A shortage of efficient non-commissioned officers was relieved by the formation of a training school at Natabua in Lautoka.

The Lomolomo battery was probably in service at a time when the Nadi airport came into being.

The importance of Fiji as a vital Pacific base was confirmed, and on November 17,1941, when certain sections of the American Neutrality Act were repealed by Congress a request was made to the New Zealand Government to construct three airfields in the Namaka area, capable of accommodating the largest service aircraft. Because of the urgency of the request, New Zealand acted swiftly, and by the end of November 440 men of the Public Works Department reached Namaka to begin work on extending the existing field to take the Liberators soon to arrive. They were the first of 1219 Public Works men to reach Fiji for employment on this project.

The successful completion of this project was one of New Zealands most important achievements in the Pacific theatre of war. Three airfields, each with a runway easuring 7000 feet long by 500 feet wide, with revetments and servicing areas, were asked for, the first to be ready by January 15, 1942, the other two by April 15.

The first three Flying Fortresses landed at Nadi on January 10; three Liberators followed on January 23, and until the end of the war the Namaka area was a scene of intense air activity as fields were still further extended to cope with the demands of increasing traffic.

Mr Niukula says efforts are underway by the National Trust to talk to landowners of the Lomolomo battery.

We havent spoken to them yet. But we hope to talk to them and see where we go from there, he says. Little or nothing else is known about the Lomolomo battery. It now sits forgotten, with overgrown grass keeping this piece of history hidden, and goats using the quiet bunkers as toilets.

Momi

The Momi battery is the best known and maintained of the three sites.

It sits on a 13-hectare site 26km south east of Nadi with commanding views of the surrounding coastline and reef.

The site was established by the New Zealand 30th battalion in 1941 and has two 6-inch guns after the original guns were replaced.

By August 1942 the New Zealand Battalion was relieved at Momi Bay by the 148th battalion. The site was manned by the battalion until early 1944 when all Fijis coastal batteries were closed.

A guide looks after the battery which is open to visitors. A new tarsealed road makes the journey a pleasant experience, winding through the rolling countryside.

Bilo

The gun battery overlooks the Suva peninsula and was constructed to guard the entrance to the harbour. The gun has been removed and in its place remains a graying shell brimming with overgrowth.

Mosese Voka, 51, a vasu of Bilo feels a touch of sadness every time he passes the gates leading up to the battery. He feels its long been a forgotten part of history.

We cannot afford to forget such places, he says. They should be a constant reminder of our past. The Bilo battery played a crucial part in the defence of the capital and sits on a hill top with breath-taking views of the city.

The battery sadly holds nothing of its former glory. Structures that once housed soldiers have turned gray with overgrown grass and bush covering them. Parts of the floor in a few of the rooms, one a former ammunitions storage facility are wet with soft soil having crept in because of the lack of attention to a drainage system constructed by army engineers some 68 or so years ago.

In the end

The three gun batteries are but a little piece of history that, like the great dinosaurs, face the real threat of been forgotten.

Unlike the Fiji flag, these structures exist in the dimension of symbolism and in memory.

They once had pride of place in society, in an era of uncertainty and fear, providing a touch of security and sense of wellbeing borne off a protective arm. The onus is now on us to choose to protect them forevermore."

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