During World War II, the unexpected heroes of the Pacific front were the Coastwatchers in the Solomon Islands, located off the northeast coast of Australia. These non-military volunteers–“government officials, plantation managers, gold miners, a department store buyer, a pub keeper, an accountant, a rancher”–were tasked with monitoring Japanese activity and reporting useful data to the Allies. They lived discreetly behind enemy lines, dealing with natives of ever-changing loyalties, constantly moving their cumbersome radio equipment around the islands to stay one step ahead of the Japanese, rescuing and caring for downed Allied pilots, and providing a steady stream of valuable geographic data about the islands to the commanders.
Lord writes that the two hour warning of impending Japanese attacks that the Coastwatchers provided to Allied commanders enabled them to be prepared every time the “Tokyo Express” came through the islands–allowing the Allies to win battle after battle and eventually push the Japanese out of the Solomons (and eventually win the war). As Lord quotes one Admiral Halsey, “The Coastwatchers saved Guadalcanal, and Guadalcanal saved The Pacific.”
This book is a fascinating look at the Pacific front from the limited vantage point of a small band of unlikely but invaluable heroes.