While we’re in Tulagi – waiting for some spare parts to arrive from the US – the boys and I have been brushing up on the history of this fascinating tiny island.
Tulagi once was the capital of the Solomon Islands, when it was a British Protectorate. This small island is only 1km by 5km and was chosen by the British as a comparatively isolated and therefore healthier alternative to the disease-ridden larger islands of the Solomon Islands archipelago. The island also forms part of the very sheltered Purvis bay, which hosted many US navy ships during the Pacific War. It’s one of the most weather protected anchorages in the Solomon Islands.
The Japanese occupied Tulagi in 1942, with the intention of establishing a seaplane base nearby. However, the ships in Tulagi harbour were soon raided by US forces (primarily the 1st Marine Raiders) who landed on August 7 and captured Tulagi after a day of hard fighting.
There are many war relics dotted around the island. We visited two of the several ‘Japanese’ caves on the island where Japanese soldiers hid when the US forces landed. The caves were hidden in the bush and we had to ask some of the locals to show us the way. As we stood inside the cave, I thought about the bloodbath that occurred there and the many lives lost, which sent a shudder through my spine. War is such an awful thing.
After the island was captured by US, it became the base for its fleet of Patrol Torpedo boats, including the one captained by JFK, as well as other warships.
I didn’t realise this before, but former US president John F. Kennedy was a marine during WW2 and captain of a Torpedo boat. His mission was to intercept a convoy of Japanese ships that were transporting soldiers. His ship was rammed by a Japanese destroyer and Kennedy was one of the few survivors. They swam 4 miles to the nearest island, which was uninhabited. After a few days they swam to another island in search of water, food and any sign of life. They were spotted by two men in a canoe who happened to be part of the Coastwatchers, a network of agents tasked with keeping and eye on the enemy and reporting back to the Allied forces. Kennedy managed to get a message back to base which was delivered by these locals (with great risk to themselves, paddling 35 miles to the base through waters patrolled by Japanese ships). The message, in the absence of pen and paper, was carved into a coconut. Later, when he made it to the White House, Kennedy kept the coconut on his desk as a reminder of the war and how lucky he was to be rescued. What a great story.
Today Tulagi is a sleepy little town. There is one hotel, a few shops, some houses, a police station, a school and a church. The only tourism here is related to diving. There are some amazing shipwrecks around and within the dive world, especially in terms of wreck diving, it is considered one of the top destinations in the world.