Ocean Island Defence Force
The War Diary of Private Thomas H. Embleton No. 22 Ocean Island Defence Force, Ocean Island (Banaba), Pacific Central
As featured in ANZAC DAY edition - Banaba/Ocean Island News No. 20 Mar/Apr 1996
The following pages represent a rough diary of events following the entry of Japan into the present War on Dec.8th. 1941. Although started on Feb.1st 1942 most of the dates are correct as the happenings are easy to remember in a small community like this place. I have refrained from entering various events of the war outside this place as they have hardly been in our favour up to the present. Hoping that the entries may be of some value later on and that the last entry will be a happy on describing a reunion with all folks in Australia not forgetting Sallie and my son Tom whom at this stage is 15 months old and whom I have never yet seen, but hope to in the very near future.
Signed T. Embleton.
MONDAY Dec 8th. 1941
On this date I was a patient in the hospital under observation for kidney trouble and on switching on the radio at 6am, soon learnt that Japan had entered the war by attacking Pearl Harbour. A radio operator was also a patient with a bad leg and was very anxious to resume duty out at the radio station. At about 10.30am a plane was heard and it proved to be a four engined bomber. We at first did not recognise it as an enemy plane, but it was soon found out as after circling the Island twice, it dropped three or four bombs out at the Residency, and then made off to the north.
No damage was done but all work ceased for the day.
All gathered at the Trade store at 2pm when it was announced that the O.I.D.F. would go to action stations. This was all arranged and whilst the Island was totally blacked out the members of the force spent the night on the beaches etc. Luckily the weather was quite warm and no coverings were at all necessary. I was present at the store, discharged from hospital at 4pm but spent the night in the hospital.
TUESDAY Dec 9th. 1941
Being posted to me section who was stationed right at Ooma [Uma]Point. I went home to pack a few things just in case we would be taken off either by an enemy or our own ships. At about 11am, I heard plane or planes and on looking out only found three four engined bombers right over the Island. I straight away made for the pinnacles and on my way met Jim Fraser and we both made our way towards the Chinese Cemetery. The planes circled the Island twice and when over Puakanakai [Buakonikai] dropped sticks of bombs over what proved to be the Residency, totally wrecking all of the top floors and part of the bottom. They apparently also used machine guns but were too high up to cause any casualties. Bridges and Garvey the R.C. were near the building and Garvey was slightly hurt. The leader of the planes was the one that was here yesterday. That evening I spent my first night on the beach, and I can say enjoyed it as it was mild and warm.
Paid all bets today from Sat. Dec 6th, so square all round.
WEDNESDAY Dec 10th. 1941
Stand to at action stations at 4am is the order of the day with a hot cup of coffee at 5am. There are five of us in No. 3 station with Bill Taylor as Sergeant. After the all clear is given at daylight we are free for the rest of the day except for cleaning the Vickers gun. At about 11am the siren at the power house was again sounded and one plane was heard approaching. It circled the Island but no bombs were dropped and he made away in the direction of Nauru, as did the three planes yesterday.
Following the first three days of aerial activity here there were rumors of course flying around but they all proved to be true as we learnt that Tarawa, Biru and Bubaratire [Butaritari] had been occupied by the enemy. Also that there was an enemy cruiser at Tarawa. Of course this naturally had us all worried as Tarawa is only about 240 miles from here. We were advised to destroy all private papers, also passports and to my sorrow I carried out orders and lost a lot of valuable papers as my passport was a G & E Island Colony one.
Life went on much the same as before between the last entry and the next except that the food was rationed and the beer increased to two bottles per day instead of one. We are also allowed beer and tobacco free of duty which is a big help. Advice has also been received from Melbourne office that our contracts are still valid. We are now eating at a field kitchen at Tabiang instead of our Messroom.
Demolitions have been carried out but I would prefer to remain silent as regards these.
I have sent two radios to Sallie already but they will be delayed naturally as the air is busy these days. We are living in a native house about 20 yards from the gun pit but it is not too comfortable.
SUNDAY Dec, 21st. 1941
Xmas is approaching and we have all arrangements made re: chickens etc. Since the previous page we have all been examined by the doctor and apparently have all bee passed fit as per A.I.F. standard except about six members who consequently return to work with the B.P.C. Bill Taylor has been made a staff sergeant and the leadership of our section was offered to me with three stripes but I refused the. Caucutt was made Sergeant as from today. I may have been foolish in refusing the promotion but I am hardly in concordance with the ideas of the force. Have received one Radio from Sallie.
XMAS DAY Dec 25th 1941
Still the same Xmas Dinner here right in the middle of the day. Turkey and Pork also the last of spuds, and Brandy sauce with the compliments of the Manager. Watson and I had to go for a walk after the Kai as we ate too much. I wonder where a man will spent his next Xmas day. Anyway we have six cold chickens at home for our evening meal tonight and have asked down a couple of visitors to celebrate the occasion.
SUNDAY Dec 28th. 1941
Nothing much to write except that there is a raging westerly, and we are just about washed out of our hut, which is exactly six feet wide and 25 feet long.
Received a radio from Sallie today, wishing me a happy New Year etc. Received all letters back yesterday that should have been in Melbourne by now. The Trienza mail should have been landed and would have been very acceptable, but as the Chows say “no matter”. Had to destroy all letters as there was too much reference to the enemy.
MONDAY Dec 29th. 1941
A plane appeared today at about 12.30 pm from the direction of Nauru one bomb dropped near the residency flagpole - but no damage.
WEDNESDAY Dec 31st. 1941
The last day of the year and today I went back in the employ of the B.P.C. building an air raid shelter near the power house, but still have to do some small military duties.
Things are back to normal now and the labour work six hours per day - i.e. 6.00am to 9.00am, 1.30pm to 4.30pm. The reason for this being that they all go to the pinnacles during the time the plane is expected over.
Ice is now supplied to the various gun positions.
Tonight I go on plane watch at midnight, so I will see the new year in on the watch. Let’s hope that it is a good luck year.
THURSDAY Jan 1st. 1942
The first day of the year except that I rang all and sundry this morning to wish them all a Happy New Year. Listened into Melbourne radio this am. And heard the Ocean Island was bombed on Dec 29th. A nice New Years present for our folk down below. Still as the chows say “No matter”. Made a new will today which was correctly drawn up and witnessed. I forgot whether I altered my last will so I made one in case. Have left everything to you Sallie and also made you sole Executor.
SUNDAY Jan 4th. 1942
Having decided last week that our present quarters were no good and having suffered from a raging westerly for a week, we agreed to build a new house on the site of the old Band house. So we thieved timber, iron etc. from all over the place. We finished it today and now we are quite comfy with our own beds, nets etc. and a good concrete floor, chairs, mats and the icebox, also a shower house. Primus stove in another house across the way. Soda water so we are complete in every way.
Natives keep us in limes, paw paws etc. also eggs and the are planting sweet potatoes and tabioca [tapioca] everywhere.
Pay books issued today and I find that I get sixpence extra per day for efficiency money.
FRIDAY Jan 9th. 1942
G.J. Bridges officially appointed Food controller as from today, so the Kai must be getting short.
Received a radio from Alma (sister) today the first since the Japs started.
Paper money now in operation here, will keep a souvenir.
SATURDAY Jan 10th. 1942
An order was published today saying that the acting Res. Commissioner would be the only person to give the order to fire on an attacking force “here here”.
MONDAY Jan 19th. 1942
Sent a radio today to Sallie, the fourth since the war and started it with ‘still cantering”. I wonder if she will understand turf language. The R.C. posted a notice re: the High Commissioner sending a cable to the Australian Prime Minister re: the gratuities and pensions of the A.I.F. applying to the Defence force.
Brought young Tommy’s photo down to the hut so as to change our luck - here’s hoping.
TUESDAY Jan 27th. 1942
A notice was published today stating the gratuity and pension scheme on the A.I.F. Would be applied to the O.I.D.F. as from Jan 27th. Wild rumors are going about as to when we are to be taken off from this place.
SATURDAY Jan 31st. 1942
A notice was published today from the Manager saying that plans for our evacuation from our Island were in the hand of Mr. Gaze.
SUNDAY Feb 1st. 1942
Radio from Sallie today, hoping for a safe return “the best news yet.”
MONDAY Feb 2nd. 1942
At about 9.00am today news came per the radio from a U.S.A. station that an American fleet was engaged in the Caroline and Marshall Islands “good news”.
News re: the above radio news mentioned later that Little Makin the most northern Island in the Gilberts was bombed by the Yanks yesterday, so apparently they are on the job at last. A howling westerly blowing now for three days so our chances of getting off this week are remote, anyway I am all packed ready. Went up to Police lines and presented Bill Taylor with a small token for saving lives.
TUESDAY Feb 3rd. 1942
Pay day - Howling westerly all day today.
WEDNESDAY Feb 4th. 1942
“Black Wednesday” in our estimation - first a note from the R.C. re: the attack on the Marshalls and Makin. Also a note from G.J. Bridges saying that our pay would be made up by the B.P.C. but retrospective by his proposal to Jan 1st. of this year.
Later in the day a plane scare from Nauru, but he did not appear over here.
Westerly still raging.
The Gilbertese name for plane is “Tewanikiba” - “ship-fly” Ellice - “Vakalele” - “ship-fly”.
THURSDAY Feb 5th. 1942
Westerly still blowing strongly and tomorrow the beer finishes the first time on this Island for years but a good job all the same.
FRIDAY Feb 6th. 1942
Weather is moderating a bit and a competition shoot held today at Ooma [Uma] Point with six teams in it. Won by our Ooma [Uma]sections by 19 points. I won 25 shillings and Caucutt six pound, so not so bad. Drank the last of the ale to the tune of a Gramophone.
SATURDAY Feb 7th. 1942
The first dry weekend for years but lets hope that all on the same rations but I have my doubts about the so called senior staff. Plonk is the issue now but a man can hardly come at that. “Tommy boy is 15 months old today” so I had a pillow slip made for him.
SUNDAY Feb 8th. 1942
A day of rest and a bit excited at the thoughts of a ship this week. Plane scare at 12.15 lunch time but is proved a false alarm. It may have been a Frigate bird that the Police boy saw.
MONDAY Feb 9th. 1942
Two more days and my second air-raid shelter will be finished.
Nine weeks today since the Japanese entered this war and a plane scare 9.20am this time from Tapuewa [Tabwewa also spelt Tapiwa during Colonial times]. A plane reported approaching the island then circling out a sea and making off in the same direction as it came. Reported from Heron this time so maybe the boy was right yesterday.
Later reported that the plane had R.A.A.F. markings but this can not be verified. G.J.B. ordered A. Mercer out of the air raid shelter today and told him to go to the China compound. Alan Thompson passed and on being asked where he was going answered “the bush”, on hearing this all and sundry in the Managers shelter beat it to the power house shelter as it is considered stronger.
TUESDAY Feb. 10th. 1942
Air-raid today at 0.am, just when the boys finished work. I walked down from the Hospital without a tin hat (forgot it as usual and ran into Bridges, Woods and Doc. Thompson, all outside an air-raid shelter but all of them were in the jitters especially G.J.B. On reaching Ooma [Uma] the all clear was given. As I reached the phone station also the welcome announcement that we are leaving her on Feb 2nd at 5.30 pm. Let’s hope it’s right. Question - if Bridges ordered Arthur Mercer to go a half a mile to the China compound yesterday what is wrong with him ordering the Doc. To go 200 yards to the Hospital when his service might be essential .
Another plane sighted at 12.50pm off Tapwewa, [Tabwewa also spelt Tapiwa during Colonial times] seems as though we are getting a bit of notice again.
WEDNESDAY Feb. 11th 1942
Finished work at 8.55am and was walking home by Bridges house when whacko went the plane alarm but this time I had my tin hat so ambled on okay. He cam right over the Island this time and was undoubtedly Japanese. Going to get our photo taken today as a section and boiled fowl for tea. How would bacon and eggs go now or some stuffed steak washed down with a pot of Junction beer.
Torias son died today but will write about it later on.
THURSDAY Feb 12th. 1942
Plane sighted south of here at 9.15am then headed east. Order received today that we are allowed to take on 1 small port and to be prepared to sleep on the deck of a small ship for two nights also to go prepared for sunburn so it does not sound to healthy, anyway it is the first step to home. I would like to radio you Sallie, but the risk is too great so you must wait until we reach somewhere and I have an idea it is Suva. Have never been there yet and I hope it will be a short stay then home. Went to a native funeral. Size of the port mentioned above is one and a half cubic feet.
FRIDAY 13th. Feb 1942
You know my dread Sallie of the above date but so far it is now 11.45 no plane has appeared so maybe he is scared too of the 13th - (later the same day) Nothing of any consequence happened today so the hoodoo must be lifted except that the news is not too good about Singapore. I promised myself not to write anything about external affairs but a man can’t help it these days.
SATURDAY Feb 14th. 1942
The only thing of note that did happen today was that we played the old game of two up all day. I forgot to go to work this arvo but it can’t be helped. James Fraser won about a score of pounds whilst I lost a couple of it. Landed one dozen of Ale today so beer and boiled fowl tonight for tea, out on the patio.
SUNDAY Feb 15th 1942
Made a concrete headstone this morning for the youngster’s grave. It is about 50 yards away from here and we are going to put a concrete plinth around it before we go with the stone set in it.
A quiet day all day with all looking forward to the 26ht. Sort of expected Tokyo Charlie over today but no luck.
MONDAY Feb 16th. 1942
Time draws on and this is the day for Tokyo Charlie to appear, a nice clear sky no wind and stinking hot for a wonder which is a good sign of rain here. News about the surrender of Singapore came through and we are not to pleasant. I at times think that we are fighting this war for old England, Lord Maine etc. and will certainly be pro American in the future. The old England is finished as far as At Tom is concerned.
TUESDAY Feb 17th 1942
A place scare today and we could hear him but not see him. It pass north at 11.50am.
Ted Watson taken to Hospital today for observation. He fainted last night and the Doc thought it wise to put him in for a couple of days. He had another attack later on in the hospital. Have not been too good myself today but I blame the heat more than anything else. Must be getting old.
WEDNESDAY Feb 18th 1942
Eight days to go and then out but I think that we will be lucky to get down without and attack of some sort. Here’s hoping anyway that I will soon see little Tommy. I’ll bet that he kicks his clothes off just the same as his dad does.
THURSDAY Feb 19th. 1942
One week to go today and I wonder, news came thru today of the raid on Darwin so it does not look too hopeful for us. The weather is not the best all right thru the day, but squally at night.
Just two days on that ship and then somewhere a little bit safer altho I’m certain that we will be turned over on the way down.
FRIDAY Feb 20th 1942
News this morning of the attack on Darwin more complete also the usual piffle of a debate in the House of Commons on the Pacific question. All I want is to get back to Aussie again and then finish England as far as I am concerned. Will not finish this page yet as I think that something will happen here today.
Sure enough a plane appeared at 10.55am circled over Tapwewa [Tabwewa also spelt Tapiwa during Colonial times disappeared north. No alarm until it was well over but weather conditions could account for that.
SATURDAY FEB 21st 1942
I wonder if they are running the Futurity Stakes today. Two years ago today I saw Ajax beat High Caste easy to win his 3rd. Futurity and how different things are today. They certainly look black for Australia. Orders received today puts the evacuation back two days to next Saturday Feb 28th but no matter. I certainly think we will be lucky if we get off. Plane over today at 10.30am. No news of note but would like to radio you Sallie but can’t.
SUNDAY Feb 22nd. 1942
In bed last night at 7.15pm the earliest Saturday night on record. Going to a two-up school today to get even on the last one. Finished off the kid’s grave today and it looks well.
Finished up winning 22/- so came home in good content. Pay day for the last time tomorrow.
MONDAY Feb 23rd. 1942
Plane over the Island today 9.25am arrived from the north and went off into the west. Don’t take much notice of planes these days but will next week.
Paid today from the O.I.D.F. right up to the end of the month. Nothing more to note except that the Kai is getting worse.
TUESDAY Feb 24th. 1942
Watson out of hospital today and my job tomorrow is propping up Soya Beans. All are getting on their toes now and will take some holding by Saturday. Hope to see a plane tomorrow and then we will know if he is on a schedule.
No plane today.
WEDNESDAY Feb 25th. 1942
No news to write today expected a plane over and was disappointed when he did not turn up. Have an appointment with the Doctor for 2.30 for a slight operation for kidney trouble. Three more days to go and would dearly love to send a radio to you Sallie mine.
THURSDAY Feb 26th. 1942
Should have departed today, a bit of a westerly blowing but not so bad, no plane scares and am now looking up this diary until I unpack again. The rough notes will be made up in another book. Got bitten by a Chinese scorpion today but no results so far. Saw the Doc yesterday and don’t feel too good today.
FRIDAY Feb 27th. 1942
Last day of work today and all packed ready for tomorrow. Bridges had a happy day measuring the suit cases and I wonder if he has chartered the ship. Two were knocked back but should get in with repacking. Finished work today and would like to have seen a plane over but no such luck.
Tried to send a Birthday radio to Sallie but could not do so, was told that I could send it at the next port. The first year I have missed.
SATURDAY Feb 28th. 1942
All ready and set. Beds, linen, etc. returned to house No.62 so as Bridges can have nothing on me as regards jinxing the Commission. 4.30pm playing two-up to pass out the time and whacko a ship sighted in the south-east, in fact the piccaninis [offensive term for a small Black or Aboriginal child in Colonial times] say three.
But all gear on and we went our way to the jetty and find a free French “Le Triumphant” arrived O.I. 4.30pm.
Left O.I. 7.00pm for an unknown destination.
SUNDAY March 1st. 1942
At sea doing 38 knots and not too happy. Have not missed a meal and learn that we are bound for the “Trienza” which is tied up at an Island called Malekola in the New Hebrides.
This ship sighted a Jap lane on the way up yesterday morning.
MONDAY March 2nd. 1942
Still moving and expect to arrive at the Island tonight. Slept under a gun turret last night and have a great admiration for these “True Frenchman” as they love to be called. Collected 100 pounds toady in answer to Naurus 75 pounds. Sea very rough and we may make it this evening.
TUESDAY March 3rd. 1942
Malekola: Arrived here last night at 8.00pm and we were transshipped to the old “Trienza” and warmly welcomed with a good feed and old friends with handshakes from Nauru. Left a 6.30am for Brisbane and run into rough seas with half of the crowd sick.
WEDNESDAY March 4th. 1942
Sallie’s birthday today and I’m anxious to see her. The weather is crook and the ship nearly on her beam-ends. Should be in Brisbane on Friday night and home on Monday.
THURSDAY March 5th. 1942
Learnt today that the Frenchman arrived in Nauru on Monday Feb.23rd at 5.30pm and left at 8.00pm. Then arrived at Malekola Thursday Feb. 26th. Leaving the same morning for O.I.
FRIDAY March 6th. 1942
Still zigzagging across the seas and we do not look like hitting Aussie until Sunday.
SATURDAY March 7th. 1942
The seas extra rough and we are still under escort from our old French friend and the drum has gone around that we tie up in the Brisbane River tonight.
Later: The furphey was the truth and we go up the river tomorrow.
The quietest sleep tonight for a week.
SUNDAY March 8th. 1942
Granted pratique at 8.00am and I was pleased to see the yellow flag pulled down and now up the river.
Later: Greeted on all sides by cheers with the chows trying to join in and my eyes done me good to see the Yank ships in the river laden with equipment for Aussie. Left by special train at 1.55pm for home.
MONDAY March 9th. 1942
Arrived Sydney at 2.15pm after a rough trip but well looked after on the way down. Ought a hat today the first for years and don’t I kid myself. Expect to arrive Spencer Street tomorrow at 11.00am .
Left Sydney at 6.20pm.
TUESDAY March 10th. 1942
Arrived Albury 5.30am rang up George Richards (Lachlan’s brother) and met him at the station and wasn’t he pleased to see me. Next stop will be Melbourne and then young Tommy boy and now…
TIAKABUTU. [TI AKABO] T.E.
Concreter/ Carpenter on Ocean Island [Banaba] 23/12/1938 - 8/3/1942
Thank you to Tom’s son, Tom Embleton, of Melbourne, Victoria, for allowing us to publish this very personal account of his father’s life on Ocean Island.
This wonderful document let’s us share in his father’s fears and apprehension of a world turned upside down by War., and his fatherly concerns over never getting to see his only son.
These fears were equally shared by the Banabans and fellow Islanders who were about to be left behind on Ocean Island to face the onslaught of the invading Japanese Forces.
This diary proved to be a wonderful legacy, as Tom Senior passed away in 1952 when Tommy was only 11 years old. His wife Sallie lived to 91 years of age in Melbourne, and passed away in 1993. Thank You Tom for sharing this treasure with us.
BPC Employee 1940
Paddy Orr supplied a copy of his Ocean Island Defence Pay Book for the period considered to be ACTIVE SERVICE from 8 December 1941 to 28 February 1942.
Paddy also provided a first hand account of the bombing of Ocean Island (Banaba) in Banaba/Ocean Island News No. 8 (Mar-Apr 1994).
The day Japan entered the war on 8th December 1941, was the day that three Japanese planes came over Ocean Island and bombed the new Residency.
I found myself in a sand-bagged Lewis gun position, up near army 18 pounder, where what seemed rather more than required was a Lewis Gun crew who had crammed themselves into a very small space.
I remember one, Carl Lagerstrom, a perspiring stout stevedore, occupying a big share of it, while Peter Anderson and I, who were lightweights, tried to shelter under him. No planes were shot down.
There was only one officer I remember with the Australian Army personnel, a Ben Arnott (of biscuit filmy fame) who was popular with everyone. he garrison left the island with the rest of the evacuees on 28 February 1942.