- Swinden, Greg
- History - Between the wars
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Adelaide I, HMAS Biloela
- June 1994 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
One native carrier later wrote that many of the White force men collapsed and had to be carried on stretchers back to ADELAIDE. He also thought several were “faking it” in order to be carried out. He even claimed that they did not even carry their rifles but left these to a carrier as well as the rest of their kit.
The column of sailors, native police, carriers and white civilians stretched for over a mile and were none too quiet in their movements. Bassiana was aware of the actions being taken against him and moved further inland. It is even reputed that some of the natives who had taken part in the massacre were now being employed as carriers for the punitive expedition.
It took nearly ten hours, over two days, for the whole force to march the relatively short distance to Falavalo. On arrival it was designated Base A and tents pitched. A wireless transmitter was set up by one of ADELAIDE’S Leading Telegraphists for communications with the ship and Tulagi.
Base A was over 2,500 feet above sea level and quite cold. A stream ran close by and there was also a waterfall and an ideal swimming hole which several ADELAIDE sailors took advantage of.
Several problems between the naval force and the civilians began to become apparent. The undisciplined White force had access to a large quantity of whiskey and rum which they had brought with them, and this caused problems when a civilian under the influence of alcohol assaulted a Petty Officer. The senior naval officer ashore, Commander Whitehorn, stated that amongst the civilians, “drinking, gambling and singing went on well into the middle watch” and that “two bearers at least were required for each volunteer’s kit”.
Captain Harrison later wrote that over 75 percent of the great quantity of stores moved inland was the personal gear and stores of the civilian force and their personal servants. The whole attitude of the White force caused a great deal of discord with the naval personnel involved with the expedition.
Apart from discipline problems there were also medical ones. Several members of the White force and ADELAIDE sailors were falling victim to dysentery and malaria. Daily convoys shuttled between Base B and Base A bringing up supplies and returning stretcher cases. From Base B the stretcher cases went out to ADELAIDE. The journey from Base B to Base A with stores took nine hours and returning unladen took six hours.
The main activity of the expedition centred around Base A. From here the Sub Inspector of Police and the native police made daily patrols into the jungle and on occasions these patrols were absent for two or three days. Some natives involved in the massacre were captured, but others stayed hidden for several months. Unfortunately a number of innocent natives were arrested or shot by the police in their desire to bring about a swift end to the expedition.
Those sailors ashore are reported to have had a difficult time due to the heavy rain and cold nights. The bell tents were not effective in keeping out mosquitoes and other insects. Any cuts or abrasions quickly turned septic in the tropical conditions and some men went for days sleeping in their clothes as they had discarded their blankets on the steep climb up into the mountains.
By 11 November most of the members of the White force had been evacuated. Captain Harrison described them as “a useless and undisciplined crowd who ought never to have been sent on the Expedition at all”. ADELAIDE’s sailors at the same time were described as “well behaved”.
ADELAIDE’S time in the Solomons was also drawing to a close. After a few days of moving supplies and equipment back to the coast, and constructing a barbed wire compound at Beach Base, ADELAIDE’S men rejoined the ship.
On 16 November ADELAIDE sailed for Sydney where she arrived on the 18th. A few ratings, mainly telegraphists, had been left behind to assist with the provision of communications for the expedition. One historian states that on arrival in Sydney nearly 20 percent of ADELAIDE’S ship’s company were suffering from malaria, dysentery or septic sores.
The punitive expedition continued on Malaita and by December the police had captured or forced to surrender nearly all who had taken part in the massacre. Bassiana surrendered in early December. By 21 December Base A had been abandoned and the majority of prisoners shipped to Tulagi. Following trial in Tulagi a number of natives, including Bassiana, were hanged and several others given lengthy gaol sentences.