Archaehistoria

Bombing of Firifau Island map

Figure 1
In 1945, South Sea Evangelical Mission leader Dr. Northcote Deck published an account of his church’s work in the Solomons titled “South from Guadalcanal: The Romance of Rennell Island”. The SSEM was particularly prevalent on Malaita, and in his book he records Torpedo Squadron EIGHT’s (VT-8) mistaken attack on Laulasi Village, but also describes another air strike the same day [August 7, 1942]… “Going on one mile further they [the attacking planes] saw Firifau, the island where Clement Maelalo, one of the Mission’s most important teachers, lived. They made six attempts to bomb this Christian island, dropping five explosive bombs and seven incendiary bombs, as well as machine-gunning it. No one was hurt and no houses damaged!”. The difficulty for the historian with Northcote Deck’s account is that the author was not an eye witness to the attacks and actually wasn’t on Malaita at the time. His account is derived second hand from his brother, Norman,  who was on Malaita but some 35 miles down the coast at the head SSEM station and bible school at Onepusu. So, the author’s brother was not an eye witness either. It appears likely Norman probably heard about the attacks from the teacher, Clement Maelalo, a Melanesian, who, only recently, had probably seen aircraft for the very first time. So the published account is actually third hand! The Squadron Commander,  Harold H. “Swede” Larsen, who led the attack, wrote an after-action report which only mentions a single village (Laulasi) being attacked. Was Larson trying to minimise his Squadrons attacks on SEVERAL civilian villages in Langa Langa Lagoon? If VT-8 had just managed to accurately bomb and demolish Laulasi village, how come they could not immediately do the same to Firifau? Which version of history is correct? The bombing of Firifau needs further historical confirmation but another way to solve the puzzle would be an on the ground enquiry and archaeological survey. Interviews with Firifau villagers would also reveal some interesting information and there may or may not be bomb fragments still to be found on the island today. [Excerpt from 1: 50,000 Map Series X715, Sheet 0816016, 2007].

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