20 February 1943 Journal entry: The sound of agitated parrots screeching from the jungle below startles me to a wide-eyed awakening. The morning sun is just above the horizon. I pause for a moment to get re-oriented to the surroundings that have been home for the last six months. Living on top of a mountain in the Solomon Islands may seem like paradise, but in these times, I must live like a reptile, below detection, going about my business, which is also the business of Her Majesty.
My vigil is on a tiny island of the Solomons known as “the Slot.” This island makes for the perfect ammunitions and refueling depot for the enemy, which also makes it the perfect outpost to warn the allies of the approaching enemy fleet.
My camp is high on an overgrown plateau, two miles from the bay. Each day I trek along a ridge where I can look northward, out over the south pacific. If an advance comes, it will come from out there, from the north, from Japan.
I travel light, and as far as I know, never leave a trace. I always take a slightly different route so as not to create a path. I also stage my movements to avoid a Zero who flies over on a routine patrol four times a day. As dangerous as this is and as insect-infested and uncomfortable as it is, I much prefer it to the desk job back in Auckland, where the pests are of the two-legged variety. Here I can make a difference.
There is one pest, however, who was always welcome at my desk, Kathleen O’Hara. She has crystal blue eyes, auburn hair, a face-load of freckles, and her uniform is always pressed to perfection. Oh Kathleen, if you were only here now, we would not get a darn thing done for the war effort. On the other hand, if you were here, I would worry.
But now, I need to investigate those parrots; parrots don’t just go loudly flying about the forest without being disturbed by something or someone. They are better watchdogs than watchdogs.
My camp is accessible only by scaling a vertical wall of rock. When I go out on patrol, I leave a knotted rope hanging over the edge; neatly tucked it into a crevice. The rope makes my return climb easier.
Down on my chest, I crawl to the edge of the drop-off, lie low, and peer over the edge. I look for movement and listen for the singsong of Japanese voices.
My best defense is camouflage. I have not had a real fire for weeks. To keep smoke down, I do all my cooking in a tin over a kerosene lamp and stay well sheltered under the cover of dense foliage where it is not possible for me even to stand. Still, you can never tell what a Zero passing overhead might see.
I would never be able to hold off a full-fledged assault if they discover my location. My carbine, grenades and a few well placed booby-traps would only tend to make them more vengeful if, and when, they did overtake me.
Well, I do have another weapon, a cyanide capsule. Actually, it was more of an order, than a weapon. I keep it as close as my carbine. I figure, I will take out as many of them as I can, set off the booby-traps, then take the pill.
Hello! Something is moving through the palmettos and along the ledge just below.
I pull some fallen palm fronds over my head and leave just enough opening to see out. Suddenly, I hear that approaching Zero, off schedule. It passes over, low and banking. Confirmation: a search party is on the prowl. They’re onto me.
How could they have seen me? I am well concealed. Did they smell me?
I don’t have the luxury of bathing often; they, on the other hand, are obsessed with it. Every evening they go to a makeshift bathhouse in their camp. They marinate themselves inside and out, all in the same effort. They are either clean or drunk or both half the time. That will change when the lads of 3-Division land on the south side of this rock.
It doesn’t matter though, if I am fragrance-free or not; something has stirred them up and they are going to keep searching until they find something.
Maybe HQ will call me in, now that I am compromised.
My only escape from the island is by way of one of the Yank subs in the area. I don’t know exactly where they are, but I have seen three Japanese transports explode as they approach the island.
It must be the Yanks out there stirring things up; that’s gotta be why Tojo is searching now. If I can make it through this day, I will radio for help tonight while the Japs are busy with their compulsive bathing.
What was that?
Something just came up hard against my foot. This is it, Jesus save me, and God save King George.
I look back slowly to my feet, expecting the worst. Lying on my foot, I see it, a snake the size of a bloody goat. It would be better if it were a goat, but it is better a snake than a spider. The big serpent must have dropped out of the palm tree that shadows my camp.
Now then, darlin’, what’s a nice reptile like you doing in a place like this, the highlands? You are supposed to be in the damp jungles below, hissing off the Japs. Instead, you decide to drop in on me now, of all times, when there are so many uninvited guests snoop’n about.
When I was a wee lad, I was once startled by a snake in my grandmother’s garden. I ran to granny. She said to me, “Oh go on with you now, Patrick, the snake is more afraid of you than you are of her.”
I have always trusted my granny’s wisdoms and now is as good a time as any, but this snake is a huge, old girl and she is tonguing my shirttail. I move not a muscle as the snake snuggles up to my armpit.
She is the proper lady: not biting me, I mean, so far. A proper lady needs a proper name. But, what should it be?
I hear voices of the scouting party below discussing something I don’t understand. I’m a recon radio operator, not an interpreter. I am supposed to see things, not hear them, and what I see is one reluctant soldier beginning to scale my doorstep.
The affectionate serpent is on the move again. Her body undulates as she slides alongside mine. Her tongue samples the air as she moves forward on a search of her own. Her head reaches mine; she stops, we look eyeball to eyeball. She blinks, almost knowingly, and I swear, the corner of her mouth is turned up. Smiley, that’s her name. Smiley is good, as long as she doesn’t bit me. She moves away, over the edge of the cliff.
Then, I hear loose pebbles tumbling from the side of the cliff as the climber makes his way higher. Then, “Eee ah!” a scream comes from the climber followed by the sound of more falling rock, followed by more Japanese voices yelling excitedly.
Reluctant Climber meets Smiley, eyeball to eyeball. I’m amused, “She is more afraid of you than you are of her.” Didn’t your granny tell you?
Again, the Zero passes over, this time letting out a burst of cannon-fire; bullets explode the ground on each side of me. He banks for a second pass.
He won’t miss this time; it looks like I won’t need that pill after all.
Rolling over on my back, leveling my carbine, I take quick aim at the cockpit, and pull the trigger. Instantly, the Zero explodes into a thousand pieces and flames.
Wow, what a shot, I didn’t even feel the recoil.
Looking at the carbine in disbelief, the bullet is jammed in the chamber. It never fired. Then the familiar roar of a two-thousand horsepower Pratt and Whitney engine shakes the earth as a U. S. Marine Corsair passes overhead. It was his cannons that blasted that Zero. He is followed by two more Corsairs, and now two more. They must be advance air support for an impending Operation Toenails. I may make it after all.