- Wright, Ken
- Biographies and personal histories, Naval Intelligence, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 2010 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The intelligence signalled from Bougainville by Read and Mason saved Guadalcanal and as the American Admiral William Halsey later wrote; ‘Guadalcanal saved the Pacific.’ After the Japanese relief force had been decimated, both Read and Mason were surprised to hear that General Douglas MacArthur had awarded them the United States Distinguished Service Cross in recognition of their efforts.
February 1943, General Headquarters, South Pacific Area, Office of the Commander-in-Chief.
Dear Lieutenant Read;
It gives me great pleasure to present to you the Distinguished Service Cross, which has been awarded you by the United States Government in recognition of your valorous service in the Southwest Pacific Area during the period from March 16, 1942 to October 1, 1942. I extend to you my heartiest congratulations.
Support of the Islanders
One of the essential elements contributing to the continuing survival and operation of the Coastwatchers and the commandos were the islanders who remained loyal to the Allies. As the war progressed and the Japanese tightened their stranglehold on the occupied areas, friendly natives became fewer and fewer. The Japanese tried various tactics to halt the activities of the Coastwatchers. Three methods that were reasonably successful were to torture, kill or bribe the local natives. Under the circumstances, many succumbed to the pressure and turned against the Coastwatchers and their loyal natives. The other enemy was the tropical jungle. At times, it was a thick mass of tangled vines, slippery mud, and steep hills with the constant presence of mosquitoes and rain followed by more rain. By living by their wits, an element of good luck and local native help, most managed to stay one step ahead of a ruthless enemy and survived. Many Coastwatchers and their supporting natives were not so fortunate.
The figures are approximate but at the war’s end, 27 Coastwatchers and 20 islanders fighting with the Coastwatchers were killed, with 18 Europeans and 40 islanders captured. Overall between them and the guerrilla forces they organised, they accounted for 5,414 enemy dead, 1,492 wounded and 74 captured. They also rescued 75 POWs, 321 airmen, 280 naval personnel, 190 missionaries and civilians and 260 Asians as well as a large number of native refugees. In addition to their list of achievements should be added captured enemy personnel.
After the war
The Coastwatchers filtered quietly back into civilian life after the war. The majority assumed the same low profile they had as fighters and were hardly ever seen at Anzac Day marches. If they did go to the Returned Services League for the traditional drinks, remembering mates and yarn swapping, they most likely kept quiet. And what of Paul Mason and Jack Read? Did they go quietly or did fate have other plans for them.
Mason became a self-confident celebrity and married 30 year old Noelle Taylor, an arts graduate in psychology and a journalist in Rabaul, in 1947. They returned to Mason’s beloved plantation on Bougainville and ran both the plantation and a retail store very successfully. Mason entered politics in the Territory’s reconstructed Legislative Council but in early 1972, Mason returned to Australia after realising the inevitability of early national independence. Mason was disillusioned with what he thought the future of territory would be and wanted no part in it. On 31 December that same year Paul Mason died in Brisbane and his ashes were transported back to his plantation and placed in a memorial near the house. Sadly, the homestead was burned to the ground by Bougainville insurgents in 1990.
Read wasn’t going to be allowed to sit quietly in a rocking chair and watch the grass grow either. He continued to serve as a Lieutenant in the RANVR in Brisbane until a request came from the Army that he be seconded to the ‘Australia New Guinea Administration Unit’ with the rank of Captain. He felt the position needed a higher rank, and held off accepting until the Army granted him a commission as Major. It was only a secondment; he never left the navy. Major Read returned to serve on Bougainville until demobilisation in June 1946. Now a civilian, he was then appointed District Officer of New Ireland. Read finally decided to take long service leave and retired at the end of 1950 to live in Heathmont, a suburb of Melbourne.