COAST WATCHER
PAUL EDWARD MASON
An extraordinary man

 

Paul Edward Mason was on of an elite band of almost 800 men who served with the Coast Watching Organisation of World War 2. Mason was the Manager of Inus Plantation outside the township of Kieta. His outpost was located at the southern end of Bougainville overlooking the Buka Passage between Bougainville Island and Buka Island which was about 30 miles long by 10 miles wide. He was in regular communication with Port Moresby via his teleradio.

He was a short fair man, aged somewhere over 40 years, who wore glasses who spoke slowly and deliberately. He had lived on the Islands for about the previous 20 years. He was a bachelor. Use and repair of radios was one of his hobbies which enabled him to maintain more radio contact than most Coast Watchers. He would do his own radio repairs and wind his own coils. He could send and receive morse code and understood signal procedures.

He was appointed as a Coast Watcher in 1939 at the start of the war in Europe. He was the Coast Watcher who gave Tulagi the warnings of Japanese aircraft on their way to bomb Tulagi.

Mason was allotted the Kieta area for his Coast Watch duties. He established himself on a ridge inland from Kieta which gave him a view in both directions. Mason was still an unpaid civilian at this point in time as were many of the Coast Watchers. There were 4 AIF personnel located at Kieta at this time.

Lieutenant Commander Eric Feldt, Staff Officer (Intelligence), in Port Moresby was in charge of the Coast Watchers. Feldt considered it important that the role of the Coast Watcher be officially recognised. The Naval Board had ordered that civilian Coast Watchers should cease reporting from their outposts once their area had been occupied by the Japanese forces. Many Coast Watchers chose to ignore this directive and important intelligence information was still received. Feldt had requested that Coast Watchers be give Naval rank. Lieutenant Commander R.B.M. Long, the Director of Naval Intelligence supported the recommendation but Naval red tape prevented it from happening. 

After some initiatives by Feldt the Navy were goaded into accepting the recommendation. Paul Mason was appointed as a Petty Officer in the Royal Australia Navy Voluntary Reserve (RANVR).

Eventually the Japanese landed and occupied Faisi in the Shortland Islands and then Buin. A raiding party then visited Kieta at the time that the Buka Passage and Faisi were occupied. This occupation was promptly reported by Mason. Two of the AIF soldiers in Kieta only just escaped being captured by the Japanese. The Japanese stayed a few days in the Kieta area and then left. The 4 AIF soldiers left the Kieta area leaving Mason and his two house boys from Inus Plantation.

Mason moved south to a supply dump that was being protected by a Police Boy. Here he had a severe attack of malaria. The 4 soldiers from Buin joined him. Mason was assigned two of the soldiers, Wigley and Edward Douglas "Slim" Otton along with two Native Police. Mason requested that he be allowed to relocate to Buin to observe Japanese activity. As recent air reconnaissance had shown that Japanese some Japanese occupation of the Shortland Islands his request was promptly approved.

After a few days in the area, Mason selected Malabita Hill as his lookout post. His camp was located a few miles inland. From Malabita Hill he could observe the area enclosed by the Shortland Islands, Fauro Island, and Bougainville. This area was sued by the Japanese Navy to assemble their Naval groups.

Mason started to run low on supplies and requested a supply drop. The Hudson bomber despatched to drop the supplies could not locate Mason's position and the supplies were dropped about 70 miles away. Mason set out to try to find the supplies. He did not succeed.

While he was away, the Japanese had landed a party to try to find Mason's position. They knew there was a Coast Watcher in the area. The local natives had warned Wigley and Otton.

Mason and his party withdrew from the area while Police Constable Moia kept the Japanese patrol under surveillance. The Japanese eventually left and Mason returned to Malabita Hill. By now he had seven Natives plus the two AIF men. The Battle of the Coral Sea (4 - 8 May 1942) had just occurred and Mason observed some Japanese battleships near the Shortland Islands. He was unable to send out a signal as his radio was damaged during their recent cross country journey.

Another supply drop was ordered and was carried out successfully on 2 June 1942. Included in the supplies was a Petty Officer's Cap and an Arm Badge.

In July 1942, Townsville became aware of impending attacks on Tulagi and Guadalcanal. Mason was ordered inland and to maintain radio silence. Two days before the attack was to take place Mason was ordered to move in and take up a good observation position to report on all enemy activity. He moved back to Malabita Hill.

Another Coast Watcher, Read, was located at the northern end of Bougainville.

The Japanese bases were at Rabaul and Kavieng. Japanese aircraft would fly from these bases to carry out bombing raids on American positions. The normal air route from Rabaul to Guadalcanal would be over Buin and be seen by Mason. Aircraft from Kavieng would travel over Buka Passage on their way to Guadalcanal and be seen by Read. This would give the American forces at Tulagi and Guadalcanal at least two hours notice.

To avoid delays in getting the messages through to the U.S. Forces they were advised of the frequency on which the messages would be sent ('X' Frequency) and to avoid delay in coding and decoding.

Read and Mason were instructed to make reports of aircraft sightings in plain language (not coded). An alternate route for the signals was organised. The Resident Commissioner on Malaita would transmit the messages to Vila, where Mackenzie would pass them on another alternate communication channel through Port Moresby, Townsville, Canberra, and finally Pearl Harbor where a powerful radio transmitter would broadcast it back to the U.S. Forces in the Pacific.

To confuse the Japanese, Read and Mason were asked to adopt new call signs. Read was told to use the initials of his daughter (JER) and Mason was asked to use his sister's initials (STO). 

Mason eventually spotted some Japanese aircraft and sent the following message:-

"From S.T.O. Twenty-four torpedo-bombers headed yours"

Twenty five minutes later Pearl Harbor broadcast the warning across the Pacific. The Americans at Guadalcanal were on alert when the Japanese aircraft arrived. All but one of the Japs were shot down and no ships were damaged.

On the same day MacArthur's air forces bombed Rabaul and Kavieng. The next day at 0840 hours Read heard and then sighted 45 dive bombers heading south east. H immediately sent the following message:-

"From J.E.R. Forty-five dive-bombers going south-east"

Two hours later Read tuned into the U.S. Aircraft Carrier's wave-length and listened to reports of the encounter. The Japanese aircraft were "shot down like flies"

That same afternoon Mason reported more Japanese aircraft which were met by our fighter aircraft and shot out of the sky. Like Read, Mason tuned in to hear the Fighter Control reports of the dog fight.

The Japanese attacked again the following day and were reported by Read and Mason and again shot down in many numbers.

In about August 1942, Mason reported Japanese air reconnaissance over the flat land near Buin. In September the natives reported that the Japanese appeared to be establishing themselves in the area. Mason observed tractors, lorries, guns and other equipment being landed in the area. Mason moved inland but continued to report aircraft movements. More Japanese ships started to anchor in the area between Buin and the Shortlands. Mason had difficulty identifying some of them so the next supply drop included photographs of some of the pages out of "Jane's Fighting Ships".

Some friendly natives would mingle with the Japanese and then report back info to Mason. One of his signals back to Townsville read as follows:-

"Our scouts being employed Kahili aerodrome state aerodrome is expected to be completed in a week's time. Many hundreds of natives being forced to work on aerodrome. 27 lorries, 6 motor cars, 10 horses, 6 motor cycles, 4 tractors and aerodrome working equipment at Kahilia. Stores and fuel under tarpaulins spread along foreshore from mouth of Ugumo River to mouth of Moliko River. Two anti-aircraft guns near mouth of Ugumo River in fuel and ammunition dump and one anti-aircraft gun on north-western boundary of aerodrome. Wireless station on beach in front of aerodrome, also eight new iron buildings. Priests and nuns interned in iron buildings on beach. Enemy troops in green uniforms with anchor badge on arm and on white hat. Scouts state 440 enemy troops but coolies too numerous to count. Weather too hazy to observe ships today."

0302Z 23rd (September 1942).

Mason received regular aerial supply drops usually on moonlit nights. Catalinas were often now used for these drops. On hearing the aircraft engines, Mason's party would light a signal fire. Mason would even receive letters from his sister via these supply drops.

In early October 1942, General Douglas MacArthur awarded the United States Distinguished Service Cross to Lt. Read and Petty Officer Mason and two other Coast Watchers.

By the end of October 1942, the Japanese were preparing a large attack on Guadalcanal. They were building up their forces in the Carolines. The Japs decided they needed to get rid of the Coast Watchers on Bougainville. Dogs trained in tracking were shipped to Buin and kept in a wire cage. Before they could be used a Catalina managed to drop a bomb that killed all of the dogs, much to the relief of Mason and his party.

The Japanese then landed a party of over 100 troops to search for the Coast Watchers in that area. Mason retreated to the rough mountain country while his scouts monitored the Japanese patrols. The Japs eventually retreated and Mason returned to his camp and reported back to Townsville. He also reported a large increase in the number of ships anchored in the area. Mason started to report two times a day the Japanese shipping movements in the Buin anchorage. His report of the 10 November 1942 read as follows:-

"At least 61 ships this area, viz.: 2 Nati, 1 Aoba, 1 Mogami, 1 Kiso, 1 Tatuta, 2 sloops, 33 destroyers, 17 cargo, 2 tankers, 1 passenger liner of 8,000 tons.

Read had also reported some Japanese shipping, namely twelve large passenger ships, each over 10,000 tons which were headed south east. These were all part of the Armada that the Japanese were hoping to use to reconquer Guadalcanal. 

On the evening of 10 November 1942, Japanese battleships bombarded Lunga and then withdrew, making way for the Japanese bombers which attacked at daybreak. The following night the Japanese battleships and some accompanying cruisers returned but were surprised north of Savo by four cruisers under the command of Rear-Admiral Callaghan. One American cruiser was lost and Admiral Callaghan was killed in action, but the Japanese suffered a major defeat.

The following morning the dive-bombers from Henderson Field located the Japanese transports which had been following the warships. The dive-bombers continued to attack the transports returning to Henderson on a number of occasions to take on more bombs. Torpedo bombers attacked the remaining battleship which proved to be almost unsinkable despite numerous direct hits. That night Read-Admiral Lee's battleships attacked what remained of the Japanese Armada. Four Japanese cargo ships managed to reach Guadalcanal but they were set on fire by the dive-bombers and subsequently beached by the Japanese crews.

On 25 February 1943 the following signal was sent to the Coast Watchers:-

From Admiral Turner, Commanding Amphibious Forces:
   
Large share credit our successes against enemy due splendid men in coast watcher service.

From General Patch, Commanding General at Guadalcanal:
    Your magnificent and courageous work has contributed in great measure to success of operations
    on Guadalcanal.

Needless to say, these signals were very well received by the Coast Watchers. The above were extracts from personal letters to Mackenzie congratulating him on his recent promotion.

Around November 1942, a Japanese soldier who had lived in Kieta before the war, was in the midst of a propaganda war amongst the natives to alienate them against the local Europeans and the Coast Watchers. He set up gangs of natives who were known as the "Black Dogs", who raided and pillaged inland villages, raping and murdering the local European and Chinese population. They launched an expedition against Mason in December 1942. Mason was warned of their plans by local natives. At that time he was camped halfway between Buin and Kieta in the valley of the Luluai River. Mason moved westwards across the main mountain range. Three enemy parties tried to surround Mason but they were three days too late.

Mason was now in rugged country and supply drops were out of the question. Mason was ordered to abandon his teleradio and join Read who was located 100 miles to the north, at the top end end of Bougainville.

There were many Japanese patrols to avoid in the first part of their journey northwards. Mason left his party to visit a Chinese Camp. They received a false report of a  nearby Japanese patrol. Mason developed a very festerous sore on his foot. He limped into the camp of a miner called Frank Roche who had been in hiding since the Japanese invasion. Mason removed his after 36 days of walking. Skin and flesh came away from the sore when he removed his sock.

Mason rested for two days. Four weeks after leaving his southern camp, Mason reached Mackenzie's camp on 27 January 1943. A few weeks later Roche was captured and tortured by the Japanese before he died. Mason met up with Read the next day. He rested at Read's camp for the next two weeks.

In January 1943, an AIF detachment was placed under Read's command.

In May 1943, a plan to cover the whole of Bougainville with Coast Watchers was implemented.

Keenan - north of Porapora
Read and Robinson - Central east
Sgt. McPhee - West coast
Mason and Stevenson - South end

By now Mason had been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant. Mason and Stevenson's party included:-

- 8 soldiers
- Usaia
- William McNicol
- 10 native police

They set off to the west coast in May 1943 where they would use canoes to travel southwards. They reached Torokina where they found evidence of a recent Japanese patrol. They headed inland and found more evidence of Japanese patrols.

After travelling inland for two days, Mason left a Police Boy and a few carriers to guard a dump of rations. The Japanese discovered the camp not long later and killed one of the carriers and captured the Police Boy.

At the foot of the mountain range, Mason went ahead with four soldiers, some police and some carriers, leaving Stevenson and the rest of the party to wait for the other carriers to return.

Mason crossed the head of the Luluai River near his earlier camp. He then sent his carriers back to Stevenson.

On Saturday 26 June 1943, Stevenson's party was attacked by a Japanese patrol. Stevenson was killed with the first shot. The rest of the party fought back killing five Japanese. They retreated with their weapons only. They came across one of the natives who had led the Japanese to their camp, and immediately executed him. They caught up with Mason's party the next day with the Japanese still on their trail. They were short on supplies and supply drops were again out of the question.

At this time a decision was made to evacuate all Coast Watchers off Bougainville, due to the recent relentless Japanese activity to locate them.

Mason was ordered to join McPhee on the north west coast. They had to follow the west coast as the east coast was swarming with Japanese.

On their second day, A Japanese patrol fired on them. They killed one Japanese. Mason's carriers ran off leaving the supplies.

Mason led the remainder of his party along a stream in an effort to cover their tracks. They spotted three native sentries ahead. They captured two of them but the third native escaped back to his village which was at the top of the ridge they had to traverse. One of the captured sentries was sent to the village to secure a safe passage through the village in return for the release of the other sentry.

After passing the village, the stream eventually opened up into a valley where a Japanese patrol lay on ambush for Mason's party. The Japs opened fire but hit no one. The sentry hostage managed to escape in the confusion, Mason's party managed to also escape and eluded a number of Japanese patrols.

The next morning they pressed on barefooted to cover their tracks. They had not eaten for 36 hours. They divided the ;ast tin of emergency rations between them. At this time some of the missing carriers rejoined them, The next day they stumbled upon a garden and found some Taro to eat. They started a fire and cooked the Taro. They put on their shoes again and after a short rest set out again.

They came across a Japanese soldier who rode close by on a bicycle. They kept walking that night just in case they had been spotted by the Jap on the bike. Mason led them through the darkness using his compass. They attached pieces of luminous fungus to their backs so they could follow the person in front of them.

They camped on a ridge overlooking the camp fires of a Japanese outpost in the valley below. The next morning they found another deserted garden. They moved into a hidden valley to cook their newly found food. They then continued northward.

After a week on 6 July 1943, they shot a pig and feasted like kings. Another one of their lost carriers arrived with one of their packs. he also had a note given to him by another native. It read as follows (complete with spelling mistakes):-

My dear Ansacs. We all admire your bravery. You have done your best fro Grat Britain. You are advised to give yourselves up. The Japanese are not cruel people as the propaganda of the United States would tell you. You will die of hunger in the jungle. You will never reach your friends in Buka as all the jungle trails are watched by the Japanese soldiers and the sharper eyes of the natives.

Commander of the Japanese Army.      

The next day they were fed and hidden by some friendly natives. They headed west for two more days and came across flat land. They continued to come across signs of Japanese patrols in the area.

They now had to traverse a 5,000 feet limestone range. They climbed it by day and went down the other side by night. It was very cold and they slept by open fires to keep warm. They were welcomed by natives in some isolated villages, who had probably never seen a European or a Jap before.

As they left the range and traversed the foothills, natives told them of another party ahead of them. Three Police were sent ahead to locate the other party. On 18 July 1943, two of Keenan's Police found Mason's party and took them to their camp. A signal was sent to Townsville to announce the "safe" arrival of Mason's party.

On 26 June 1943, Read signalled as follows:-

My duty now to report that position all here vitally serious. After fifteen months' occupation almost whole island now pro-Japanese. Initial enemy patrols plus hordes of pro-Japanese natives have completely disorganised us. Position will not ease. Believe no hope reorganise. Our intelligence value nil. In last fortnight all parties have been either attacked or forced to quit. Reluctantly urge immediate evacuation.

The authorities in Australia had reached the same conclusion and arrangements were immediately made for a submarine to evacuate the Coast Watchers.

Keenan reached the west coast and took charge of the scattered parties. He arranged for a supply drop. Read and Robinson set out for the west coast to join Keenan. Two days prior to their arrival, Keenan advised that Mason's party had been found and all could be evacuated by submarine at four days notice.

Read signalled to organise the evacuation of those already with Keenan. Mason organised the shore arrangements. Four nights later, American submarine USS Guardfish (SS-217) arrived off the coast and took on board Mason, Keenan, the soldiers, native Police, Chinese some loyal natives, plus two survivors of an RAAF Catalina crash. The rubber boats from the submarine made many trips to shore, embarking a total of 59 persons. Usaia and a few of the fittest Police stayed ashore to await the arrival of Read's party. The Chinese had assisted the Coast Watchers to hide from the Japanese.  Lt. Commander John R. Keenan, RAN was in charge of the group of Coast Watchers.

The US Subchaser SC 761 spotted USS Guardfish on their radar about 7 miles away at 0355 hrs on Monday 26 July 1943. Due to the heavy seas they both moved to the lee side of Rendova Island. SC 761 pulled alongside USS Guardfish at 0510 hrs to transfer the Coast Watchers. SC 761 then took them to Lunga Point, Guadalcanal. 

The USS Guardfish returned to pick up Read and the rest of the party at a location 30 miles north of the previous evacuation point. Read, Robinson, Usaia and twenty natives were taken aboard USS Guardfish

SC 761 was again involved in the rescue of these remaining 23 personnel. SC 761 proceeded from Lunga Point to Tulagi to take on fuel and water before it headed again on 29 July 1943, for another rendezvous with USS Guardfish near Rendova Island. They established radar contact with USS Guardfish at 0345 hrs as it surfaced. They both proceeded again to the lee side of the island to carry out the transfer. They took on board approximately 23 personnel this time and managed to get rid of some more of that Salmon!! And some rice. They returned to Lunga Point, Guadalcanal and discharged their precious human cargo.

Admiral Halsey indicated that the intelligence signalled from Bougainville by Read and Mason had "saved Guadalcanal and Guadalcanal had saved the South Pacific."

Mason returned to Australia for a well earned rest but later returned for more Coast Watching duties at Torokina from February 1944 to March 1944.

 

REFERENCE BOOKS

"The Coast Watchers"
By Eric Feldt

"Subchaser in the South Pacific - A Saga of the USS-761 during World War II"
by J. Henry Doscher, Jr., Captain, USNAR, (ret.)

 

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This page first produced 9 August 2001

This page last updated 14 January 2015