We had fun digging out some lesser-known facts from the Solomons. Firstly, it’s not a country we hear a lot about! more importantly though, as divers, we love learning about our next dive destination.

Watopia or Solomon Islands?

For any of you that spent the winter months and/or lock down on your bike trainer Zwifting, you may have already been to Solomon Islands! When Zwift set up their routes, they built their technology on the back of Google Maps. The makers needed a real life destination to test the routes. They also needed a destination with a small population and not touristic. With this in mind they developed a virtual country called Watopia. They selected Solomon Islands as the perfect destination to develop this virtual country. 

Watopia consists of two main islands alongside an active volcano. These islands are loosely based on the islands of Te Anu and Naunonga. The smaller of the two islands, Te Anu, contains the flat and hilly routes, while Naunonga contains the mountain routes. A pair of bridges connects the two islands.

These virtual islands are within a group known as the Santa Cruz Islands. As we know Santa Cruz is on the other side of the pacific in the Galapagos.

Google Earth image of Watopia
Te Anu and Naunonga Islands – Google Earth

Doctor Who

If you are a Doctor Who fan, you may already be familiar with the Solomons. In the episode ‘Resolution’ (Jan 2019), Anatu Island served as a key location. Somewhat surprisingly ,the remains of a Dalek are revived by ultraviolet light from Sheffield (yes – that would be Sheffield in the north of England). We don’t try to understand this one, we’re just passing along the information.

The silver screen

While we are talking entertainment, there are plenty of fun facts from the Solomons at the cinema. If you like a good WWII movie then there are a few good examples. Thin Red Line, Guadalcanal Diary, and Windtalkers are all based on real life events in the Solomon Islands.

Guadalcanal was the site of a major Allied Forces offensive against the Japanese. The offensive happened when Japanese forces were in the process of constructing an air base on the island. Loss of life was significant on both sides, including from a number of warships and smaller vessels that were lost in battle. Many of them can be dived during our WWII Wreck Week itinerary.

Thin Red Line is a fictional story based on the Battle of Mount Asten, which was part of the Guadalcanal Campaign. The movie is an adaptation of a novel which alludes to Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Tommy”. Further, the poem refers to British foot soldiers as “the thin red line of heroes”.

Guadalcanal Diary was released whilst the war was still being fought, in 1943. Again, it is based on a book about the Guadalcanal campaign. The movie came out after the campaign was over and tells the story of a Marines division.

Windtalkers is a much more recent production. It tells the story of a marine charged with protecting a Navajo code talker. The movie starts in Solomon Islands and continues to the invasion of Saipan in the Mariana Islands. This is a reminder that the Navajo code was crucial to America’s success against Japan across the Pacific theater. The Japanese never cracked the Navajo code during the war, neither all other Native American codes.

Japanese Mavis wreck in the Solomons
Japanese Mavis wreck- photo by Adam Beard

US President John F Kennedy

US President John F Kennedy served in the Pacific Ocean Theater from 1943. He was the lieutenant and commander of Patrol Torpedo boat PT-109, in the Solomons fighting the Japanese fleet. 

PT-109, along with 14 other PT boats, headed out on 1st August 1943 to intercept a Japanese supply convoy. Unfortunately, officers did not plan the best operation of the war. The PT boats managed to fire 30 torpedoes from their four sections, but did not score a single hit. In the battle, only four PT boats (the section leaders) had a radar onboard. Command ordered the PT with radars to return to base after firing their torpedoes on radar bearings. This meant that  the remaining boats were virtually blind – including PT-109. 

The remaining boats were ordered to keep patrolling while keeping a low profile after the battle finished and they lost sight of the supply convoy, . PT-109, unfortunately, ended up in the path of a Japanese destroyer and was rammed and cut in half at 2:27am on 2nd August. 

Out of 13 crew members, 11 survived the incident and clung to the wreckage. After 12 hours, realising that no help was coming, they decided to swim for relative safety. They reached Plum Pudding Island (the local name Kasolo Island) after 4 hours. Everyone thought help would be quick to come! This was not quite correct.

JFK in the Solomons aboard PT-109
Lieutenant John F. Kennedy, USNR, (standing at right) with other crewmen on board PT-109, 1943.

Plum Pudding Island

The rescue of the crew took a little longer they might have expected. Initially, the navy thought the crew were lost at sea. Ultimately two Solomon Islanders who were Coastwatchers, Eroni Kumana and Biuku Gasa, are the reason for the crews survival. They managed to summon help as well as providing resources for the exhausted crew. The story goes that Kennedy gave them a coconut and inscribed it with this message: “NAURO ISL…COMMANDER…NATIVE KNOWS POS’IT…HE CAN PILOT…11 ALIVE…NEED SMALL BOAT…KENNEDY”.

Biaku Gasa and Eroni Kumana carried the message to the US forces who eventually rescued the crew 4 days later, on the 8th August. Kennedy kept his coconut shell in the Oval office during his presidency and used it as a paperweight. Plum Pudding Island also got a new name: Kennedy Island.

Fun fact - Kennedy's actual coconut
Kennedy used the coconut as a paperweight on his desk in the Oval Office – JFK Library

The Solomons is one of just 22 nations to not have an army

Many countries without their own army have long-standing agreements with former occupying countries. A good example is the agreement between Monaco and France. Other nations, such as the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), and Palau rely on the United States for their defense.

Solomon Islands maintained a paramilitary force until a heavy ethnic conflict. Australia, New Zealand, and other Pacific countries intervened to restore law and order and, since then, no military has been maintained. However, there is a relatively large police force and a Maritime Surveillance Unit for internal security.

The Maritime Surveillance Unit has access to small arms and maintains two Pacific-class patrol boats, the Auki and the Lata. Defence and policing assistance was the responsibility of the RAMSI (Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands) until June 30, 2017.

As such, Solomon Islands joins countries like Panama and Grenada who, following deadly hardships in their history, have decided to simply abolish their armies.

These are a only a few fun facts from the Solomons, but come and join us onboard Solomons Master to find out what an extraordinary place this is!

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