Tarawa coastwatchers memorial

Tarawa coastwatchers memorial

Memorial to the seventeen New Zealand coastwatchers and five civilians captured in the Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati) who were beheaded on Tarawa on 15 October 1942. 

The main image shows the original coconut wood memorial erected by United States Marines in 1944. The wooden post and chain fence was later replaced by a low stone wall and capped stanchion posts and chains.

In late 1944 New Zealand Post Office radio staff were invited to contribute to the Tarawa Memorial Fund. Some of the money from this fund was used to pay for a bronze memorial plaque to the nine radio operators killed which was eventually placed on a sloping stone plinth in front of the cross erected at Betio. It is not known what has happened to this plaque. This image from 1999 shows a metal plaque that replaced the original wooden one at the base, but this appears to be different from the NZPO plaque as it lists all those killed, not just the radio operators.

On 11 November 2002 both the cross and metal plaque were replaced by the memorial you can see by clicking on the last three thumbnails above. The new memorial was designed and constructed by the Office of Australian War Graves, Department of Veterans Affairs to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the atrocity.

Although we don't have images of the back of the memorial, according to this article from Radio Australia at the time it was announced, 'The reverse side of the memorial will incorporate a new inscription which acknowledges the deaths of quite a number of former Gilbert and Ellis Islands colonies people. Previously there hasn't been a commemoration of that kind; we thought that was a very fitting acknowledgement to make in this the 60th year of the original event'.

The memorial is located at Betio, an island township that is part of Kiribati's capital city, South Tarawa.

See also: D.L. Vaughan, Report on coastwatching radio stations in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, 1941-45, rev. edn, author, Raumati South, 1997 and Musick Memorial Radio Station

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Peter McQuarrie

Posted: 15 Oct 2019

I believe the missing plaque mentioned in the article is the one that I saw on the wall of the radio station in Tarawa in 1969. It is now at NZ Post HQ in Wellington. I published a story about this in 2018, in the Bulletin of the NZ Vintage Radio Society. I can email a copy to anyone interested.