New Hebrides: Rust in Peace

During our round island adventure of snorkeling over reefs, drinking beer with lorikeets, and meeting giant clams, it was absolutely necessary to stop at Rust in Peace.

 

We wander into the little single room structure next to the ocean, and an enthusiastic local bounds in and introduces himself as the grandson of Captain Efate. Unsure who Captain Efate is/was, but still suitably impressed, we obligingly sit on a bench as we had been firmly instructed.

As is the tradition in these parts, it is time for storian (story-yarn, story telling). Storian always comes before other things.

You see, Captain Efate started collecting the glass coke bottles as they washed ashore, having been piffed into the ocean by well over 100,000 American troops posted here from 1942 to 1945.

This is Vanuatu, so every object has a story. Captain Efate’s grandson inherited the stories of the objects in the little museum. The aircraft exhaust system, the half blade of a propeller, live ammunition, a grenade shell that is surprisingly heavy, dog tags, a fragile pipe, part of a razor, and the bottles. All the bottles.

Most items carefully tagged or labelled with permanent pen.

‘Why does this canteen say 1915?’ one of my companions enquires.

‘Well,’ replies Captain Efate’s grandson (delighted to have been asked), ‘the good quality equipment from WWI was reused in WWII. But only the good things.’

The meal trays are displayed on the wall next to cutlery suspended on string, accurately labelled ‘spoons’.

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Coke bottles are of particular interest to the grandson of Captain Efate. Each is stamped on the base with the American city and state where the bottle was originally filled.  Many from California, a few from North Carolina or Albuquerque, but mainly California.

‘They still wash up, especially after a cyclone. We go looking.’

That’s 75 years later.

 

The quantities of American rubbish in this ocean is staggering. It wasn’t just coke bottles that ended up dumped.   Americans had bases in what was then New Hebrides, as the Japanese army made advances on the Solomon Islands, Timor and Papua New Guinea. The Australian military were based on Malekula nearby. One would hope that the Australians were not chucking coke bottles around. During three years, the American military brought nine million tonnes of machinery and equipment into the country. When the war ended, most of this ended up dumped in the ocean – bulldozers, weapons, aircraft, trucks, jeeps, food, everything.

 

And some of it ended up being collected from the shore by Captain Efate, and his family.

 

Captain Efate’s grandson very much wants to find a bottle from Virginia.

Later in the day a posh establishment is selling old coke bottles – I turn each over to be disappointed that they all come from California. I too, was hoping to find one from Virginia.

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