Christmas Island 1960 - 1961

On completion of basic training and and passing an earthmoving course I was given my first posting to Christmas Island. At the age of eighteen this was a very exciting prospect.

The route was across the US and on to Hawaii to await a flight 1200 miles to the south.

As any internet search will tell you, such as this one,. Christmas Island is the largest coral island on earth, very flat, covered with coconut plantations and scrub. The climate is very agreeable, a constant 86 degrees with a strong trade wind, dropping to around 60 degrees at night. The night sky is something to behold, the clarity must be an astronomers delight.

My primary task was upkeep of the roads, tarmac and coral, using ww2 vintage Cat bulldozers and graders.

Another task was the bulldozing and covering up of the refuse, one incident I well remember: The ship RFA Olna arrived with fresh provisions including canned beer, the old stock was taken to the tip and I was ordered to destroy and cover it up. This I did, not very efficiently, it was dug up and consumed by the local population. This did not go down very well with my superiors and I was sent to work in the laundry for a while.

Whilst working here i met Ambo. We struck up a friendship which led to trips into the plantations on what could be called picnics. I learned how to net and to cook fish and landcrabs in the Gilbertese style. I can still remember the recipe for landcrab, very delicious. If I recall correctly:

  • 1 pot
  • Unripe coconuts for drinking and cooking
  • Ripe coconut for coconut 'fingers'
  • Coconut husks as fuel.

Fill the pot with juice, bring to boil, add legs and claws, boil for one minute only. Boiling time is important, overcooking will make the flesh disintegrate and the shell has to be broken, messy! Correctly cooked the flesh will remain intact and breaking of the joint is all that is required. The ripe coconuts are cracked open and the nut cut into 'fingers'. A tasty meal.

Mixing with the local population was frowned upon by the civil and military authorities and such activities meant a low profile, avoiding the district commissioner in particular.

Flies were a problem and regular spray of DDT from an Auster crop sprayer known as 'Mr Flit' was the prefered method of control. Nasty stuff, but it appears to have harmed only the flies!

Leisure activities included applying for the use of the Landrover at the weekends,there was a long waiting list for this, but when your turn came, we would pack a coolbox with food and beer and head for a jetty near to Paris, swimming, diving and fishing. Just watching the fish from the jetty was a pleasant experience. Surfing was another activity attempted, there was only one location with a suitable beach, no surfboards that I can recall so we had to improvise.

One weeks leave was earned after six months, this was spent in Hawaii, staying at a YMCA in Honolulu, Waikiki Beach was the would-be surfers destination!

References to many species of birds are mentioned on various sites, but all I can recall are millions of sooty terns and the majestic frigate bird.

Rumour had it that the Navy could hear Hawaiian stations throughout the day. Many and various elaborate wire contraptions were strung between the palms to catch the signals. My hobby as a radio ham now shows me that you cannot catch a signal that is not there! The signals could be heard in the evenings though and there was much competition to see who could hear a station first,transistor versus valve (tube)!

It was possible to volunteer to go home westabout, which I did, the chance to circumnavigate the world was too much of a temptation to resist therefore I returned home via Fiji, Australia and Singapore as the only passenger on a freight plane. A very sad time to realise I would not see my friends and the Island again.

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