Speaking from the Solomon Islands at the end of the mission, Senior National Officer and Clearance Diver Lieutenant Shaun Heaslip said the Australian Defence Force-led deployment, called Operation Render Safe, had been a great success and the New Zealanders would be leaving with some interesting tales.
“The team has really enjoyed working with our Australian comrades and the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force to make a difference to the people here in the New Georgia Islands in the Western Province,” Lieutenant Heaslip said.
“The locals have welcomed us everywhere we’ve worked and they’ve helped us locate some really interesting finds. Being challenged on a daily basis with different munitions and tricky working conditions is all worth it when we know the people we’ve met will be safer for it.”
The NZDF personnel were split into Maritime (Clearance Divers) and Land teams and operated in different areas on land and in the water. One of the most surprising finds was located by the Land team, Lieutenant Heaslip said.
“The Land team travelled to a small coastal village, home to one of the regional Solomon Island police officers who had offered his family property as a location for the night.
“Upon arriving at the village a small child mentioned she knew of some potential unexploded ordnance and that her father had sent her to tell the New Zealanders. They followed the little girl three kilometres into the jungle and to their surprise found a Japanese 70mm anti-aircraft gun position with three guns intact.
“Placed around the guns were three live 70mm high explosive shells and one hand grenade. The little girl was thanked and the items were removed for disposal.”
There wasn’t only unexploded ordnance left as a reminder of the effects of the Second World War on the Solomon Islands. A soccer field created by New Zealand soldiers during the war was used for a match involving about 100 local children and nine members of the Maritime team as they waited to be picked up by helicopter.
Photo supplied NZ Defence Force