The best way to begin this brief description of Martin Clemens is to quote Ervin Kaplan from his review of Clemens’ book, Alone on Guadalcanal, “Were we to seek the most pivotal individual, broadly involved in the Guadalcanal campaign, that man might well be Martin Clemens.” Born in Aberdeen, Scotland in April 1915 as the son of the choirmaster at Queen’s Cross Presbyterian Church, this extraordinary man attended boarding school and graduated from Cambridge University in England. He entered the British Colonial Service and went to the Solomon Islands in 1938. He served a three probationary period on Malaita Island. In November 1941, Clemens became a district officer on San Cristobal.
He volunteered for military service when war broke out in the Pacific but was informed that he was in a reserved occupation. Clemens took a short leave in Australia and returned to San Cristobal on a ship sent to evacuate all Europeans and Chinese in the Solomons. On February 28, 1942, he became the District Officer and coastwatcher for Guadalcanal. In that capacity, he had the responsibilities for the 15,000 native inhabitants, various white settlers on the island, and reports of all Japanese activity on the island. Commissioned as a captain in the British Solomon Islands Protectorate Defense Force, he never wore a uniform and carried no military identification. That meant that if the Japanese ever captured him, they would shoot him as a spy.
When the Japanese arrived on Tulagi to build a seaplane base in early May and began constructing an air base on Guadalcanal in June 1942, Clemens had no choice but to escape into the remote parts of Guadalcanal to hide from Japanese patrols. After the Americans arrived in August, Clemens became part of a network of coastwatchers code named “Ferdinand” and commanded by Lieutenant Commander Eric A. Feldt. Clemens maintained contact with American Marine intelligence officers that nonetheless increased the chances of Clemens’ capture by the Japanese. He and the natives who were part of his network of intelligence gatherers learned to live on short rations, sleepless nights, and in constant danger of capture and execution by the Japanese.
Clemens soon became an important and the primary source of information on all Japanese activities on Guadalcanal to the American forces. The information he frequently passed to the Americans undoubtedly saved many lives.
After receiving his promotion to Major, he continued to contribute to the victorious Allied victories in the Solomons. After the war, the Allies showered awards on Clemens. Among these, they include the Military Cross in 1942, the Legion of Merit from the American military in 1944, Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1956, Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1960, and the Order of Australia in 1993.
To the best of my knowledge, Clemens is a businessman and lives in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia. He celebrated his 91st birthday in April 2006. He is still going strong.