The man who commanded the coastwatchers in the Solomons during the battles for Guadalcanal was Eric Augustas Feldt. Born in Cardwell, Queensland, Australia on January 3, 1899, he was the eighth child of Swedish-born parents Peter Feldt, a cane farmer, and the former Augusta Blixt. His early education was at the Brisbane Grammar School. In 1912, Eric received an appointment as a cadet to the Royal Australian Naval College then located in Geelong, Victoria. He achieved the rank of chief cadet-captain and graduated as a midshipman in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) in January 1917.
Feldt went to England in April 1917 and served his first duty on the H.M.S. Canada. His later service was aboard the H.M.S. Victory in October 1918 and on the destroyer H.M.A.S. Swordsman in March 1919. He returned to Australia aboard that ship. After his promotion to Lieutenant in February 1920, he transferred in January 1921 to the cruiser H.M.A.S. Melbourne. The Royal Australian Navy began disarming, and Feldt realized he had a limited future in the Navy. Therefore, he resigned his commission on October 30 1922 and the navy placed him on its retired list.
Feldt entered public service in February 1923 as a clerk in New Guinea. After receiving a promotion to Lieutenant Commander in 1928, he met and married Nancy Lynette Echlin in 1933. His service continued in New Guinea’s gold fields as acting warden and later promoted to chief warden in 1935.
As war seemed to be eminent in April 1939, the Australian Navy placed him on the emergency list. Lieutenant Commander Rupert B. M. Long, the RAN’s Director of Intelligence, offered Feldt the position of staff intelligence officer at Port Moresby four months later. His assignment was the creation of a coastwatchers’ network. That organization’s mission was to watch over the northeastern approaches to Australia and warn of any hostile air-sea activity.
Feldt arrived in Port Moresby in September 1939 and toured his vast territory on New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and the New Hebrides Islands. He met with the coastwatchers and conferred with local officials and planters to recruit them as coastwatchers. He also brought the latest radios the coastwatchers needed to report suspicious activity.
He became the supervising intelligence officer, North Eastern Area, in May 1941 and moved to Townsville, Queensland. The Navy placed naval intelligence officers in Port Moresby on New Guinea, Rabaul on New Britain, Tulagi in the Solomon Islands, and Vila in the New Hebrides. As soon Japan began their attacks on December 7, the coastwatchers began showing how valuable they were when they sent immediate reports warning the Australian forces at Rabaul of impending Japanese air attacks. Soon the Japanese captured Rabaul while the coastwatchers continued to send warnings to Port Moresby. When the Americans invaded Guadalcanal on August 7, coastwatchers on Bougainville reported Japanese aircraft from Kavieng and Rabaul approaching the American transports anchored north of Guadalcanal.
From that time forward, the coastwatchers were now in great danger in the midst of Japanese-occupied territory. Supplying the coastwatchers caused Feldt much difficulty. He mightily tried to maintain the flow of materiel, and the stress finally caused him to become ill. While visiting Guadalcanal in March 1943, he had a coronary thrombosis that caused him to be unable to continue his duties.
The Navy sent him to Brisbane after he recovered from his illness. In February 1945, he received an appointment as officer-in-charge at Torokina, Bougainville and the rank of acting Commander in May. Feldt returned to Brisbane in June 1945 and left the navy in September. He received the award of Order of the British Empire (O. B. E.) one year earlier.
Feldt retired from the navy and lived in Brisbane. He published his book, The Coastwatchers, in 1946. He served as the secretary of the United Service Club and described himself as “that oddity of inheritance, a dark Swede, thin, bull-necked and with thinning hair, vehement and forthright ... [who] never yet called a man a stupid bastard unless he failed to adopt my views within five minutes of my expressing them.”
The irrepressible Feldt died on March 12, 1968 at his home. His mourners scattered his cremated remains at sea near the Coastwatchers’ Light at Madang in Papua, New Guinea. He proved to be an outstanding leader who got more of the men under his command than they ever thought they could deliver. Without Feldt, the Coastwatchers could not have saved the lives they did.