Forest Lake and Districts RSL Sub-Branch update

by Alan Greig

With the outbreak of WWII, Commander Eric Feldt embarked on an important journey. Coastwatchers were needed to assist with gathering vital intelligence. Eric travelled by foot, bicycle, boat and aeroplane throughout New Guinea, Papua, the Solomon Islands and New Hebrides to recruit as many coastwatchers as possible.

Eric, one of eight children, the son of Swedish born parents Peter and Augusta, was born in Cardwell, Queensland in January 1899. Eric attended the local primary school before joining Brisbane Grammar School. Here he won selection for the 1913 intake of cadets into the Royal Australian Naval College in Victoria. Following graduation in 1917, he served in WWI on the British ships HMS Canada and HMS Victory. Repatriated to Australia in 1919 he did not see a career for himself in the Navy and retired in 1922.

Eric then moved to New Guinea which was then an Australian Territory and worked for the Australian Government as a District Officer. Aware of the brewing war in Europe, he transferred to the RAN Emergency List in April 1939. At the outbreak of WWII Eric’s local knowledge of New Guinea plus his experience in the RAN led to his appointment as Staff Officer (intelligence). He was then put in command of the coastwatchers and intelligence organisation operating in the South Pacific responsible for overseeing the recruitment of coastwatchers along the islands to the north east of Australia. And to ensure that they were equipped with teleradios enabling effective communications.

So what was a coastwatcher? It was similar to being a spy. It involved sending information regarding enemy activity, reporting any plane or shipping sightings and rescuing stranded allied personnel. Before 1942 the majority of coastwatchers were Australian volunteers living and working in the islands. However, they relied heavily on the help from local people.

Many were captured by the Japanese. Eric was concerned for their wellbeing and campaigned for civilian coastwatchers to be appointed to military ranks in the RAN Volunteer Reserve so that they or their families could receive a pension. Without a military rank, those captured by the Japanese would be classified as spies and executed. Throughout the war coastwatchers provided invaluable intelligence to the allies, particularly in the battles of Rabaul and Guadalcanal.

Eric was awarded the Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1944. He died in Match 1968. His ashes were scattered in the sea off Madang, Papua New Guinea near the Coastwatchers Memorial Lighthouse.

Members are reminded that the Christmas luncheon will be held at Bostock House, Wacol on 5 December, 2020. Forest Lake RSL Sub-branch wishes readers a very merry Christmas and a happy 2021.

To read more Forest Lake RSL Sub-branch articles, go here.