- Zammitt, Alan
- Biographies and personal histories, Naval Intelligence, WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 1984 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
MRS. RUBY BOYE-JONES lived with her husband, Mr. Skov Boye, at Vanikoro, a small tropical island in the Santa Cruz group of the then British Solomon Islands Protectorate at the south-eastern end of the Great Solomon Archipelago where her husband managed the Kauri Timber Company.
Soon after the commencement of World War 2, the Navy installed a powerful AWA tele-radio for communication between Vanikoro and Tulagi. The radio was operated by a qualified telegraphist on the island.
The Vanikoro radio operator wished to return to Australia to join the RAAF. Before departing, he taught Ruby how to transmit weather reports and operate the radio in code, and during the following months she learnt Morse Code from a book, soon becoming quite proficient. Eric Feldt, the Commander in Charge of the Coastwatcher movement, had already appointed Mr. and Mrs. Boye as members of his organisation.
After Japan entered the war and its armed forces thrust southward from December 1941, most civilian Europeans in the Santa Cruz group left for Australia.
However, because Mr. and Mrs. Boye realised the importance of Vanikoro in relation to coastwatching, and few white men knew more about the Solomons and Santa Cruz Islands than Mr. Boye, he volunteered with the Island Engineer, George, to remain and watch the interests of his timber company. When the evacuee ship arrived, Ruby refused to leave, announcing that she proposed to stay and operate her radio. As no replacement operator was available to relieve her, it was a courageous decision. As well as their own safety, Mr. and Mrs. Boye had their two sons, Ken in the RAAF and Don, still a schoolboy in Sydney, to consider.
With the evacuation of the other Europeans from Vanikoro Ruby and Skov took on many extra tasks.
They had to act as Doctor treating the sick, sometimes a wasted effort as the natives would take off their bandages and re-wrap the wounds with banana leaves.
They extracted teeth and arbitrated disputes between the natives. Serious offences had to be reported to the district officials at Santa Cruz.
By April 1942, Japanese forces had captured Hong Kong, Malaya, Java, the Philippines and most islands to the north of the Solomons, as well as part of New Guinea.
On May 3rd 1942, the Japanese landed at Tulagi (the once capital of the British Solomons), and held it until August 1942. The Boye family lived at Tulagi from 1928 to 1940.
After the Japanese landed at Tulagi, Charles Bignell, a Solomon Islands plantation owner, called at Vanikoro in his ketch for fresh water and food to enable him to reach the New Hebrides. Charles warned Ruby and her husband that a Japanese ship was in the Santa Anna area. Charles’ wife, Kathleen, and son, Ted, both good friends of Ruby’s, had been captured by the Japanese at Rabaul. Margaret Clarence’s book ‘Yield Not to the Wind‘ covers this episode. Between 4th and 8th May 1942, the Battle of the Coral Sea took place. Ruby, at Vanikoro, some 700 miles away from the Coral Sea Battle area, was sending out coded meteorological data, and acted as an emergency relay station in communicating reports between coastwatching stations in the Solomons and Vila, the US Navy base receiving station, in the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu).
The US Aircraft Carrier Lexington was lost while the Japanese carrier Shoho was sunk. HMA Ships Australia and Hobart took part in the battle.
The Japanese main object, the capture of Port Moresby, was denied them, nor did they ever get as far south again, after the Battle of the Coral Sea.
Even so in 1942 Japanese naval forces were operating north, south, east and west of Vanikoro.
Ruby was on duty during the Battle of Savo Island in August 1942, when HMAS Canberra was lost, together with the US Cruisers Astoria, Vincennes and Quincy.
Guadalcanal, where the Japanese fought until early 1943, was only some 500 miles north by west of Vanikoro and during that critical period, Ruby was in easy range of Japanese aircraft which flew at low heights over the Island on many occasions. For safety reasons it was decided to relocate the tall radio mast and equipment across the river from the living quarters. After the move had been successfully completed, a native helper said ‘my word. Missus, you savvy too much.’ After the suspension bridge crossing the river from the residence to the radio shack was destroyed in a cyclone, four times a day, often in torrential tropical downpours, this indomitable lady had to cross the crocodile-infested Lawrence River by punt, and then often walk through ankle-deep mud to transmit the important meteorological data obtained from her own readings. She had to be ready to relay messages right on time as some coastwatchers were at about the limit of radio range to the Naval Base at Vila.