RCS Viti

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Voyage of the Viti

Source: Ric Gillespie and Tom King, March 2, 2001 Forum.

From the "messing records" of HMFS Viti, which we copied in England, and from notes kept by Mr. Tofiga at the time, we have been able to reconstruct the voyage of the Viti as follows:
Midnight, November 19, 1941 Ship departs Suva, Fiji
Afternoon, November 25 Brief call at Gardner Island. Aram Tamia (Gallagher's former houseboy and assistant), Bauro Tikana (Gallagher's former clerk and interpreter), and Esera (?) came aboard briefly and met with Sir Harry.
11:00 a.m., November 26 Ship arrives at Canton Island. In his book, Sir Harry says that "the north-bound Clipper arrived from Suva just after we got in." He's referring to the Pan American Airways flying boat that serviced Canton but --- and this is where the mystery begins --- the information we have indicates that PAA did not service Suva at that time. A north-bound Clipper may have arrived on the 26th but it should have come from Auckland, New Zealand via Noumea --- not Fiji.
November 27 Normally, the passengers may have stayed overnight at the PAA hotel on the island and the Clipper would continue its journey to Hawaii the next day, but Sir Harry says that on the 27th he "spent the forenoon replying to telegrams received here and preparing letters for the Clipper mail leaving tomorrow." It seems odd that the plane would remain at Canton that long.
November 28 Viti remained at Canton.
November 29 Viti sails for Gardner at 4:30 p.m. The messing records indicate that "Johnny, the handyman at Canton" came aboard for transport to Gardner.
11:00 a.m., November 30 Viti arrives Gardner and the official party goes ashore. Mr. Tofiga's notes indicate that he saw Temou (the island carpenter) and his wife (Emily's parents); "Kuata" (is this Island Magistrate Teng Koata?); Esera (?); and Aram Tamia. Two nurses, "Maria" and "Sengalo" (Emily) joined the ship for transport to Suva for training. Also boarding at Gardner, according to the messing records, were the wireless operator Fasamata and his wife (Otiria O'Brian whom we interviewed in Fiji in 1999) for transport to Hull Island. Debarking at Gardner to take charge of the island hospital was Native Medical Practitioner Vaaiga who had come from Fiji. At 9:00 p.m. the ship left Gardner for Hull.
1:00 p.m. December 1 Viti arrives Hull Island where Fasamata and Otiria debark. The Acting Administrative Officer and Wireless Operator at Hull, a man named Cookson, comes aboard bound for Suva and "badly needed" leave. Apparently Fasamata will take over as wireless operator and, according to Sir Harry's book, so "that the Settlement may not be without a European officer, McGowan, the acting Second Officer aboard the Viti ... has sportingly volunteered to stay." (Stout fellow McGowan --- what?) At 4:00 p.m. the ship is underway again en route to Sydney Island.
9:00 p.m. December 2 Viti arrives at Sydney Island.
Midnight, December 3 The ship departs Sydney. According to the messing record, Johnny-the-handyman's wife and child come aboard for transport to join Johnny on Gardner. Sir Harry describes this incident in his book but erroneously has the woman and infant joining the husband on Canton.
December 4 In the morning the ship pays a brief call at uninhabited Phoenix Island. In the afternoon it stops at Enderbury where Sir Harry entertains the four U.S. Department of Interior colonists aboard Viti with much appreciated tea and cake. Their names are D. N. Hartnell, James Riley, Joe Kepoo, and James Bruhn. The ship sails for Canton that evening.
December 5 Viti arrives back at Canton in the morning where the Clipper, according to Sir Harry's book, "had come in." He and Mungo, he says, "are returning by the Clipper early tomorrow morning" and so are sleeping at the PAA hotel that night. "The Clipper is exceptionally full and several passengers have to sleep in the passages of the hotel."
December 6 Sir Harry's book says, "We took off at 6 a.m. and landed at Suva at 3 pm, after a comfortable journey, during most of which we flew at 11,000 feet. ...The only land we saw before approaching the Fiji Group was Futuna; and as we neared Suva I asked the Captain to circle over our leper island, Makongai, which I thought would interest the passengers and knew would delight the patients. ... The next day (Western Time) came the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor...". However, Sir Harry's account seems to be at odds with the history of PAA's service --- as we'll see shortly. According to Tofiga's notes, Viti departed Canton at the same hour Sir Harry says the Clipper took off for Suva; the ship arrived at Hull around 4:30 p.m., remaining only an hour before continuing on to Gardner.
December 7 Viti calls at Gardner en route back to Fiji just long enough to drop off Johnny's family and 18 tins of condensed milk (at the direction of Dr. Macpherson). Tofiga's notes indicate they arrived at 8:00 a.m. and departed at 9:00 a.m. It is his recollection that he learned of the Pearl Harbor attack while at Gardner. If so, the word must have gotten out very quickly because, allowing for the one hour time difference, the last wave of Japanese planes had just left Pearl when the Viti left Gardner. Our best guess is that the ship's radio picked up a news flash from KGMB or one of the other commercial stations in Honolulu.
Afternoon, December 11 Viti arrives back in Suva, Fiji.