The battle of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands was the first ground offensive the Americans waged against the Japanese.Fiercely contested, it marked a significant strategic victory over the Japanese in the Pacific theater.
The fighting at Guadalcanal took a terrible toll on the Marines. Veteran Norris Cole recalled: ‘…the division suffered 100% casualties, with the dead, wounded, and those sick from malaria, dengue fever, jungle rot, malnutrition and combat fatigue… we were a pretty sickly bunch’.
Those most severely affected were sent to the 4th General Hospital (now the Royal Melbourne Hospital) in Parkville for treatment. Malaria was the mostwidespread condition, with the recurrent symptoms of the tropical disease often mistaken by Australians for drunkenness. As the young men recovered, they came to view Melbourne as a kind of paradise, representing the antithesis of war.
The possibility of a Japanese invasion had been keenly felt as far south as Melbourne, so the First Division Marines were greeted as heroes and popularly referred to by newspapers as ‘the saviours ofAustralia’.