Jim Wallace and Diana Sawrey in 1943

In 1943 new businesses sprouted in the Manners Street area of Wellington to cater for more than 20,000 US Marines stationed in the region - the Kiwi Milk Bar, the Pacific Grill Rooms, Webby's Dance Club, the Gaiety Club and many more.

A Wellington girl, Diana Jennings, loved to spend an evening at Webby's, that operated in the James Smith Building on the corner of Cuba and Manners Streets. The club, which featured the American Army Band, was open for dancing on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights and sometimes for suppers. She would go along with a group of friends and would dance with whoever asked. The girls would often help put on a meal and Diana sometimes took a mince dish. "They were all incredibly smart" she said "and all looked as though they were officers from our point of view".

After the dance, Marines would ask if they could show the girls home. In Diana's case this meant taking the tram to Karori where her father would be waiting at the tram stop and they would walk to the Jennings house at 28 Friend Street. After stopping for something to eat and drink the escort would either call a taxi or walk back into Wellington.

One night at the club she met a Marine NCO, Corporal Jim Wallace, who was stationed at Camp Mackay, Paekakariki.

Diana, about 20 at the time, guessed Jim to be in his late 20's, somewhat older than most of the Marines and perhaps more senior. When he invited Diana to attend a dance at Camp Mackay she came up on the bus with a group of other girls from Wellington. Later, although she didn't correspond with him, he turned up from time to time. She was aware that he had been quite sick with malaria, and may have been in the Silverstream Hospital, but didn't talk much about his life or his war experience.

One night, at a dance in Wellington, Jim Wallace gave Diana a small black notebook, asking her to send it to his grandmother in the U.S. However, she put off the task. The diary was never sent and ended up in her top drawer.

Over the years Diana felt guilty about not having followed up on Jim's request. In March 2011, now Mrs Diana Sawrey and living with her husband at Midland Gardens, Paraparaumu, she donated the notebook to the newly-formed Kapiti US Marines Trust (KUSMT). Discovering it to be a remarkable firsthand account of the Battle of Tulagi (8 August 1942) and its aftermath, the KUSMT has had it transcribed, annotated and illustrated.

The book records the experiences of Jim Wallace on the island of Tulagi in the British Solomon Islands from 9 August to 15 November 1942. On the inside front cover he summarises the previous three weeks:

Tonga Tabu: July 19 1942 - July 27 1942
Off Guadalcanal: August 7 1942 - August 9 1942
Tulagi: August 9 1942

He also lists nearby islands where he was posted: Gavutu, Tanambogo, Makambo, Bungani for 5 weeks. After Jim and his exhausted companions were relieved from Tulagi they were transferred to Paekākāriki in New Zealand.

Jim Wallace gives his mailing address as:

Co “A” 2nd Marines Transport Bn
C/- Fleet Post Office
San Francisco

On the inside back cover he has written another address, presumably that of his grandmother: Mrs Myrtle Knapp, Platteville, Wisconsin. Platteville, still a small town of about 11,000 people, would have been considerably smaller in 1943, so this should have found her. If it had done so, she would have read his story with mingled pride and horror; instead, it remained in a young woman's top drawer, to emerge 68 years later in a distant country where Jim Wallace had found rest, friendship and recuperation for his battered body.