[Lone Sentry: WWII Tactical and Technical Trends]
  [Lone Sentry: Photographs, Documents and Research on World War II]
Home Page | Site Map | What's New | Intel Articles by Subject

"Building with Native Materials" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following intelligence report on construction with natural materials in the South Pacific was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 33, September 9, 1943.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


There is an abundance of natural materials in the South Pacific which may be used to provide for the comfort of troops as well as for the protection of equipment. However such materials must not be wasted as they represent resources that should be carefully preserved for the population. Native methods of construction should be carefully investigated and improvements effected whenever possible.

Bamboo and rattan are the most universal of building materials among people of the South Pacific area. They are generally plentiful and easily available. No native material has proved to be more versatile or useful. Some natives say it is best to cut bamboo in the last quarter of the moon, as wood-boring insects are less apt to infect the wood when the sap is down. Rattan may be cut at any time. All sizes and shapes of bamboo are useful; however, the well-dried yellow stalks, about six inches in diameter, are best. Do not attempt to drive nails or screws through the wood without first boring holes--it splits easily. If nails or screws are not available, native methods of binding building members together can be used. As a structural member, bamboo is fairly reliable especially if seasoned. There are several methods of curing and insect-proofing bamboo; one is to soak the wood for at least a week in salt water; the other is to bury the freshly cut bamboo in warm sand exposed to the sun. Moderate heating of the sand hastens the process. Petroleum creosote, thinned and sprayed on, is effective. Smoking the bamboo will dry it and kill the insect larvae. Some of the uses of the material are wall sheathing, plumbing, furniture, lamp fixtures. When used for sheathing, it requires a backing of some sort, such as building paper, water-proof paper from packing crates, or salvaged canvas.

[Figure 1: Building with Native Materials]

As a ready-built, nature-supplied roof, thatching has no peer. Though to most Americans it is a lost art, it is very much in evidence throughout the South Pacific. The best material to use is three-foot-long swamp grass which should be cut with a sickle and tied into bundles of convenient handling size. The grass should not be put on the roof while wet. If well done, grass thatching is durable and waterproof, and should last for a number of years. The technique of thatch laying is specialized, but once the basic steps are learned, mastery comes easily. If it is possible, natives should be hired to do the first thatching job. Observation of their technique will be instruction enough.

Figures 2 to 6 explain the basic process as observed in the South Pacific. The thatching is started from a lower corner of the roof, and is laid on the horizontal rafter-branches. The first layer of grass is put on with the roots on the down-side, running the length of the building. The next layer is laid directly over the first, with the grass reversed--top down, root ends up; all the following layers of thatch are built up like overlapping layers of shingles. As each section of thatch progresses, branches are laid as shown in the illustrations.

[Figures 2-9: Building with Native Materials]

The "shingles" are cinched with wire at 18-inch intervals; the wire "sewing" is done by a man standing underneath the roof, who uses a long pole with an eye in one end as a needle, see figures 7 to 9. This pole is flattened on the eye-end to permit easy passage through the thatch. The handler pushes the stick up through the thatch, next to one of the rafter sticks, where the man on top threads the eye with wire; the pole is then withdrawn and shoved through on the other side of the rafter, where the top man ties a knot as shown in the drawings. If no wire is available, rattan may be used. This process continues until the last layer next to the peak is reached. The peak is completed with bundles of grass laid horizontally and finished with a layer of grass bent over the peak and cinched on both sides (see figure 4). The water-proof nature of thatching makes it equally useful for the sides of buildings, where it is laid in the same manner as for the roof.

[Figure 10: Building with Native Materials]

Good, weather-proof, insulated walls can be made from a mixture of straw and mud. The technique most used by the natives of the South Pacific is rather like the method of laying plaster on laths. The building is first framed with upright poles, set into the ground six feet apart. Willow lath sticks are tacked horizontally to the poles, three inches apart. The adobe, which should be mixed with plenty of short straw, is then applied like plaster, two or three inches of it on each side of the framework. Another method is that of making adobe bricks with mud and straw poured into wooden moulds 10 x 12 x 4 inches. Well dried in the sun, they can be used like standard baked bricks.


[Back] Back to Articles by Subject | Intel Bulletin by Issue | T&TT by Issue | Home Page

Web LoneSentry.com