Wednesday, April 1, 2015

WITHOUT HESITATION: Norfolk Islanders and World War One

When War was declared in August 1914 the Norfolk Island population was less than 700 and almost entirely composed of families descended from the original eight that had arrived from Pitcairn Island fifty-eight years previously. Without hesitation, eighty-two Norfolk Island men (representing two thirds of the adult male population) and two women enlisted in the War. This was the highest enlistment per capita of any country of the Empire. Seventeen of the men served at Gallipoli, with four in the initial landings on the 25th April 1915.

In the front room of The R.E.O. a short-term display has recently been opened profiling one person from each of the original Pitcairn Islander families: Jonathon Lorenzo Crosby ‘Lorenzo’ Adams, Allen Fletcher Buffett, Cornelius Stephen ‘Lerm’ Christian, John Arthur Evans, Augustine Stanley McCoy, Charles Henry Ffrench ‘Harry’ Nobbs, Byron George ‘Lowie’ Quintal and Wilfred Francis Young.

Of these men, three were Killed in Action: Allen Buffett, John Evans and Wilfred Young. Lowie Quintal died nine years after the war from an illness said to have occurred during his war service. Lowie was the most decorated, receiving a Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions during fighting in the French town of Villers-Bretonnneux during the bloody Battle of the Somme. The Supplement in the London Gazette cited the award was: “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He was in charge of a Lewis gun in a strong position which the enemy attempted to raid under cover of an intense bombardment. He at once opened Lewis gun fire and when the gun jammed he attacked the enemy with bombs and assisted in driving them off with considerable losses. His coolness and initiative were an inspiration to his comrades.”

The enlisting Norfolk men and women went without hesitation and the full support of loved ones left behind to keep families together and the island running. The impact on the community left on Norfolk Island was substantial. This was not only as each loss of life was not only felt by their immediate family, but as a small closely linked people, the whole community would have mourned each loss.  The unquestioned support of this island’s people to Britain’s call to war was reported on in a February 9th 1916 article in the Sydney Morning Herald by ‘S.C’ who had recently visited the island. He reported “It was a surprise to find this people, who owe their existence to a mutiny on a British man-of-war, intense in their Imperial spirit, and enthusiastic in their loyalty to the Empire. With no daily newspapers to feed their interest, no politicians to fire their zeal, their only link with the war’s progress a meager cable report nailed to a tree at the cross-roads, they are making a noble contribution to our nation’s need. Already nearly 50 have left the little island to fight in the war. Their donations of patriotic funds have mounted to hundreds of pounds sterling, while abundant gifts of jam, made from their choicest fruits, have been sent to Sydney. In addition to this, there is a flourishing Red Cross Society, and the list of garments sent from the island is an indication that the women are working at high pressure”.

S.C. then tells of a tennis match he attended that finished with a parade of five men about to leave the island to join the War. Cornish Quintal, by then a much respected elder of the community spoke to the boys: “Be brave, for you are descended from the bravest men that ever lived. Your forefathers were the only men who ever took a British battleship. Who should fight for England as our children? How would the Germans have dealt with your forefathers? England forgave them, protected them, and gave them this beautiful island. Fight boys, and win. God be with you. I wish I were young enough to go with you”.

‘Without Hesitation: Norfolk Islanders and World War I’ is on display in The R.E.O. open Monday to Friday 9.00am to 3.00pm. Entry is free and the display runs until June 30.

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