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Their Sacrifice, Our Heritage

Their Sacrifice, Our Heritage

Their Sacrifice, Our Heritage: Norfolk Island commemorates the centenary of Gallipoli.

At the southernmost tip of Emily Bay, a solitary Norfolk Island Pine stands sentinel on the headland. Its iconic figure, misshapen through time and the elements, is instantly recognisable. ‘Lone Pine’ as it is affectionately known, is perhaps Norfolk’s most sentimental landmark. From an ideal location it has witnessed the arrival of intrepid Polynesians, determined Europeans, disheartened convicts, and in 1856 the awestruck HMS Bounty descendants. Fast forward several decades, and there would be a ‘Battle of Lone Pine’ – not on Norfolk Island, but in Gallipoli, Turkey. The world was at war, and New Zealand and Australian forces were united in a quest to defeat the Ottoman Empire. The Gallipoli battlefield where much of the fighting took place was defined by the presence of a sole Turkish pine tree, a ‘Lone Pine’ whose namesake on Norfolk Island would become a poignant reminder of those men who would never return home. For Kathleen Buffett, the Lone Pine would forever symbolise the son she lost in Gallipoli – the first Norfolk Islander killed in any armed conflict.

When WW1 was declared in August 1914, recruitment commenced in Australia and New Zealand. By December fifteen Norfolk men had enlisted; by Christmas, six Norfolk Islanders were training in Egypt. On the morning of 25 April 1915, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps first landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. Among them were the six Norfolk Island men, quite unaware of the impending brutality that was to define the following eight months. By the end of the campaign, seventeen Norfolk men had served in Gallipoli.

The intention of the Gallipoli Campaign was to capture the Ottoman Empire Capital, and secure a trading route with the allied Russians in the hope that German, Austrian and Hungarian forces could be stopped on the western front. The offensive was largely unsuccessful, and instead the Gallipoli Campaign became known for its immense loss of life due to warfare and illness. Over 10,000 ANZACS were killed, and more than 33,500 were injured. At 27 years of age, Norfolk Islander Allen Fletcher Buffett was killed at Lone Pine, and though he was one of thousands with no known grave, his commemorative plaque can be found today in Gallipoli’s Lone Pine Cemetery. Of the seventeen Norfolk men who served in Gallipoli, four were killed in action, one died as a prisoner of war, one died from injuries sustained during warfare, and seven were wounded. As a result of WW1, eleven Norfolk Island men lost their lives, and the small island community suffered immensely. In total, eighty-two men and two women enlisted to serve during WW1. This represented two thirds of the adult male population on Norfolk Island – a large chunk of an isolated community that relied on the combined skills of its inhabitants for survival. It may seem strange that the Norfolk Islanders were so willing to volunteer their small and close-knit family, though their allegiance to England was as strong as those who lived in the ‘Mother Country’ herself. It was the Norfolk Islanders’ understanding that Queen Victoria had gifted them Norfolk Island, and they felt a strong call of duty to serve in her honour.

One hundred years ago the islanders existed through subsistence farming and whatever goods they could purchase from the cargo ship that visited every six to eight weeks. The only communication was via the Cable Station at Anson Bay, and travel to and from Sydney took at least five days depending on the weather. The islanders were extremely resourceful, though with the decline of the whaling industry by 1914, paid work was scarce, and the call to arms by Britain would have been appealing. Perhaps they were fearful of what awaited them in the Middle East and Europe, though Norfolk men were accustomed to danger. As experienced and professional whalers, it was not unusual to spend hours in the open seas with enraged harpooned whales, and many had swum home through shark-infested waters. Perhaps their greatest fear of leaving for war was that they might never see their beloved family and island home again. They may also have worried for the survival of the islanders left behind. Both these fears were well founded.

Norfolk Island had the highest war enlistment per capita of any country. During WW1 the small and isolated group of Norfolk Islanders was down to less than 700 individuals, and although they banded together to account for the loss of their workforce and family members – life was exceedingly tough. They heard only sporadic news of their loved ones fighting overseas, and would never have imagined the horrors their men were experiencing upon Gallipoli’s shores. Those Norfolk Island men that survived Gallipoli went on to fight in Belgium and France, with many islanders serving with the Second Australian Infantry Battalion up to the Armistice in 1918. When WW2 broke in 1939, again, many Norfolk Islanders responded to the call of service. Those who were married or too old became the Norfolk Island Infantry Detachment, ready to defend the island at home if necessary. Nine men were killed as a result of WW2, and one other in the Korean War that was fought from 1950-1953. Four Norfolk men had previously fought in the Boer War (1899-1902) in South Africa, though all survived.

Although the Gallipoli Campaign failed in its military objectives, the valiant Australians, New Zealanders and Norfolk Islanders who fought upon Gallipoli’s shores left behind a powerful legacy. Stories of their inspirational conduct and camaraderie over the eight month offensive became legendary, helping to form a united identity based on mutual respect and esteem. The day that the first ANZAC troops arrived upon the shores of Gallipoli – April 25 – soon became the day that represented the sacrifice of those who had fought in the war. This day also celebrates the honourable human qualities that surface under immense hardship.

The pains and rewards of hardship have been a constant throughout Norfolk’s history. Each settlement upon the island suffered backbreaking adversity, though left behind remnants of teamwork and accomplishment – the proof of which is still etched in the landscape, particularly along the shores of historic Kingston. The common assumption is that the early Polynesians departed the island as a result of privation, and we know for certain that both the First and Second Penal Settlements were fraught with setbacks. The fourth and final settlement of the Pitcairners in 1856 brought a positive ambiance to the punishment-weary island, though we know those first years were far from easy. Many define Norfolk’s history by these early stories, however, should you stand on the intersection of Kingston’s Pier Street and Quality Row, a white stone monument makes a stately claim. This is the Cenotaph – a pertinent reminder of a more recent era in Norfolk’s past; one that holds just as much significance for the islanders of today.

On April 25th 2015, the Norfolk Island cenotaph will be the first of all war memorial sites in Australia and its territories to hold the ANZAC dawn service. One hundred years ago to the day, those six Norfolk men would have touched the sands of Gallipoli, knowing that any second could be their last. For some, time stopped in Gallipoli, and lives were altered forever far across the ocean on tiny Norfolk Island. The Cenotaph has the names of all Norfolk Island men and women who served in the wars – the ones who never made it home have a cross beside their name.

There is a cross beside the name Allen Fletcher Buffett, the young Norfolk man who was the first casualty of the war. His mother Kathleen was also aunt to five nephews killed in the conflict. On Anzac Day in 1929 the Norfolk Island War Memorial and Cenotaph was unveiled, with Kathleen playing a special role in the proceedings. This was the official beginning of Anzac celebrations on Norfolk, although commemorative services had been held each April 25th a decade earlier with the returned local survivors. Meeting at dawn held great significance for those returned servicemen, for not only was this the time of the original landing at Gallipoli, but it was also a moment known as the ‘stand to’ – a time when soldiers were awake and alert, manning their weapons, creeping across the battlefield in the half-light of the new day. The survivors of war found the quiet and peaceful time before dawn to be important moments of reflection.

Today, the Norfolk Island community still feels the loss of those early generations. In the stillness and silence of dawn, minds can wander from the present, and begin to imagine the life and times of those early soldiers and their families. Thoughts are directed to those inspiring forebears, whose bravery, tenacity and resilience – both on the battlefield and home front – have created the foundations for the comfortable life we now enjoy. The younger generations may remember nothing of war or the people who died, but there is an inherent sense on Norfolk Island of all being part of one large family. When a member of the community passes, the islanders show their respect and gratitude with a number of time-honoured traditions. One of these is wreath making. In a shed known fondly as ‘The Usual Place’, islanders gather to create magnificent wreaths of local flowers and greenery in celebration of the life that was. Students at the local school learn to make the wreaths so that the important tradition continues. ‘The Usual Place’ is a hub of activity before the Anzac Day commemorations, resulting in bright creations of community spirit that contrast beautifully against the white stone of the Cenotaph.

The small but vibrant Norfolk Island community commemorates Anzac Day with great camaraderie. Beautiful dawn and mid-morning services see war veterans and family representatives proudly march alongside the war memorial, and the official proceedings are followed by a hearty lunch and live entertainment at the Norfolk Island RSL. For the year 2015 the Norfolk Island RSL has developed a Centenary of Gallipoli Programme which runs through April 21-25, with specially organised functions, meals, guest speakers, an ANZAC Cup Bowls Tournament and more. The Norfolk Island RSL invites all to join in the special 100-year commemoration of the ANZAC legacy, attracting friends across the Tasman and uniting the local community.

The unique and varied history of Norfolk Island is unlike anywhere else on the planet. With so many layers of the island’s past, each with important dates to remember, Norfolk Island is a veteran at commemorating significant events. For the 2015 Centenary of the ANZACs, homage will be paid to Australian and New Zealand counterparts, and all will salute the considerable sacrifice of those Norfolk Islanders affected by war. In true Norfolk spirit, the Centenary will be a dignified but festive affair; deep emotion laced with light-hearted humour – a survival strategy that has served the islanders well throughout history.

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The last WW1 veteran was a British lady named Florence Green, who lived to 110 years old. Her passing in 2012 saw the end of an era. There does remain some silent witnesses to Gallipoli and Norfolk Island during WW1, though their stories are locked in aging branches and twisted pine knots…if only they weren’t so lonesome and had someone to talk to. It is the hope of the ANZAC legacy that each new generation will appreciate the sacrifices of their courageous forbears, and understand the relevance of history and heritage. Here on Norfolk Island, with history and heritage at the forefront of a unique identity, there seems to be little danger of the past slipping by unnoticed. When you hear a Norfolk Islander say “wi naewa gwen f’get dem” (we won’t forget them), you can be assured that they mean it.

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Image Credit: Robin Nisbet
www.robinnisbet.com

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Article content disclaimer: Article first published in YourWorld, Volume 05 Issue 01, 2015. Please note that details of specific travel, accommodation and touring options may be outdated. References to people, places and businesses, including operating days and times may be have changed. References to Government structure and Government businesses/entities may no longer be applicable. Please check directly with businesses and/or Government websites directly rather than relying on any information contained in this article before you make travel arrangements.

 

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