During World War I, 2,145 New Caledonian men served in Europe on French and Turkish fronts. Of these 1,005 were Kanaks – indigenous (Melanesian) islanders. 600 New Caledonians, including 382 Kanaks, died overseas in the service of the French colonial administration, many in the Aisne, France in July-August 1918.
The Kanaks had no burning desire to serve La Republic and those who served were, in the main, ‘volunteered’ by their chiefs under pressure and/or the promise of land and the means to cultivate it from their colonial masters. A 1917 revolt lead by Chief Noel was a protest against this pressure (and other things). Two hundred Kanaks, including Chief Noel, and 11 French died in the revolt.
Of the 600 New Caledonians who died in WWI, 45 came from Maré. Given the paucity of Europeans on Maré then, as now, it is safe to conclude that the majority, if not all, of these were Kanaks.
Notwithstanding Kanak service in WWI (and again in WWII) they were not awarded French citizenship until 1946 and didn’t get the right to vote for another ten years after that.
This memorial on an intersection in Tadine is to the 45 Maréans who fought and died on European soil in the service of France during the Great War.
My second picture depicting WWI Kanak Tirailleurs is © Noumea City Museum.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on my trip to Maré, New Caledonia. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Tadine Market – A Blend Of Local And Chinese – or to start the loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – Maré – New Caledonia’s Hidden Gem