Interview with Governor Laigret, 18 December 1943
In order to avoid misunderstanding and to ensure amicable relations with the French administration in New Caledonia, Barrowclough appointed a committee to investigate and settle all civilian property claims. The American forces, on the other hand, settled such claims according to a prescribed scale of charges which they refused to alter. On 18 December 1943 the Governor of New Caledonia, Monsieur Laigret, made the following observations during an interview with American and Australian newspaper correspondents:
Before coming to Nouméa I knew that:
(1) For 90 years the French flag has been floating over New Caledonia.
(2) The population which lives here is formed of native elements entirely civilised according to French methods of colonisation; of Indo-Chinese elements, introduced to the island before the war to supplement the labour supply (the Indo-Chinese equally civilised); Javanese elements, refugees from the Netherland East Indies; and finally and above all French elements of French stock who have populated New Caledonia for several generations.
(3) That the inhabitants of New Caledonia had already in the course of the Great War, 1914–18, given evidence of their attachment to the Mother Country by coming to fight on the European front; many were killed or wounded there; many were distinguished by their bravery, and one can still see today among the men over 40 Military Medals and Croix de Guerre awarded for deeds of courage done by them 25 years ago on the battlefields of France, at Verdun, in Champagne, and on the Somme.
(4) That, as in 1914, from 3 September 1939 people of New Caledonia replied enthusiastically to the order for general mobilisation; the country prepared itself as in 1914 to send an expeditionary force to Europe. The setbacks of June 1940 prevented this contingent from leaving.
(5) That from 29 September 1940, rallying to the appeal of General de Gaulle, New Caledonia and its Dependencies lined up with enthusiasm by the Lorraine Cross, and a few months afterwards the first contingent of volunteers left the island to form the Pacific Battalion and fight in Africa with the British Eighth Army.
(6) That when, December 1941, Japan entered the war, not only was New Caledonia on the side of the United Nations (and its territory was consequently free of any enemy element), that also New Caledonia stood alone to defend its territory against the Japs should they come.
The Caledonians put the island in a state of defence. I had the honour recently to take the high Allied military authorities, English and American, over the points of resistance established by the French with no outside help. I can state that these high military authorities were very much impressed with what they saw.
(7) That New Caledonia has welcomed with enthusiasm the Allied troops stationed here for the needs of war, and while the inhabitants of the country were undergoing (and are still undergoing as a duty) the great inconveniences arising from this influx of troops, a second contingent of volunteers left for Africa to fill the spaces of Bir Hacheim.
Today I know that:
(1) Publicly Dr. Evatt, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, paid a striking homage to New Caledonia when he said in a recent speech that by their courageous attitude in September 1939, and afterwards, the inhabitants of this country had earned the right to the thanks of the United Nations in the war against Japan.
(2) That the inhabitants of New Caledonia are suffering considerably, both in their interests and too often also in their rightful susceptibility, from the attitude of the American troops which is too frequently unconcerned from the French point of view. The Americans appear to forget that there is a great difference between being stationed in a friendly country and occupation of an enemy country.
(3) That the New Zealanders, on the other hand, appreciate this difference, and it is a pleasure for me to point this out.
(4) That the New Caledonians are more attached to France than I thought before I came here. Two examples, added to those mentioned above, are the subscription for the patriots of 11 November; and the vote of a credit of 5 millions by the Administrative Council of New Caledonia for the benefit of the French Committee for National Liberation.
In the near future I shall be leaving this country with this happy and comforting conviction. And since I have the opportunity of meeting journalists belonging to the great American democracy, I shall say in conclusion that I wish to Governor Tallec, who will be here soon, that he may find from the American High Command on the island more understanding in his dealing that these authorities have to have with the local Government.
I hope that the American citizens will never forget that, if their troops are in New Caledonia, it is because the French, a handful of French, have permitted it. And this has had its effect on the fate of the war in the Pacific. It is without doubt a historic event which has still more importance than Pearl Harbour.