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New Caledonia Travel Guide

The 20th Century

In 1917, the forced recruitment of Kanaks into the French army led High Chief Noel to appeal to his people to fight the French as well at home as Kanak soldiers had fought the Germans abroad (1,000 Kanaks were killed in WW I).

Although not as widespread as the 1878 revolt, the fighting lasted two months in north and northwest Grande Terre, and 11 Europeans and 200 Kanaks died. Further land alienations followed. The depression of the 1930s wiped out many small French farmers, and land was concentrated in the hands of a few, as it is today.

In June 1940, after the fall of France, the Conseil Général of New Caledonia voted unanimously to support the Free French government, and in September the pro-Vichy governor was forced to leave for Indochina. The territory became an important Allied base in March 1942, and the fleet that turned back the Japanese navy in the Battle of the Coral Sea (May 1942) was based at Nouméa.

Hundreds of thousands of American troops and a lesser number of New Zealand troops passed this way; in the Pacific, only San Francisco handled more wartime cargo. Several Nouméa neighborhoods still bear names like "Receiving" and "Motor Pool" bestowed at this time. Kanaks employed by the Americans received far better treatment than they had come to expect from the French.

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