Thursday, August 21, 2014
Upstairs in the Pier Store Museum is a small display on WWII. Alongside a strip of the Marsden matting used to make the airstrip (and now found around the island in many front fences and pig sty’s) are a series of watercolour cartoons painted by Sergeant John Gerald Allen, stationed here with the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force, also known as the 36th Battalion. The 36th Battalion designated as ‘N Force’ was made up of 1,488 personnel dispatched to protect the airfield. They were stationed here between 1942 and 1944 and as a result, Norfolk’s war history is in many ways more closely tied to New Zealand than Australia.
Due to eyesight problems Sgt Allen was classified grade 2 – fit only for home service. He appealed for an overseas posting and was allowed to join the 36th Battalion as a radar technician and worked at the Mount Bates radar station. Clearly Sgt Allen possessed not only artistic talents but a great sense of humour as evidenced in his regular contributions to the monthly newsletter called “Nformation”. His cartoon collection titled “Ordnance Oddities” depicts the lighter side of life for the Battalion while stationed on Norfolk. They include an image of a soldier with his arm around an attractive young woman while he writes home “Dear Mother, the main sport on Norfolk is “fishing””. The collection of empty bottles shown in “Spirit of Norfolk” is added to in “More spirits of Norfolk” where a soldier clearly under the weather watches as his chest appears to grow convict legs and walk away! “Deep in the Heart of Norfolk” shows a soldier asleep on the beach surrounded by palm trees.
The cartoons were donated to the Museum by Sgt Allen’s wife Peggy and son John, along with a war souvenir Sgt Allen took home with him. The souvenir (also on display) is a heavy naval machine gun shell with projectile (explosive removed), mounted on a piece of varnished wood. It has two 303 rounds mounted in a cross with a New Zealand army badge mounted over the crossed bullets. Sgt Allen told his family that he and some mates were walking in the Gaol area at Kingston when they “bumped into a door” and found a mound of the shells “there for the taking”. They took as many shells as they wanted and pulled them apart for the brass casings.
They tried a number of methods to remove the powder at the bottom. Once, they burnt it out by placing a kerosene soaked rag up the shell for a wick, put it in a kerosene tin and lit it. Following a tremendous bang and screams, they found that the shell casing had blasted right through the bottom of the tin and landed 100 metres away in a Norfolk Pine. It had narrowly missed the head of a Sergeant who accused them of “trying to do me in”.
The shell was actually for use in a Nordenfelt gun with a 4 ft long barrel, typical of those used on Russian torpedo boats around the 1890’s. They were used here in a gun used by the Islanders working in the whaling industry.