Media release

Australia’s support for Free-French movement

Secret cablegrams recording Australia’s support for the Free-French movement in New Caledonia during World War II form part of a gift to be presented by the National Archives of Australia in Noumea this evening.

‘When the German army invaded France in 1940, the Vichy assumed power over the country, with control proclaimed by Marshall Philippe Petain,’ said Ross Gibbs, Director-General of the National Archives.

‘However General Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free-French movement, challenged the legitimacy of Vichy France.’

As a result, overseas French territories, including New Caledonia, had to decide which government they would follow, Vichy France or the Free-French movement.

‘The people of New Caledonia disagreed with the governor’s decision to side with Vichy France so the Free-French movement selected Henri Camille Sautot to represent them in the country,’ said Mr Gibbs.

‘During this period Most Immediate Secret cablegrams were flying back and forth across the world, between London, Canberra and Noumea to gain Australia’s help in getting M. Sautot to Noumea.  These documents have all been preserved in the National Archives.’

Eventually Australia agreed to send HMAS Adelaide to escort Sautot from Vila to Noumea, as de Gaulle’s governor-elect of New Caledonia.

He was delivered safely and later acknowledged his appreciation to the captain and crew of HMAS Adelaide, without whose support ‘…the ralliement to General de Gaulle no doubt would not have succeeded.  Their professionalism was equalled only by their human compassion, because they were very judicious in avoiding a bloody and futile struggle with the Vichy gunboat and the coastal forts of Noumea.’

Copies of the original documents that record the historical events will be presented by Mr Gibbs to the government of New Caledonia at a function hosted by the Australian Consul-General in Noumea this evening (2 October 2007).  The National Archives will also launch a ‘toolkit’ at the event which will enable Pacific Islands to retain and preserve their own archives effectively.

Contact information

Media contact: Elizabeth Masters (02) 6212 3957; 0427 853 664 or Louise Greig (02) 6212 6269; 0438 885 874

Date of release: 2 October 2007

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2018