The Devonwoodland today - the site of great activity in wartime days
Fortunately the news was good for her - the choice had been the Devon house. Devon, which had been built in the early twenties, belonged to her sister Charlotte, but had always been let, mainly to Burns Philp managers. I believe she received a rent of 15/- a week for the property while it was occupied by the army. Charlotte had continued to live in the old family home "Greenacre" over the road. After the war, she actually moved into one of the old army huts in the Devon grounds, and this was modified into a modest but comfortable cottage for her, and became "Devon Cottage" where our son John now lives.
Devon homestead in earlier days, before the army hut became part of the house known as "the annexe".
Devon was first occupied by Colonel Barry, and later by a Colonel Cockerell. Two or three years ago, during our Annual Readers' and Writers' Festival, Bernie and I donated sponsorship in the form of a week's accommodation at Fletcher Christian. Our sponsored writer turned out to be a Rosemarie Smith, who is the granddaughter of Colonel Cockerell, and who lives in the South Island of New Zealand. While she was here, she also did some research into a convict forbear, who had received his freedom and also received a grant of land while he was here. Amazingly, the grant of land had encompassed the very land where Devon is now! So not one, but two of her antecedents had a very special connection with this place.
Maria and her husband Dick knew how to entertain elegantly, and there would be wonderful afternoon teaparties in the grounds of Hillcrest. She delighted in inviting the army officers to tea or dinner at her home. She became a great favourite among them as did a number of island ladies who were able to provide a homely atmosphere and some home comforts to these men who wer so far from their own homes, not least the opportunity for them to sample their fine home cooking as a change from uninteresting army fare.
A teaparty at Hillcrest in grander and more elegant days
When the troops put on entertainments, it was an opportunity for them to return the favours. Along the road, nearer to Fletcher Christian, there is a sort of natural amphitheatre. Two large army lorries would be put end-to-end to provide a makeshift stage, and they would put on Variety concerts. A staff car would be sent to Hillcrest, and Bernie remebers her sitting up in the car "like the Queen of Tonga" being transported to the concerts.
Nowadays, I often look out to the woodland, and can imagine it as a hive of activity, the misty figures of those young soldiers wandering around, busying themselves or just relaxing. I can imagine small groups of them up the pine tree, from which there would have been a view of Kingston to the south. Perhaps they were also thinking of home, several hundred kilometres further to the south east. It is said that it was a good place to "escape" and have some "time out." I think about Bob Selby, who only died fairly recently. He met his sweetheart here on Norfolk Island, and returned here to live later. He used to tell me how he rode into Devon on his motorbike to deliver messages and cables.
But when I think about wartime sacrifice, I also think about the sacrifices made by others too. The parents, spouses and families left at home, often without news for long periods of time. And those whose lives and homes were taken over for war purposes. Now Aunt Charlotte and Maria fared fairly well, and the presence of the army personnel provided quite a bit of life and variety to their rather isolated existence on this remote little island. Many consumer goods were probably in short supply, as in other places, but there was still land and rich soil to cultivate and fruit to pick, and the fact that the island could still feed itself as well as large numbers of troops says a great deal about hard work and hospitality in this community.But here on Norfolk, many had their homes and lands taken from them for the building of an airstrip. The building of the airstrip - the first aircraft landed on Christmas Day 1942 - brought enormous changes to the island, some good, some bad. What was certain was that life would never be the same again.
"Devon" - temporary Force Headquarters and home for the Colonel