A Tiny Island WIth A Rich ANZAC History

Brent Adams 11 April 2022

The first rays of light on the 25th of April will be seen by RSL NSW sub-Branch Norfolk Island – a small community with a proud history of service.

ANZAC Day commemorates the landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps at Gallipoli Cove. On the 25th of April, many of us will commemorate this moment in history by attending an RSL sub-Branch Dawn Service or lighting up the dawn at home.  

The first Dawn Service in Australia each year is held on tiny Norfolk Island – a territory sitting roughly halfway between Australia and New Zealand. It is a day steeped in tradition for the community of approximately 1,800 and is wholly coordinated by the local RSL sub-Branch.

Norfolk Island RSL ANZAC Dawn Service

As in many communities, Norfolk Island's Dawn Service begins early at 0510 hours, at Emily Bay. The service is held as the sun rises over the beach, where a lone Norfolk pine stands proudly in the distance. 

Following Dawn Service is a veterans-only Gunfire Breakfast, with a mid-morning service held at the Cenotaph from 1030 hours. This is attended by veterans and their families, and community groups such as the St John Ambulance, the local Army Cadet Corps, and members of the public. An RSL Auxiliary lunch is then held at the Memorial Club, where Grace is sung, and later in the day, Two Up is played.

Norfolk Island RSL ANZAC Day

On ANZAC Day, the Norfolk Island flag will fly proudly alongside the Australian, New Zealand, and British flags, reflecting the Island’s unique history. It's a tribute to days of old and a reflection of the modern makeup of the community, with veterans serving across the Commonwealth - all calling Norfolk Island home.

Terence Grube, Hon Secretary of the local RSL sub-Branch says ANZAC Day is hugely important to the Norfolk Island community. He says it's a moment when all stand at attention to remember the service and sacrifice of so many. “It’s a very special day in the annual calendar, and the Dawn Service is second to none with unbelievable participation”.

Norfolk Island RSL ANZAC Day

Terence Grube (known locally as ‘Tet’) joined the Royal Australian Navy in 1973 from Norfolk Island and completed an electrical apprenticeship. He served as Chief Electrician on HMAS Darwin during the first Gulf War, becoming an engineer and receiving a commission as a Weapons Electrical Engineer Officer – and he thoroughly enjoyed his 23 years service.

The idea of participating in Australia's first Dawn Service (based on time zone) is something many ex-service organisations wish to be part of, and will often travel to the Island to join local commemorations. The Norfolk Island RSL sub-Branch revel in the opportunity to share yarns and fantastic stories, enjoying the camaraderie and mateship of veterans and their families from across Australia.

A Proud Tradition of Service
For such a small community, Norfolk Island has a long and proud tradition of service. Over half of eligible Islanders volunteered to fight in WWI, while the community that remained behind kept the home fires burning. Terence says that the Honour Board shows how Norfolk Islanders have and continue to serve in every war, conflict and peacekeeping operation since the Boer War. “It shows the ultimate sacrifice that this small community suffered and endured. It also honours their acts of service and bravery.”

26 Norfolk Islanders have lost their lives whilst in service.

Norfolk Island’s links with Defence go beyond that of service of local community members. In 2006, the Royal Australian Navy commissioned fleet replenishment vessel HMAS Sirius – named in honour of the flagship of the First Fleet, which wrecked on the reef off Norfolk Island in 1790. The Ship’s Sponsor was Mrs Janine Nobbs, a descendant of HMS Bounty’s infamous mutineer, Fletcher Christian. Her husband, Mr Benjamin Nobbs, a descendant of Philip Gidley-King, Second Lieutenant aboard the First Fleet’s HMS Sirius and a former Commandant of the Norfolk Island convict settlement.

HMAS Sirius on Norfolk Island

As the ceremonial home port of HMAS Sirius, the ship’s company has conducted several Freedom of Entry ceremonies on Norfolk Island and forged strong links with the community. In late 2021, as part of the decommissioning tour, HMAS Sirius made one final visit to Norfolk Island to join the community in Remembrance Day commemorations.

“It was an honour to be part of the Liaison Team to welcome Commanding Officer, Commander Christopher Doherty RAN and his crew to Norfolk Island. The community certainly made the crew welcome, and it was incredible to see men and women in uniform during the Remembrance Day service 2021”, Terence says.

HMAS Sirius on Norfolk Island 2021

Mr Grube applauds the Commemorate Your Way initiative as it encourages people to honour those that serve. “It’s important to keep the flame of remembrance burning.”

RSL NSW State President, Ray James OAM echoes the importance of remembrance. “Commemorating significant moments in our military history is vital to Australia, as a people, a community, and a nation; the RSL takes this responsibility incredibly seriously as the custodians of the ANZAC spirit.

“It’s critical for the next generation of veteran volunteers in communities across the nation, like Norfolk Island, to join the League to ensure that Australians continue to commemorate the services and sacrifice of servicemen and women” Mr James said.
Norfolk Islanders during WW1
Of the 83 Norfolk Islanders who volunteered for service during WWI, five took part in the Gallipoli landings on the 25th April 1915. One of those soldiers was PTE Allen Fletcher Buffett of the 3rd Infantry Battalion. After taking part in the initial landings, a major offensive was planned for August and the 3rd Battalion was ordered to attack. Amongst the bitter and ferocious hand-to-hand fighting of Lone Pine, PTE Buffett was killed in action, making him the first Norfolk Islander killed in war.

PTE Allen Fletcher Buffett of Norfolk Island

The War Memorial on Norfolk Island was unveiled on ANZAC Day in 1929, with the foundation stone laid by PTE Allen Fletcher Buffett’s mother, Kathleen (Kitty). Like many families and communities at that time, Kitty Buffett suffered the effects of war, tragically losing her son Allen and five nephews in combat. PTE Buffett is commemorated at the Lone Pine Cemetery, Turkey.

The Norfolk Island RSL sub-Branch motto in the local language is a fitting tribute to those who have gone before - “We nawa gwen forget dem” or “We will never forget them”.

Commemorate Your Way

The ANZAC spirit lives on in us all, and on 25 April we invite you to honour our Defence community and commemorate in a way that is meaningful to you. On ANZAC Day, you can attend your local RSL ANZAC Day service, light up the dawn at home at 6am, participate online, or hear stories of inspirational Australians who embody the characteristics of the ANZAC spirit.


Back To Light Up The Dawn


*Images courtesy of Defence Australia, Australian War Memorial, Betty Matthews, & Luke Howlett.

  • ANZACspirit
  • History & commemoration