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Independence of the New Hebrides “Coconut War” with France

Unit/ Formation: 42 Cdo RM

Location: South Pacific Ocean

Period/ Conflict: 20th Century

Year: 1980

Date/s: July 1980

The Coconut War erupted when the Andrew Christopher Stuart was forced to quell a rebellion by bow-and-arrow-wielding cargo-cult devotees on the eve of independence in July 1980.

Andrew Christopher Stuart was the last resident commissioner on Santo, the largest of the 80 islands of the New Hebrides, now Vanuatu in the South Pacific. He arrived there in 1978, with the brief of bringing the islands to independence. That he managed to see this through in the face of a local rebellion and machinations by the French was tribute to his cool-headedness under pressure.

Prior to Vanuatu's independence, the islands were known as the New Hebrides. The New Hebrides were governed by a condominium of France and the United Kingdom. In 1980, France and the United Kingdom agreed that Vanuatu would be granted independence on 30 July 1980.

Beginning in June 1980, Jimmy Stevens, head of the Nagriamel movement, led an uprising against the colonial officials and the plans for independence. The uprising lasted about 12 weeks. The rebels blockaded Santo-Pekoa International Airport, destroyed two bridges, and declared the independence of Espiritu Santo island as the "State of Vemerana".

Stevens was supported by French-speaking landowners and by the Phoenix Foundation, an American business foundation that supported the establishment of a libertarian tax haven in the New Hebrides

Stuart requested military support and 200 Royal Marines of 42 Commando were sent to the South Pacific island nation by Margaret Thatcher from their base in Plymouth.

Stuart then ensured that the Marines stayed for three weeks after July 30, independence day, paving the way for a successful peacekeeping operation by troops invited in from Papua New Guinea by Vanuatu's first independent Prime Minister, Walter Lini.

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