Coastwatching headquarters at Nukufetau, Ellice Islands, 1941

During the Second World War New Zealand maintained an extensive coastwatching network. The navy had operational control, but coastwatchers included civilian New Zealanders and members of all three armed forces. Stations were established throughout New Zealand, including the Chatham Islands and the Kermadecs. They extended south into the sub-antarctic Campbell and Auckland islands, and north to Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, the Cook Islands, Tokelau, Pitcairn and Norfolk islands.

Coastwatchers were also placed north of the equator on Fanning Island and in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands (now Kiribati and Tuvalu). Some stations were operated by local people, others by operators sent from New Zealand. On inhabited islands local people provided much of the information on enemy movements. Seventeen New Zealand coastwatchers, along with five civilians, were executed on Tarawa (the capital of Gilbert and Ellice Islands) after it was invaded by Japanese forces. Eight of the coastwatchers in the Gilbert Islands were made prisoners of war by the Japanese; one died while held prisoner. But while the fate of New Zealand coastwatchers has received some attention, the story of the many Pacific island coastwatchers has often been neglected.

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