Anzac Day in the Pacific

Page 1 – Introduction

The involvement of the Cook Islands and Niue in the First World War meant that a day of commemoration became very important to the people of these islands. In the Cook Islands there was also a sizable expatriate community who were anxious to acknowledge their comrades. At first both countries observed Armistice Day with two minutes’ silence; once war memorials had been constructed, a service took place as well. Because both the Cook Islanders and the Niueans had served in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF), it was natural that observances gradually shifted from Armistice Day in November to Anzac Day in April.

In the Cook Islands there were two branches of the Returned Soldiers’ Association (RSA), one for Cook Islanders and the other for expatriate New Zealanders. In Niue there was no RSA until after the Second World War and commemorations focused on members of the Niuean Contingent members, there being only a very small expatriate community.

For many years commemorations in both countries closely followed the pattern in New Zealand. Over the last decade there has been a resurgence of interest in war commemoration in the Cook Islands and especially in Niue. Village memorials have been repaired and new ones built. Local museums have researched and told the Anzac story. Pacific Island communities in New Zealand participate in Anzac ceremonies, but Niuean communities in Auckland have also introduced their own remembrance services on Anzac Day.

Anzac Day elsewhere in the Pacific

While the Cook Islands and Niue provided contingents to New Zealand during the First World War, individuals from other Pacific Islands also enlisted in the NZEF. At the end of the war German Samoa became a New Zealand mandated territory. By the 1920s Anzac Day commemorations were being held annually in Apia, supported by the New Zealand Administrator (usually an ex-army officer). Anzac Day later became a national holiday in Samoa but this was ended in 2008 in an effort to reduce the number of public holidays. Anzac Day is also commemorated in Tonga, while in Fiji Armistice Day was chosen for war commemoration as most Fijian involvement in the First World War was with Britain directly.