Anzac Day in the Pacific

Page 3 – The growth of Anzac Day

Anzac Day in the Cook Islands

During the Second World War Anzac Day continued to be observed in Rarotonga with a church service, but there were no ceremonial parades. These were resumed after the war with observances that followed the format in New Zealand. A dawn service at the cenotaph was followed by a mid-morning church service and then a march of returned servicemen and other community groups to the war memorial for a short service and the laying of wreaths. A bus made a circuit of Rarotonga collecting servicemen for the observance.

In 1965 the Cook Islands achieved self government. Early the following year the Premier, Albert Henry, informed New Zealand’s Department of Island Territories in Wellington that his government planned to limit Anzac Day observance to the morning of 25 April and allow sporting fixtures to take place in the afternoon. The reply from Wellington confirmed that this was the pattern being adopted in New Zealand: picture theatres would be open in the afternoon and sports fixtures arranged. ‘Next year much broader liberalisation of Anzac Day has been approved by the RSA. It is now over to Parliament to ensure that this is so by passing the necessary legislation.’

In the Cook Islands a Cabinet minute of 21 April 1966 declared that Anzac Day would be observed as a Sunday until 1 p.m., after which it would be an ordinary public holiday. In 1967 the Cook Islands News reported on an Anzac Day cricket match. Poppy Day was also introduced at this time, on the Friday before Anzac Day.

From the 1960s there were repeated unsuccessful attempts to obtain funding from New Zealand for the improvement and upkeep of the servicemen’s cemetery on a plot of Crown land near the international airport. This cemetery was used mainly for New Zealand ex-servicemen who had moved to the Cook Islands in retirement or to work for the Administration. In the 1980s there were requests for help to turn this area into a lawn cemetery and to build RSA clubrooms. Men from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and the United States were also buried here. Cook Islanders from the First World War contingents were buried on family land in accordance with local custom, or in service cemeteries in New Zealand if they had emigrated.

Anzac Day in Niue

Anzac Day on Niue in 1947 coincided with the opening of the first village memorial in Mutalau. While the war memorial in Alofi listed the names of the servicemen who had died during the war, the Mutalau memorial began a tradition of naming all the men from the village who had served in the Niue Contingent.

The Anzac service continued to be held in Alofi on the same pattern, with minor changes to fit local conditions. One year the commemoration was delayed by four days so cargo could be loaded on and unloaded from the island freighter Tofua. Boat day was essential to the island; Anzac Day had to wait. Sometimes torrential rain delayed or made impossible the march to the war memorial and the dawn service was held indoors. Following the devastating cyclone in 1959 which destroyed the church in Alofi, the service was moved to the London Missionary Society’s Centennial Hall and umu kai was in short supply.

If a visit from a naval vessel coincided with Anzac Day, the pomp and circumstance of the commemoration was heightened. When the New Zealand Governor-General, Sir Bernard Fergusson, arrived on HMNZS Royalist just before Anzac Day 1964 to unveil a new memorial in Alofi, the returned servicemen gathered and a service was held. A naval saluting party fired three volleys and a bugler played the ‘Last Post’ and ‘Reveille’.

A Niue branch of the Returned Services’ Association was established when Anzac services commenced and received some assistance from the NZ RSA, such as a grant towards the rebuilding of the Alofi memorial in 1964. From the late 1960s poppies sent from New Zealand were sold on Poppy Day, with the proceeds supporting elderly ex-servicemen and war widows. Many of those who joined and helped organise the Niue RSA were descendants of the men of the Niue Contingent.

While much about the Anzac service on Niue echoed the services held throughout New Zealand, there was a definite Niuean flavour to the day. Perhaps most striking was the gathering of the men the evening before in the cargo shed at the wharf. Spending the night together allowed the oral tradition of storytelling to flourish. People still remember going with their fathers, grandfathers and uncles to share the evening. They recall the stories being told, the joking and laughter but also the sadness. They remember the smell of the maile leaves and the tiale flowers and the bundles of kapihi as they were prepared into wreaths and necklaces.

Anzac Day itself followed the normal pattern and the food following the dawn parade was usually palagi-style. But most of the participants in the service were Niuean, the church service was followed by an island-style feast of umu kai, and the speechmaking and storytelling were predominantly in the Niuean language.