Pacific aftermath

Page 4 – NZ government acknowledgement

During the 1920s New Zealand recognised the contribution of the Cook Islands and Niue during the First World War through official visits, the building of monuments, and the presentation of ceremonial guns and honour boards. Medals were issued and the thorny questions of war pensions and war graves were addressed, not always to the satisfaction of the islanders.

Official visits

The outgoing Governor-General, Lord Liverpool, visited New Zealand’s Pacific territories in April 1919. The event was overshadowed by recent rioting by returned soldiers in Rarotonga: no guard of honour was requested and Liverpool did not mention the returned soldiers in his report on the tour. They were nonetheless present at gatherings he addressed, their lemon-squeezer hats standing out in the crowd.

In 1920 the Minister of Defence, Sir James Allen, accompanied by a large parliamentary party, made an island tour and expressed official thanks for the islanders’ contribution to the war effort. Returned soldiers were asked to form guards of honour, the men were publicly thanked for their contribution, and both the Cook Islands and Niue were presented with a German field gun to form part of a war memorial. The Cook Islands’ soldiers expressed regret for the rioting of the previous year, and Allen accepted the apology.

In 1926, Governor-General Sir Charles Fergusson visited Rarotonga and Niue. On both islands he unveiled a roll of honour board which had been prepared in New Zealand using funds raised in the islands. In Rarotonga the honour board was hung in the courthouse in Avarua. In Niue the board was hung in the church in Alofi.

Sir Charles was also invited to open a Soldiers’ Memorial Park in Avarua.

It is the pride of race which caused your men to go and fight in the war and to do such brave and great deeds there. And pride of race not only makes you great in war but it will also make you great in peace.

Sir Charles Fergusson, Governor-General, Rarotonga, 1926

Medals

War medals were issued to all men who had enlisted in the NZEF. The Pacific Islanders were eligible for the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. Difficulties arose in getting these medals to many of the men, not least because of the limited understanding in New Zealand of the geography of the Pacific. All the medals for Niue were sent to the Cook Islands and had to be returned to Wellington before being forwarded on. Many men had moved in search of work, and some had changed their names. The next-of-kin of deceased servicemen had to be traced. Some medals never reached their rightful recipient.

Pensions

War pensions proved to be difficult for Pacific Islanders to access. To qualify for a pension, a returned soldier had to be certified by the War Pensions’ Board as medically unfit as a result of war service. This process could not be delegated to another authority, so men had to appear before the board in New Zealand if they were to be paid a pension. Many in the Cooks and Niue missed out. This bone of contention was never satisfactorily resolved.

War graves

Eligibility for official war grave headstones was also problematic. Men who died while enlisted were buried in war cemeteries. Those who died after discharge were eligible for an official headstone, the form of which depended on whether their death was a result of war service. In the Cook Islands the Resident Commissioner, Judge H.F. Ayson, worked tirelessly to obtain headstones for all deceased members of the Cook Island contingents.

Ayson came to an agreement with the War Graves Division of New Zealand’s Department of Internal Affairs that, after some initial sharing of expenses, all costs would be met by the Cook Islands administration. The headstone would show which Cook Islands contingent the man had belonged to rather than refer to the (Maori) Pioneer Battalion, a term that was not well known in the islands. During his two decades in the Cooks, Ayson went to considerable lengths to verify details of the deceased and ensure that headstones reached the appropriate island and were erected at official expense.

When the Resident Commissioner in Niue, Captain A.A. Luckham, was informed of the arrangement in the Cooks, he replied that because Niueans buried their dead on family land and not in cemeteries, it was better not to interfere. As a result, few families in Niue obtained war headstones for their men.

How to cite this page

'NZ government acknowledgement', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/pacific-aftermath/nz-government-acknowledgement, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 13-Jan-2016