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Pacific Islanders in the NZEF

Page 1 – Introduction

Niuean soldiers from 3rd Māori Reinforcements
Niuean soldiers from 3rd Māori Reinforcements

The main indigenous Pacific contribution to the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) came from the Cook Islands and Niue, territories that had been annexed to New Zealand in 1901. The Niuean contingent and 1st Contingent of Cook Islanders provided reinforcements for the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion in Egypt and then France. The 2nd and 3rd Cooks contingents, known as the Rarotongan Company, served with the British in the Sinai and Palestine campaigns against the Ottoman Turks. All were volunteers.

Cook Islanders and Niueans enlisted in their own countries and were sent to New Zealand as a group. Men from other Pacific islands had to make their own way to New Zealand to enlist. Those who arrived when the Niuean or Cook Island contingents were training were attached to them. Those who had the misfortune to arrive at other times were immediately sent home.

Fiji and the Gilbert and Ellice Islands were British colonies. In 1918 a Fijian offer to supply an ethnically mixed contingent was referred by the British Colonial Office to the New Zealand authorities. A similar offer came from the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. Both were accepted. These two groups were training in Auckland when the war ended in November 1918.

Pacific Island soldiers faced many difficulties during the war. Most spoke no English and many struggled to adjust to the army diet and wearing boots. The greatest danger, though, was European diseases, especially in the cold climate of northern France.

How to cite this page

Pacific Islanders in NZEF, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated