20 April 2010

Call of Empire

(CILAMS has a number of photographs relating to World War 1 and ANZAC Day in its archives but not as many as we would like).

First World War contingent of Cook Islanders at Narrow Neck Camp, Auckland.
Anzac Day, 25 April, marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. The acronym ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, whose soldiers were known as Anzacs.
The red poppy worn on ANZAC Day in this part of the world has become a global symbol of war remembrance, although in many countries the poppy is worn around Armistice Day (11 November, marking the end of the First World War).
About 500 Cook Islanders enlisted to serve in the New Zealand armed forces during Word War I. Over 300 of them saw active service, while others died on entering training camps or were returned to Rarotonga as unfit for military service. In all, five contingents left from Rarotonga. (A list of the 313 who saw active service can be found on the
Auckland Museum website here.)

According to Lt-Col J L Sleeman in The War Effort of New Zealand, 1923…
“Possibly of all the loyal responses in the call of Empire from every habitable portion of the globe, the most unique came from Britain’s most distant possessions in the Pacific… First and foremost among these islanders must come the Rarotongans from the Cook Islands, including men from Atiu, Mangaia, Mauke, Aitutaki, Mitiaro, Manihiki, Pukapuka, Penrhyn and Palmerston … better material for conversion into soldiers could not be found”.

In September 1915, the first contingent of 47 Cook Islanders left Rarotonga. After training in New Zealand and a month in Egypt they were sent to the front at the Battle of the Somme. Nineteen-year-old Corporal Apu Tepuretu was killed in action on 30 September 1916 (and is buried in France), his brother Sergeant Araitia Tepuretu, was severely wounded. Corporal Manuel Anthony of Rarotonga and Lance-corporal Solomona of Manihiki died of sickness; at least 8 of those first 47 volunteers died of sickness and Private Vavia William from Mauke died of wounds, bringing the total death rate to 23 percent.
During the Third Battle of Ypres, in October 1917, Private John Tuaine Apa of Aitutaki was awarded the Military Medal.
Sgt George Karika in the NZ Maori Pioneer Battalion was awarded a DCM in Egypt, 1917, for gallantry while in charge of a platoon.
The last two contingents left Rarotonga in June and in October of 1918, but did not see service overseas as the Germans surrendered in November that year.
Unfortunately, there is a dearth of information about other Cook Islands men and women who served in both World Wars as very little has been written about this part of Cook Islands history.

The last WWI veteran, Tepou Putaura of Avatiu, died on 29 September 1989. WWII veteran, Percy Henderson OBE, of NIkao, died 6 April 2006. Norm Ebbett and Baxter Hunter are the last two remaining vets from WWII.

1921 group including a returned serviceman. L to R – Epi Tunatu, Tetupuariki Araiti, Tunu Uirangi, Eteke Teava, Rangi Tara’are, Ngoroio Pori Makea, Terou, unnamed?, Teariki Apai, Tepuretu Tepuretu.

Old soldiers at an ANZAC Day parade (early 1970s). Marchers include Araitia Tepuretu; L-R Ngarea Titi, Vaevae Tamarua, Reboama, Tamaiva Ironui, Tangiia, JD Campbell, Jim Teruaa’u.

Short videos of 2009 ANZAC Day in Rarotonga

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