NIUE WWI CENTENARY: Su’a and Winston Peters stand with Niue remembering 150 WWI soldiers’
There is extra poignancy to Niue’s 41st annual celebration of self-rule that started yesterday.
The added event is commemoration of the sacrifices made by 150 Niuean men that started in October 1915. It was the month that the first of these men volunteered to sail away to train and join the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) and fight in the First World War (WWI). As a country, it is regarded as one of the highest, if not the highest, per capita contributions to the war as the Niue population at the time numbered a mere 4,000.
This week, in the capital Alofi, a ‘WWI Centenary Commemoration’ ceremony will include the unveiling of a special New Zealand government plaque at Tomb Point, complete with New Zealand Defence force soldiers in attendance.
Also making an appearance from New Zealand’s parliament will be NZ First leader, Winston Peters and Labour’s Pacific spokesperson, Su’a William Sio, on behalf of Labour Leader Andrew Little on the back of a special invitation from Niue Premier, Toke Talagi.
“The week long commemorations is a good occasion for Niue to pause and reflect on its unique relationship with New Zealand, and I suspect many will be asking themselves what will become of Niue in the future years to come,” Su’a told Pacific Guardians.
In a media statement, Mr Peters added, “I look forward to being part of the country’s commemoration. I am also delighted to return to Niue, to look over aid projects and developments past and present.”
On the WWI sacrifice by Niue’s 150 soldiers, Su’a emphasised two important considerations: the bravery of the men in coming forward to fight on behalf of God, King and country when they were not obligated at all; and for history records to capture their sacrifice and deeds accurately for future generations.
“These Niuean soldiers didn’t have to but they responded bravely despite many of them never having set foot on foreign soil, nor worn boots, or eaten a diet other than fish and fresh fruits.”
But even to now added Su’a, “Niuean soldiers plus others from the Pacific were largely forgotten, with published military record generally overlooking the fact that Pacific Islanders served New Zealand in both world wars.
“In some instances they have erroneously been counted among Maori servicemen; in others they have simply been too few in number to attract the attention of historians, lost among the multitudes who fought for the Empire.”
Su’a emphasised the importance that the next generation must “never forget this history and need to find ways of ensuring we will always remember their sacrifices, their courage, their determination and their belief in these traditional values of faith in God, in honour and in living a life of service and sacrifice for others.”
Mr Peters re-emphasised the points made by Su’a, “We cannot imagine the hardship for these men, most of whom could not speak English. They were faced with hurriedly adapting to a colder climate, wearing boots for the first time and being served stodgy food after a lifetime diet of predominantly fish and fruit. Inevitably, severe illness took a big toll.
“This year Niueans will remember those who did not make it home and the bravery of those who ventured into a world they knew nothing of,” Mr Peters said.
Of the 150-strong group of men, 140 had never left their island home in their lives. 73 of them were married. Thirty left behind families of one to four children. One family farewelled four sons. And that the majority of them would never see their families again.
Many of those who failed to return had their bodies buried in different parts of the world. Niuean graves are found at Suez and Tel-el-Kebir in Egypt and at Bailleul in France. The four who died at the New Zealand Convalescent Hospital in Hornchurch, England are remembered by the people of Hornchurch who still tend their four graves to this day.
In 2014, the commemorative events held at Horchurch were mirrored at Manukau East during ANZAC. Then NZ First MP, Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole Taylor who attended the Manukau march told Pacific Guardians, “That is why I am here today, like the people of Hornchurch, to commemorate and keep alive the memories, deeds and ultimate sacrifice made by Pacific islanders so their loved one and those living in the free world can hold onto their freedom.”
This is the same spirit in which Mr Peters and Su’a William Sio are attending the Centenary event in Niue this week – Lest we forget.
Note: A request to Minister Pacific Peoples to confirm if he was attending; and for a comment was not responded to before publishing.