Cook Islands community applaud recognition of WWI soldier Solomon Isaacs on commemorative stamps
A Cook Islands soldier who served in World War I (WWI) is being honoured by New Zealand Post in its latest series of commemorative stamps.
Solomon Isaacs, from Aitutaki was with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in the Great War and will feature in the “1916 Courage and Commitment” series released on 6 April by New Zealand Post.
The family of Mr Isaacs has been involved in the development of the stamp and his grandson Isaac Solomona said it had been an emotional journey discovering his grandfather’s story.
“I am proud of the contribution that my grandfather made in the First World War and it is an honour that his story is told in the 1916 Courage and Commitment stamp issue,” Mr Solomona said.
“My prayer and hope is to be able to travel from Rarotonga to France and touch the wall of the Arras tunnel where he [Isaacs] etched his name in 1917.”
The recognition has also been well received by members of the Cook Islands community in New Zealand and home.
Labour MP, Ms Poto Williams, the first Cook Islands woman to be elected into New Zealand’s parliament said the recognition includes all other Pacific men who fought in the Great War.
“The Isaacs story is really significant in getting the recognition by New Zealand of the contribution to WW1 by not only Cook Islands soldiers, but men from across the Pacific,” she told Pacific Guardians.
“I spoke with Isaac Solomona, one of Solomon Isaacs’ grandchildren on a trip to the Cook Islands in October last year and the family is extremely proud to have their grandfather recognised by New Zealand.”
She added that many Pacific soldiers were tunnellers in Arras and is why it holds a special place for Pacific people – but more so the Cook Islands people.
“To have his name carved on the wall as a permanent reminder of his courage, is special for our Cook Islands people.
“It has taken 100 years, but at last NZ has acknowledged the debt it owes to the people of the Pacific and the Cook Islands.”
Formerly of the Cook Islands and Auckland, Lisa Williams-Lahari now heads the media unit at the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) in Honiara, Solomon Islands.
She said the special recognition for Mr Isaacs is a poignant one but also a remainder of others’ stories untold.
“The stamp for Solomon Isaacs serves as a poignant reminder for many who have a story of the first world war, or some faint memory of a story shared by a family member or village leader,” she told Pacific Guardians.
“As a journalist covering the dawn parades year after year during my newsroom days, the stamp provides much needed visibility and recognition of the role our Cook Islanders played in following the call to serve in a conflict they probably had very little idea about, if truth be told.
“It’s recognition yes, but also a powerful reminder that we have so many unsung heroes serving in defense of our nations, waiting for their stories to be told.
“If more Cook Islanders could feel as inspired as Papa Solomona’s grandson to want to go to France now and walk in the footsteps of his grandfather, what an inspirational legacy that would be. What an awesome way to ensure we hold to that call to peace: lest we forget.”
Mr Simon Allison, head of stamps and coins at New Zealand Post, said the reality of the war set in at Gallipoli and by 1916 few New Zealanders had been left unscathed.
“As the conflict shifted to the Western Front, the predecessor to New Zealand Post — Post and Telegraph – played a key role in delivering wartime communications both at home and abroad, and was the bearer of sad news for many.
“The soldier featured in this year’s stamp issue … showed incredible courage and commitment hundreds of miles away from home,” said Mr Allison.
“He was just one of the many Pacific Islanders who left their families and homes to serve in the First World War.”
The 10 stamps look at the effects of war both at home in New Zealand and abroad, including the work of the New Zealand Tunnelling Company on the Arras Tunnels and the start of military conscription in New Zealand in August, 1916.
Solomon Isaac’s story is told in a special commemorative booklet which contains further information about the war as well as 12 unique miniature stamp sheets. The WW1 stamps and coins can be ordered online now at nzpost.co.nz/ww1 and will be available for purchase from 6 April at all New Zealand Post PostShops.