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Long-Awaited Act Of Recognition For Second World War’s Pacific Islands Coastwatchers

A long-awaited act of recognition will be bestowed upon Second World War coastwatchers at a ceremony at Government House in Wellington, on Tuesday 2 July.

During the war, a network of civilians and military personnel kept watch 24/7 for enemy aircraft and ships from stations in New Zealand and other Pacific Islands.

These stations became very dangerous places as Japanese forces advanced into the Pacific; 17 New Zealand coastwatchers and five other Allied prisoners were executed by Japanese personnel on Tarawa in 1942. A small number of New Zealand coastwatchers also became prisoners of war, including one who died in captivity.

But for decades, civilian Pacific Islands coastwatchers did not receive the same recognition as their New Zealand counterparts.

In October 2022, the Government announced steps to formally recognise their valuable service, setting in motion work to have Service plaques attached to coastwatchers’ headstones, the production by the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) of an online historical record of their service and the issuing of certificates of service signed by the Governor-General.

On Tuesday 2 July, Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro, GNZM, QSO, will present families of 25 Pacific Islands coastwatchers - along with those of five Post and Telegraph Department coastwatchers - with these certificates recognising their relations’ service.

As well as almost 150 family members, those in attendance will include Acting Chief of Navy, Commodore Andrew Brown, Cook Islands Consul General, Cook Islands High Commissioner to New Zealand, and a representative from NZ Post.

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There will be an opportunity to interview Willie Cuthers, whose grandfather was a coastwatcher and who has been a driving force in achieving recognition for the group, and Alex Scahill from the NZDF’s Heritage Commemorations and Protocol unit who can outline the effort that went into tracking down families and arranging for them to receive certificates and Service plaques.

Coastwatchers report: Read the online historical record prepared by Defence Historian John Crawford here, Pacific Islands Coastwatchers - New Zealand Defence Force (nzdf.mil.nz)

What: Presentation of coastwatchers’ certificates of service

Where: Government House, Wellington

When: Tuesday 2 July

Time: 3pm to 4.30pm. Please arrive at the Hospital Road entrance by 2.30pm.

RSVP: By 10am Monday 1 July, with the names of those attending, a contact phone number and vehicle registration.

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