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Centenary commemoration honours Niue’s 150 soldiers

Centenary commemoration honours Niue’s 150 soldiers

One hundred years ago this October, fires were lit along Niue’s coast to farewell 150 brave Niuean men who were sailing away in support of New Zealand to fight in World War I. Following a church service, they left on the troopship Te Anau with a copy of the New Testament in their own language to remind them of home.

Tomorrow (at 3pm Wednesday, October 14 NZ time, which will be 3pm Tuesday, October 13 Niue time) their efforts are being commemorated with the unveiling of a plaque from the New Zealand Government at Tomb Point in the capital of Alofi, with New Zealand Defence Force soldiers in attendance. A week long programme of events has been held in Niue and tomorrow has been declared a public holiday by Premier Toke Talagi.

The men – four percent of the nation’s population – came to Auckland first for training, then went to join the Allied Forces in Northern France as a British Protectorate Nation. Fifteen soldiers died during the ordeal, and only thirty had made it through without needing hospital treatment for sickness.

The tragedy is that none of these deaths were the result of seeing any action, as the Niuean troops were sent home soon after reaching the front.

The trouble for the Niuean soldiers began when they reached the Narrowneck Camp in Auckland for training. The men spoke no English, and the boots and heavy woollen clothing they were expected to wear were as foreign as the land they were travelling to. They also lacked immunity to European diseases.

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On completing their training the men left on the long voyage to Egypt, where some became ill. Those that were still fit went on to the New Zealand base camp at Ismailia and ultimately they were transferred to France in 1916. They became part of the Pioneer Battalion, a labour force which included a small group of Cook Islanders and a large number of Maori.

However, by May of 1916, 80 per cent of the Niuean contingent had been hospitalised because of disease and illness and the decision was finally made to withdraw the men from the battle zone. They reassembled at the New Zealand Convalescent hospital at Hornchurch, England, before arriving back in Niue in June and July of 1916. Headstones for their fallen were left behind in Auckland, Egypt, France and England.

West Auckland woman Vai Apelu is the last surviving child of Taulata, who was one of the Niuean contingent to go to the war but was lucky enough to return to Niue with no lasting physical effects. Her husband’s father, Siskefu, also went to the war. Eighty-seven-year-old Mrs Apelu has travelled back to Niue with her daughter Moka Ogotau and other extended family members to honour both of their involvement.

“It is a great thing for our family, we are so proud of our grandparents and it is very special to be able to be there and remember what they did,” says Mrs Ogotau.

“The trip was actually a gift from our families for Vai and my birthdays, which were in September.”


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