This story continues Flo Syme Buchanan’s series on Cook Islands soldiers who served in World War One. The stories are appearing in the lead-up to Anzac Day on Tuesday next week.
He was a small man, standing just 162.5 cm (five feet, four inches) in his army socks.
Mare Amoa didn’t weigh much either at 58kg or just over nine stone. But this slight man believed he could serve king and country well when he enlisted on March 12, 1918 at the age of 19. And he did, joining the 3rd Rarotongan Contingent.
Private Mare Amoa from Muri, Ngatangiia was a planter, a single man at the time who gave his father Amoa as his next of kin. Mare began his duties on February 16, 1918. He trained at Narrow Neck camp, and according to his records, spent 168 days in New Zealand.
He embarked from Wellington on June 13, 1918, sailing on the Manuka for Suez, Egypt. The ship arrived in Egypt on August 3, 1918. Records show Private Amoa and his regiment marched from the Suez to Ismailia. He is recorded as having served 230 days overseas. The young man from Muri was discharged from duty on March 20, 1919 and was awarded the British War Medal.
Amoa is survived by his two children, Tamati Amoa (Rarotonga) and Tutu Seil (New Zealand). Tamati was 17 years old when his father died on February 19, 1945. The descendants say their father first attempted to enlist when he was just 17 and had tried to pass himself as being older. But being such a “tiny one” it was easy for recruiting officers to see Mare Amoa, while enthusiastic about serving, was not being completely honest. He was told to go home and come back when he became of age.
Tamati has talked about his father being able to speak English well for a Cook Islander of the time. The siblings say when their father was serving overseas, he spent a lot of time in the emergency bases and hospitals interpreting for sick Cook Islanders. “It was really nice to know our father was helping our sick soldiers by being their interpreter,” says Tutu Seil.
Mare Amoa married Tereapii Rau (Ukinga) and they had eight children. “Our father began to lose his sight, we think it was from cataracts, so my brother (Tamati), spent a lot of time by his side.”
“My brother and father would travel on his friend Turepu’s horse and cart to the Avarua court house so my father could attend land court sittings. Our father was very good at reciting genealogies. My brother recalls when he and our father would go to land court sittings, our father was a quiet man, but was respected because he could speak English.”
“My brother remembers when our father went completely blind and would still want to be at land meetings that were often held in the evenings as far away as Vaimaanga. They would walk all the way there, my brother leading my father.
The land meetings would go to all hours of the night and they would then walk home in pitch darkness, my brother also not being able to see …it was a bit like the blind leading the blind.”
“What we do know is that when our father died and left our mother with the children, she never collected our father’s pension as a war widow.”
Mare Amoa has many grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren and great-great-great grandchildren who live in countries all over the world.