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Memorial to honour Pacific soldiers

Wednesday April 18, 2018 Written by Published in Local
Cook Islands soldiers and their mascot dog pictured at Narrow Neck camp near Auckland. Cook Islands soldiers and their mascot dog pictured at Narrow Neck camp near Auckland.

New Zealand’s Ministry of Culture and Heritage has allocated almost half a million dollars towards a Pacific Island memorial which will feature in New Zealand’s Pukeahu National War Memorial Park in Wellington.

Pukeahu National War Memorial Park is the national place for New Zealanders to remember and reflect on the country’s experience of war, military conflict, and peacekeeping missions.

New Zealand’s Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage and Pacific Peoples Carmel Sepuloni said,  “the winning design for this memorial will be selected by a five-person panel who bring together a huge depth of experience in art, design, architecture, and Pacific culture…I think over the years there has been a growing recognition of the role that Pacific Islands people…have played alongside New Zealand soldiers in both the World War One and World War Two”.

“This memorial will speak for the men from Pacific countries who joined ranks with New Zealanders in both World Wars and our strong relationship with our Pacific neighbours,” said Sepuloni.

The Cook Islands offered men for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) as soon as news of war reached the Pacific. At first, the offers were rejected. New Zealand had pushed for the inclusion of a Maori contingent and by the time this was accepted by the British authorities, there were sufficient volunteers in New Zealand to fill the ranks.

It was only when the ranks of the Maori contingent were seriously depleted during the Gallipoli campaign in 1915 and recruitment in New Zealand became more difficult, that the New Zealand government looked to Niue and the Cook Islands for reinforcements.

The Cook Islands sent 45 men to the war in October 1915. A second contingent of 120 men, with representatives from every island in the group, left Rarotonga for Auckland in July 1916. The 3rd Contingent of 157 men, including nine from the Society Islands, two from the Tuamotu Islands and one from Samoa, left Rarotonga in February 1918. When the Germans surrendered in November 1918, the 4th Contingent of ninety-three men was in training at the Narrow Neck camp and a 5th Contingent had been recruited. Over the course of the war, about 500 Cook Islanders were recruited.

“So I think the establishment of a memorial like this is very timely, given there has been that growing recognition,” Sepuloni said.

“Those interested in designing this memorial to recognise New Zealand’s close relationship with our Pacific neighbours are invited to develop a concept which will then go to the selection panel for consideration”.

“Having a Pacific Islands’ Memorial will be a welcome addition to the memorial landscape in the Park providing people with a further place to acknowledge both Aotearoa’s history during times of conflict and the ongoing relationship we have with Pacific people”.

The project to build the memorial is run jointly by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, the Ministry for Pacific Peoples and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade with support from the New Zealand Institute of Architects.

Chaired by the High Commissioner for Niue Fisa Pihigia, the panel includes architect Andrew Tu’inukuafe, landscape architect Jacky Bowring, curator Sean Mallon and artist Leilani Kake.

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