Hundreds sacrificed their sleep-ins to honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice while fighting for their country.
Master of ceremonies Charlie Rani welcomed the crowd of people and distinguished guests, including Queen’s Representative Tom Marsters, Prime Minster Henry Puna, Leader of the Opposition William ‘Smiley’ Heather, House of Ariki president Tou Travel Ariki, New Zealand High Commissioner Peter Marshall and Police Commissioner Maara Tetava.
Piltz Napa then opened the service with a prayer, before His Excellency Tom Marsters gave a speech that touched on the sacrifices made by all those who went to war.
Later, more prayers were offered up ahead of the laying of the wreaths. The ‘Last Post’ then echoed around the harbour, courtesy of the Cook Islands Boys Brigade bugler.
The Girls Brigade and Girl Guides delivered the ode of remembrance in both Maori and English, and a moment of silence was followed by the ‘Dawning of the Day’, played by piper Andrew Orange.
The Cook Islands offered men for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) as soon as news of World War I 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.
By September 1916, the Niueans had been withdrawn from France and the Rarotongans there were also suffering from the cold.
General Godley recommended the second Cook Islands contingent remain in New Zealand until after the northern winter. Instead, the British were asked to deploy these men initially in defence of the Suez Canal.
When the weather improved they could be sent as reinforcements to the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion, which was serving on the Western Front. This request was agreed to and in November 1916 the Cook Islanders sailed for Suez as the ‘11th Maori Reinforcements’.
These Cook Islanders never made it to France however. They were attached to the NZEF in Egypt but began working for the British in the campaign against the Ottoman Turks in Sinai and Palestine.
The group became known as the Rarotongan Company of the NZEF and served in this theatre until the end of the war.
In February 1918, the remaining Cook Islanders and other Pacific Islanders in the Maori Pioneer Battalion in France were sent to join the Rarotongan Company in Palestine.
In August 1918 the third Cook Islands contingent arrived from New Zealand. The total strength of the unit was now 280 men.
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 93 men was in training at the Narrow Neck camp in New Zealand, and a 5th Contingent had been recruited.
In December 1918 the Rarotongan Company returned to New Zealand. Because of the influenza epidemic, the men were quarantined on Somes Island in Wellington Harbour. Most of them were sent back to Rarotonga in March 1919, when there was no longer a risk that they would spread infection.
Over the course of the war, around 500 Cook Islanders were recruited. Pa George Karika is perhaps one of the more famed Cook Islands soldiers, having served with the Rarotongan Company in Sinai and Palestine.
Karika won the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for ‘conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty’. He was the only Pacific Islander to receive this decoration during the First World War.
Yesterday’s service was held in honour of all of these men. There was also a notable presence of members of the expatriate community here in the Cook Islands, who were keen to acknowledge their comrades as well.
Piltz Napa closed the service with one final prayer before the parade marched off.
KA ‘AKAMA’ARA ‘UA RAI TATOU IA RATOU – WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.