Among the overgrown headstones at Nikao cemetery she came across one, two, and more weathered old markers to young Cooks men who returned sick and injured from World War I, to die at home.
She was joined by Paula Paniani, Bobby Nicholas, and slowly their numbers grew. Brushing the soil and plant growth from the old gravestones like archaeologists; in truth, that is what they were.
It’s 100 years since these men came home from the trenches of Western Europe. And today, some will finally be honoured with a New Zealand Defence Force announcement of their inclusion on the Commonwealth and New Zealand rolls of honour.
They did not die going over the top into enemy fire. They made it home to their loved ones. But the injuries they suffered, the illnesses like tuberculosis they contracted, meant they brought home the smell of death with them.
A handful of Cook Islands men will be honoured today. For their families, today will be bittersweet.
But this is not just for them – it is for the entire community, for every Cook Islander has connections to The 500.
Tai Nicholas and his brother Bobby helped bring the voices of these Cook Islands families to those in positions of power and influence in Wellington, New Zealand. Their great-grandfather Private Ongokoreiti Teau lies in Nikao Cemetery.
He won’t be among those names added to the rolls of honour today – but the Nicholas brothers hope that eventually, many more may be included on the rolls of honours.