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Cook Islands soldier’s sacrifice remembered at memorial event

Wednesday 16 August 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Features, Weekend


Cook Islands soldier’s sacrifice  remembered at memorial event
Mama Puara Ao Henry and family at the unveiling memorial for her feeding father Pte Peta Teinamate. MELINA ETCHES /23081413

In a deeply emotional and poignant ceremony, the memory of a fallen soldier from Mangaia was honoured in the memorial unveiling of his headstone at the Nikao Cemetery.

The private unveiling ceremony for World War I Cook Islands soldier Private (Pte) Peta Teinamate (60651) on Friday was attended by close family, including his 80-year-old feeding daughter Puara Ao Henry, who flew in from New Zealand, especially for the event.

Ao Henry was overwhelmed with emotion as she raised the last veil to reveal her father’s restored headstone, finally seeing his memory given the recognition it deserved. She was 14 years old when he died.

Her daughter Tera Ao Henry said her mother was about six years old when she was brought up by Teinamate and her aunt Louisa (from Mangaia).

“She remembers him as being very kind and a hard worker, always growing crops,” said Tera.

Teinamate was born on September 4, 1899, on Mangaia to parents Teinamate (father) and Kino, who were both from Mangaia.

Puara Ao Henry, her daughter Tera Ao Henry (standing) and niece Maata Tutai at the unveiling memorial. MELINA ETCHES/23081410

He signed the New Zealand Expeditionary Force Attestation for General Service on February 4, 1918.

Although he was medically discharged in New Zealand, he re-enlisted in the 4th Contingent as “Peta Tei” on February 12, 1918, at Narrow Neck Military Training Camp. He was discharged on December 7, 1918.

Teinamate returned to Mangaia and married a woman named “Maera” or “Maeva” and they had a daughter.

Eventually, he moved to Rarotonga and lived with Mama Louisa Rimamotu, from Mangaia, in Papua, Titikaveka, and together they raised 10 children.

Mangaia’s Mata Tutai, whose 90-year-old mother Tino Terei was also raised by Teinamate and Mama Louisa, attended the ceremony.

“Our mother said he was such a good man to all of them, looking after them ... we are grateful to him and thank him for raising our parents,” said Tutai.

King’s Representative Sir Tom Marsters spoke with dignity and respect, tinged with both sorrow and reverence, reflecting on Teinamate’s courageous sacrifice and the 500 Cook Islands men who had left their homes to go to war.

Marsters said the ceremony was a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by brave men and the enduring impact they have on their families and community.

The event also highlighted the dedication of Melvin Arbuthnott, who had restored Teinamate's broken headstone, ensuring that it regained its former glory.

For years, the headstone had been lying in storage in a shed, then moved to the Cook Islands Returned Services Association (RSA) where it had stood broken, leaning up against a fence.

King’s Representative Sir Tom Marsters takes a moment to reflect. MELINA ETCHES/23081408

Arbuthnott said he fixed the headstone, then used an acid wash to clean all the gunk off, put on a new coat of paint, sanded it down, and then gave it a clear coat.

The headstone now stands as a lasting monument, reminding future generations of the sacrifices made by those who fought to protect future generations.

According to his death certificate, Teinamate died from the effects of a septic ulcer at Rarotonga Hospital. He was buried in Titikaveka. His death was reported to the registry by his cousin Toru from Ngatipa, Tupapa.

Cook Islands chief archivist Paula Paniani, who is a member of the Cook Islands WW1 NZEF ANZAC Soldiers Research team, emceed the ceremony.

“I would like to express my deep appreciation to the family for remembering their Papa Pte Teinamate and laying his headstone amongst 24 WW1 Soldiers buried inside the Nikao Cemetery,” said Paniani.

“He is not the first who is buried elsewhere, his headstone is now standing proud in Nikao.

“Thank you from our A Team and volunteers.”

Teinamate’s four veils were raised by Reverend Teava Nanai and his wife, Sir Tom Marsters, Numangatini Tangi Ariki and his wife, Gail Eraio from Cook Islands RSA, and Puara Ao Henry.

At the closing of the ceremony, Phillip Strickland fittingly played the Last Post.