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Recognition for Pacific Coastwatchers ‘bittersweet’

Wednesday 3 July 2024 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Features, Local, Memory Lane, National, Weekend

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Recognition for Pacific Coastwatchers ‘bittersweet’
Aotearoa New Zealand’s Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro, Cook Islands High Commissioner to New Zealand Kairangi Samuela, Cook Islands Consul General Keu Mataroa, and Willie Cuthers (far right). Photo/Governor-General of New Zealand. SUPPLIED / 24070216

More than 80 years after their service, Pacific Island Coastwatchers who kept watch for enemy aircraft and ships during World War II – fought between 1939 and 1945 – were formally acknowledged earlier this week in a poignant ceremony.

Over 50 Cook Islands coastwatcher families from across Aotearoa, Australia, and the Cook Islands attended the long-awaited act of recognition at a ceremony at Government House in Wellington, New Zealand on Tuesday.

The Cook Islands High Commissioner to New Zealand Kairangi Samuela attended the recognition ceremony where Aotearoa New Zealand’s Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro, GNZM, presented families with a certificate.

Samuela said Dame Cindy summed up the ceremony by saying it was a “bittersweet moment” in that those who were being recognised had long passed, but that their descendants could take pride in the formal acknowledgement by the NZ Government of their services and sacrifices as Coastwatchers.

Samuela expressed pride that the role of Cook Islanders continued to be acknowledged, but was saddened that these important historic events were not widely known or written about in local schools. 

She said on occasions such as this “the roles of Cook Islanders as New Zealanders continue to show the history of our relationship with New Zealand.”

Samuela recognised the names of Sir Papa Tangaroa Tangaroa, and one of her great-grand-uncles Ngaputa Turua (Ben Koteka’s great grandfather).

Dame Cindy also acknowledged the Cook Islands’ Willie Cuthers, whose efforts to honour the service of his grandfather and his compatriots led the campaign for the official recognition of civilian coastwatchers in the Pacific, and military historian John Crawford.

Pacific coastwatchers who were recognised at the ceremony were: Pu Banaba, Frank Henry Bissmire, William B. Burt, William Cuthers, Louis Thomas Dean, Enua Eteke, William E. Farr, Charles A. Glennie, Tai-O-Tonga Henry, Ioaba Tearaia Marsters, Teuru Nena, Tai Nicholas, Pama Pamatatau, Vetevihi Pamatatau, Tanu Raina, Tutu Ringiao, QSM, Rubena Robati, Rua Nia Rua, Ngatuakana Ruaporo, Reginald C.T. Savage, Eustace Edgar Suckling, Sir Tangaroa Tangaroa, MBE John Tariau, Nato Temu, Toka Temu, Taramai Tetonga Tiraa, Tuakana Tikitau MBE, Ngaputa Turua Paruru, Teatamira Uangakore, and Papehia Rere Wichman.

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