William Cuthers, seated, during the filming of Coastwatchers Operation Pacific. Picture: Aotearoa Media Collective/22092207
A national commemoration in honour of all Coastwatchers who served in the Pacific during the Second World War will be held at on Saturday, October 15 at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Pukeahu National War Memorial Park in New Zealand.
Cook Islander William Kainana Anguna, Cuthers as he is
known in Rarotonga, is the grandson of one of the Coastwatchers, also named
William, who played as a radio operator in World War II.
“I’m really happy that our country and other Pacific
countries are mentioned in relation to the Coastwatchers narrative. It is
historic,” said Kainana Anguna from New Zealand.
Years ago, he had researched the role of his
grandfather and had called for recognition from the New Zealand Defence Force.
In 2020, the names of 14 Cook Islands Coastwatchers
who served in World War II were added to the Auckland War Memorial Museum’s
Kainana Anguna was still waiting for the New Zealand
Government and Defence Force to acknowledge the bravery of Cook Islands and
other Pacific Coastwatchers and pressed on.
The Coast Watch Organisation, also known as Combined
Field Intelligence Service or Section C, Allied Intelligence Bureau, were
stationed on remote Pacific Islands to observe enemy movements and rescue
stranded Allied personnel.
Most were assigned to Suwarrow (then Suvarov), an
island in the northern group of the Cook Islands.
New Zealand decided to attest all men engaged in these
radio operator duties across the Pacific as army servicemen – all men, that is,
except Cook Islanders and others of Pacific heritage.
This exclusion sent Kainana Anguna on a mission back
to Rarotonga to film a documentary, which screened on Anzac Day 2020 in New
Kainana Anguna had never stopped seeking formal
recognition for the Coastwatchers by the New Zealand Government and Defence
Force and is pleased the national remembrance is in honour of all who served in
The commemoration is an important opportunity to
remember those who lost their lives and honour the many others who put their
lives at risk serving as Coastwatchers during the Second World War, said Glenis
Philip-Barbara, Pou Mataaho o Te Hua Deputy Chief Executive Delivery at Manatū
Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage.
“This year, 15 October marks 80 years since seventeen
New Zealand Coastwatchers and five European civilians were captured in the
Gilbert Islands and executed at Betio, Tarawa.
“Spread throughout Te-Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa, Coastwatchers
were our first line of defence. Tasked with keeping a 24-hour watch for enemy
ships – the Coastwatchers were a vital link in the intelligence chain.
“Coastwatchers included a mixture of New Zealand
service personnel and civilians, and indigenous Pacific Island civilians. They
faced challenges of isolation, boredom and a very real risk of capture and
death,” said Philip-Barbara.
Stations were established throughout New Zealand,
including the Chatham Islands and the Kermadecs. They extended south into the
sub-Antarctic Campbell and Auckland islands, and north to Samoa, Tonga, Fiji,
the Cook Islands, Tokelau, Pitcairn, Norfolk islands, Tabuaeran (then Fanning
Island) and Kiribati and Tuvalu (then the Gilbert and Ellice Islands), Philip-Barbara noted.
By 1942, New Zealand had 120 coast watching stations
including 14 across the Cook Islands group, primarily manned by Cook Islanders.
Families of the Coastwatchers and members of the
public are invited to join the event starting at 11am to acknowledge all
Coastwatchers who stood fast across the Pacific and its coastlines to protect
both their families and homes.