2015 marks 100 years since a group of Niuean men left Niue to serve in the First World War, thousands of miles away from home. Though their contribution to the war effort was brief, it is a story that is full of difficulties and heartache, and deserves to be honoured and remembered.
Though Niue’s population was small, they volunteered for service for the First World War in the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces as soon as word of the war reached their shores in September 1914. Initially New Zealand rejected their offer, but it was reconsidered when the numbers of the Māori Contingent were severely affected during the Gallipoli campaign. In October 1915 150 men left Niue for Auckland, where they trained at Narrow Neck Camp before departing for the Western Front.
Sadly, despite the best of intentions, the Niuean contribution encountered many difficulties, including struggling with the standard issue footwear, the cold climate and a lack of immunity to European diseases. By the end of May 1916, 80 per cent of the men had been hospitalised, and so they were withdrawn from the Western Front and transferred to the New Zealand convalescent hospital in Hornchurch, England. They returned to Auckland for further medical care before being sent home by late 1916. Even with all the hardships they faced, they still volunteered for duty once more, but the offer was declined.
The story of Niue’s involvement in the First World War is told in this special eight-stamp issue.
20c – Life in Niue pre-war
In the village of Alofi in 1900 the influence of the London Missionary Society is clear with the women in mission dresses, the white washed houses and the neatly arranged village.
30c – Narrow Neck camp, Auckland
The Niueans spent four months training at Narrow Neck camp on the North Shore. Footwear was a real problem for the men who were used to going bare footed on the coral.
$1.00 – Departing for war, Auckland
The third Māori Reinforcements board the troopship for Egypt, February 1916.
$1.20 – New Zealand Pioneer Battalion
In Egypt, in February 1916, the Niueans became part of the newly formed New Zealand Pioneer Battalion. The crossed pick and axe on the battalion’s badge symbolise the labouring work undertaken by the Pioneers.
$1.40 – Armentières, France
When the New Zealand Expeditionary Force was moved to France in April 1916 the Niueans helped build trenches near Armentières.
$1.70 – Hornchurch, England
The New Zealand convalescent hospital in the village of Hornchurch became home to the Niuean men when high illness rates forced their withdrawal from France.
$2.00 – Recovering in Auckland
Following the long voyage back to New Zealand, the Niueans had more rest and medical care in Auckland.
$4.00 – Memorial, Niue
The marble plaque recording the names of Niueans who died while enlisted was gifted by New Zealand to Niue in 1920 and still stands on the Alofi green.