One hundred years ago this October, fires were lit along Niue’s coast to farewell 150 brave Niuean men who were sailing away in support of New Zealand to fight in World War I.
Following a church service, they left on the troopship Te Anau with a copy of the New Testament in their own language to remind them of home.
The men – four percent of the nation’s population – came to Auckland first for training, then went to join the Allied Forces in Northern France as a British Protectorate Nation. Fifteen soldiers died during the ordeal, and only thirty had made it through without needing hospital treatment for sickness.
To honour these brave soldiers, a week-long commemorative program is being held in Niue, including art, cultural and photographic displays. There will also be church services, sport and fishing days, a show day in the village of Avatele, and a commemoration ball. The commemorations will culminate on the Niuean WWI Centenary Memorial Celebration Day on October the 13th.
To help mark the centenary New Zealand is working with Niue to help commemorate the occasion, and a plaque from the New Zealand Government will be unveiled at Tomb Point in the capital of Alofi on October 13, with New Zealand Defence Force soldiers in attendance.
October the 13th has also been declared a public holiday by Premier Toke Talagi, with official commemorations beginning at 2pm with prayer, songs and speakers. A blessing of and unveiling of the plaque will also take place on the day with a flag raising ceremony and a minute’s silence.
New Zealand’s High Commissioner to Niue, His Excellency Ross Adern, says the timing is fitting: “It was not until late in the day that the troops left Niue back on October 13th 1915, and fires were lit along the coast so the men could continue to see Niue until the last moment.”
Air New Zealand is making it easy to attend the commemorations, with two flights a week from Auckland. Visitors can travel on October 11 or 14 and still arrive in time for the commemorations.