Pacific War Memorial restores pride of the Pacific in war effort

Cook Islands Prime Minister amplifies narrative of Pacific's contribution to global peace at dedication of Pacific War Memorial

29th March, 2021

Pacific War Memorial restores pride of the Pacific in war effort
Pacific War Memorial
Warrant Officer John Tairea (right) warmly greets NZ Victoria Cross Willie Apiata. Photo by Inangaro Vakaafi

By Inagaro Vaka'afi and Ruci Farrell

The Pacific War Memorial in Wellington goes a long way to restoring the pride of the Pacific in war histories that New Zealand and historians have ignored for more than 100 years.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown dedicated Te Reo Hotunui o Te Moana nui a Kiwa at the Pukeahu National War Memorial at the weekend.

The monument takes the form of a giant conch shell inspired by the conch shell left by Kuki Airani soldiers who were part of New Zealand’s tunnelling company that dug the underground passages in France’s Arras in 1916.

Cook Islands and Niue were two of the smallest territories in the British Empire that responded immediately to the call for service and sent hundreds of their finest young men to war.

“Despite the war efforts being largely forgotten by NZ for a long time and the lack of true figures of deaths as a result of war related illnesses the Rarotonga participation in the war was proof that they could forge an independent identity abroad,” Mr Brown says.

He recalls the story of Cook Island soldiers of World War One because for decades this was a lost and unclaimed part of our history. 

“Through the tireless work of the families of our World War One veterans the Cook Islands has resurfaced and reclaimed our contributions and mana in owning this part of our story.

“There is much to be said in that same vein of amplifying the narrative of the Pacific’s contributions to global peace,” Mr Brown says.

He acknowledges the contributions of Niue, Tahiti, Tonga, Tuvalu, Fiji, Samoa, Kiribati and Norfolks island whose soldiers participated In WWI.

“They stood and worked together all those years ago and it is the bonds that have endured through time and upon which our countries and people continue to flourish.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the Pacific Islands Memorial acknowledges the region’s contribution during times of conflict and the shared history that strengthens our bonds today.

“Pacific Islanders and New Zealanders fought side by side during many conflicts, including the First and Second World Wars, although our history goes much deeper than that,”Jacinda Ardern said.

Wellington business consultant Sai Lealea who read the ode was thinking of his grand uncle, Fiji’s Victoria Cross Corporal Sefanaia Sukanaivalu, who died in the Bougainville campaign during the second world war.

“It’s been a long time coming. I’ve been involved in this project for a number of years and it’s a wonderful tribute to all our Pacific communities.

“For those of us whose grandparents or families are connected to those campaigns we find it gratifying to finally have a symbol like this, a conch shell, because it calls out to the rest of the world about the sacrifices our Pacific soldiers made in the world wars,” Sai Lealea said.

Pacific War Memorial
Prime Minister of the Cook Islands Mark Brown (left) with Warrant Officer John Tairea. Photo by Inangaro Vakaafi

Decorated Cook Island soldier Warrant Ofifcer John Tairea spent 25 years in the New Zealand Defence Force fighting in the Vietnam campaign between 1963 and 1975.

Papa John is chuffed he’s still around to see the Pacific War Memorial finally installed in its rightful place at the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park.