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GILBERT AND ELLICE ISLANDERS IN NZEF OF WWI

November  2003

by N W Taylor

I have been researching Pacific Islanders who served mainly in the NZ Native Contingent , NZ Pioneer Battalion , later the NZ (Maori) Pioneer Battalion , or the Rarotongan Company who served in the Middle East or those few who served with other NZ Units . My aim is to publish this research in appropriate Journals when completed .

Currently I’m seeking information on the Gilbert Islanders who served with the NZEF. Regrettably little was written at the time however to date in brief I have found the following:

• ‘magnificent body of men, all members of the Islands Constabulary , many of whom had relinquished senior rank in order to serve with the Reinforcements as Privates .’
• ‘by wars end 23 Gilbert Islands Reinforcements were in NZ undergoing training at Narrow Neck Camp’(located on Auckland North Shore).
• Location of a photo of 23 Gilbert Islanders including 1 European officer . Two Islanders are of L/Cpl rank plus a Bugler remainder Privates . One solder wears on the right chest (as opposed to war medals worn on the left breast) what appears to be a Royal Human Society Medal for saving life but this has not assisted me to identify the soldiers in the photo .
• ‘Gilbert and Ellice Colonists recently remitted to the NZ Government the sum of 3724 pounds in reimbursement of Pay and Allowances and cost of equipment , maintenance etc disbursed by the Dominion [of NZ] on behalf of the six British Residents of the Islands who were sent with the NZEF to Europe. This was in fulfillment of an agreement desired by the Islanders early in the War. The payment , though a comparably small one , was no doubt a heavy strain on the resources of so diminutive a community .It is worthy of being placed on record – coming as it does from the lonely Mid-Pacific – as a further exemplification of the British Spirit .’
• The CO of the NZ Pioneer Bn Lt Col King in his letter of 21 January 1917 mentions many different Islands groups but none is made of Gilbert Islanders .
• NZ Reinforcement Roll notes 16/1333 L/Cpl Kaitpati (no forename) occupation Policeman. Sailed with A Company 3rd Maori Contingent, NOK mother Mrs Tamuna Manumea , Ellice Islands – but were are the rest of the Gilberts Contingent or did they not serve overseas but only in NZ ?
• Deaths in training in NZ as a result of Spanish flu epidemic were :
• 84481 Pte M Fati, Mannao DOD 11/11/1918
• 84494 Pte L Ilitomasi, Laliqapata DOD 7/11/1918
• 84489 Pte ? Tonuia DOD 5/11/1918
• above three buried in the CWGC section of O'Neill's Point Cemetery Devonport North Shore City Auckland NZ – near Narrow Neck Camp.
• For some unexplained reason these three servicemen have been commemorated on the Roll of Honour in Alofi Niue along with the servicemen of that country .
• By wars end the total of Maori and Pacific Islanders was 66 Officers and 2968 Other Ranks who had had served overseas , i.e. left NZ with various Reinforcement Drafts . It is known for instance that there was five Rarotongan Contingents that left the Cooks for training in NZ but only three of these proceed overseas from NZ as Reinforcements on Active Service the others remained in NZ – could this also be so for the Gilbert Islands Contingents ?

Any assistance with more information on these Islanders who served would be appreciated, such as any Embarkation Rolls, memorials in Kiribati today, photos, diary’s, medals (named) or badges etc .

Many thanks .

Regards

Noel T

N W Taylor ED ** RNZIR
Major (Retd)
Honorary Curator – Army Museum , Waiouru NZ.
Immediate Past President NZ Military History Society (NZMHS)

njtaylor@ihug.co.nz
 



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