August 1914: This month last century

98 years ago New Zealand troops land at Apia, German Samoa (29 August 1914)

Ten days after New Zealand entered the war in Europe, it sent troops to occupy German Samoa. This force of almost 1400 men was specifically charged with seizing the colony’s wireless transmitter.

The troops that landed at Apia experienced no resistance from the Germans stationed there. James Jessen, below, was a member of this ‘Samoan Advance Party’. He was later killed on the Western Front.

John Jessen, 1914, Wellington. Berry & Co. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa

John Jessen, 1914, Wellington. Berry & Co. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa

The day after the New Zealand force arrived, the British occupation was formally proclaimed, with a British Union Jack raised on the Apia Court House flag pole (below).

Ceremony held in Apia, Samoa, 1914, Samoa. Thomas Andrew, photographer. Te Papa

Ceremony held in Apia, Samoa, 1914, Samoa. Thomas Andrew, photographer. Te Papa

 A German colony since December 1899, German Samoa was the second of Germany’s colonial possessions to be occupied after the declaration of the European war (as WWI was first known). The poster below lists others occupied territories.

Poster, ’German Colonial Possessions’, 1915, United Kingdom. Johnson Riddle & Co. Ltd. Gift of Department of Defence, 1919. Te Papa

Poster, ’German Colonial Possessions’, 1915, United Kingdom. Johnson Riddle & Co. Ltd. Gift of Department of Defence, 1919. Te Papa

The New Zealand military administered Samoa for the duration of the First World War although, from April 1915, the number of men garrisoned there was reduced to 250. Many were over the maximum age for military service. Others, like Eric Marchant (below), were deemed unfit for service on the Western Front.

Eric Marchant, Eric, 1918, Wellington. Berry & Co. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa

Eric Marchant, Eric, 1918, Wellington. Berry & Co. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa

While Captain James Fleck was stationed there, he had a chance to collect a number of Samoan artefacts, including the adzes pictured below. This was following a suggestion by ethnographer Elsdon Best.

To’i ma’a (hafted adzes, Samoa. Te Papa

At the end of the war, New Zealand was mandated by the League of Nations to govern Western Samoa. New Zealand continued its administration when Western Samoa it became a United Nations Trust Territory in 1946. This situation lasted until 1962, when Samoa gained its independent and signed the Treaty of Friendship with New Zealand.

There are more details about the New Zealand occupation and political administration of Samoa on nzhistory.net.nz

Read more about WWI servicemen who were photographed by Berry & Co, a Wellington studio photography firm

Go to the Slice of Heaven exhibition website  to learn about New Zealand’s participation in the First World War.

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