German Samoa captured by New Zealand Troops – 29 August 1914

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the occupation of Samoa by New Zealand troops. It was the first military action of New Zealanders in the first world war.

Back row: Trooper T. Mc Carroll, TV Roberts, CA Warden, RN Caldwell, H.F. Bayley (Bailey), Front row; Trooper D.Clutterbuck, G. Major, G.W.Wishart, H.R.Lister, Reclining: Sergeant R.J.Cottingham

This postcard titled ’German War Flag captured at Samoa by New Zealand Expeditionary Force’ is one of a small group of items at Te Papa that reference the New Zealanders landing and occupation. According to newspapers reports at the time the flag was captured by members of the Fiji defence force who joined New Zealand troops at Apia Samoa on August 29. The Evening Post reported that the flag was captured by Private Herbert Lloyd Bailey (Bayley) who was a member of the Legion of Frontiersmen in Fiji. He enlisted in the Samoa Advance force when they passed through Fiji en-route to Samoa. When the troops landed, Bailey spotted the German flag and rushed forward and lowered it. New Zealand troopers who witnessed the event remarked that there was quite a dramatic scene as the flag was hauled down, with German Government officials standing in the vicinity. As ‘they saw it lowered they one and all reverently saluted’. Bailey was given permission to keep the flag by military authorities. However, later on, he and other members of the Fiji contingent decided to present the flag to the New Zealand Government. In front of the headquarters at camp, the flag was handed over to the commanding officer of the troops from the Auckland district of New Zealand. The Fiji contingent expressed a hope “that the Government would see fit to retain the flag in Auckland.” The newspaper records tell us that in the decades after the war, several flags captured in Samoa made their way into the collections of the Auckland War Memorial Museum. One of them is currently on display.

german flag samoa 2

Bailey’s flag first came to my attention several years ago, when a member of the public showed me another example of the postcard with some pieces of the flag pinned to it. I was unable to commit time to researching its origins, but I knew there was a German flag in the Pacific Cultures collection. For a long time it was rumoured to be the “First German flag captured in Samoa”. However, research by Te Papa history curator Michael Fitzgerald uncovered 8 other German flags from the same period, some of which have Samoa connections. If we add these to the several flags in the Auckland museum, it almost looks as though someone found a box of flags in a supply room in Apia and handed them out to troops as souvenirs!

German flag in Pacific Cultures collections store room (FE003647 Te Papa)

German flag in Pacific Cultures collections store room (FE003647 Te Papa)

But of course each flag has a story. This flag in Pacific Cultures Collection was owned by R. M. Watson, a Wellington barrister who enlisted and went to Samoa in 1914, where he later served as an Acting Judge in the New Zealand Administration. He is known for writing “A History of Samoa” that was published in 1918. Later, the flag was given to Mr T.L. Seddon, a Mayor of Feilding. In 1962 it was gifted to the museum by Mr Norman Seddon.

The flag has been identified as the National Service Flag in the Competence of the Foreign Office (Reichsdienstflagge im Bereiche des Auswärtigen Amtes). In the white central disk an Imperial Eagle is depicted with the Imperial Crown. This flag was adopted in 1892 and 1893 and functioned like the civil ensign in German protected areas (1). The example at Te Papa is huge, almost 4m by 2.5m in size and we show it to visitors as a reminder that the history of New Zealand , Samoa and Germany has and continues to be closely intertwined. You only have to look at All Blacks teams of recent decades and read names such as Schuster, Kronfeld and Schwalger to see how a German-Samoa connection plays out in New Zealand’s cultural and sporting life.

Notes: 

  1. (Illustrated in Crampton 1990 p. 42 (which is a copy of Meyers Konversationslexikon 1912, vol. 4, facing p. 799), National Geographic 1917 p. 367, no. 1009). Information from www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags

Sources:

Liava’a, C. (2009) Qaravi Na’i Tavi They Did their Duty: Soldiers from Fiji in the Great war. Auckland, Polygraphia Ltd.

Auckland Weekly News

Evening Post

 

10 Responses

  1. Michael

    My book Mau: Samoa’s struggle against New Zealand oppression, several chapters on the NZ landings in Apia – entirely bloodless affairs. Turned out the Germans got the gold away before the NZers arrived. The NZ convoy had only gone to Suva because of a series of monumental blunders. The little force of two troop ships and three small cruisers had left Wellington without knowing where the powerful German Pacific battle fleet was – and had they found the NZ convoy history would have been very different. When the risk was realised the convoy was diverted to Noumea to meet a French warship and the new battleship HMAS Australia. They had to get coal in Suva to carry on, so picked up some Samoans and assorted souls and carried on. Two weeks after they seized Samoa von Spee and two German battleships arrived in Apia – had they opened fire on the Wellingtonians and Aucklanders who stood and looked at them, we would have never gone to Gallipoli. But they didnt fire – instead at the Battle of Cornel they sank a Royal Navy fleet and then, in turn, were sunk in the Battle of the Falklands.

    Reply
    • Sean Mallon

      Thank you Michael for this useful contextual information which is sure to be of interest to our blog readers. I have two editions of your book and it is a most comprehensive account. Fa’afetai tele lava…

  2. JenCWPearson

    I thought Id just check a letter from one of the soldiers. They captured 4 German Flags including the official Ensign of Samoa, arrested the Governor single handed and captured the Wireless Station. There was dynamite and mines around the Wireless Mast and a 1/4 ton of Dynamite to go up at a touch.

    Reply
    • Sean Mallon

      Thank you again Jen for sharing this. Yes, newspaper reports of the period suggest that there were several German flags captured at the time. Several are in the Auckland Museum.

  3. JenCWPearson

    It has been interesting to read about the German Flag. It is quite possible to help identify the first German Flag to be captured by the Fijian Contingent in Apia, would be to look for cut out pieces in the fabric. Yes its true. I know it terrible to deface a country’s flag, however, Australians are notorious in acquiring things to send home. In this case, a letter from one of the Fijian soldiers, containing a piece of the flag.

    Reply
    • Sean Mallon

      Thank you for your comment Jen. It would be a good lead to look in the various museum collections for flags with some missing fabric. As the blog says there are a few flags around. I understand from my colleague Kirstie Ross that Colin Warden (one of the men depicted in the postcard) wrote about selling off small pieces of the flag to raise money for the Belgian Fund.

  4. Joihn

    Wow. I didn’t know that our history with Samoa went back that far! 100 years! Not to mention the Fijian link. Thanks for article.

    Reply
    • Sean Mallon

      Thank you for reading and commenting on the blog. I too was surprised by the Fiji connection.

  5. Michael Pringle

    By coincidence just this past week I ordered up and read a file in National Archives in Wellington titled “German flags captured by occupation troops, Samoa”.
    In reading this file it appears that there were at least two flags captured by the occupation forces. One found its way to the parliamentary library in Wellington and another was retained by the Auckland City Council. The decision as to what to do with these flags was made by the Prime Minister himself: to give them to Trentham Military camp, until such time as (then) Dominion Museum was able to accept them. Are the eight German flags referred to, unearthed by Michael Fitzgerald, all held at Te Papa?
    The Archives file AD1/920 46/87 contains the history of the two flags in question and it is worth a close look. Were the two flags given to Trentham, and are they now at Te Papa?

    Reply

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