Were there Pacific Islanders at Gallipoli in 1915?

The short answer to this question is yes. I raise this topic in this blog as I reflect on the way that Pacific communities in New Zealand are commemorating our ancestors participation in the First World War, and whether we were present during the fighting on the Gallipoli peninsula.

ANZAC Cove. From the album: Photograph album of Major J.M. Rose, 1st NZEF, 1915, Gelibolu Yarimadasi, by Major John Rose. Te Papa (O.040600)

The Australian and New Zealand (ANZAC) forces involved in the invasion at Gallipoli in 1915 had a sprinkling of men from the edges of the British Empire and beyond. The provincial and regional battalions and the Native (Maori) Contingent from New Zealand included a small number of men from Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and the Cook Islands.

One of them was Tuainekara Tinirau Tamatoa (George Tuaine) who was born in the Cook Islands. He enlisted in 1914 with the Auckland Infantry Battalion aged 22 years, and was photographed and described by the Auckland Star as the “only volunteer from Aitutaki Island”. George landed with the New Zealand forces at Gallipoli in April 1915. Several weeks later in May, he was wounded in the thigh by shrapnel and hospitalised. He recovered and went on to serve with the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion and later the Rarotongan Company before he was discharged after the war in 1919.

Military Insignia, New Zealand Pioneer Battalion, February 1916-September 1917, maker unknown. Gift of the New Zealand Army Department, 1916.. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (GH017819/16)

Another Gallipoli veteran was Bernard Stanley Gurr, who was the son of Edwin William Gurr and Fanuae’a Eletino Seumanutafa Ainu’u from Tutuila, in American Samoa (Liava’a 2013). When he enlisted he was working as an electrician for a company in Hawera, New Zealand. In August 1914 aged 20, he joined the Wellington Mounted Rifles. Almost a year later, on the 8th August 1915, Bernard was at Gallipoli where he suffered a gunshot wound to the shoulder. In 1916, he made it back home to Hawera, where newspaper reports remarked on the warm welcome home he received from the local community.

Niue Islanders entertained by nurses in Auckland, 1916. (source: Te Ara)

It wasn’t until late 1915, that the first groups of Pacific Islanders joined the New Zealand armed forces in significant numbers. Recruitment was particularly focused on Niue and the Cook Islands. Men from Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and the Gilbert Islands (Kiribati) and Tahiti also volunteered, However, it is important to remember that Pacific peoples (including Maori) responded to the First World War in different ways, some rallied to the call to volunteer, while others refused to take part.

The Australian and New Zealand forces in First World War were to some degree multicultural but largely Anglo-Celtic in their make-up. It is only in recent years that Australians have recognised the contribution of troops in the First World War who were of non-European descent. They include the crack Gallipoli sniper Chinese-Australian, Billy Sing, who is now celebrated as a war hero.

For New Zealand’s part, the armed forces recruited volunteers from Pacific Island communities that were themselves multicultural and made up of indigenous and non–indigenous people, European settlers and part-Europeans. Some of the European family names you will come across in military service archives have been indigenised through intermarriage and have become leading families in our island communities for decades.

New Zealand’s Roll of Honour 1915 The Auckland Weekly News Illustrated List, 21 October1915, Auckland, by Wilson & Horton Ltd, maker unknown. Gift of Paul Simmons, 1989. Te Papa (CA000512/001/0021)

The First World War was a turning point for Pacific Islanders because we came to understand ourselves as being part of and having a role to play in a global community. I think for Pacific Islanders in New Zealand the centenary of the Gallipoli landings and ANZAC Day is far from a celebration of war, but rather a time to acknowledge sacrifice and loss. The need to know if there were Pacific Islanders at Gallipoli is perhaps part of a desire of Pacific peoples in New Zealand to be acknowledged as part of the national commemorations, which are so focused on the Gallipoli campaign. Of course the Pacific Islands story begins before Gallipoli.

A sign that our communities are coming to grips with our history and thinking about it critically is reflected in the exhibition Disrupting The Narrative: Art Not War Collective, upcoming events such as Samoa in the War (1914-1918) and debates on social media and television around this years commemorations. There is a bigger backdrop to the war that we need to understand from a Pacific perspective – a history and legacy of colonialism that took Pacific peoples to Gallipoli and the western front, and had an impact on them beyond these events. As the title of this blog implies there are still many questions to be asked, and a need to reflect on how we should remember as much as remembering not to forget.

Further reading:

Qaravi na’i tavi = They did their duty : soldiers from Fiji in the Great War / by Christine Liava’a.Auckland, N.Z.: Polygraphia, c2009.

Koe kau to’a na’anau poletau = Valiant volunteers : soldiers from Tonga in the Great War / by Christine Liava’a.Auckland, N.Z.: Polygraphia, c2011.

Le fitafita mai Samoa : the force from Samoa : soldiers from the Samoan Islands in the Great War / by Christine Liava’a.Auckland, N.Z.: Polygraphia, 2013

31 Responses

  1. Glenda Tuaine

    Kia orana Sean,
    As ANZAC day approaches I cannot begin to tell how wonderful it is to have my Grandad’s records and information on his service. Meitaki maata Sean for your brilliant work and telling people about my Grandad’s service. it was something that was difficult for him to talk about so this is such a gift to my family.
    Much Aro’a

    • Sean Mallon

      You are most welcome Glenda and thank you for this acknowledgement of our teams work. As they say “lest we forget…” Much aro’a to you and your family.

  2. William Walker

    You had a message from Will Gurr who is my cousin — so Bernard Gurr, my grandmother’s brother, was my great uncle. I would appreciate seeing any photographs or references to great uncle Bernard also.
    Many thanks,
    William Walker

    • Sean Mallon

      Hi William, thank you for reading the blog. I have sent you the information I shared with Will to your e-mail address.
      best wishes

      Sean Mallon (Senior Curator Pacific Cultures)

  3. William Gurr

    Bernard Stanley Gurr is my grandfather. Do you have any other pictures, articles, history on him? I did not get to meet him. Thank you.

    • Sean Mallon

      Hi William,

      Thank you for reading and commenting on the blog. Great to hear of your connection. I will send you some links that you may find interesting via e-mail.


    • Sean Mallon

      Thank you for this link Cleo…The work of Christine Liava’a has been most valuable for researchers in this area. She has published three books listing the names of Fijians, Samoans and Tongans who participated in WW1.

  4. Dianne Khan

    This article doesn’t mention conscription. Did all of those mentioned voluntarily sign up, or were some/all conscripted? And to what degree did conscription take place, please?

    • Sean Mallon

      Thank you for responding to the blog Diane. I am not aware of any policy of conscription for soldiers from the Pacific Islands. A detailed account of Pacific Islanders involvement in WW1 can be found at

  5. adele

    checked up with the soldiers grave at Featherston… appears he went to Palestine.

    Kaka Matapo. of Kintangatau. Mauke. Cook Islands.. he was 18 years old when he died at Featherston.. far too young to die…

  6. Kirstie Ross

    Thanks Sean for bringing these men and their stories to light, as well as responses to the war by Pacific communities.

  7. Dai

    Thank you for posting this. George Tuaine was my great grand father and it is only in resent months while going through the family history have we discovered Georges military history. We knew he had served but lacked any details .

    • Sean Mallon

      Thank you for reading the blog Dai. It is great that the family is researching and rediscovering their family history. The digitisation of First Sorld war military service records at archivesnz has been most timely.

    • L Miller

      If you are interested I have Photos of my Grandfather Tinirau TuaineKara at the time of his departure leaving Aitutaki/ Rarotonga and documentation of his travel. Some family in the islands and Aust/NZ seem to have been unaware of this and his history until recently, so thank you for sharing this.

    • Sean Mallon

      Thank you for reading and commenting on the blog. I appreciate your offer to send through a better image than the one we link to. If you would like me to include your photograph of your grandfather in the blog please send me a copy on e-mail and I will be happy to include it for you.

    • Alice Meredith

      Sean, please email me as I have a direct descendant from the Cook Islands “Pani” and he is 80yrs old and my Papa Rahui.

      He can also trace his geneology back to the Kupe… he holds books specifically Manhiki in origin and early Cook Islands imene tuki.

    • D Pitt

      Hello Dai, I am wondering through whom you are related to George? He is also my great grandfather. Would be great to know a little more if you have the information.

    • Sean Mallon

      Danyon, thank you for reading the blog. I have sent you an e-mail with a link that may help with your enquiry.

  8. Cheryl Brown

    An excellent book by Margaret Pointer and Kalaisi Folau talks about Niuean soldiers in WW1. The books is called Tagi Tote e Loto Haaku My hearts is crying. The appendix has a list of men from Niue. Many of the men who went with the 3rd Maori contingent are buried in Hornchurch in England and many died of measles and flu. It’s a heartbreaking story. Auckland Museum had in the early 2000s anyway lists of Pacific soldiers and some are named on the musuem’s wall of memory.

    • Sean Mallon

      Thank you Cheryl, I have read this wonderful history…it is a great recommendation. You may be interested to know that Margaret’s next book on the history of Niue is being launched next week.

  9. adele

    just come home from Anzac Day service at Featherston WW1 Cemetery, there is a Raratongan name buried there, must see if he served at Gallipoli, as many of the soldiers buried there served at Gallipoli, to return to NZ later, and die off influenza.. I have the list of soldiers so will check it out later.

    • Sean Mallon

      Many thanks Adele for your comment. It will be interesting to see who this person is and where they may have served.

    • Grace Hutton

      His name was Kaka Matapo although it appears to be the other way around on his death certificate. He is a close relative of the Cook Islands High Commissioner His Excellency T. Matapo. Kaka enlisted and sailed from Auckland on the 16 June 1918, he passed away due to sickness on 14 August 1919 in Featherston.

    • Sean Mallon

      Thanks for this Grace!

    • L Miller

      If you are interested I have Photos of my Grandfather Tinirau TuaineKara at the time of his departure leaving Aitutaki/ Rarotonga and documentation of his travel. Some family in the islands and Aust/NZ seem to have been unaware of this and of his history, so thank you for sharing this.

    • L Miller

      Yes you are right, unfortunately, many unfortunately died from flue and illnesses.

  10. Karin Williams

    Thanks Sean for your thoughtful korero on the military service of our tupuna. This ANZAC centenary has been a milestone for our Cook Islands communities in reclaiming their histories and mana, since so many of their stories went unrecorded. As one young Cook Islander said to his grandfather, “How can we forget if we were never told in the first place?”

    • Sean Mallon

      Thanks for reading and commenting on the blog Karin. I attended the recent Cook Islands commemoration event at Parliament and it was a great occasion and very well attended. It will be interesting to see what shape events take next year in our communities.

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