Cook Islanders at War: From Rarotonga to Belgium 1917

Cook Islanders at War: From Rarotonga to Belgium 1917

2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the first Cook Islands Soldiers to enlist in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) and to mark this occasion three events between Friday 17th April and Sunday 19th April were held in Wellington. A committee of Cook Islanders called the Cook Islands Soldiers of World War One (CISWWO), was established in 2013 consisting of H.E. Mr. Tekaotiki Matapo, Cook Islands High Commissioner, Mr. Alfred Ngaro, MP, Ms. Munukoapoto Williams, MP, Ms. Grace Hutton, Mr. Tinokura Tairea, Mr. Tuaine Robati, Ms. Helene Kay, Mr. Mataroa Paroro, Ms Vaiata Clarke, Ms. Sandra Tisam, First Secretary, Cook Islands High Commission. This committee organised a commemorative service at the Te Akapuanga Hall in Porirua on Sunday 19th April 2014. This event provided a foundation for the 2015 commemorations that marked the 100th anniversary of the first Cook Islands Soldiers to enlist in the NZEF.

Cook Islands Soldiers of World War One
Cook Islands Soldiers of World War One

This blog is dedicated to one of the more than 450 Cook Islanders who enlisted in WW1 and one of the earliest Cook Island soldiers killed in action far from his Ipukaraea, his homeland.

Military Record of K. L. ADAM 16/1007

In the early 1900’s Kiro Luke ADAM sailed from Rarotonga, Cook Islands to work as a gardener in Parnell, Auckland for a Mr H.E. Bloomfield. He enlisted to go to war on the 1st July 1915 and his declared age at that time was 21 years old. He joined A Company, 2nd Maori Contingent, that was later renamed the New Zealand Maori (Pioneer) Battalion, New Zealand Expeditionary Force. This company departed New Zealand on the 19 September 1915 on the ship, Waitemata for Suez. In his military record it appears that Kiro was attached to the Auckland Infantry Battalion on 18 Jan 1916. Later that year on 8 August 1916 Private Kiro was appointed a Battalion Bomber – a specialist in hand grenade throwing, (grenades were called bombs at that time).

He was likely to be serving with the Pioneers at Passchendaele in Belgium the following October and sadly he was killed in action there on 7 October 1917. The Battle of Broodseinde was fought as part of the Passchendaele Campaign on the 4th October 1917 by the New Zealanders who took Graventafel and opened up the way to Passchendaele.

View Slide show of transport on the battlefield, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 14-Oct-2014.

The autumn of 1917 had been the wettest in Belgium for 70 years and the flat landscape around Passchendaele was a sea of mud. As soon as the roads were destroyed by heavy rain and artillery, the Maori (Pioneer) Battalion were there ready to rebuild and laying down fascines or logs of wood to provide a steady road surface. Maori pulled many guns and horses out of the boggy ground.

The New Zealanders and others gained a kilometre in territory at Graventafel which was a huge success in world war one terms and took a thousand prisoners. They lost 320 lives however, including Dave Gallaher, the captain of the 1905 original All Blacks. Between 4 and 13 October over 2600 men on stretchers were moved from the front line. It took stretcher-bearers three days to clear the field of wounded after the opening salvo of Passchendaele at Gravenstafel on 4 October and maybe it was there that Kiro was one of the wounded waiting to be attended to.


Sean Brosnahan Curator at Otago Museum, writes that,
“On 7 October 1917 Kiro Adam would no doubt have been slogging his guts out in the rain and mud trying to build the roading system that was essential for the coming attack.  The Germans continually bombed these roading parties and they took heavy casualties.  Every time a piece of road was blown to smithereens, the Maoris would pick themselves up and start again.  It was arduous, soul destroying work and they were famous for the way they did it.”

Broodseinde Ridge, in the Ypres Section, in Belgium, on October 4th, 1917.
Broodseinde Ridge, in the Ypres Section, in Belgium, on October 4th, 1917.
This photo shows the Pioneers doing this sort of work at Messines in June 1917.
This photo shows the Pioneers doing this sort of work at Messines in June 1917.

In May 2015 New Zealanders Sue and Colin Brown from Levin were going to the Western Front on a special trip to find the graves of New Zealand soldiers’ and lay on them a handspun silk poppy made by the ladies of Levin. Myself and Sara Guthrie from Te Papa met them both when we travelled to Levin in May this year to collect a new acquisition. Sue and Colin told us they were going to cycle to the various cemeteries in Brussels and find any New Zealanders’ graves and would place beside the headstones one of the special poppies and take a photo. They promised me to find Private Adam’s grave and place a poppy beside it. They did and Sue wrote “Colin and I biked to Ypres today to visit Kiro Adam’s grave. It was a very moving place, and I left my last handspun silk poppy on his grave. New Irish Farm was particularly moving for us, both because Kiro was so far from home and because at least half of the graves seemed to be for men whose identity was not known. Those graves had the inscription “Known unto God”. The grave yard is close to Ypres (Ieper to the Belgians) and the city is moving closer but the cemetery is peaceful and Kiro’s grave is in the first row and under a tree. I hope these pictures give you some idea. I had been putting the poppies that the ladies of Levin had made on New Zealander’s graves but at this cemetery I just put them on the graves around Kiro’s because so many were unknown and some of them could have been New Zealanders.”

Photo of Kiro Luke Adam's headstone in Belgium
Kiro Luke Adam’s headstone, New Irish Farm Cemetery, Ieper, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium photo taken by Sue and Colin Brown
K.L. Adam’s headstone under the shade of a tree, New Irish Farm Cemetery, Ieper, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium photo taken by Sue and Colin Brown
K.L. Adam’s headstone under the shade of a tree, New Irish Farm Cemetery, Ieper, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium photo taken by Sue and Colin Brown

Meitaki ma’ata (Thank you) Sue and Colin Brown for these beautiful photos of one of the Cook Islands men killed in action in WW1 as we approach the anniversary of his death and so far from his Ipukarea (his homeland). Te Atua te aroa. We will remember them.


  1. I am sorry to say some of your facts are wrong or don’t go far enough. Kiro Luke Adam AKA Kiro Luke Adam Manuela or Kiwi Luke Adam, step-brother of Manuel Luke, brothers Toka Atamu and Manuel Luka, sisters Tirata Atamu Aitrou, Tukukirou Rai and Mikra Atamu.
    He was one of only four known Cook Islanders Killed in Action. My records show he was the 3rd Cook Islander to be killed, the first two were killed on the same day. The last one killed in March 1918.
    When Kiro Adam was killed another 5 had died of sickness and 1 had died of wounds while overseas and 3 who had been returned to New Zealand due to illness had died. 3 more had died while training at Narrow Neck.
    If you want more details feel free to contact me.

    1. Author

      Thank you Susan Yes you’re right I don’t have all the information from the Military record. But this blog is about Kiro Luke Adam and in his service to NZ, showing the conditions he endured at the time and how he would have died along with so many other men. I wanted to show where he is buried because it is highly likely extended family may not have seen his grave. Also to show that a small town, Levin, had their own way of remembering New Zealand soldiers – he is not forgotten.

  2. There is a soldier buried here at Featherston WW1 Cemetery from Cook Islands.
    Private Kaka Matapo. 60713. Rarotonga Contingent NZEF. died 14th August, 1919. aged 18 years, too young to die..
    Son of Matapo of Kintangatau. Mauke. Cook Islands. have his headstone photograph here at home, plus its also on Cenotaph site.. if anyone has further information please let me know, am researching this soldiers cemetery at Featherston. Thank you. I remember all these soldiers who died here and either buried elsewhere, like home town, or buried here on Anzac Day, I order a Wreath in Carterton and take it down to the Obelisk in the Cemetery. The Obelisk has the list of names of the soldiers that died at Camp, so he will be there as well.. Clareville Taphophile.

    1. Author

      Thank you Adele for remembering Private Matapo and other soldiers buried in Featherston. The Matapo family are aware of his resting place and have visited his grave, he is related to His Excellency Mr Tekaotiki Matapo, High Commissioner Cook Islands.

    2. I have done a lot research of the Cook Islanders. Kata Matapo may have only being 16 when he enlisted. He arrived in New Zealand with the 3rd Contingent of Cook Islanders who have meant to have left Rarotonga on the 14/02/1918 (I believe this date is incorrect and they left a week or two earlier). They arrived in Wellington around the 27th Feb 1918. They left for Sydney on the Manuku on the 13/06/18, arriving on the 18/06/18. Left Sydney on the Port Lyttleton 26/06/18 for Egypt arriving on the 4/8/18. They met up with the Rarotongan Company on the 18/09/18. Kaka returned to New Zealand on the 14/12/1918.

Leave a Reply to Adele Pentony-Graham Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *