Military Monday: First World War Pasifika graves

O’Neill’s Point Cemetery, Bayswater, Auckland

From 1915, a number of recruits from the Pacific trained at Narrow Neck Camp in Devonport before being shipped to the battlefront. The Third Maori Contingent included 50 from the Cook Islands along with 153 Niueans, Tahitians, 15 Fijians, Gilbert and Ellis Islanders (now Kiribati) and Western Samoans. However, of the Niueans only 140 completed their training at Narrow Neck Camp and were sent to Egypt – 12 were discharged back to Niue due to illness and one, Private Vilipate, died at Narrow Neck Camp on 25 December 1915 and was buried in the O'Neill’s Point Cemetery. The Third Contingent sailed on 5 February 1916.

Showing exterior view of church at O'Neills Point Cemetery,
surrounded by gravestones
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-6273
Heritage Images
Two more Niuean soldiers and one Cook Island soldier were buried in that cemetery during the training of more Contingents in 1916. A returning Cook Island solider, Sergeant Beni Banaba was buried there as well in 1917, having served in Egypt and Palestine.

The influenza epidemic of late 1918 hit Narrow Neck Camp particularly hard, and at one stage in early October 1918 there were 226 cases of influenza at the Camp. Ultimately 21 either died in the Camp or in the nearby Barracks and all but one were buried in the O'Neill’s Point Cemetery, including three from Kiribati, one from Fiji and one from the Cook Islands.

In 1919, another Fijian soldier and two Cook Island soldiers were buried in O’Neill’s Point Cemetery, from Auckland Hospital. They were returning home in the troopships.

Visiting O'Neill’s Point Cemetery today, you can see the well-tended and orderly graves of Pasifika soldiers buried there, most with New Zealand Expeditionary or Defence Force emblems on their graves.

David Verran

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