GILBERT AND ELLICE ISLANDERS IN NZEF OF WWI
by N W Taylor
I have been researching Pacific Islanders who served mainly in the NZ Native
Contingent , NZ Pioneer Battalion , later the NZ (Maori) Pioneer Battalion , or
the Rarotongan Company who served in the Middle East or those few who served
with other NZ Units . My aim is to publish this research in appropriate Journals
when completed .
Currently I’m seeking information on the Gilbert Islanders who served with the
NZEF. Regrettably little was written at the time however to date in brief I have
found the following:
• ‘magnificent body of men, all members of the Islands Constabulary , many of
whom had relinquished senior rank in order to serve with the Reinforcements as
• ‘by wars end 23 Gilbert Islands Reinforcements were in NZ undergoing training
at Narrow Neck Camp’(located on Auckland North Shore).
• Location of a photo of 23 Gilbert Islanders including 1 European officer . Two
Islanders are of L/Cpl rank plus a Bugler remainder Privates . One solder wears
on the right chest (as opposed to war medals worn on the left breast) what
appears to be a Royal Human Society Medal for saving life but this has not
assisted me to identify the soldiers in the photo .
• ‘Gilbert and Ellice Colonists recently remitted to the NZ Government the sum
of 3724 pounds in reimbursement of Pay and Allowances and cost of equipment ,
maintenance etc disbursed by the Dominion [of NZ] on behalf of the six British
Residents of the Islands who were sent with the NZEF to Europe. This was in
fulfillment of an agreement desired by the Islanders early in the War. The
payment , though a comparably small one , was no doubt a heavy strain on the
resources of so diminutive a community .It is worthy of being placed on record –
coming as it does from the lonely Mid-Pacific – as a further exemplification of
the British Spirit .’
• The CO of the NZ Pioneer Bn Lt Col King in his letter of 21 January 1917
mentions many different Islands groups but none is made of Gilbert Islanders .
• NZ Reinforcement Roll notes 16/1333 L/Cpl Kaitpati (no forename) occupation
Policeman. Sailed with A Company 3rd Maori Contingent, NOK mother Mrs Tamuna
Manumea , Ellice Islands – but were are the rest of the Gilberts Contingent or
did they not serve overseas but only in NZ ?
• Deaths in training in NZ as a result of Spanish flu epidemic were :
• 84481 Pte M Fati, Mannao DOD 11/11/1918
• 84494 Pte L Ilitomasi, Laliqapata DOD 7/11/1918
• 84489 Pte ? Tonuia DOD 5/11/1918
• above three buried in the CWGC section of O'Neill's Point Cemetery Devonport
North Shore City Auckland NZ – near Narrow Neck Camp.
• For some unexplained reason these three servicemen have been commemorated on
the Roll of Honour in Alofi Niue along with the servicemen of that country .
• By wars end the total of Maori and Pacific Islanders was 66 Officers and 2968
Other Ranks who had had served overseas , i.e. left NZ with various
Reinforcement Drafts . It is known for instance that there was five Rarotongan
Contingents that left the Cooks for training in NZ but only three of these
proceed overseas from NZ as Reinforcements on Active Service the others remained
in NZ – could this also be so for the Gilbert Islands Contingents ?
Any assistance with more information on these Islanders who served would be
appreciated, such as any Embarkation Rolls, memorials in Kiribati today, photos,
diary’s, medals (named) or badges etc .
Many thanks .
N W Taylor ED ** RNZIR
Honorary Curator – Army Museum , Waiouru NZ.
Immediate Past President NZ Military History Society (NZMHS)