Thursday, July 18, 2024

Pacific Island coastwatchers to be formally recognised

Minister of Defence, Peeni Henare, has announced steps to formally recognise the valuable service of Pacific Island coastwatchers during the Second World War.

In 1942, it was decided that all New Zealand civilian coastwatchers should be attested in the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2NZEF). However this policy was never properly implemented in the Cook Islands.

A report by the New Zealand Defence Force found that it appeared no consideration was given to attesting civilians in the Cook Islands who performed coastwatching duties very similar to those undertaken by attested military personnel.

“This is long overdue recognition of the Pacific Island coastwatchers and the important role they played in our early warning system in the Pacific,” Mr Henare said.

“It is important to acknowledge the service of all our coastwatchers whether on the New Zealand mainland, Chatham Islands, the sub-Antarctic Islands and especially in the Pacific. With Japanese advances into the Pacific in 1942, these stations became very dangerous places. The brutal killing of our coastwatchers on Tarawa and the suffering of those captured showed the real risks of this service.”

This recognition for Pacific Island coastwatchers includes:

  • a certificate of service signed by Her Excellency The Governor-General;
  • giving families the opportunity to have Service plaques attached to their headstones like other Service personnel; and
  • publishing an online historical record of their service.

“After representations from descendants, the Government asked the New Zealand Defence Force to undertake historical research to identify whether Second World War Pacific Island coastwatchers had been appropriately recognised for the service,” the Minister said.

The historical report prepared by Defence Historian, John Crawford, reviewed the role played by Cook Islanders and other Pacific Islands civilians in the coastwatching organisation outside mainland New Zealand.

“The report concludes that the approximately 50 to 60 civilian coastwatchers (including one Pākehā New Zealander) in the Cook Islands and another 50 civilians elsewhere in the Pacific did not receive any formal recognition of their service,” said Mr Henare.

“We will work with descendants to identify the Pacific Island coastwatchers and any other New Zealand coastwatchers to ensure that these brave people all have the recognition they deserve,” he said.

Mr Henare announced that there will also be a national commemorative service at the National War Memorial in Wellington on Saturday 15 October to mark the service of all New Zealand coastwatchers in the Second World War. That date is the 80th anniversary of the murder of 17 New Zealand coastwatchers and five civilians from Australia and the United Kingdom, on Tarawa. Another New Zealand coastwatcher died in captivity on Ocean Island.

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