For NZ the First World War began and ended in the Pacific, with New Zealand’s invasion of Samoa (1914-1962). Let us keep this colonial legacy in mind as we enter our week of intensive remembering. A new clip has been aired in time for ANZAC day, but which I hope encourages to remember not just a few canonical–military–events, but a wider and fuller range. It is currently on NewsHub, but will shortly be available elsewhere.
New Zealand and Australia concentrate their remembering of war around the day that we as ‘nations’ (then Dominions) invaded Gallipoli. Though over a hundred years has since passed it still proves a challenge to remember in a way that ethically brings to mind the fullness and consequences of our wartime acts. In particular, New Zealand has had trouble remembering its First World War history in the Pacific.
At the opening of the exhibition “Entangled Islands: Sāmoa, New Zealand and the First World War” I offered some remarks on how we might go about new kinds of remembering, rather than restrict ourselves to just a few narrow horizons of memory.
The horrific war we now remember was fought from 1914-1918 and which led to over 16 million deaths. This legacy of death, and the warnings and weight that we carry because of those deaths, dominate both our memory, and our commemorations, of the First World War. This legacy has often meant that we have forgotten that this great Ocean of ours was also part of that terrible conflict: it was not, after all, known as the Great European War, but the First World War, and battles were fought not only in Europe, but in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and the Pacific.
Still, it is battles like Gallipoli, the Somme, Passchendaele, and Mesopotamia that resonate in New Zealanders’ memories for the lives they took.
But alongside this legacy of death, stand the stories of Sāmoa and New Zealand in the First World War. This is a living legacy. Is there any legacy quite as strong, today, one hundred years after the war? Imagine a New Zealand without nearly 150,000 Sāmoans. Imagine how different this history would be. Imagine if, in 1939, a German Pacific Fleet was still sailing between China and Apia. Or imagine the Auckland Blues, or Auckland culture or the All Black backline or the Silver Ferns, or New Zealand music, or this museum if it was not enriched by generations of Sāmoa, a shared history that has tied together Sāmoa and New Zealand for a hundred years.
On August 29th 1914 New Zealand forces landed in Sāmoa, and New Zealand would not leave for nearly fifty years. The end of the war brought the horror of mass death to Sāmoa, with the outbreak of the 1918 Influenza epidemic (which killed perhaps more than one in five Sāmoans). New Zealand stayed on through the epidemic, through a massive Sāmoan rebellion, through another World War, through a part of the Cold War. By the time New Zealand left Sāmoa, thousands of Sāmoans had made New Zealand—and especially Auckland—their home. New Zealand may have left Sāmoa; but Sāmoa did not leave New Zealand.
Lest We Forget.