Centenary of Samoa occupation

15 September 2014

A national commemoration making the 100th annivesary of the New Zealand occupation of German Samoa at the beginning of World War I has been held at the Cenotaph, Auckland War Memorial Museum. The centenary was marked on August 29.
The flags of Samoa and New Zealand flew from the Cenotaph. Wreaths were laid by the New Zealand Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae, the High Commissioner for Samoa Leasi Papali'i Tommy Scanlan, the Minister for Pacific Island Affairs Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga and the Leader of the Opposition David Cunliffe, representatives of the diplomatic corps, Defence Force, RNZRSA, Auckland War Memorial Musuem and the mayor of Auckland Len Brown.
Sir Jerry said that an anniversary gathering was being held in both New Zealand and Samoa to mark the occupation of then German Samoa by a New Zealand Expeditionary Force.
In his oral history reading at the ceremony, Sir Jerry said "In 1914, the Governor of New Zealand fulfilled 'a great and urgent imperial service' requested of him by British Secretary of State, the Right Honourable Lewis Vernon Harcourt, to seize the German wireless station at Samoa. The occupation proceeded without gunfire. My predescessor, the Right Honourable Earl of Liverpool, Governor of New Zealand, received a description of the arrival in Samoa by the New Zealand Expeditionary Force."
The New Zealand troops were carried on the transports Monowai and Moeraki requisitioned from the Union Steamship Company, escorted by antiquated British cruisers Philomel, Psyche and Pyramus, and joined at Noumea by the Australian battlecruiser Australia and light cruiser Melbourne and the French armoured cruiser Montcalm.
The High Commissioner for Samoa, Leasi Papali'i Tommy Scanlan, in the second historic reading said Samoa was under German Administration for 15 years from 1899.
"During this time, the relationship between Samoan representatives and the German Administrators was generally positive. When the New Zealand military expedition arrived in Samoa at the start of the First World War, the-then German Governor, Dr Eric Shultz, was unsure whether he would get the support of the Samoan leaders if they were to resist the New Zealand landing.
"The German military presence on the island was minimal [the colony was defended by just 20 troops and special constables armed with 50 aging rifles] and the whereabouts of the closest German warships was unknown. It was a peaceful takeover of Samoa and the Union Jack was raised without incidence in Apia on this day in August 1914. Once the occupation was in place, the focus turned to the war in Europe and many Samoans were recruited by New Zealand to fight."
Samoa was the second German territory, after Togoland in Africa, to fall to the Allies in the First World War. It was later discovered that the German administration on Samoa had received orders from Berlin not to oppose an allied invasion.
Most of the original members of the New Zealand occupation force were withdrawn in April 1915 and replaced by a much smaller Samoan Relief Force. There had been no fatalaties among the original occupation force but more than 150 of these would die during their subsequent service at Gallipoli, on the Western Front or in the Middle East.
Eleven members of the Relief Force died in Samoa as a result of illness or accidents between 1915 and 1919. They are buried in Apia's Magiagi cemetery alongside one New Zealand World War II casualty, an RNZAF flying officer Arthur Baron Fortescue Ayers.
Photographs of Magiagai Cemetery and the gravestones of the war casualties can be found on this website.