During my family history quest to compile my children’s family tree spanning back sixteen generations, I’ve had the opportunity to discover some amazing places, people and records. One of these is the Nelson Memorial Public Library in Apia where there is a collection of newspapers dating back from before 1900. They provide a fascinating insight into life in Samoa –how our forebears lived, loved and died. This ANZAC Day I share with you, just a few of the articles and letters written by and about Samoans serving in WW1. So we can remember, those who served and died.
28th December, 1918 edition of the Samoa Times. A letter written from Sgt Edward Westbrook, to his father in Samoa.
Dear Dad, Just a few lines to let you know how we are progressing. I thought Samoa was hot but this country is beyond the mark as it is impossible for one to cool off at any time and I reckon it would be a fine place to send some of our friends who would like to reduce their weight. The soldiers have been suffering badly from climatic diseases and other complaints. Many of our lads are in hospital suffering with malaria fever. The country is infested with snakes, many of which are poisonous and quite a number of our troops have died of snake bites…Nearly all the boys from Samoa have been in hospital but so far I am feeling very fit and healthy.
A few weeks ago we had a ding dong go with Johnny Turk, the enemy putting up a great fight but under strong pressure in a few hours they commenced to give way. The New Zealand boys although outnumbered fought like heroes and gave them ‘what for.’ We took 600 prisoners and advanced our line a depth of four miles. I really think the Turks will not be able to resist much longer as the prisoners say their side is very short of war materials and their food supplies nearly exhausted.
I am sorry to tell you that we lost one of our best soldiers from Samoa, Allen Williams, who was respected by all those who knew him. He was only in the hospital four days when he succumbed to malaria fever.He is the first of the Samoa born soldiers to be buried in the Holy Land. He rests in a quiet spot at Jaffa and I was deputed to take some of the Samoa born boys down to Jaffa and fix and decorate his grave.
Your affectionate son, Edward.
8 Sept, 1917 Edition.
Pvt William Stowers, writing to his brother Louis Stowers. Dear Louis, Just a few lines to let you know at home that I am out of danger and as well as can be expected, my wound consisting of a bullet through the back of my neck and coming out by my right ear; the result is that my jaw is affected. Probably I’ll be in England for 3 or 4 months before they send me to France again. I am well looked after where I am, the nurses are very nice. Brothers James and Bob are both in England and getting along very well. Well dear brother, I must now conclude with my best alofa to all at home, Bella and children and not forgetting your dear self. Good bye. Pray for us. Your loving brother William.
15 June, 1918 edition.
A taumafataga feast fa’a-Samoa, given by the relatives of Pvt. William Stowers took place at Leauva’a last Saturday in celebration of his return to Samoa. Pvt Stowers left for the Front with the 18th Reinforcements and having been wounded in the Somme Battle, was returned to New Zealand and is now home to be with his family. At the conclusion of the repast, Judge Roberts gave a short address with a complimentary reference to the Stower family, mentioning the fact that no fewer than three sons of Mr J. Stowers have seen service at the front.
The First World War saw Maori soldiers serve for the first time in a major conflict with the New Zealand Army (although a number had fought in the Second Boer War when New Zealand recruiters chose to ignore British military policy of the time of disallowing ‘native’ soldiers). A contigent took part in the Gallipoli Campaign, and later served with distinction on the Western Front as part of the New Zealand (Māori) Pioneer Battalion. 2688 Māori and 346 Pacific Islanders, including 150 Niueans served with New Zealand forces in total.
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