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The Contemporary Pacific 14.2 (2002) 488-491

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Tagi Tote E Loto Haaku—My Heart is Crying a Little: Niue Island Involvement in The Great War 1914-1918

Tagi Tote E Loto Haaku—My Heart is Crying a Little: Niue Island Involvement in The Great War 1914-1918, by Margaret Pointer; Niuean translation by Kalaisi Folau.[Alofi] Niue: Government of Niue; Suva: Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific, 2000.ISBN982-02-0157-8; xiv + 195 pages, figures, photographs, maps, notes, abbreviations, glossary, bibliography, appendixes, index. US$17.00.

Why did 149 Niuean men leave home in 1915 to fight in a European war on the other side of the world? "Where are the graves of those who did not return? What did the men see and do in those strange and far away countries? What was it like for the families left behind?" (vii) Until the publication of Tagi Tote E Loto Haaku/My Heart is Crying a Little, Niue's role in World War I lived mostly in the memories of its returned servicemen and those who were privileged to hear their stories. However, from transcripts of interviews with the survivors, and from other evidence that chronicled the men's movement through New Zealand, Egypt, France, and England, author Margaret Pointer compiled a brief, but detailed history of the 1st Niue contingent.

Like the narrative, the book chronologically features photographs that include headstones of Niuean soldiers who succumbed to the combined perils of extreme weather and foreign disease (134, 139). Other illustrations include burial registers while the appendixes feature the "Niue Island Roll Call," "Shipping Lists" detailing the men's movement, and a list of [End Page 488] "Claims for Separation Allowance for Wives and Children of Niue Island soldiers who went on Active Service." For today's generations, the documents are bridges to the past that validate the ancestors' legacy and place Niue firmly in the context of world history. More prominently, a Niuean translation by Niue Returned Servicemen's Association president, Kalaisi Folau, makes up the second half of the book and verifies Pointer's sincerity with regard to her target audience. The author also included informative endnotes, a short glossary, bibliography, and index.

News of the war's outbreak reached remote Niue Island five weeks later. Within three months, under the combined efforts of the resident Palagi (Europeans), "200-250" native "recruits" were drilling for military service on the green at Alofi (Niue's capital). Pointer claims the effort "[relieved] the consciences of the white community" (7). There was resistance to recruitment, but the military exercises appealed to the young.

The Niueans' deployment was a chance event initiated by political activity in the metropole. Pointer gives an unflattering portrayal of native statesman Sir Maui Pomare, who "believed it was essential that Maoris prove their loyalty and worth to Pakehas (Europeans) in order to achieve equality of opportunity in New Zealand" (7). However, the first Maori contingent lost a fifth of its men at Gallipoli. "Pressed for reinforcements and embarrassed by the lack of support in his own electorate," Pomare accepted the Niue Islanders' offer that "had been laying on [his] desk for a year (10). Thus, in October 1915, 149 Niuean men left home for further training in New Zealand, before joining the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces in Egypt.

From Auckland the men were sent to Egypt, where they labored digging trenches in the desert heat. As part of the predominantly Maori Pioneer Battalion they sailed to France and worked near the front line. Then, citing humanitarian reasons, an order suddenly came from the New Zealand Division headquarters "to withdraw the Niuean troops from the Western Front and ship them to England prior to returning them to New Zealand" (43). In 1916, approximately one year after their deployment, the survivors returned home. Their comrades who died from pneumonia, measles, tuberculosis, and other foreign diseases were laid to rest in the Atlantic deep and at every stop en route. Some remained...


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