Live video coverage of the national ceremony to mark the 100th anniversary of New Zealand’s Occupation of German Samoa from 4pm
Mele Ioelu still remembers running towards the village church when the sirens went off – signalling that the soldiers were coming.
“When they came, we all ran to the church to hide. Other families had built underground shelters and so they went down there to stay until the soldiers left.
“They were big men who wore their uniforms proudly. But they had big guns strapped across their backs – and I was always afraid I’d get shot one day.”
The 103-year-old Mangere resident was born and raised during some of Samoa’s most trying times. War had been declared in 1914 and the country, then under German control, was set for some hard times within the next few years.
She was just a couple of months shy of her 4th birthday when troops from New Zealand arrived on August, 29, 1914, to take over what was then German Samoa.
Britain had called on its friends in the South Pacific to seize the German colony.
More than 1400 officers, mechanics, medical staff and technicians made up the New Zealand Expeditionary Force that set sail from Wellington Harbour on August 15.
The history books say it was an exciting time, with many young Kiwis eager to take part in what would be the first world war.
As the troops neared the island nation, they would have been going through a whole set of emotions and a new and probably overlooked challenge – the heat.
Samoan historian Dr Leasiolagi Malama Meleisea, a lecturer at the National University of Samoa, said even though August was a relatively cooler time in the islands, the New Zealanders would have found the weather challenging.
“Yes, the conditions would have been less than ideal, but the sense of duty must have been sufficient motivation. It seems to me that the context of build-up to World War I, the feelings of nationalism, patriotism, honour – and hate – were successfully used to motivate the armed forces.
“They were determined not only to terminate German rule to Samoa, but to root out any pro-German sympathies among the population.”
As it turned out, the New Zealanders’ arrival was something of a non-event, with the Germans offering no resistance and effectively giving up without a fight.
“It could have been much worse,” Dr Meleisea said.
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