Peters to honour Niuean soldiers

  • 10/10/2015
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters (File)
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters (File)

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is paying tribute to Niuean men who served in World War I as he heads off to centenary commemorations next week.

A week-long program is being held in Niue culminating with events on Tuesday, which has been declared a public holiday by Premier Toke Talagi.

A plaque from the New Zealand government will be unveiled at Tomb Point in the capital of Alofi, with New Zealand Defence Force soldiers in attendance.

Mr Peters says he is going at the invitation of the premier.

Niue responded within hours of hearing about the war, with the chiefs sending a message saying: "I am the island of Niue, a small child that stands up to help the kingdom of King George", organisers of the commemorations say.

Fires were lit along Niue's coast to farewell 150 Niuean men. Following a church service, the men left on the troopship Te Anau with a copy of the New Testament in their own language to remind them of home.

The men, four percent of the nation's population - came to Auckland first for training, then went to join the Allied Forces in northern France as a British Protectorate Nation.

Fifteen soldiers died and only 30 made it through without needing hospital treatment for sicknesses.

"We cannot imagine the hardship for these men, most of whom could not speak English," Mr Peters said.

"They were faced with hurriedly adapting to a colder climate, wearing boots for the first time and being served stodgy food after a lifetime diet of predominantly fish and fruit. Inevitably, severe illness took a big toll."

"I look forward to being part of the country's commemoration. I am also delighted to return to Niue, to look over aid projects and developments past and present."

Mr Peters will also speak at a Niue RSA reception on Saturday night.

Niue became a British protectorate in 1900. In 1974, its people adopted a constitution providing for full self-government in free association with New Zealand, a status distinct from full independence.