Group advocates for war graves

Monday October 22, 2018 Written by Published in Local

The Cook Islands may get its first Commonwealth war grave, or graves, according to Australian businesswoman Cate Walker.


Walker has been a major force in the campaign to restore the Nikao Cemetery in Panama, which is the last resting place of many Cook Islands soldiers from World War One.

“After we found the Cook Islands soldiers buried in this cemetery, a group of us started researching all of the Cook Islands’ Anzacs. It was Paula Paniani from National Archives, Howard Wardell who wrote the book Soldiers of the Pacific, and Bobby Nicholas from Auckland whose great grandfather is buried in here. He was a WWI Anzac.

“Then I started researching Commonwealth war graves and found out that almost every other Pacific nation had Commonwealth war graves.”

There are 109 in Fiji, 12 in Samoa, three in Tonga, five in the Solomon Islands, two on Vanuatu and four on Norfolk Island. 

Walker says: “I thought there must be at least one WWI Cook Islands soldier who died from a war-related injury, or an illness that he contracted through his war service.

“So I went through and we’ve got a list of perhaps up to 20 soldiers, who we think were inadvertently omitted from the New Zealand Roll of Honour.

“A report is now being finalised by John Crawford, the Defence Forces’ historian in New Zealand. His report may see the Cook Islands get its first Commonwealth war grave or graves.

“That’s important. If that happens, then this site has to be protected and looked after. It becomes a Commonwealth war grave and that’s a whole other level.”

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission honours the 1.7 million men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in World War One and World War Two, and ensures they will never be forgotten.

“Apparently they will contribute to funding the graves,” Walker says. “But more important to me is that those soldiers get the recognition they deserve.”

She says the Cook Islands’ former high commissioner in New Zealand, Teremoana Yala, wrote a letter to the New Zealand Defence Force chief.

“Then we were able to send through the information, which is in two large volumes. I have had them bound and I’ve donated them to the Cook Islands National Archives.

“We will see where that ends up but, hopefully, the final report will be coming. John Crawford has had to get expert medical advice on some of the soldiers – for example the Tuberculosis that they contracted during the war.”

 The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) states: “Our work commemorates the war dead, from building and maintaining our cemeteries and memorials at 23,000 locations in more than 150 countries and territories to preservation of our extensive records and archives. Our values and aims, laid out in 1917, are as relevant now as they were 100 years ago.”

The Commission’s principles are:

• Each of the dead should be commemorated by name on the headstone or memorial.

•           Headstones and memorials should be permanent.

• Headstones should be uniform.

• There should be no distinction made on account of military rank, race or creed.

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