RSA seeks relatives of ‘orphan’ headstones

Tuesday October 30, 2018 Written by Published in Local
Susan Hanaray, Gail Eraio and Dennis Dwane behind some of the orhan headstones the RSA wants to find families for. 18102820 Susan Hanaray, Gail Eraio and Dennis Dwane behind some of the orhan headstones the RSA wants to find families for. 18102820

The Returned and Services Association is asking for help in trying to find families for their “orphan” headstones of World War One soldiers.


The headstones belong to Rarotongan soldiers, but the RSA cannot locate their relatives.

President Denis Dwane says: “We have these headstones, does any family claim them, or know where these people are buried?

“We believe the headstones came from the wharf after a cyclone and they were never claimed.”

But, he added: “They are definitely Rarotongan and we want to find a home for those headstones.”

The RSA president said: “One of the problems we are faced with is that some of the names of people who went overseas were interchanged between first and last names.

“Some people may have adopted the name of an older brother to get overseas.

“And we find that although there weren’t a lot of battle casualties, there were a lot of men who died through illness - mainly TB and pneumonia.”

Dwane said the RSA had “more than 30 people who died in that category”.

“A lot died when they got home, those who survived that lived to a pretty good age.”

The RSA’s Gail Eraio has been working on the headstones since 2015 and Susan Hanaray since 2002.

Eraio says: “We’d like to find a home for them … they deserve to be with their family.”

But one of the major problems is that the relatives may not know where the men are buried.

“This is three generations after they went away to serve. People today may not know who these men are.

“Like we said, these people are today’s great, great grandparents. And while we’ve not been party to family stories about them, we know what’s been documented.

“We’ve been lucky we have access to service papers. They contain a lot of information about who their parents were, what their last occupation was, who they left as next of kin.:

Eraio says: “Half the time their next of kin wasn’t their mother, but their sister or someone like that.”

Dwane says the RSA hopes to acknowledge the soldiers on Armistice Day which this year is the 100th anniversary of the ending of World War I.

“Every Anzac Day we go around and put poppies on the ones we know. We are trying to ensure we have the correct names on the gravestones.”

This year there will be a Lament at 6am, played by lone pipers simultaneously around the world. “In every country involved in WWI there will be a piper playing.

“At 11am we will have a ceremony at the cenotaph.”

In addition to the local men who served in the Great War, Dwane says there were quite a few Papa’a who left from here and never returned. “There were 14 of them and three died overseas.”

Some of the men were resident agents on the outer islands.

Eraio says: “It must have taken them a lot of energy to register on Rarotonga. One of them was from Mauke, how did they get from that island to Rarotonga? How long were they waiting for a ship? Why did they get involved?”

Hanaray points out: “You have to remember in this period they had no radiograms. Rarotonga didn’t get one until late 1918. All this was done by ship. All messages came by ship either from San Francisco or up from New Zealand.

“I’m not sure when they were notified the war had started, but even telegrams would have gone to NZ and then were shipped up here.”

And in the meantime the RSA hunt continues to find the missing relatives of its orphan headstones.

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