Private Hatu Taumataua saw places and things his ancestors could not even have dreamed of.
But he never set foot back on his home island of Niue after leaving for World War I in 1914 and is buried nearly 2500km away at Waikumete Cemetery in Auckland.
Hatu was one of 150 young Niueans who sailed to New Zealand and the Narrowneck Military Camp near Devonport in late 1915.
All trained as part of the Maori Pioneer Battalion which also included soldiers from the Cook Islands, Fiji, Tahiti and the former Gilbert Islands – now called Kiribati.
Few, if any, had ever worn boots before and long hours of marching in restrictive footwear took their toll – as did an unfamiliar meat-heavy diet, language barriers and illness.
The battalion was mostly charged with labour intensive engineering and construction roles and its 3rd contingent, including Hatu, left New Zealand for Egypt in February 1916.
The harsh climate and exotic array of diseases took their toll and over 50 per cent of the Niueans were hospitalised within the next two months. Hatu was no exception and spent a number of days bedridden with a bronchial complaint before returning to his duties.
Some of his countrymen did not fare as well and were invalided back home.
Just 60 were considered healthy enough to make the five-day voyage by sea to France and service on the bloody Western Front.
Hatu, 22, was among them and braved enemy fire and appalling conditions to excavate muddy trenches in the sort of cold weather none of his mates had ever been exposed to in the South Pacific.
Illness again did its worst and there were at least two deaths.
The Niueans, now numbering just over 100, were shipped to England in June and four died before the survivors were transported back to New Zealand in two groups.
Hatu returned aboard the Corinthic and saw five friends buried at sea during the seven-week trip.
He was also gravely ill by the time the ship berthed in Auckland and was hospitalised with five others.
Hatu Taumataua, the only child of Puletoaki and Mokamahele, died on December 19, 1916, after being diagnosed with tuberculosis.
He left behind his wife Lakalakahetupe, who he'd married in July 1914, and their infant son Tiakia in the village of Lakepa where his medals were posted in 1923.
His widow eventually remarried but had no more children.
She is buried in Niue.
Some of Hatu's 11 grandchildren immigrated to New Zealand in the years ahead and settled in Auckland where their families still live today.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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