Niuean war heroes marked

Last updated 12:54 21/05/2008
EVOTIA TAMUA THOMPSON
UNSUNG HEROES: Ligi and her husband Sisikefu are among those remembering Niue's contribution to World War One.

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Moves are being made to mark the graves of young Niuean men who fought in the New Zealand army during World War One.

About 150 men, nearly 4 percent of Niue’s population at the time, enlisted in October 1915.

A monument in Niue recognises their service but many have no individual gravestones.

Blockhouse Bay resident Ligi Sisikefu says her grandfather Talauta, who died in 1959, is among them.

"There is no headstone and a few others don’t have them either," Mrs Sisikefu says. "Even the ones who died straight after the war didn’t have tombstones – just rocks to mark where they lay."

New Zealanders who died as a result of their overseas service before 1921 were given headstones courtesy of the government.

Many of the families of those who died later got financial assistance.

But the situation is different in Niue where the issue has caused great despair among soldiers relatives.

"A lot of families are sad," Mrs Sisikefu says. "They can’t even find where their loved ones are buried."

The 61-year-old is part of the Auckland branch of the Niue RSA with her husband Sisikefu Sisikefu, whose grandfather also served in the war. Both are proud of their grandfathers’ efforts.

"It was worth it," Mrs Sisikefu says. "They were able to contribute to the cause."

Mrs Sisikefu worked as Niue government’s librarian and archivist and helped author Margaret Pointer put together a book about Niue’s involvement in the war called My Heart is Crying a Little.

The book claims that none of the Niuean contingent had ever worn shoes before enlistment and only 12 had some knowledge of English.

It says 52 percent were hospitalised abroad with illnesses and five were buried at sea. A further 15 died within five years of their return to Niue and most were buried in unmarked graves.

"It did have a toll on the island at the time," Mrs Sisikefu says. "A lot of people were devastated."

Mrs Sisikefu’s family is fundraising for a headstone for her grandfather and she hopes others will do the same.

Niue Island’s culture and heritage spokeswoman Moira Enetama says many soldiers are buried on family land.

"A number of the graves are covered by bush and we simply don’t know where others are.

"It’s history that is worth preserving."

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Anyone with information about Niuean servicemen from World War One can email Moira on taoganiue@niue.nu.

- Western Leader

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