After Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914, New Zealand sent an Expeditionary Force Advance Party to the German territory of Sāmoa. They were tasked with capturing the island, including the state-of-the-art wireless tower recently erected near Apia.
New Zealand's first action in WWI
Just ten days after New Zealand received word that Britain had gone to war, the transports of the Expeditionary Force Advance Party slipped out of Wellington early in the morning en route to a destination not then known by the men and women aboard. This force numbered just over 1400, comprised largely of Territorials and previously-experienced volunteers from the military districts of Wellington and Auckland, and six nurses (a seventh joined the party in Fiji).
The occupation was requested by Britain as "a great and urgent Imperial Service," and Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Logan, Advance Force commander and military administrator, was responsible firstly to the New Zealand government and ultimately to the imperial government.
The landing on 29 August was an orderly affair and the New Zealanders faced no resistance from the German Administration and residents. The main road, junctions and public buildings were quickly secured and German flags and other official insignia were taken down. The Post Office was among the first of the government buildings taken over, the wireless station the last (six miles outside Apia, uphill).
Extremes of experience
Among those who acquired souvenirs on that first day were members of the Auckland Divisional Signallers. The Signallers were men from Auckland's College Rifles volunteers. Twenty five men and one officer from College Rifles had been quick off the mark when war was declared and were on the train for Wellington at noon on 8 August to became part of the Advance Force headed for Sāmoa. In a three-page letter home dated Monday, 1 September 1914, Sapper William Walter (Billie) Dove of the Signallers wrote: "We have all our tents pitched in a cocoa-nut grove right alongside the sea, and are as comfortable as we can be... Things are settling down wonderfully here, and within a few days everything will be right… I do wish Mother and Father could come down here for a trip. The place is like a Garden of Eden. Everything is glorious."
However, the lack of action soon made the New Zealanders bored and "nearly mad to go to the front". In early 1915 a relief garrison of older men was sent to Sāmoa to replace those members of the Advance Force who were keen to join the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in Europe. Billie Dove was one of the soldiers who felt it was "necessary and my duty" to go on to the "real fighting". He survived the Great War, but 266 (18.5%) of those who originally went up to Sāmoa did not.
Consequences for Sāmoa
Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Logan remained the administrative head in Sāmoa throughout the war. These years were largely uneventful. However, the last months of the military administration in 1918 were marred by the devastating outbreak of influenza, brought to the islands on the trading vessel, SS Talune. The illness quickly spread with terrible consequences for the Sāmoan people.
Two years later the League of Nations formally awarded New Zealand administrative jurisdiction over Sāmoa and it was more than forty years before the nation regained independence.
Cite this article
New Zealand troops in Sāmoa. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 22 September 2015. Updated: 22 March 2016.