New Zealand's Invasion of Samoa in 1914. 2014-08-19. 21:00-22:00.

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Tono kōrero mai

Germany governed Samoa from the turn of the century until, just a week after the declaration of what became the First World War, Britain asked New Zealand to disable a radio mast in German Samoa. It gladly accepted. This country had been very keen to establish an empire in the Pacific and the acquisition of Samoa was a key part in this.

The New Zealand force of nearly 1400 expected opposition but German Samoa had no soldiers or military hardware and surrender occurred almost immediately, and New Zealand ruled Samoa for the next 48 years.

Radio New Zealand International deputy editor Don Wiseman has been digging into this period of our history and found a fascinating era that has not been extensively documented. He speaks to academics and other interested parties about the events, considering New Zealand's imperial ambitions, the impact on the Samoans, the German settlers and tries to discover the long-term legacy of the German colonial period.

[Programme script supplied by producer]

Two days after Britain accepted New Zealand's offer of help in the war against Germany, on the 12th of August, it had managed to assemble nearly 1,500 troops in Wellington.

They sailed on the 15th, arrived on the 29th and the German administration in Samoa surrendered without a fight, almost immediately.

It could have gone badly wrong.

While the Germans on Samoa had no soldiers or military equipment at their disposal, neither Britain nor New Zealand seemed to know that.

The late historian Michael King has written that when the Massey Government cabled Britain to ask about the defences on Samoa, they were told to consult Whitaker's Almanac, which he says yielded no information about Samoa.

But the invasion force did know that the German cruisers, the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were in the region.

It is believed they came within 25 kilometres of the New Zealand troop ships, the Monowai and the Moeraki, and their half dozen warship escorts from New Zealand, Australia and France.

New Zealand writer and Queen's Counsel, Leonard Poulter Leary, was a law student at Victoria University when he signed up at the outbreak of war.

Mr Leary died in 1990 at the age of 98 but in an interview conducted a number of years earlier he told Spectrum's Jack Perkins of his recollection of the seizing of Samoa.

We take up the account when Jack asked Mr Leary if they expected fighting to occur.


That is the late Leonard Poulter Leary recalling to Jack Perkins his role in the New Zealand invasion of Samoa.

It may have been a risky venture just to take out a radio mast but historian and writer Stevan Eldred Grigg says there was much more driving it.

I asked him how New Zealand got involved in Samoa.


That is Stevan Eldred Grigg.

Auckland University professor Damon Salesa says this idea of a New Zealand maritime empire had been around since the 1870s.

He agrees New Zealand had had to trim its expectations into the 20th century but there were some successes for a government wanting overseas territory.


That's Damon Salesa.

Dr Tamasailau Sua'alii Sauni teaches in the Pacific Studies department of Victoria University.

I spoke to her about the reaction of Samoans to the arrival of the new colonial masters and she says there was no sense of being invaded.


Louise Marie Mataia is Samoan and has been working on her PHD in history at the National University of Samoa.

She has been doing additional work at Victoria University over the past 18 months.

I also asked her if the arrival of the New Zealand military had a significant impact on Samoans.


Hans Joachim Keil, who clearly has German links, is a former Samoan Cabinet Minister who now runs a radio station in Apia.

He says there was a good atmosphere in Samoa during the German period.


Dr Sua'alii Sauni says the German era is being viewed more and more favourably by Samoans.


New Zealand artist Michael Tuffery has strong links to Samoa and is passionate about Siamani Samoa or German Samoa.

He has conducted research into the link and looked at the legacy, resulting in an exhibition called Samoa and Germany: Old Ties and New Relationships.

Over the past 3 years it has been featured in New Zealand, Samoa, Munich and Australia.

The research is ongoing and I asked him how difficult it has been to find out about this period.


That is artist Michael Tuffery, who referred 'To Walk Under the Palm Trees' an account of the histories of the German families, then and now.

It was compiled by another New Zealander with links to colonial Samoa, Tony Brunt.

He says Samoa gained considerably through its links with Germany.


That's Tony Brunt.

It is well documented just how poor the New Zealand administration was during the first 20 years but from the mid thirties things began to change, as Dr Tamasailau Sua'alii Sauni notes.


That is Victoria University Pacific Studies lecturer, Tamasailau Sua'alii Sauni.

I am grateful to her, historians Damon Salesa, Stevan Eldred Grigg and Louise Marie Mataia. Further thanks go to artist Michael Tuffery, writer Tony Brunt, veteran Samoa politician Hans Joachim Keil. I also appreciate having access to Jack Perkins interview of World War One veteran, Leonard Poulter Leary QC.

I'm Don Wiseman

[The documentary is preceded in this recording by the 9pm news.]

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Request information

Year 2014

Reference number 262153

Media type AUDIO

Collection Sound Collection

Genre Documentary radio programs
Nonfiction radio programs
Radio programs
Sound recordings

Credits RNZ Collection
Burke, Warwick, Newsreader
Wiseman, Don, Producer
Radio New Zealand National, Broadcaster

Duration 01:00:00

Date 19 Aug 2014

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