The War Effort of New Zealand
Chapter II. — The Seizure and Occupation of Samoa
The Seizure and Occupation of Samoa.
On the night of 6th August, 1914—forty-eight hours after Britain's entry into the great war—His Excellency the Earl of Liverpool, Governor-General of New Zealand, received from the Secretary of State for the Colonies a secret, cabled despatch, part of which reads as follows:—
"If your Ministers desire, and feel themselves able to seize German wireless station at Samoa, we should feel that this was a great and urgent Imperial service…"
The Government on the following day unanimously approved, and immediate steps were taken to carry out the venture.
Since the first days of August, territorial units throughout the Dominion had been freely offering volunteers, and enrolment for active service commenced on the 8th instant. By August 11th a composite force, consisting of headquarters, one battery of field artillery, one section field company N.Z. engineers, three companies infantry (Wellintgon 5th and Auckland 3rd Regiments) and machine guns, one company N.Z. Railway Engineers, details from the Royal Naval Reserve, a signalling company, motor boat mechanics, Post and Telegraph Corps, Army Service Corps, one section N.Z. Ambulance, nurses and chaplains—a total of 1,413 rank and file, was fully equipped and ready to embark on the waiting transports.
On the morning of August 12th, from the Buckle Street drill hall in Wellington, went forth New Zealand's pioneers in the great war. Drawn mostly from the territorial forces, but with a good sprinkling of ardent spirits who had never before handled a service rifle, they had come at the first call of arms, full of that spirit of patriotism and adventure that characterised New Zealand's manhood throughout the long and bloody years of war that followed. Cheeredpage 24
During the next few days the troops were kept hard at work. They were soon shaken into platoons, and settled down to life aboard the troopships. The General Officer commanding the New Zealand Forces, Major-General Sir Alexander Godley, inspected the force on the 13th; and the following day the troops paraded on board for inspection by the Prime Minister (the Rt. Honourable W. F. Massey, P.C.). On the 14th the men were landed and exercised ashore, and on the afternoon of that day the awaited sailing orders were received.
A special holiday was declared in the city, and great crowds lined the streets as the troops marched to the Basin Reserve for a final farewell by the Governor-General. A short speech from His Excellency—God speed to the troops who were to sail as soon as possible on a mission both urgent and important—a burst of cheering, "God Save the King," and then the march back, amidst great enthusiasm, through thronged streets to the waiting transports.
Saturday, the 15th, broke mild and calm, with a pale moon in its last quarter as New Zealand's first transports, under sealed orders, moved from their anchorages and headed seaward. Wellington was not yet awake, but passing Seatoun, near the harbour entrance, in the still morning, the merchant boats assembled there under Admiralty orders for shelter, sounded a rally of whistles, and the permanent artillery, lined on the fort hills, cheered a lusty good-bye as the transports passed out.
The first two days out a choppy sea laid many a stalwart aside, but by Monday the 17th the troops had gained their sea legs and had settled down to work. That day the Pyramus, also a "P" class cruiser, joined the escort. The transports, meantime, were being painted man-o'-war gray. At night all lights were extinguished, and with its puny escort of three small cruisers the expedition set out to run the gauntlet of the German Pacific Squadron, which, mysterious wireless signals indicated, was somewhere in the vicinity.
During the days that followed the troops were kept hard at work, with drills by day and lectures by night. The chart was being closely studied by the troops, and speculation was rife as to the destination. For the time being Matufi, the German coaling station off New Guinea, became a point of interest; and Samoa, lying well to the east, fell for a time out of reckoning. At daylight on the morning of Thursday the 20th the cry went up of "Land Ahead," and many were the eager faces out of port holes and crowding the bows of the good ships Monowai and Moeraki for a glimpse of the first port of call, which proved to be Noumea, New Caledonia.
During the hours of darkness of the night just passed, the force had narrowly escaped disaster. The Noumea cable had been cut a few miles from the shore, and it later became known that the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, each of 14,000 tons, of the German Pacific Squadron, had passed south.
Turning into the inner harbour, the town of Noumea lay snugly under the hills, with its shipping at the wharves and the French Dreadnought Montcalm anchored in the stream. As we passed the latter her crew hung out and cheered vociferously, the bands struck up, ours the "Marseillaise" and theirs "God Save the King," and our anchors went down amidst a scene of the wildest enthusiasm ashore and afloat.
Later in the day the transports pulled alongside the wharves, where the whole cosmopolitan population of French Caledonia, in a blaze of colour, gathered to overwhelm "Nos Galantes Alliés" with the warmest of French welcomes. No shore leave, however, was the order of the day; but a brisk interchange of souvenirs commenced, and Noumean hospitality poured aboard in the shape of oranges, sweets, cigarettes, and (whisper it) vile wines. Well into the night the din continued, amid the everlasting strains, from the shore band, of the "Marseillaise," and "God Save the King," in rapid succession.
The reason for the visit to Noumea—which to the troops appeared in the light of a merry interlude—was now plain. It was a rendezvous for the various ships, and a coaling point. Two New Zealand colliers, laden with coal for the expedition, were awaiting the arrival of the force, and early next morning the Australian flagship Australia and the light-cruiser Melbourne arrived off the port, giving to the little expedition a sense of security. The troops were exercised ashore during the day, and the demonstrations of the inhabitants continued during the route march through the town, and well into the night.
During the day the fleet proceeded in the following formation:— but at nights the escort drew in close, and proceeded in single file about two lengths apart, with the Pyramus as rearguard and the Psyche scouting well ahead.
Smoke, many miles away on the horizon, caused a stir through the ships at daybreak next morning. The Melbourne left the line like a flash and was off at full steam for the place. It proved, however, to be nothing more interesting than a Norwegian collier bound from Newcastle to San Francisco. Needless to say a sharp lookout was being kept for the enemy ships.
On the morning of the 26th, in close heat and drizzling rain the expedition entered Suva harbour. A perky little quick-firer, placed there at the outbreak of war, commanded the entrance, and the Sea Lark was at the wharf having lately arrived from the Solomons, glad to be out of the way of the German ships.
Unlike Noumea, there was no demonstration at Suva. A woolly-headed Fijian dived off the wharf for the ship's shore line, and the wharf was under a strong guard of Fijian Constabulary.
Next morning the expedition left Suva, and the small remaining doubts as to destination were finally settled. A course was set for Samoa. Cartridge clips and equipment were served out, bayonets were ground, and water bottles were sterilised and filled. The troops were exercised in disembarkation drill, and elaborate plans were made, in readiness for forcing a landing.
After three days' heavy weather from Suva, 5 a.m. reveille on Saturday 29th August disclosed through the mist the rugged backbone of Upolu, gradually taking shape as the ships approached and the mist dispersed, until large plantation blocks could be distinguished on the hillsides. The troops, dressed in shorts and shirts, and carrying rations and 150 rounds of ammunition each, were early in formation for landing, and eager for what the day had in store. Nothing was known as to the preparations that had been made against an invasion of the territory, but it was considered probable that the German Pacific Squadron had assisted in preparing the town for defence.
At daylight the Psyche, at the head of the line, had drawn ahead and soon became a speck in the distance. In an hour, however, she could be picked up from the transports standing off the coast at Apia, and flying a white flag. She had already entered and swept the harbour for mines, had placed buoys, and had signalled the town to surrender. The shore wireless, a high-power station erected at great cost and completed but a few weeks, had early that morning endeavoured to send out an urgent call to the German ships of war, but a peremptory order from the flagship had brought immediate and final silence from that quarter.
On nearing the reef the whole escort turned in its course and formed a circle around the transports. The Australia, Melbourne and Montcalm moved seaward, and hovered around as an outpost against a possible appearance of the enemy ships, at the same time keeping the town well within range of their guns, and no reply having been received to the call to surrender, a landing party from the Psyche, under a flag of truce, passed through the reef entrance and headed for the landing in front of the Government offices, over which the German flag still flew. They carried a despatch from the Admiral demanding the immediate surrender of the territory. Crowds could be seen rushing from all quarters of the town to the spot, and, passing through, the landing party were lost to the view of the anxiously awaiting troops.
The Governor, Dr. E. Schultz, was, by pre-arrangement, not present to receive the landing party. At the first news of the coming force he had made off at top speed to the wireless station, some miles inland, leaving the Deputy-Governor to intimate that though the territory would not be surrendered, no resistance would be offered to the landing of the force. A message to this effect was immediately signalled to the flagship, and the news ran swiftly through the fleet.
An armed party had been hurriedly despatched to the wireless station, situated some six miles inland on the slopes of the foothills. The sun by now was steaming down in all its tropical heat, the clothing included the heaviest of New Zealand's underwear, and full packs were up, but the journey was done in record time in the anxiety of the troops to reach the place where it was understood the Germans might offer some resistance to the surrender of the station. Here also, however, not a shot was fired, the Germans in possession quietly surrendering their arms and giving themselves up as prisoners of war, having first put the station out of commission.
On the following morning, Sunday the 30th August, the British flag was formally hoisted and the occupation proclaimed by Colonel Robert Logan, A.D.C., N.Z.S.C., at the head of his troops and in the presence of the naval officers and many of the white and native inhabitants, while the warships boomed a salute from the bay. The occupation was complete.
The same day the transports, with the late Governor of Samoa and other prisoners of war aboard, left for New Zealand. On Tuesday the 1st September the warships put to sea, leaving the New Zealanders in occupation.
The first weeks of the occupation were marked by hard work in the tropical heat, discomforts and numerous alarms. Camps were established, trenches dug, roads formed and bridges built, and the wireless station fortified, while drills and route marches were carried out assiduously and guard and patrol duties gave little time for leisure. Still in their heavy issue of wearing apparel, the troops discarded it for shorts and shirts, but tropical complaints soon manifested themselves and began seriously to affect the health of the troops.
On 23rd September eleven German sailors who had escaped from an interned German liner at Pago Pago (American Samoa) put in to Apia in their ship's cutter under the mistaken belief that the place had reverted to German hands. They were promptly taken prisoners and later were transported to New Zealand.
The force now settled down to a work-a-day life. A newspaper was started, which as "The Unofficial Organ of the Advance Party" was called the "Pull Thro'." Six numbers appeared, issued as the unsettled circumstances allowed, and evidenced the diverse attainments of the force.
Towards the end of the year the health of some of the men became seriously affected. A few were returned to New-Zealand, and in April, 1915, the Pacific having been cleared of enemy ships, the force was reduced to some 250, almost the whole of the original party being withdrawn and replaced by men over military age.
By the end of 1916 German trade in the Pacific was broken, and active war had passed Samoa by.
And so, up to the signing of the Armistice, the occupation of Samoa continued. Colonel Logan remained as Commander of the occupying force and Administrator of the territory. The native inhabitants continued under British occupation, a quiet and law-abiding people. The trade of Samoa reached unprecedented heights to the benefit, not of the German war chest, but of the British and Allied nations and the territory itself.
Though a bloodless victory, to the Samoa Occupation Force of 1914 remains the honour of being the vanguard of New Zealand's army in the great war, and the first of the British troops to wrest from the enemy a portion of his territory for His Majesty King George V.