Samoan Advance Party
Among the first New Zealand troops to see active service in the war were 19 Collegians who were part of the Samoan Advance Party.
A dedication to the cause of Empire and loyalty to England is clear in New Zealand’s rapid mobilisation of the ‘Samoan Advance Party’ of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. Only two days after the country declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914, the British Secretary of State cabled the New Zealand government with a request to seize the German radio station in Samoa if at all possible.1
The German Pacific Squadron was an active threat in the region and the state-of-the art radio station near Apia was strategically important, providing communication with the Pacific fleet and with Berlin.2
The following day, the New Zealand government unanimously approved the request and set about mobilising a task force. This force, relying to a large extent on existing territorial forces, was soon ready to embark from Wellington. It included a headquarters, one battery of field artillery, one field company of New Zealand Engineers, three companies of infantry (Wellington 5th and Auckland 3rd regiments), machine guns, a company of N.Z. Railway engineers, a signalling company, Post and Telegraph corps, medical staff, nurses and chaplains – 1,413 rank-and-file in all. Colonel Robert Logan, in charge of the Auckland Military District, was appointed to command the Force, and to act as the Administrator of Western Samoa following the occupation of the country.3
Landing in Samoa
After leaving on the Monowai and Moeraki on 12 August 1914, the Advance Party received orders to sail to Noumea in New Caledonia where it would rendezvous with other forces making up the invasion force. Along the way, the convoy was escorted by the older cruisers Psyche, Philomel and Pyramus. Arriving in Noumea on 20 August, the convoy was fortunate not to have encountered the much more powerful German cruisers, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, which had passed close by the night before, cutting the Noumea telegraph cable.4
At Noumea, the expedition was resupplied and joined by the Australian flagship Australia, and the light-cruiser Melbourne, as well as the old French dreadnought, Montcalm, before departing on 23 August. After a brief stopover at Suva on 26 August, the convoy sailed on its final leg to Samoa and an expected opposed landing: the troops, now aware of their destination, were issued with ammunition and given final training for disembarkation and landing.5
In the event, the landing at Apia on 29 August was unopposed as the German administration had decided to offer no resistance.6 Psyche went ahead to reconnoitre the harbour and clear any mines, and signalled the town to surrender. All remained quiet, so they landed and the town was quickly in New Zealand hands. The German flag was hauled down, government buildings entered, and equipment and supplies were commandeered, while the heavier equipment was brought ashore. An armed party was rapidly despatched to the radio station, six miles inland in the hills, but again no resistance was met although the station had been sabotaged. Collegian Robert McFarland was part of this action, describing the station as a ‘magnificent structure, £50,000 worth’. He was also pleased with the German flags he had captured, which he intended for the College’s club rooms.7
Formal occupation of the German territories in the Samoan Islands by the New Zealand government took place the next morning, Sunday 30 August, when the Union Jack was hoisted and Colonel Robert issued a proclamation, effectively declaring martial law.8
The troops now settled into the routines of occupation - establishing camps, drilling, improving the infrastructure and generally defending the territory. The German administrators were replaced by military appointees, and eventually interned in New Zealand until the end of the war, along with the Governor, Dr Erich Schultz, and other German citizens considered a threat.9
German businesses were placed in military liquidation, which had major impact on the large trading firm, the Deutsche Handels- und Plantagen-Gesellschaft der Sűdsee-Inseln zu Hamburg (DHPG), with interests across the Pacific.10 The grievances and claims brought about by wartime confiscations were similar to those in Tonga, which are extensively detailed in the Western Pacific Archives.11
As Robert McFarland’s letters make clear, for the troops spending their days in relative inactivity, boredom soon set in along with an abiding sense of missing out on the bigger action in Europe and the Middle East. In September he wrote ‘We are all dying to get to Europe now though there does not seem much chance. Nothing very exciting happens nowadays…’.12 To make matters worse, many of the troops suffered from discomforts and diseases contracted in the tropical environment, including McFarland who was hospitalised twice during his tour with dengue fever and influenza.13
However, there were some moments of excitement soon after the occupation. The most alarming was the appearance on 14 September of the feared warships, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, the latter actually entering the harbour. After a tense standoff, the ships sailed away, apparently because Admiral Graf von Spee could see no strategic advantage in an isolated victory, and the British ships he had expected to find had departed.14
Then on 23 September a boatload of German sailors who had been interned in Pago Pago but escaped arrived in Apia harbour, only to be captured and later interned in New Zealand.15
Publishing a newspaper also helped relieve the boredom for the troops. They formed `The Literary Committee of the Advance Party', and managed to publish seven issues of The Pull-Thro’ between October 1914 and May 1915. McFarland’s own copies were retained by his family and have now been donated to the Library: they give a soldier’s perspective in this isolated station, including indifferent rations, annoying personalities, and sporting activities.16
The six-month tour of the initial occupation force came to an end in April 1915 with the arrival of the relief force from New Zealand. However, the transition to the New Zealand administration would become permanent with the League of Nations Mandate (1920) followed by the United Nations trusteeship (1946), until the country received its independence on 1 January 1962 as Western Samoa.17
And what of the 19 Collegians in Samoa? They went on to serve in other campaigns, including at Gallipoli and at the Western Front. Eight would die during the War.
Stephen Innes, Special Collections
- Stephen John Smith, The Samoa (N.Z.) Expeditionary Force 1914-1915, Wellington, 1924, p.14.
- Smith, The Samoa (N.Z.) Expeditionary Force 1914-1915, pp.41-42.
- Smith, p.15.
- Stephen John Smith, ‘The seizure and occupation of Samoa’, in H.T.B. Drew ed. The war effort of New Zealand, Auckland, 1923, p.27.
- Smith, The war effort of New Zealand, p.33.
- Malama Meleisea, The making of modern Samoa : traditional authority and colonial administration in the history of Western Samoa, Suva, 1987, p. 103.
- Robert McFarland First World War letters, 31 August 1914. Private collection.
- Smith, The Samoa (N.Z.) Expeditionary Force 1914-1915, p.64-65.
- Smith, The Samoa (N.Z.) Expeditionary Force 1914-1915, p.37.
- Smith, The war effort of New Zealand, p.41.
- Great Britain. High Commission for Western Pacific Islands. Western Pacific Archives. MSS & Archives 2003/1. Special Collections, University of Auckland Libraries and Learning Services.
- McFarland letters, 9 September 1914.
- Smith, The Samoa (N.Z.) Expeditionary Force 1914-1915, pp 82-84; McFarland letters, 5 November 1914; 10 November 1914.
- J.A.C. Gray, Amerika Samoa, Annapolis, Md. : United States Naval Institute, 1960, p.185.
- Smith, The Samoa (N.Z.) Expeditionary Force 1914-1915, pp.79-80.
- The Pull-Thro’. Apia, 1914-1915.
- 'New Zealand in Samoa', (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 28 July 2014.