25 Apr 2020

Listen: Coastwatchers - Operation Pacific

From Coastwatchers - Operation Pacific, 11:00 am on 25 April 2020
The Crew records Henry Wichman at the Cook Islands RSA.

The Crew records Henry Wichman at the Cook Islands RSA. Photo: Aotearoa Media Collective

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They are the unsung heroes of the New Zealand war effort.  From tin huts dotted across the remote islands of the South Pacific, local men, women and in some cases entire villages supported the covert intelligence network for the New Zealand war administration during WWII.

They were the eyes and ears of the Pacific Ocean; watching for strange ships and aircraft, while listening into radio activity and diligently reporting any activity back to New Zealand Headquarters.  Their native tongue gave the Pāsifika coast watchers an added advantage, they leapfrogged secret encryptions from one island to the next before it was sent using morsecode to Fiji and onto New Zealand.

The Crew records Eke and Ngapuna.

The Crew records Eke and Ngapuna. Photo: Aotearoa Media Collective

Very little is recorded about their efforts or the jeopardy these Pacific Islanders placed themselves in to defend our freedom and our futures.

Researcher and grandson of an original Native Wireless Operator, Willie Cuthers is on a mission to change that.  Cuthers wants formal acknowledgement and recognition for his grandfather and namesake William Cuthers and the other men who served New Zealand.

Cuthers’ grandfather was part of a network which included hundreds of operators, technicians and support workers from New Zealand.  Working alongside them, the Pacific Islanders were recruited to operate outstations on most remote Pacific atolls in what would be a lonely, isolated and dangerous job.

As a New Zealander with Pacific and Māori heritage, Cuthers set out to learn more about his grandfather’s efforts, the journey took him throughout New Zealand and finally back to Rarotonga where he met many grandchildren of the Native Wireless Operators.

The Pacific Islands were of strategic significance to New Zealand in defending Japan against reaching New Zealand shores but they have been all but left out of our military history.

These Pasifika men played their part in New Zealand’s defence system during World War II, but their contribution has never been formally acknowledged by New Zealand in contrast to the contribution of the New Zealand European Coastwatchers which was formally recognised in 2012 by the New Zealand Defence Force.

Palm Trees in the scenic Cook Islands.

Palm Trees in the scenic Cook Islands. Photo: Aotearoa Media Collective

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