Unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Services 

 Search  &  Help Recruits Military History Hall of Heroes Indigenous Slouch hat + ARMY Today Uniforms Badges

 Colours & Flags Weapons Food Equipment Assorted Medals Armour Navy Air Power 

Nurses - Medical Tributes Poetry - Music Posters & Signs Leaders The Enemy Humour Links Killing Anzac

Category: Heroes

Click to go up one level

Lest We Forget:- Private Vilipate of Niue  Maori Bn NZEF 

Click for details

First World War Memorial Plaque: Diameter 4.75 inches - Cast in Bronze

Images and most text by Shaun Aumua

A chance discovery at an Epsom market by a prominent Auckland collector uncovered a find which is the subject of this article. On the surface the Memorial Plaque is like any other with the exception that the unfortunate soldier bears what is obviously a Polynesian name – Bili Pati. A subsequent search of New Zealand Defence Force and Commonwealth War Graves Commission databases uncovers the fact that no person by that name exists and the plaque is one of the many naming errors that are seen with ethnic soldiers. 

Further research and a process of deduction lead to the conclusion that the soldier was most likely Private Vilipate 16/1178 of the Niue Detachment to the 3rd Maori Reinforcement from the village of Liku Niue. As Vilipate had left Niue and gone to New Zealand but had not proceeded overseas on active duty the plaque would be his only entitlement.

According to Margaret Pointer in her book “My Heart is Crying a Little” Vilipate was the first Niuean to pass away while enlisted in the NZEF. He fell ill with double pneumonia on 15th December and passed away 10 days later on 25th December 1915. He was subsequently buried at O'Neills Point Cemetery on 27th December 1915, his burial service being conducted by 16/1176 Sergeant Uea.

To add even more confusion to the issue the CWGC lists this soldier as 16/1178 Vipata and it is this name that is inscribed on his headstone but no service number is inscribed. There also exists a discrepancy on his headstone were his unit is given as Maori Reinforcements, the CWGC site has him as NZ Training Unit yet he was clearly part of the Cook Island Contingent.

Pointer described the attestation process in Niue was a lengthy process with each question having to be read out then translated to Niuean. The recruits answer was then translated into English and recorded on the form. 

Unfortunately this document only adds to the confusion by using the name Vilipate although this name is also used on the official communication from the Niue Island Administration to the c/o 3rd Maori Reinforcements confirming Vilipate's parents had been informed of his death. On the memorial on Niue he is commemorated as 16/1178 Vilipate.

The last official clue to the identity of this south sea volunteer is entry number 36 in the Devonport Register book of deaths dated 25th  December 1915. This shows that a Valipata of Lota Niue died of double pneumonia.

  • So what do we have? We have a man with eight known spellings of his name – 

    • Vilipati, 

    • Villipate, 

    • Vilipate, 

    • Vilipata, 

    • Valipati, 

    • Valipata, 

    • Vipata and 

    • Bili Pati – 

      • who passed away far from home and was buried in a little known graveyard in Bayswater.

Why is a man who paid the ultimate price commemorated is such a haphazard way? The obvious language challenges contributed but I imagine colonialism also played a part. Perhaps future generations of Niueans will seek Vilipate using the usual methods and will miss the opportunity to pay their respects to one of their forefathers - the confusion over his name will not make their task easy. As military historians we have a responsibility to those that fell to ensure they are commemorated correctly. With Polynesians your name is your link to your lineage and the mana of your bloodline and as such it is of utmost importance that his sacrifice is correctly acknowledged.

Villipate’s entry in the Devonport register of births, deaths and marriages 1915

Devonport's (O'Neill's Point) Cemetery, North Shore, New Zealand

In Memory of


N.Z. Training Unit
who died on
Saturday, 25th December 1915.

Commemorative Information 

Cemetery:   Devonport (O'Neill's Point) Cemetery, North Shore City, New Zealand
Grave Reference:    Block G, Plot 126.
Location:    This cemetery is in King Edward Avenue, Belmont, Auckland (North Shore). There are 42 Commonwealth burials of the 1914-1918 war and 12 of the 1939-1945 war here.

British Commonwealth Memorial Plaques

Mid way through the First World War it was announced that next of kin of all soldiers from within the British Commonwealth, whose deaths were attributable to the War would receive a memorial plaque and scroll.

In 1917 a competition was announced to obtain a suitable design and 800 entries were eventually received. The winner, Mr. E. Carter Preston of Liverpool England was chosen in 1918. He was awarded a prize of 250 pounds sterling currency.

A Mr. Manning Pike directed manufacture of the memorial plaques at the 'Memorial Plaque Factory' set up at Acton London England. Some later plaques were made at Woolwich Arsenal London. Each plaque had the name of the soldier commemorated, individually embossed (although later some were

engraved) as part of the design. The soldiers full name was given without any indication of rank or honours to show equality of sacrifice of all those who lost their lives.

First World War Illuminated Scroll

A scroll seven inches wide by eleven inches in height was designed to accompany the plaque and was of thick paper bearing the following message -

'He whom this scroll commemorates was numbered among those who, at the call of King and Country, left all that was dear to them, endured hardness, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of men by the path of duty and self-sacrifice, giving up their own lives that others might live in freedom. Let those who come after see to it that his name is not forgotten.'

The plaques were enclosed in an envelope measuring five inches square, the flap of the envelope was embossed with the royal coat of arms. This in turn was enclosed in a thick cardboard container for dispatch to the next of kin, included was a small 'with compliments' slip.

Previously published in The Volunteers, journal of the New Zealand Military Historical Society.


Statistics : Over 35 million page visitors since  11 Nov 2002  



 Search   Help     Guestbook   Get Updates   Last Post    The Ode      FAQ     Digger Forum

Click for news

Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces