Monday (30 April 1917)

When last I left you I was anticipating a pleasant morning’s potato and onion peeling, but my hopes were frustrated by the substitution in a later edict of “Butchers Shop” for “Cook House”.  The work did not take above a couple of hours, but — well you know how fond I am of raw meat and scrubbing greasy floors.  I often wonder what some of the perkier individuals would look like were they asked to put their patriotism to the test by, say, carrying half a dozen carcasses of mutton out of the nether slums of the ship, up a precipitous stairway and into the evil-smelling den of the fleshers.  Pouff!  There is now a “Submarine guard”, armed men posted round the fore-parts of the vessel looking out for submarines or mines.  It doesn’t make us nervous, only blasphemous at the prospect of more frequent duty.  It is difficult to see what use the rifles would be.  Received wireless indicating that America seems to be on the move towards joining the Allies.  You would have been amused to see me last night yelling such devotional exercises as “In the sweet bye and bye” – “When the roll is called up younger” at a service held by the Methodist Chaplain.

Sunday (29 April 1917)

This morning, we went through the irksome performance of “kit inspection”, having to lug all our belongings, mattresses etc. up on the deck and display our wares there – pack them all up again and carry them back where they came from.  Our half-crown band is wailing somewhere amidships (so called because it owes its existence to a subscription of 2/6 per man levied prior to our departure).  Tomorrow I shall have another glimpse of the life of a scullion, being on cook-house fatigue, peeling spuds etc.  The band has after long practice learnt the pathetic strains of “Sweet Genivive” which it now repeats ad nauseam.  Wild statements that we are under invisible escort of a cruiser that only approaches at nightfall.  Sweep-stakes are regularly got up on the ship’s run.

“The irksome performance of ‘kit inspection'”(possible interpretation of what is going on), aboard New Zealand Troopship, SS Corinthic

Saturday, 26th day (28 April 1917)

Life-boat drill: – Four blasts of the whistle sounded about 11 a.m. and we all fell down the gangways, donned out life-belts, and “fell in” round our life boats.  This usually occurs on Saturday mornings.  News is very scarce with us.  If I repeat, that I have, on several occasions, obtained uninterrupted views of the vasty deep, I exhaust the day’s possibilities.

Friday, 25th day (27 April 1917)

On Fridays we always get fish for breakfast and rabbit for dinner so we look forward to it gastronomically.  Had tug-o-war and wrestling on the deck.  Have I mentioned the brown gulls that are now accompanying us?  They are very neat, sleek-looking chaps with knowing eyes; about the size of a molyhawk.

Wednesday (Anzac Day) (25 April 1917)

Beautiful weather and quite warm.  Came off boat guard about 9 a.m. and have been pretty sleepy all day.  Patriotic speeches made by officers and chaplain this afternoon.  Am trying to grow a moustache.  Coleridge knew something when he said “The sky and the sea and the sea and the sky, lay like a load on my weary eye”.  And yet he had never been on the ocean, which shows the power of imagination.  Further war news received by wireless.  For some time past the ship’s lights have been darkened.  Even the usual masthead navigation lights extinguished.

Monday, 21st day (23 April 1917)

All boats have now been swung out in readiness and an extra guard mounted.  Saw a remarkable rainbow this morning, encircling the stern of the ship; quite small and almost the entire circle visible owing to its unusual nearness.  Nurse said Kokiri was the perfect gentleman and that right up to his last gasp he always thanked them for anything done for him.  Only when he was delirious did he speak in Maori showing that his education (Te Aute) was so complete that he normally thought in English.  Received wireless news today, the first we have had of the outside world.

Sunday, 20th day (22 April 1917)

The voyage has really been hopelessly uneventful and though the weather has been phenomenally fine for these waters, it has been a bleak and cheerless business for one used to a climate like ours, or rather yours.  Notice: – “Men are warned to remove their dentures before vomiting”.

Tango Kokiri, Obiit. April 21 1917

IN the great depths of the Southern Sea,

Our comrade we’ve left at rest.

Leader and Chief of an ancient race,

Not yours the foe to bravely face!

What have you left behind?

An echo of courage and courtly mien,

A memory—merry and kind,

And “ greater love ” can as well be shown

By the passing away of a soul alone,

In the midst of a lonely sea.

What is the requiem song?

The tumble of wave, and the wind’s sad moan,

The albatross wheeling in flight,

Not the crash, and hurtle, and shriek of shell,

Or the triumph of battle’s might:

The ship sails on.   J. M. W.

HE was buried at sea with full military honours.  He had given his life for King and Country just as surely as if he had fallen in action.  A thousand men stood at attention as the body in its canvas shroud, draped with the Union Jack, was borne to the ship’s side by a party of officers, the band meanwhile playing “Rock of Ages.”  Behind the body came the men of the 15th Maori Reinforcement with arms reversed.  They made no attempt to hide their tears as they formed up in four ranks and stood with bowed heads, resting on their reversed arms beside the body of their beloved chief.  There was more than a suspicion of tears in the eyes of most of us.

The burial service was read by Captains A. J. Seamer and A. Allen, Chaplains to the Forces—by the former in Maori, and by the latter in English.  The great ship was stopped for the first time since leaving New Zealand, more than 6,000 miles away. She rested on the heaving sea while the great albatrosses wheeled and hovered above her.  The reading of the burial service was followed by a short prayer.  Then the flag was lifted from the shrouded body, which we saw for a moment before it disappeared into the sea.  A word of command brought the Maoris to attention, and they filed away to the ship’s side.  Three volleys were fired, and the sharp reports of the rifles were followed by the clear notes of the bugles sounding the “Last Post.”  A signal to the bridge caused the engines to move again, and the ship was soon on her way once more.

[Note – this obituary was published in the shipboard souvenir magazine Tiki Talk: Epistles of the Corinthians, 23rd Reinforcements New Zealand Expeditionary Force, Argus Printing Company, London, June 1917, p.11, copy held by Auckland War Memorial Museum, D526.2 TIK]

Tango Kokiri

[Note – this image is sourced from the Auckland War Memorial Museum “He Toa Raumata Rau: Online Cenotaph”, which provides a range of information on Lt Kokiri. See:  The Online Cenotaph also allows family members and others to provide further information on individuals.  The following is recorded about Kokiri’s death: “Near the Falkland Islands. My late father, Tangonui (Tango) Falkland Kokiri Kingi was born on 29/11/1917, and named after his father’s brother. He was also given the name Falkland to commemorate the nearest land mass to where his uncle had been buried at sea.”]

Saturday, 19th day (21 April 1917)

The Maori Officer Kokiri died early this morning and was buried in the forenoon.  Everyone is depressed as he was the most popular man on the ship.  The funeral was very impressive being an unusual combination – a Military funeral, a burial at sea and a Maori Service.  The firing party was composed of Maoris and many of the poor chaps were blubbering openly; but no-one thought less of them for that.  He was a father to them all.  The ship was stopped during the service.

A cold southerly breeze  has brought back the albatrosses – magnificent birds, usually with black wings let into white bodies, and big yellow beaks.  Their stretch of wing is enormous.  The way I prattle of birds will lead the censor to believe me to be a naturalist; but they are one of the few objects of interest.