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: http://www.aucklandmuseum.com/war-memorial/online-cenotaph/record/C8429.  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.

Thursday, 17th day (19 April 1917)

Got a chap, cook or something, to do some washing for me, and his charges were amazing – 3d. Each for handkys.  Some seals or sea-lions have been seen.  What must be a Cape Pidgeon flew around the boat.  Several explanations were forthcoming, e.g. that it was the Dove come to tell us that land was in sight – that Peace was declared.  We hear that we passed more than 200 miles south of the Horn.  The Maori Officer is seriously ill having been operated on for appendicitis, and we are all very sorry to hear it.  He had won all hearts.

Wednesday (18 April 1917)

The sea pure ultramarine and almost calm.  The first night on which the stars have been clearly visible.  The Southern Cross is almost directly overhead.  Looking forward to seeing the unfamiliar constellations of the Northern Hemisphere.  An albatross or bird of that genus was following the ship today, a fine fellow with black tipped wings – something like a giant gannet.