Tuesday, 12 May 2015


In Tahiti, since September 2014, numerous events have paid tribute to WWI, to WWI Papeete bombing (Sept 22nd, 1914) so that generations never forget.

As a tradition since 2007 in Tahiti, Anzac day  has been celebrated because two soldiers from WWI were buried in Tahiti: 

an Australian soldier (Robert William Fuhrstrom) and

a new Zealander soldier  (Corporal Roy John Leslie).

Private Fuhrstrom fought in France where he caught the trench pneumonia; after several stays in hospitals in Scotland, he was sent back to Australia and passed away on board “The Marathon” in Papeete on May 29th, 1918.

Corporal Leslie   survived Gallipoli then was sent to France where he was wounded; on his way back to New Zealand he died on board “The Maheno” on September 5th, 1917.

The French governor in Tahiti offered to bury them in Papeete, promising the graves will be looked after by the locals.

In April, the 100 years of Gallipoli were commemorated  in a very special way.

Beside a very impressive dawn service held on April 25th at Uranie cemetery (Papeete)  by the Australian  honorary consulate in partnership with the New Zealand  honorary consulate and the army, other events for general public and schools were organised from April 20-30th in Papeete.

The Australian honorary consulate and the Rotary club Papeete Tahiti co organized   four events.

-  1- Finding descendants of the two soldiers and  having them come  to Tahiti to attend the commemorations.   After more than 5 years of research, families were found and both soldiers’descendants attended: Anne Crozier, her husband Dave and their 3 children representing Roy Leslie, and Colleen Van Hees and her husband Martin (William Fuhrstrom) The ceremonies were fairly emotional.

- 2-  Organizing an exhibition dedicated to Anzac and our two soldiers. It was held at the Papeete townhall (our partner) from April 20-30th, 2015. This exhibition called “Anzac Day & Papeete,  WW1 Memories”  was supported the Australian government. It related the story of the Australian, New Zealander and French forces on the battlefields during WWI.  It  presented the superb intinerary exhibition  from the Australian consulate based in Noumea. Our two soldiers stories were  honoured and highlighted thanks to the book dedicated to Private Fuhrstrom written by June Johnson, their belongings, medals; the exhibition was enhanced by WWI uniforms, objects, magazines and photos and an impressive data base thanks to (ONAC, private collections…) A video and reading area was proposed to visitors for an Anzac universe immersion.

A great exhibition opening and cocktail for one hundred guests and the media.

- 3- Organizing the Gallipoli  film viewings (from Peter Weir  1981 with Mel Gibson) followed by  debate on April 24 at Liberty cinema in Papeete

One viewing/debate for schools and another film viewing and bilingual debate in the evening for general public. It was followed by a cocktail. The debates were conducted by WW1 historians (JC Shigetomi, Y Babin and C Raybaud).

- 4- The dawn service was held on April 25th  at Uranie cemetery (Papeete)  by the Australian  honorary consulate in partnership with the New Zealand  honorary consulate and the French military. A lot of emotions during  speaches,  pupils choir,  the three national anthems sung by Charles Atger Choir.

The  organisation and the success were based on the strong involvement of the two organizers Virginie Kiou  (Australian Honorary Consul assistant) and Cathy Gourbault-Lawrence  (Rotary Club Papeete-Tahiti), and the total support of Marc Siu (Australian Honorary Consul).

 The presence of Glenda Price, representing the General Consul of Australia, Murray Taylor  Australian federal Police officer and the descendants of our two soldiers gave a special dimension to the 100 th Gallipoli commemorations.

These ambitious projects became reality thanks to partners (ONAC, Papeete Township, New Zealand Honorary Consulate, Pacific Films, Air Tahiti Nui, Avis, Manava suite resort), and thanks to generous sponsors (Michelin, QBE and Rotary).

Without their precious supports, these events would not have been so successful.

The  Anzac day tributes in Tahiti were granted with the official approval by Australia, New Zealand and France to use the international WW1 centenary emblems.

In Tahiti, there was a huge media coverage (2 full pages in Newspaper and some other  small articles in newspaper, (2 radio interviews (Radio 1 and Tiare FM),  (5 reports on TV news (TNTV and Polynésie 1ère). A media saturation for 10 days ! Great for the Rotary image

The 100 Gallipoli year  celebrations in Tahiti honoured the Anzac role which have highly contributed to the close relationships between French Polynesia, Australia and New Zealand.

Anzac day & Papeete WW1 Memories was a great project which  paid a beautiful tribute to Anzac soldiers and honor their sacrifices.   

Lest we forget

Cathy Gourbault-Lawrence

Anzac Day & Papeete 2015 project co organizer Rotary Club Papeete- Tahiti