Nooroa Te Hira: “Historical sites of the Arras Tunnels, Vimy Ridge, Ypres, Passchendaele, Messin and the Menin Gate are on our tour. We will be visiting cemeteries and war sites, where we will lay wreaths, pray and pay homage.” Photo Emma Haas

Illustrator Nooroa Te Hira is set to travel back in time when he ventures to Europe for a month. He leaves this weekend to commemorate the unsung New Zealand heroes who spent years digging tunnels to help the Allies in World War I.

“I am a part of an official Cook Island Arts and Culture group heading to London, France and Belgium to acknowledge the Centenary Celebration of the WWI Tunnels in Arras, Northern France,” Nooroa says.

There is a vast military tunnel system hidden under the French city. Kiwi soldiers and men of the New Zealand Tunnelling Company (NZTC) played a significant part in its development. They constructed a complex system of galleries, subways, kitchens, headquarters and hospitals. To assist orientation, the locations in one of the systems were all given New Zealand place names.

By the end of the war, official records show 937 men had served in the NZTC and at least 62 of them never returned.

To honour those men, Nooroa is going to Europe with an artist group of 32 who exhibited Lest We Forget the 500 Cook Island Soldiers in Devonport and Rarotonga.

“My role is to be an illustrator and visual communicator. I am not a senior member, however I am able to communicate in basic French and German among others, so I am confident I can assist my group in sharing our culture with greater Europe,” he says.
The group flies out of Auckland on Saturday. Nooroa has personally paid for his flights, and his accommodation is sorted through the New Zealand Embassy. However, he would appreciate support on his living expenses.

“I am asking the greater Waiheke Island community if they would support my living costs in the form of financial support.”

He will be producing a 30-page book of the journey illustrated with photographs and original artwork. Anyone who supports Nooroa financially will have their family name included in the acknowledgement pages.

“I would obviously like to give back to the community afterwards with talks and presentations,” he says.

“This is an important historical event I will be representing New Zealand and Waiheke Island. Please help me to achieve a successful journey. I am receptive to talks and correspondence.”

Payments can be made through bank transfer to account number 02-1242-0517584-032 (Nooroa TeHira Anguna).
Emma Haas

Send messages
If you have a family member who died in the war, Nooroa will take your letters or messages to Europe with him. Send by email to and he will display it with others at their London exhibition.
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