1951: Former radio chief Ernest Dunwoodie dies

This is an obituary of Ernest Edward ‘Dun’ Dunwoodie, former Chief Postmaster and Superintendent of Radio in Samoa, who died at Auckland, aged 59, on 28 April 1951.

Mr Dunwoodie was also recorded as “the first man on duty” at the opening in 1913 of Awarua Radio ZLB.


Pacific Islands Monthly, 1 June 1951

Sudden death of notable Dunwoodie of Samoa

The late Mr Dunwoodie, with Mrs Dunwoodie and their grand-daughter Terry

The late Mr Dunwoodie, with Mrs Dunwoodie and their grand-daughter Terry

One of the most notable and highly-esteemed public servants of two generations in the South Pacific, Mr EE Dunwoodie, died suddenly in Auckland on April 28, aged 59. He was Chief Postmaster and Superintendent of Radio in Western Samoa from the time of the New Zealand occupation in 1914 until his retirement in 1936. He married a part-Samoan woman; and he and his wife were leading and beloved figures in Polynesia for many years.

‘Dun,’ as he was generally known, joined the New Zealand Post and Telegraph service in 1905; and about 1910, when he was recognised as one of the best and speediest telegraph operators in the Southern Hemisphere, he was introduced to radio.

When 1914 came, he was one of the first New Zealanders to enlist for overseas service, and he sailed on the first troopship a few days after the outbreak of war, as radio specialist. They thought they were going to France; but they found themselves at Noumea and, a few days later, off the German Colony of Western Samoa. They had been given the task of capturing the large German radio station there, and occupying the German colony. They were ready to fight, but there was no shooting.

Mr Dunwoodie, with two others, proceeded unofficially ahead of the troops to the station at Tafaigata. On the way, they located the popular ‘half-way house near Tuaefu and were royally treated.

Carrying on to Tafaigata, they were hospitably received by the German wireless staff – a bottle of Scotch figuring in the proceedings. By the time the troops arrived, later in the day, the station had been ‘seized.’

With the rank of Regimental Sergeant-Major, Mr Dunwoodie was appointed second-in-command of the station, and his outstanding ability was soon recognised. For most valuable service rendered during the first year of the Military Occupation, he was decorated with the French Medaille Militaire. His several requests for service in Europe were refused and in October, 1916, he became Commanding Officer. Under Civil Administration in 1920 he was made Officer-in-charge of the station.

With the amalgamation of the Postal and Radio Departments in 1930 he was made Chief Postmaster as well as Superintendent of Radio – positions he held until his retirement on superannuation in December, 1936.

Mr Dunwoodie was a model civil servant, one who earned the respect of all citizens. He held fine ideals, and possessed tack of a high order, and his motto was service before self; he was a public servant first and an official second.

Mr Dunwoodie was the only Postmaster who attended to mails irrespective of the time of their arrival or departure, and he thus earned the gratitude of all citizens, and the business community in particular.

Mr and Mrs Dunwoodie took an active interest in all things pertaining to Samoa and its welfare. It is recalled that on his initiative and action, he trained numerous part-Samoans in the art of wireless telegraphy, and erected stations in the Tokelau Group, in addition to several out-stations in Upolu. He obviated the need to recruit civil servants in New Zealand to maintain the postal and radio services, and placed those outlying places in constant contact with Apia. With the exception of one other European, all his services in and outside Apia were staffed with native lads.

Mr Dunwoodie had a remarkable sense of humour, and a keen memory. It is a pity he did not write a book from the storehouse of knowledge that he possessed. Many hundreds, including overseas personages, will remember the generous hospitality so freely given at Tafaigata.

The farewell function tendered in the honour in December, 1936, was the most successful and representative gathering held in Apia for many years, and was an indication of the high esteem in which the Dunwoodies were held.