The Maoris in the Great War
- A Company.—Revetting and building up the “P. and O.” communication trench.
- B Company.—Construction of light railway to Crucifix.
- C Company.—Working with B Coy. and salvaging material; constructing Wattle Spur Line; doubling plank road from Westhoek to Divisional boundary; building Y.M.C.A. hut at Lille Gate. Each Company worked three platoons a day, Sundays included. This scheme worked well and insured continuity of work. The ground was frozen hard.
Plan of Barb-wire Defences constructed by the Pioneer Battalion, near Ypres, Western Front, March, 1918.
Thirteen reinforcements arrived on January 13th, and had their taste of a snow fall in Flanders. On the 14th, the Rarotongans and other South Sea Island men, numbering fifty, left to join the Rarotongan Company in Egypt. Lieut. Wilson went in charge as far as Marseilles. A thaw and heavy rain now complicated the toil of the Pioneers and its various jobs. “Rain and slush,” the O.C. wrote; “all unrevetted work is flowing in like porridge.”
On January 17th, Major Peter Buck left the Battalion on transfer to the New Zealand Medical Corps, after a most useful period of service with the Pioneers. He served through the Gallipoli campaign with his Maoris, as M.O., and in the West Front fighting as a combatant officer. His departure was very deeply regretted by all his fellow-New Zealanders. 34 Maori reinforcements arrived that day. Shelling on both sides was very active during this period. On the 20th, three of the Maoris were hit, but only one was bad enough for hospital.
On the 21st, Lieut.-Col. Saxby went round the artillery positions with the staff Captain, N.Z.F.A., with a view to putting in 9-lb. tram lines to supply them. A scheme was arranged which would take 2,600 yards of line. Next day C Company started on this line formation in front of Westhoek. On the 23rd, two men were wounded, but not seriously, by shell-fire. On the 24th, the O.C. arranged with the Royal Engineer officers to carry a dummy tram formation about 300 yards past Crucifix Dump so that the railhead should not show up too conspicuously in enemy aerial photographs. This day one man was wounded.
The month's work gave the Battalion a good deal of experience in dealing with frozen ground. Formation done while the ground was hard collapsed badly as soon as the thaw commenced, and the trenches and drains were filled with liquid mud. In the new job on the Crucifix communication trench, no more work was done than could be page 134 revetted the same day. Plank roads in hard weather were as slippery as glass, and even with frost cogs on the horses could not take an ordinary load. Far better use was being made of the light railways, on which trains now ran through right up to Crucifix Dump. Generally speaking, the Battalion had a quiet month, with casualties far below those of December. One man died of wounds, and one officer and 16 men were wounded. The health of the Battalion had been fairly good; the sick parades much smaller than those of December, but the evacuations were rather heavier—one officer and 80 other ranks. Many of those sent out soon returned from the rest camp and hospital.
February was a fairly quiet month for the Pioneers, but it did not pass without casualties. Two men were killed and and officer and six men were wounded. The fatalities (C Coy.) occurred on February 19th, when the men were at work on the P. and O. communication trench.
Lieut.-Col. Saxby went on 30 days' leave and in his absence Major W. O. Ennis had command of the Battalion.
Pte. H. Kanara, A Company, was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the King of the Belgians, and the decoration was presented by General North on the 12th. About this time the shelling on the forward area was heavy. Work on the 9-lb. artillery line forward of Westhoek, was discontinued owing to the removal of the batteries. A good deal of labour was wasted on this line through the failure of the artillery to advise the Pioneers of their intention to remove guns. 2nd Lieuts. Gannon, Ngatai, and Mete Kingi reported from the Base on the 13th and were posted to D Company. Various heavy works were carried on well including the P. and O. trench, on which 230 men were working. On the 18th shelling in the forward area was above normal, and 2nd Lieut. Dufaur and four men were wounded in the P. and O. trench. There were fifteen “blow-outs” on the Westhoek Road, and the work of repairing was heavy. On the 20th orders were received to arrange exchange of work with the 19th Lancashire Fusiliers (Pioneers, 49th Division). The officers of the two corps went over the Divisional and Company works together, and on the 22nd the page 135 Maori Battalion took over work on No. 9, Potsdam. The P. and O. trench had been completed all but 100 yards of building up on each side just forward of the reserve line. The digging and building of this work was a big task and A and C Companies worked very hard to complete it. A Company specially received high praise for the excellence of the job. The Crucifix trench had been dug, revetted and duck-walked, providing fair cover from Crucifix to the reserve line. D Company did good work on this trench. The light railway from Hannebeke to Crucifix was handed over by B Company in excellent order. On the 24th, the New Zealand Division, less two companies of Engineers, the Maori Battalion, Working Brigade and Artillery were relieved by the British 49th Division.
On the 27th, 2nd Lieuts. Pohio and Te Hau and 19 other ranks reported from the Base.
The first part of March was spent in Ypres carrying on the trench and wire work, wiring south of the Menin Road and strengthening the Frezenberg Post. Work here was the construction of a traversed fire trench to the embankment. The country throughout was marshy and difficult of drainage and badly shaken up with shell-fire. Forward of this line was “Potsdam,” a post consisting of four strong German pill-boxes and gun position connection by a traversed trench. A Company was well ahead with a lot of heavy concrete work here, constructing machine-gun positions, but had to leave the job unfinished when the Battalion was withdrawn. In the Frezenberg Post about 80 tons of concrete was put in to strengthen the existing pill-boxes and these were connected with a traversed trench. Wiring south of Menin Road was in charge of Lieut. Leef with three platoons. The type adopted on this front was three parallel lines of double apron fence at about 20 yards interval. The Battalion was also about to start work on Jackdaw Post on the Menin Road, but this with all other work was stopped on March 21st.
Major Ennis, Captain Chapman and Lieut. Pohio fell ill with malaria and were sent out to hospital on the 22nd and 23rd.