The Maoris in the Great War
Preface — (By the Hon. Sir Maui Pomare, K.B.E. C.M.G., M.D., M.P.)
(By the Hon. Sir Maui Pomare, K.B.E. C.M.G., M.D., M.P.)
On this Anzac Day eight years ago nearly a thousand Maori Pioneers were toiling and fighting in the trench-seamed barb-wired Western Front in the most fearful struggle of man against man that this war-soaked globe had ever seen. From beginning to end a total of over 2,200 Maoris and several hundred South Sea Islanders of allied Polynesian blood wore khaki and obeyed the bugle call of the Empire which until that world-wide “Fall in” sounded had been but a vague name to most, and to many indeed quite unknown. The eleven years which have elapsed since the Hokowhitu a Tu sailed from these shores for Egypt and Gallipoli have given us the length and breadth of vision needful to estimate at its full value not only the service which our Maori people gave to their country and their allies but also the reflex of that service on the position of the Maori as a social and political entity in the life of New Zealand.
Our people's voluntary service in the Great War gave a new and glorious tradition to the story of the Maori race. It gave the crowning touch to the sense of citizenship in the British commonwealth; it satisfied in the one fitting fashion the intense desire of the Maori to prove to the world that he was the equal of the pakeha in the fullest sense—physically, mentally and spiritually. The rush of the Maori to offer his life in the nation's service not only gave proof that his hereditary fighting temper was as strong as ever at the call of danger; it enabled him to exhibit the supreme qualities of citizenship, a larger patriotism than mere clanship; endurance, valour and self-sacrifice in the highest degree.
Our people were quick to realise their sacred obligation to join in the great cause. Within a few hours of the sounding of the war tētere, the Government received eager offers from men of the Maori race. At that time it was not considered page X wise for us to participate in the actual fighting, and so the Hokowhitu a Tu left these shores for garrison duty, but the galvanic current of battle stirred the warrior blood of ancestral chieftains in their veins, and they asked that they might be allowed to go to the firing line. They were given the opportunity at Malta to continue on garrison duty if they so chose. The order was given, “Those who wish to remain on garrison duty slope arms.” Not a rifle moved, not an eye blinked. That was the spirit of Anzac unity. And so over the Aegean Sea they went and fought and endured in the Homeric fields of old, and the spirit of Helen watching from the crumbled walls of Troy saw the deeds of her warriors outdone by a handful of men from thousands upon thousands of miles away, from an undreamed-of land under the Southern Cross.
Two days of the War years stand out above all in one's memory. One was the day in February, 1915, when those splendid lads of the First Maori Contingent marched through Wellington streets on the farewell ceremonial parade. The other was the day in August of that year when the news came of their share in the battle of Sari Bair. The casualty list of the most glorious August in our history brought grief to many Maori homes; but that grief was submerged in the higher thought that the Maori had proved himself; that the Gallipoli test had found him ready and had for ever joined his name and mana with those of his pakeha brother. Henceforth he was the racial peer of any man on earth.
This history tells the story of Gallipoli and France in detail in so far as concerns the Maori Contingent, or the Pioneer Battalion as it became after Gallipoli. Others besides our historian Mr. Cowan have told how gallantly the Maoris took their share of those terrific days on the Peninsula, where they had to encounter not merely human foes but killing heat, insect plagues, disease-saturated dust, thirst and sickness. They could well have said after that ordeal: “We are few men, but well hardened.” Mr. John Masefield joined our lads with the fighters of the Empire in his “Gallipoli”; he wrote of the Sari Bair storming parties:
Men of all races were banded together there. There were Australians, English, Indians, Maoris and New Zealanders made one by devotion to a cause, all willing to die so that their comrades might see the dawn make a steel streak of the Hellespont from the peaked hill now black against the stars.
Those deeds of our men on Gallipoli Peninsula, their long purgatory in the trenches, their heroic labours as Pioneers in France under the test of sustained shell fire, established them as compeers of the trained British soldier. It satisfied also their people at home that the olden fame of the warrior race was safe in their hands. There was in their indifference to terrific odds, their steadiness under devastating fire, the spirit of Rewi Maniapoto's reply to his kinsmen who counselled a night retreat from beleaguered Orakau: “We sought this combat; wherefore then should we retreat? If we are to die, let it be in battle; if we are to live, let us survive on the field of battle.”
And of those whose destiny it was to fall on the field of honour it can be said, as a famous Greek said of his countrymen long before Orakau or Gallipoli: “So they gave their bodies to the commonwealth and received, each for his own memory, praise that will never die, and with it the grandest of all sepulchres, not that in which their mortal bones are laid, but a home in the minds of men.”
The story is told of one of our olden warrior kaumatuas, Tamakehu a Toroiti, that when dying he called his sons together and commanded them, “Be brave that ye may live.” To-day our noble dead live in our hearts because they were brave. Of Britain's soldiers who fell, a poet has written:
They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old, Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
That sentiment was one with the belief of some of our own sages; in the calm Reinga land there is eternal youth.
To the kinsfolk of our immortal dead I echo these thoughts.
And have not those men of ours a message to New Zealanders to-day? They have, and let me express it in one of page XII the idioms of our tongue: “Nga whakanēnene kainga parea ake; nga whetewhetengu whakawāteangia.” “The bickerings of the home must be put aside, the misunderstandings set right.” Giving it a broad application, the heroic dead yet speak to us: “Make this beloved country of ours, the country for which we gave our lives, a better and a happier land for the children, for all who are to come after us.” That is their message. Let us not disregard it.
Native Member of the Executive Council, Minister for the Cook and other Islands, and Chairman of the Maori Regimental Committee.
Anzac Day, 1926.page break
Lieut.-Colonel G. A. King, D.S.O. and bar, and Croix de Guerre.
The D.S.O. was awarded for distinguished services on Gallipoli. Lieut.-Col. King, when Captain, was appointed to the command of the Pioneer Battalion in France in 1916; was several times mentioned in despatches, and after the Battle of Messines was decorated by General Anthone with the Croix de Guerre. Killed in Action, October 11th, 1917.
Lieut.-Colonel Conrad G. Saxby, D.S.O.
Served on Gallipoli and in France, 1915-1918 Appointed to the Command of the Pioneer Battalion in August, 1917. Died of influenza just after the signing of the Armistice.