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The Story of a Maori Chief

Tawhai Kohere

Tawhai Kohere

Tawhai Kohere, Lieutenant Henare Kohere's younger brother and grandson of Mokena Kohere, left in the first Maori contingent, and went through the whole of the illstarred but heroic campaign on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Although he was mentioned in despatches he was too easygoing to make a good officer. He was nicknamed by his mates “Corporal Fine Day” because of his suavity. Tawhai often says that he found on the peninsula that the best cure for hunger was to go to sleep and forget it at least for a time. The Ngati-Porou men contend that it was Tawhai who started the haka just before the Maoris went into action. In one of his letters written from the peninsula he states: “I see in the bay below the New Zealand hospital ship Maheno, looking resplendent with her white coat and large red crosses, but the sight of her makes me homesick.”

During the evacuation of the peninsula Tawhai was amongst the few New Zealanders who remained behind to cover the embarkation.1 After leaving Gallipoli they rested page 80 on Lemnos Island, in the Ægean Sea, from where he wrote: "I am writing this under the shade of trees. It is so beautifully restful here after the terrible time we had on the peninsula. It is so lovely to drop off to sleep, forget the world and all its worries, and feel perfectly safe. There's no more booming of guns; instead there's peace and plenty to eat—fruits in abundance.”

In an earlier letter to his widowed mother he says: “So another son of yours is coming (Lieutenant Henare Kohere). You should be a proud mother to have two sons engaged in this terrible war. Be hopeful, for I feel we shall see each other again. I am looking forward to seeing Henare and others, fresh from old New Zealand. My thoughts are ever with you at East Cape. God be with you till we meet again.”

Tawhai went to France, where his brother, Lieutenant Henare Kohere died of wounds. He afterwards went to England on furlough, but was sent home from there after three strenuous years.

1 I may perhaps here place on record an incident that happened during the embarkation of the British troops from Gallipoli. It was told by Col. J. Gethin Hughes at a public meeting at Rotorua in 1916. I knew Col. Hughes when I used to play football for Te Aute College against his team. If I had heard the story from anybody else I would not have believed it. The meeting was well attended, one of those present being the present Bishop of Aotearoa. Col. Hughes said it was essential that the embarkation should be carried out as quietly as possible so as not to arouse the suspicion of the enemy. When everything was ready for the transport to move there was no movement in the engine-room. The C.O., puzzled, went on the bridge. Finding no captain there, he went into the captain's cabin and found him asleep-dead drunk.