The Story of a Maori Chief
Paratene W. Kohere
My elder son, Paratene (Tene), after training in New Zealand for five months, left in the Second Echelon on 1st May, 1940. After seven months in England the echelon left Liverpool on New Year's Day, 1941, for the Middle East. The New Zealanders were only about three weeks in Egypt when they were sent across to Greece. All along I had my own misgivings about the wisdom of the campaign in Greece. A friend of mine, a district nurse, had positively declared that the campaign there would be another Dunkirk, and a Dunkirk it proved to be.
Tene had always been fond of Byron, and we enjoyed his recitation of the great poet's poems. I naturally thought he would immensely enjoy his visit to Greece, where he could see with his own eyes places mentioned by Byron, but on his return home he said that the movements were so tremendous that he'd no time for Byron or anything else.
Tene said he had no idea that the army in Greece was so wretchedly unprepared for its gigantic job to meet the finest army in the world—the Nazi war machine. When they got to Thermopylac they discovered that air cover was absolutely inadequate. The Germans bombed them at their sweet will. I shall let Tene describe his toughest experience in Greece:
Lieut. Henare M. Kohere
Died on wounds, September 16, 1916,
during the push on the Somme.
“Our platoon, in charge of Lieutenant Arnold Reedy, had gone on patrol to Scotina and we were supposed to rejoin the battalion at 9.30 that evening, but owing to miscalculation our platoon did not leave Scotina until 9 o'clock. We came across another platoon, who advised us to hurry back or we would be cut off by the Germans. We had gone up a steep hill only a quarter of a mile when darkness set in. What made it worse was that it began to rain heavily. Our way lay through a bush with dense undergrowth. The track was narrow, and zigzagged up the hill. It became so dark that we lost our way and could not see a yard ahead of us. But for the booming of our guns some distance away we would not have had the least idea where we were going to. The booming gave us our direction. Two of our most powerful men, Percy Goldsmith and Eitini Gage, hacked our way through with their bayonets, and now and then tore with their hands branches that barred our way. (Both Goldsmith and Gage were killed.) Occasionally we took brief spells and awaited the booming of the guns. We kept calling out all the time, lest some of us would wander off in the pitch darkness. The track seemed endless. All the time men were slipping, sliding down a bank, and stumbling all the way. Fortunately we travelled light. One man carried an anti-tank rifle.
“At last to our great relief we reached the top of the hill, but this was not the end of our troubles. We pushed on down the hill and arrived at the battalion headquarters at 2.30— five and a half hours of terrible work. However, we found the battalion gone in the general withdrawal and left us to our fate. We had a long walk down to the road towards Olympus Pass, and pushed on the best way we could. We were becoming awfully worn out, and to lighten our swags we threw away our blankets. The booming of the guns was our sure guide. Here the road became so slippery that we actually dragged ourselves through the mud, and it kept raining all the time. I had a touch of the 'flu, and this increased my troubles. I must say that I was so fatigued that I actually slept on my feet. A bump against a tree or a fall brought me to my senses. We were only too glad to rest in the mud when the order was given to rest.
“We slept soundly; the only one awake was our officer, Lieutenant Arnold Reedy. To keep awake he marched up and down. When the order was given to move on we were so page 82 done up that some of us could not awaken and were left behind. We had another sleep in the mud. We came to some men guarding the road. It was a welcome sight and we felt safe. The officer asked us if we had seen the Maori Battalion. Our platoon had actually passed it. Suddenly we heard the tramping of a large number of men, and, to be on the safe side, we rushed up the side of the hill. The engineers were ready to smash up the road but for the absence of the Maori Battalion. We found trucks waiting for us; we jumped in and dropped off to sleep, forgetting the world and its horrors. When we arrived at the rendezvous the men there gave rousing cheers, for the news had come through that the battalion had been cut off. I believe it was owing to superb leadership the battalion escaped by taking a detour.
“I was one of the lucky ones to escape from Greece when so many of my friends were taken prisoners. The New Zealand Division, instead of going across to Egypt and safety, stayed on the island of Crete. We thought then we were in Paradise. After we had been on the island for about a month a message was received from Greece that the Germans would attack the island within ten days. Sure enough, the Germans came in about that time. The Royal Navy prevented the enemy's landing on the island, but they took to the air. Handicapped as we were for the want of aeroplanes, tanks, etc., we were helpless. I really think that the olive groves everywhere saved us. They gave us cover. The Germans came on thick and fast, and the only thing we could do was to make bayonet charges. The New Zealand Division would have been overwhelmed if not for a grand bayonet charge by the Maoris. It was a fearful thing to hear the shouts and shrieks of the Maori Battalion. The Germans could not stand it, and so they took to their heels. If they only had had the courage to stand their ground and turn on their machine-guns the Maoris would have been wiped out. The result of the charge gave the Division respite. I met with my first wound during the bayonet charge. A German officer suddenly confronted me, and, raising his revolver, fired point blank at my head when he was only about ten yards from me. Luckily I had also raised my rifle. The bullet entered my wrist and later came out below my shoulder. My arm deflected the bullet which was meant for my head and I am alive to-day. Before the German could fire again he was dead.page 83
“The next day at the dressing station I was once more hit in the same arm by shrapnel. Two of my fingers were hanging by the skin and I tried to pull them off. Again I was lucky, for some white soldiers were killed outright by the bomb. I tried to walk across the island when a truck overtook me. An officer, revolver in hand, made the driver take me. With Bluejackets and a doctor fussing about us on a destroyer, attending to our wounds, supplying us with hot coffee and cigarettes, we began to forget our troubles.
“I must say something about the German paratroops. It was a pathetic sight to see such brave men descending only to be riddled with bullets. When a parachutist suspected danger he looked below and felt in a bag for his hand grenade. Before he could use it he was riddled with bullets, his head drooped and legs dangled stiff.”
Tene was reported missing, and this caused intense grief at home. He was amongst the earliest casualties and one of the first to come home.