The Maori Chaplains
The Maori Chaplains
Throughout the war the Maori Battalion had its own Maori chaplain, and for the last three years there was a second chaplain who worked with the Maori troops at Base. A special church service page 64 book in Maori was produced, with hymns and an order of service based on the Book of Common Prayer, for owing to the unusual denominational ratio, the five Maori chaplains were all members of the Church of England. Padre Harawira, who had gone to the First World War at the age of sixteen, was the first chaplain, and he served in Greece, Crete, Libya, and Syria before being invalided home. His place was taken by Padre W. Rangi,1 a man of great spiritual force, well-loved and respected. He was once described as having the face of a New Testament saint and the fire of an Old Testament prophet. He was not young for infantry work, having three sons serving with him in the battalion, but he made little of age and was giving splendid service up to the time when both his eardrums were burst by an exploding shell at Alamein.
Padre N. T. Wanoa2 served with the battalion from Alamein to Tunis, after spending the first three years of the war as a combatant, during which he rose to the rank of lieutenant after good service in Greece and Crete. He had been a vicar before the war and was commissioned as a chaplain in 1942.
Padre Wi Huata3 arrived in the Middle East in 1943 and served throughout the Italian campaign. He was a young man with many talents. Life, vitality, and enthusiasm flowed from him at all times, whether he was living in the front line or taking a choir on tour round the Base hospitals. Energetic in all things affecting the welfare of his men, he showed great courage and proved himself a worthy representative of a great battalion. He was awarded the Military Cross for his fine work with the battalion in Italy. His religious duties were performed with sincerity and love, and he presented over a hundred men for confirmation.
It was right that the Maoris should have chaplains of their own race for they had many characteristics which deserved real know- page 65 ledge and sympathy. In battle they won respect for their fiery courage and their most light-hearted contempt of danger. They did not bother much about minor regulations and red tape, and many a time everyone, save Authority, smiled at some ingenious interpretation of military law. Like all New Zealand soldiers they grew restive in the monotonous routine of a Base camp, and sometimes this boredom led to trouble. But the crimes of a few individuals could not tarnish the record of the battalion in action nor disguise the fact that as a race they have an interest in spiritual things which is often deeper and more natural than that of the pakeha.
Every morning before daylight in the front line prayers would be taken by the chaplain, but if he were absent an officer or private would always step forward to take his place.5 They took a real interest in their Church services and made them beautiful with their singing. Sometimes in big services at Base the Maoris would sing an anthem in their own language. There was one occasion on a hot. sticky, dusty day, when some two thousand soldiers attended a service in a cinema in Maadi. The Church parade seemed formal and uninspiring until the Maori contingent stood up and sang. Then the war and the dust and the heat were forgotten in a moment. Something of home and of beauty was brought very near, and the glorious unaccompanied harmony brought new life to the listeners, as refreshing as rain in the desert. Time and again a small group of Maoris separated from their battalion would attend a pakeha Church parade and sing a hymn in Maori with the same wonderful effect, giving a fresh meaning to the words of Isaiah: ‘The desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.’ The Maori chaplains were always popular members of the Department where they willingly took their share of all extra duties, and in the battalion they were worthy members of a race famed for its martial tradition and respect for the deeper things of life.