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The Maoris in the Great War

The Maori Contingent at Gallipoli. — Maori Protest Against Splitting up of the Force

page 175

The Maori Contingent at Gallipoli.

Maori Protest Against Splitting up of the Force.

After the Battle of Sari Bair, Gallipoli, in August, 1915, General Sir Arthur Godley, G.O.C., in a despatch to the New Zealand Defence Minister, wrote:—

“I have the honour to report that the Maori Contingent were in action for the first time between the 6th and the 10th instant. During this time they were heavily engaged and suffered casualties I regret to say of 17 killed, 89 wounded, and two missing. The Contingent took part in the attack on the Sari Bair position, and at various periods of the fight found themselves in line with units of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, the 27th Infantry Brigade, the 13th Division of the New Armies, and the Ghurkas (29th Indian Brigade). All speak most highly of the individual bravery and courage of the men and their gallantry during the fight, but as the result of reports which I have received I have come to the conclusion that the Contingent did not have a fair chance in being utilised in this way as a small independent unit, and that it would have been of still more use and done even better, if possible, had it formed part of our New Zealand Brigades.…Lieut.-Col. Herbert commanded the Contingent to my entire satisfaction, and did well, so much so that, by special request of the General Officer Commanding the 13th Division, I have lent his services temporarily to that Division to command a British battalion.…I have decided, after careful consideration, to temporarily attach half a company to each battalion of the New Zealand Infantry Brigade. Captain Ennis will be loaned to the N.Z. Mounted Rifles Brigade, and Captain Mabin's services have been lent to the Governor of Malta as Commandant of a convalescent depot, and the remaining officers of the Contingent, including Captain Buck (Te Rangihiroa) and the Reverend Wainohu, will continue to serve with it, and will be available to pursue the administration of the Maoris and to preserve a careful note of their records, etc., in case it should be found advisable to again reconstitute them page 176 as a separate unit. In the meantime I have explained to the Contingent, and I hope it will be clearly understood in New Zealand, that the incorporation of the Contingent with the N.Z. Infantry Brigade is done purely in the interests of the Contingent and of the Maori race, and that I will make it my business to see that their identity is thereby in no way imperilled or affected. Their fighting efficiency will be much greater, and they will be much more at home, and altogether have far better chances than they did during the late operations, when, as a small body they found themselves rather swamped amongst strangers.

“In conclusion, I wish to bring specially to your notice the very gallant bearing and conduct of the Contingent, who have thoroughly justified their right to fight alongside other units of the Army, and have more than worthily upheld the historic traditions of their race.”

This breaking up of the Contingent was greatly displeasing to the Maoris, and vigorous protests were made to the home country, where the matter was taken up by the Maori Recruiting Committee. On December 9th, 1915, the Committee (Hon. Sir James Carroll, Hon. Dr. Pomare, Mr. C. Parata. M.P., Mr. Tau Henare, M.P., and Mr. Ngata, M.P.) wrote to Sir James Allen, Minister of Defence:—

“In the two conferences with you on the 7th and 8th inst., relating to the Maori Contingent and Reinforcements we made the further request that the Maori Contingent be reconstituted with the reinforcements which were despatched last September, as a separate unit of two Companies. The information that the Contingent had ceased to exist as an independent unit, that it had been broken up, and platoons attached to companies of the N.Z. Infantry Brigade, was conveyed to you by General Godley in October, and has since caused the greatest dissatisfaction to us, to our people, and the members of the Contingent. During the period of training of the Contingent at Avondale last summer, the Maori chiefs by direct representations to yourself and the Prime Minister as well as by indirect representations through us, requested that the force be not split up into two companies, one for Samoa and one for Egypt. This was conceded by the Imperial Government, who accepted page 177 the Contingent of 500 for service in Egypt. It left the Dominion as a special force representing the Maori race. Though the individual members of the Contingent offered in New Zealand for active service abroad, the Imperial authorities accepted their services for garrison duty only, probably because they were an untried body of men, as to which no one in high command could say how they would comport themselves in the fighting line. The subsequent acceptance of their many repeated offers to serve at the Front was a compliment to the race, to their physical fitness and successful training as soldiers.

“The fortunes of this small force were, as you know, followed with the keenest attention by their people in New Zealand. The condition of their acceptance for active service, that reinforcements be found by the Maori race, was readily complied with. But you should understand that it was the existence of the force as a unit, however small, representing the Maori race alongside other races fighting for the one flag, centering the honour, good name, and reputation and the highest expression of the loyalty of the Maori people—it was this fact that the recruiting Maori tribes had always before them, it was this fact that appealed to them throughout the seven or eight months since the First Contingent left the Dominion. It is a matter to be seriously reckoned with by the Government and by the officers commanding at the Dardanelles. It is one that we, who have undertaken the responsibility for raising more men, have to face, and cannot get over.

“We do not object to the incorporation of the Contingent with the N.Z. Infantry Brigade. The proper place for the Maoris was with their fellow countrymen from the Dominion, and we do not understand why they were not so incorporated from the time they landed on the Peninsula. But we do not follow the General's view that the merging of platoons or half companies in various units of the N.Z. Infantry Brigade—leading inevitably to their being split up and being scattered over miles of trenches—does not imperil or effect the identity of the Contingent. We maintain that that identity has been lost. It is a fact that ever since the General's decision was given effect to we have heard nothing further of the doings of the page 178 Contingent as a contingent. We have on the other hand received letters from the trenches with the wail—‘Kua wehe-wehe matou’—‘We are separated.’

“We cannot make our people understand, because we do not understand ourselves after reading General Godley's remarks, how the identity of the Contingent is being maintained and can be maintained after platoons which originally composed companies have been separated from one another and merged in companies of the New Zealand battalions.

“We must point out that the General in his despatch suggests that it may be found advisable to reconstitute them as a separate unit, and states that the administration is being pursued partly with that end in view. We urge that in view of reinforcements having been sent for the Contingent as a contingent, the opportunity is now offered for such a reconstitution. We think that it should be possible to form again two Maori companies to be attached together as such to any New Zealand battalion that General Godley may choose. The Maoris will then fight together and alongside their white fellow countrymen. We would regard the pursuance of the present policy of splitting them up as a breach of faith.

“General Godley should be informed that on this matter the Maori people are absolutely determined and unanimous. We could not ourselves go before our people to ask for further men to reinforce a Maori contingent that does not exist, except as reinforcements to the N.Z. Infantry Brigades. If Maoris are required to reinforce these brigades the Defence Department can recruit in the ordinary way. But we do not agree to raise a special force to reinforce a special contingent only to find these men scattered to serve the purpose of reinforcing the general New Zealand force.”

This protest was successful, and to the great satisfaction of the Maoris the scattered detachments of the Maoris were reunited after Gallipoli, and the force was reorganised as a Pioneer unit.