The Maoris in the Great War
Chapter X. — The Pioneers' Work on the Western Front. (1917)
The Pioneers' Work on the Western Front. (1917).
With the New Year, 1917, the Battalion was reorganised. The composition of A, C and D Companies was altered so that they now consisted only of Maoris. Only B Company was composed of pakehas, as no pakeha reinforcements appeared to be coming forward for it, and Maori reinforcements were accumulating in England. A Company was made up of Ngapuhi and the South Islanders (Ngai-Tahu); C Company of Bay of Plenty Maoris, Ngati-Porou, Hawke's Bay and Wairarapa; D Company of Arawa, Waikato, Wellington, West Coast, Whanganui, and Taranaki men.
Various works along the subsidiary line, digging, screening, roads and wiring, were carried on steadily during January and February, and the specialists were busy training. Many machine-gun dug-outs were constructed.
Lieut. Tingey received his promotion to captain and Sergts.-Major Mete Kingi, Roto-a-Tara and Kemp received commissions as 2nd Lieuts., to complete the establishment. Then on February 6th, twenty cases of toheroa bivalves arrived from New Zealand for the Maoris. On February 16th, orders received created a stir in the camp. The Division was to be relieved by the 57th Division, from England, and the New Zealanders were to relieve the 25th Division on the Ploegsteert section. The 57th was a Territorial Division, who had been two years training in England and doing coast and home defence. One officer and one N.C.O. per company were with our men to “get the hang of things.”
On February 15th, Major W.S. Pennycook was wounded in the left forearm. On the 19th, D Company marched out from camp for the Oosthove Farm, Belgium, to relieve A Coy., 25th Div. Pioneers; and on the 22nd C Company marched over and relieved C Company of the 6th S.W.B. Pioneers. On the night of February 23rd, one man of C Company was killed by a sniper near the support line. On the 25th, headquarters and page 104 A and B Companies marched out of the comfortable quarters they had occupied so long and took over their new Belgian section, at Oosthove Farm. It was a very good hut camp, each company being self-contained. Next day work was started on the new sector, the whole Battalion working from the Farm, less hutting parties. Most of B Company were employed in shifts carrying out spoil from tunnels which were being worked by the 3rd Canadian Company at St. Yves Hill, and most of C Company were set to on repairs to Toronto Avenue trench and support line. On the 28th, a draft of 53 Maoris and South Sea Islanders arrived from the base; they were mostly old hands returned from hospital. “The trenches in this S.W. sector generally,” the O.C. noted in his official diary, “are in a pretty rotten state and full of mud, water and ice—worse than at Armentieres when we first went there. The support line is mostly far too close to the front line and is wholly within minnewerfer range. It wants a great deal of work doing on it. The communication trenches are bad and wet, except in Ploegsteert Wood, where they are simple duck-walk tracks on the surface and in fairly good order.”
About 5 o'clock on the morning of the 20th, the enemy raided the Auckland Battalion and killed several men, but were cleared out, leaving one man in the trench. Our casualties were from the bombardment, which was heavy, mostly trench-mortar shells.
In February, 1917, Sir Maui Pomare wrote to Major Buck:
“I agree with you that the training, the influence, and the discipline that the men are receiving at the Front will mean a great awakening for the Maoris, and I agree with your sentiment that ‘what matters if we were wiped out, for it is a damned sight better to go out in a big thing than to fritter away in idle security at home.’ Your boys have proved beyond a doubt what the race is capable of, and, more than that, in the reshuffling of Empire the Maori will hold a respected place.”
Captain S. Nicholson, commander of the transport steamer “Waitemata,” wrote as follows to Sir Maui Pomare, on March 27th, 1917:—
“I have the honour to report to you that for the second page break page 105 time since it has been my privilege to command a transport conveying New Zealand troops to the base, I have again had aboard my vessel a body of Maoris, namely, the 13th Maori Reinforcement Draft, under the command of 2nd Lieut. A. Te W. Gannon, It affords me great pleasure to have to inform you that a better or more well-conducted body of men I could not hope to meet, and, I may add, they have proved invaluable in assisting to keep the ship clean and tidy at all times. They were always alert at early dawn, and, with a bright and cheery demeanour, set about their work as though it were a mere recreation. To their officer, Mr. Gannon, of whom I cannot speak too highly, they were obedience personified. These men, through their Commanding Officer, presented me with a nicely worded address, which I shall always retain as a souvenir of a memorable and pleasurable episode in my life.”