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The Maoris in the Great War


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The first proposal to send a Maori force to the War was made in the beginning of August, 1914. The news of the proclamation of war between Britain and her Allies and Germany aroused the kaingas from the far North to the Wai-Pounamu, and telegrams to the Government offering Maori assistance to the Empire came pouring in from all parts of the country. The Arawa of Rotorua and the Ngati-Kahungunu of Te Wairoa and other parts of Hawke's Bay were the first to volunteer, followed quickly by Ngati-Porou, by the tribes around Gisborne and by Whanganui and Ngati-Apa. The first reply of the authorities was to the purport that the rule of the Imperial Government had been that no native race should be used in hostilities between European races. It was soon announced in the cablegrams, however, that Indian troops were being sent to France and also that native soldiers from Africa were to assist the French. On learning of this the Maori tribes, through their members of Parliament, renewed their request to be permitted to serve the King in the field of battle. The Prime Minister replied, expressing his great pleasure and gratitude at the offers of the loyal Maoris and stating that he would place the proposal before the Imperial Government. On September 16th he announced that His Majesty's Government had accepted the Maoris' aid and had agreed that a Native Contingent of 200 men should be sent to Egypt. A little later this suggestion was altered. The War Office proposed that there should be two Maori forces, each of 250, one to go to Egypt and the other to Samoa.

The principle of Maori participation in the War having thus been established, to the great satisfaction and pride of the people, the next step was the selection of the war-parties. On the suggestion of the Hon. the Minister for Defence, the Maori members of Parliament set about the work of raising the necessary men. On September 18th a meeting of members was held in the room of the Hon. Sir Maui Pomare (then Dr. page 10 Pomare; his knighthood was conferred upon him in recognition of his patriotic services in the organisation of the Maori forces, and his work for the welfare of the race). A recruiting Committee was formed, consisting of the Hon. Sir James Carroll, Sir Maui Pomare (Western Maori), the Hon. A. T. Ngata (Eastern Maori), Dr. Peter H. Buck, whose Maori name is Te Rangihiroa (Northern Maori), and Mr Taare Parata (Southern Maori). This committee at once began its task of allotting the proportions of the Contingent of 500 thus: Tai Tokerau (Northern District) 100 men; Tai Hauauru (Western Maori) 180; Tai-Rawhiti (East Coast) 180, and the Wai-Pounamu (“Waters of Greenstone”—the South Island) 40. Thenceforth the Maori Committee kept steadily at work throughout the Great War. Two of the original members were replaced by others soon after the war began. Dr. Buck went on active service, and his place as member for the Northern Maori District was taken by Mr Tau Henare; and Mr. Parata died, to the great regret of his colleagues, and was succeeded by Mr. Uru.

The Committee issued through the “Kahiti”—the Maori Gazette—a notice to all the tribes, calling for volunteers between the ages of 21 and 40 years willing to serve the King for the duration of the war. “E te iwi, whitiki! Whiti, whiti e!” the appeal of the “Komiti Whakahaere” concluded. It was the old war-cry of the chiefs when danger threatened: “O tribe, gird up your loins! Rise up, rise up!” And the Maori people rose eagerly at the challenge and appeal. Volunteers came from the remote gumlands of North Auckland, from the farms and forests of the Kaipara, from the shores of the Bay of Islands and the Hauraki, the King Country and Bay of Plenty coast, the lakeside villages of the Arawa, the sheep farms and rich agricultural country of mis-named Poverty Bay and Hawke's Bay; from the shores of the great central Lake Taupo, the terraced banks of the rushing Whanganui and the plains of Manawatu and Wairarapa; then across Cook Strait the call was answered from the little townships and farms of the Ngai-Tahu. From Parengarenga, the most northerly harbour in the Dominion, down to the old whaling and sealing stations on the shore of Foveaux Strait, came athletic brown page 11 lads, intensely elated at the prospect of fighting shoulder to shoulder with their white fellow-New Zealanders against the common enemy

Those Pakeha New Zealanders who knew the Maori well were delighted to think that he was being given an opportunity to display his fighting qualities after many years of peace. One, an old missionary in Auckland, said: “If they are true sons of their fathers, they will be brave and gallant fighters, they will show courage and resource in battle, and they will treat wounded enemies and women and children with kindness and courtesy. I would not be afraid to trust the Maori in war. He will be truly British.” A veteran of the wars of half a century previously, said: “I could not wish for better fighters and comrades than the Maoris with whom I fought. When they trusted the white man they could be relied on absolutely. As scouts, of course, there was nothing to touch them. The present generation of Maoris will probably make splendid soldiers.” Another old New Zealand colonist, referring to the military traditions of the Maoris, said: “These traditions, stories of great and glorious deeds of warfare, are the best guarantee we have that the Maori, even under the strange and disturbing conditions of modern warfare, will be a soldier of whom the Empire may be proud. All Maoris are intensely loyal to their race and intensely jealous of its reputation, and now that the Maori race is merged in the British Empire, that loyalty and that jealousy are transferred to Britain. The proposal is to send the natives to Egypt to do duty there, and I know that these men will do their duty thoroughly; but if they are sent to the fighting line there will not be a man of them who will shrink from laying down his life for the Empire of which he is a part. I know that these men will welcome any chance to bring new glory to the Maori race, even at the sacrifice of their own lives.”

The Defence Department and the Maori Committee jointly made arrangements for the medical examination of volunteers and their enrolment for service, and the first camp was established in the middle of October, 1914, on the grounds of the racecourse at Avondale, the olden Whau, a few miles west of Auckland city. The first Maori detachments to enter camp page 12 were small parties from Mangonui, North Auckland, and from the Auckland district. On October 19th a party of 50 young men arrived from the South Island and 36 from the Hauraki and Ngati-Maniapoto tribe. On the following day 92 recruits came in from the West Coast, representing the tribes of Whanganui, Ngati-Apa, Ngati-Raukawa and Ngati-Toa. These young soldiers were quickly followed by ninety composed of Te Arawa, of the Lakes District, Maketu and Matata, Ngai-Awa from Whakatane, Whakatohea from Opotiki, and the Whanau-a-Apanui and kindred tribes as far as Tikirau (East Cape). The famous fighting Ngati-Porou followed; these young men were from the Tai-Rawhiti villages from the East Cape southward toward Gisborne. The Ngati-Kahungunu from Hawke's Bay and some more Ngapuhi from Kaikohe and other Northern districts completed the 500 men in training under canvas at Avondale.

These young Maoris, the pick of the race, gathered from all corners of the Dominion, entered with the utmost eagerness and zest into their soldierly duties under pakeha instructors. All who visited the camp were pleased with the cheerful temper of the men, their great alacrity at all tasks (“fatigue it was their pride,” to quote Kipling's sergeant in “The Men Who Fought at Minden”), and the quickness and intelligence they brought to bear on the work in hand. Their physique was the theme of praise by inspecting military officers. On parade they attracted great admiration for their stature, their muscular development and their alertness and soldierly bearing. On October 24th, Sir James Allen, Minister for Defence, inspected the Opé Maori, and addressing the recruits expressed his great pleasure at the Maori being the first Native race to offer for service abroad, with the exception, of course of the men of India, who were soldiers already. He praised their quickness and pride in soldierly training and said he was sure they would acquit themselves as creditably as their pakeha fellow-soldiers. The Minister made mention, too, of the number of college-bred young Maoris in the Opé, boys from Te Aute, Waerenga-a-Hika Mission School, St. Stephen's (Parnell, Auckland), Hikurangi (Wairarapa), Otaki, and the Three Kings Wesleyan College, Auckland.

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Hon. Sir Maui Pomare, C.M.G., M.P., M.D. Member of the Executive Council, Minister for the Cook and other Islands; Chairman of the Maori Recruiting Board and Maori Regimental Committee.

Hon. Sir Maui Pomare, C.M.G., M.P., M.D.
Member of the Executive Council, Minister for the Cook and other Islands; Chairman of the Maori Recruiting Board and Maori Regimental Committee.

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Hon. Sir James Carroll, M.L.C. (Maori War Medal) Member of the Maori Recruiting Board and Maori Regimental Committee. (Died at Auckland, October 18th, 1926.)

Hon. Sir James Carroll, M.L.C. (Maori War Medal)
Member of the Maori Recruiting Board and Maori Regimental Committee. (Died at Auckland, October 18th, 1926.)

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The proposal to send the Maoris away in two companies, one to Samoa and one to Egypt, was debated among the tribes, and was strongly opposed by the principal men. The feeling gathered weight that it would not be judicious to divide the contingent, and the unanimous opinion was soon expressed that the Maori should be sent to Egypt as being near the seat of war. The men naturally were anxious to reach the actual battlefield and were not enthusiastic about garrison duty. Sir Maui Pomare and his committee conveyed to the Prime Minister a general request that the whole of the force should be sent to Egypt, and this request was sent on by the Government to the British Secretary of State for the Colonies. On November 7th a cablegram from London to the Governor stated that the wishes of the Maoris and the New Zealand Government had been acceded to, and that all the Maoris would be despatched to Egypt.

The Contingent was now divided into two companies, A and B, composed as follows:—

A Company (Northern Maori, West Coast—South Island):
  • Platoon (Ropu) 1—Men from the North Auckland district, extending from Tamaki (Auckland isthmus) to the Rerenga-Wairua (Spirits' Leap, in the extreme North).
  • Platoon 2—Tamaki to Pari-ninihi (the White Cliffs, North Taranaki), including Ngati-Maniapoto, also the Hauraki and Tauranga tribes and Ngati-Tuwharetoa of Taupo. (These were the tribes of Tainui stock).
  • Platoon 3—West Coast: Waitotara, Whanganui and inland tribes from Taihape to Manawatu.
  • Platoon 4—Horowhenua to Wellington, also the South Island.
B Company (Rotorua and East Coast):
  • Platoon 5—Te Arawa.
  • Platoon 6—Te Awa-a-te-Atua (Matata) to the East Coast and Waiapu.
  • Platoon 7—Uawa (Tolago Bay) and Gisborne.
  • Platoon 8—Ngati-Kahungunu, from Te Mahia to Napier and Wairarapa.
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The organisation of the Contingent having been completed, training was carried on steadily in infantry work under Captain Peacock and Permanent Force instructors. Squad, platoon and company drill, route marching, musketry, bayonet practice, assault practice, trench digging, night attacks and all other details of instruction kept the Contingent busy until its departure for the Front.

Several veteran officers with Maori War services were anxious to lead the Contingent, and it was at first proposed that Colonel T. W. Porter, C.B., who had a distinguished record in the New Zealand and South African campaigns, should go in command. No better choice could have been made. Colonel Porter had served continuously in the Maori Wars from 1865 to 1871 as an officer of native forces; he knew the Maori temperament as few pakehas did, and the men would have placed complete confidence in such an experienced and sympathetic leader. However, it was considered that he was too old for further active service. Another veteran extremely anxious to serve was Captain Gilbert Mair, N.Z.C., perhaps the most dashing and enterprising of all our New Zealand-born and bred soldiers. He had won his New Zealand Cross by a most gallant feat of arms, his defeat of Te Kooti near Rotorua in 1870. Mair was the hero of the Arawa; from 1866 to 1872 he had led them on active service. Even in his old age he was the most active of men; at seventy-eight years of age he made a long horseback journey through the rough Urewera country over the old fighting trails, with the present writer. Yet another volunteer was Major J. T. Large, who had served with the Urewera campaigns. Rejected in New Zealand in 1914, he went to Australia and tried unsuccessfully to join the forces there; and by way of demonstrating his fitness for active service, in spite of his age, he undertook a long walking tour through the North of Auckland. But it was the day of the young man; the old warriors were reminded that their place lay in the homeland; and they loyally accepted the position and exerted themselves in recruiting and in lending a helping hand to the fortunate ones chosen for the battlefield of Tu. Colonel Porter, in the latter part of the war, was page 15 engaged by the Government to carry out special work, as an Inspector of Recruiting Services, and he also gave useful gratuitous service as Commandant of the New Zealand National Reserve.

Early on February 10th, 1915, the Contingent packed up and bade farewell to the camp and set out on the long trail to the Old World. The Hokowhitu a Tu, “The Seventy Twice-told Warriors of the War God,” the Maori chiefs christened the force, in allusion to the favourite number of a war-party, 140, for a desperate attack in the days of old. Marching through Auckland city, the men went aboard the troop-steamer “Warrimoo,” which sailed for Wellington. On Saturday, February 13th, the Maoris landed at Wellington and with a pakeha contingent paraded in Newtown Park for final review and farewell. An official account of that memorable good-bye parade, published in Maori in the Government “Kahiti,” described the march and the park ceremonials thus: “The Pakeha people who beheld the march of that 500 will never forget the sight, the spectacle of that splendid war-party, those tall strong men, their fine marching—it was equal to the drill and appearance of the best soldiers in the world. There were some who said that the Maori soldiers were the finest body ever seen on parade in Newtown Park. There they bade farewell to their assembled relatives; they displayed their skill in the accomplishments of their ancestors—the haka, the tutu-ngarahu (war-dance), canoe-paddling songs and other chants; excellent their leaping in the war-dance, their drill of hands in unison, their waiata-chanting.”

There were speeches of exhortation and affection from the Maori chiefs, counsel to uphold the warrior fame of the Maori and touching songs of farewell from the native assemblage. The Maori was about to take that long, long, sea-road to the faraway land of his birth in the mists of time; he was to see, perhaps, the veritable shores of Hawaiki-nui, of Hawaiki-roa, of Hawaiki-pa-mamao, the shadowy land of legend whence his fathers came, sailing ever eastward to “the gateways of the day.” Somewhere there on the south coast of Asia, the Arabian littoral, his long-ago ancestors had sojourned, from a score of countries perhaps had drawn some of their racial page 16 traits; maybe it was from the sea-going Arabs of the Red Sea coasts that they derived their skill and enterprise as sailors. Now the Opé Hokowhitu a Tu was retracing the way to the first of many Hawaikis; it was a crusading army, upholding the name and fame of the Maori to the whole world. It might well be that those splendid young men would return no more. They paraded proudly before their fellow-countrymen, Maori and Pakeha. There was the spirit of the ancient Roman in their last march-past: “Ave Caesar, morituri te salutant!” They marched away to the sound of high and pathetic farewells: “Haere, haere! Haere, e hoki! Haere ki te ahi e ka mai ra i Oropi! E tama ma, kia kaha, kia maia, kia manawa-nui! Haere ra!”

Early on the morning of February 14th, the Maori troopship, which was commanded by Captain Edwin, quietly moved out from her Wellington berth and steamed away for Suez via her only Australian port of call, Albany. As the Indian Ocean was reported free of danger since the destruction of the German cruiser “Emden,” by H.M.A.S. “Sydney” at Cocos Island (November, 1914), there was no warship escort for the “Warrimoo” and her consorts the pakeha troopships “Maunganui,” “Tahiti” and “Aparima.” (The last named ship was afterwards sunk in the English Channel.) Captain Edwin took his ship close in to Cocos and gave the Maoris a good view of the battered enemy raider lying on the reef. There was one death on board during the voyage across the Indian Ocean, Corporal Mikaera Te Moananui

When passing through the Red Sea the Maoris heard the distant noise of a bombardment. It was a British cruiser shelling a Turkish position on the coast. On the voyage the musical talent in the Contingent was assembled and a band was formed under the direction of Captain Pirimi Tahiwi and Lieut. Stainton.

The Maoris disembarked at Suez and entrained for Cairo, where they were loudly welcomed by the pakeha New Zealanders, and marched out to Zeitoun Camp. A week there, and then came orders for Malta, whither the transport Runic carried the Maoris, to begin garrison duty at Ghain Tuffiah Camp (about 16 miles from Valetta).

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Hon. A. T. Ngata, M.A., LL.B. Member of Parliament for Eastern Maori District, and Member of Maori Regimental Committee.

Hon. A. T. Ngata, M.A., LL.B.
Member of Parliament for Eastern Maori District, and Member of Maori Regimental Committee.

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Mr. Tau Henare, M.P. for Northern Maori District. Member of the Maori Recruiting Board and Regimental Committee.

Mr. Tau Henare, M.P. for Northern Maori District.
Member of the Maori Recruiting Board and Regimental Committee.

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Major Peacock, who had trained the Contingent in the Avondale camp, had been given command of the force for the voyage and overseas service, but, to his own great grief and to the deep regret of his men, he was taken seriously ill on the passage and had to be landed in West Australia, and invalided home. The Maoris were very sorrowful over this misfortune, for Major Peacock was not only an excellent instructor and capable leader but he had a real liking for the Maori people, and his sympathetic attitude heartened them greatly. His place was taken by Major Herbert, who was given the command of the Contingent on arrival in Egypt and retained it at Gallipoli until after the battle of Sari Bair (August, 1915), when he was appointed to the command of a British battalion. Major Peacock, on resuming duty in New Zealand, was placed in command of the training camp established at Narrow Neck, overlooking Rangitoto Channel, Auckland. Here the work of training Maori and South Sea Islands recruits was carried on after the evacuation of the Avondale camp. His death when in charge of the Paeroa Defence District in 1924 was a matter of grief to all his old comrades and indeed to all who had known him, whether in his military or his private capacity.