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The Story of a Maori Chief

Lieutenant Henare M. Kohere

Lieutenant Henare M. Kohere

It was during their residence at East Cape that the scow Whakapai came to grief in the passage between the mainland page 73 and East Island. Captain Bonner, in order to facilitate the discharging of a load of timber at Tokomaru Bay, had run his little vessel on the beach. After the timber had been discharged it was found that the vessel had sustained damage to her hull. This was temporarily patched up and the scow left for Gisborne. Before it reached Gisborne it met with a southerly gale, and Captain Bonner was left with no choice but to run before the wind. The little vessel leaked badly, and when it reached East Cape it turned over. A crew of five for hours clung to the keel. One after another they were washed off and drowned, with the exception of one, named Bertie. Before the man lost his hold Henare had decided to go out to lend him a helping hand and bring him ashore. Bertie could not hang on any longer, and he slipped into the water. Fortunately the Maori had swum out and was just in time to hold up the exhausted man and to help him ashore. For this gallant deed Henare was presented with the bronze medal of the Royal Humane Society.

When a New Zealand contingent was sent to the Coronation of King Edward VII, in 1902, Henare was included in the Maori section. He turned out to be a very useful member of the contingent, for he was able to train a team of wardancers and to lead them in their performances. This made the Maoris very popular wherever they went in England and Scotland. Henare enjoyed everything he saw: Windsor Castle, the Tower of London, receptions, etc., etc., but he wrote home most enthusiastically of their visit to the estate of the Duke of Westminster.

It was at first suggested by the Home authorities that all native troops should be in a different camp from that used by the white troops. Mr. Seddon scotched the idea. The Maoris proved a perpetual centre of interest to hundreds of visitors.

The red-letter day for Henare and his cousin, Terei Ngatai, came when a wealthy English gentleman proposed to them to accompany him on a trip to Europe and an excursion on the River Rhine. The gentleman had previously taken Terei on a visit to Paris. Henare said in his letters that the man doted on them, and treated them as though they were his own sons. They stayed at the best of hotels and travelled first-class. Of course, the two young men were both educated and in looks there is no other word to describe them than handsome.

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After leaving England they spent their first night at Brussels and their second at Cologne. In two days they passed through three different countries, viz., France, Belgium and Germany. Henare was very much interested in the changes he noticed, changes in manners, dress and houses. Their host was a linguist, consequently he was quite at home in French, Belgian and German, as he was in English. At Cologne meals were served in the open air and there was music everywhere. They learned by experience that at dinner they had to go through all the courses. Naturally they were much impressed with the magnificence of the cathedral.

From Cologne they went by boat up the famous river. The sights on the banks of the river—ancient castles, towns, cities —were interesting. They noticed that they two were the only dark-skinned people, although they could not by any means be described as black. The boat was crowded with tourists, and although they could see they were a centre of interest and curiosity they decided to keep to themselves. With the well-dressed crowd, music and varied scenery time passed very quickly. They stayed for the night at Mainz.

The next morning they took the train to Frankfurt, and then to Homberg. At the latter place the two young Maoris went to the top of a hill where there was an ancient Roman fort. They had a fine panoramic view here of the country, and they realised then that they were a long way into the heart of Europe. Henare said that their thoughts went back to their lowly homes at Rangitukia, where they for years, clad often only in shirt-tails, attended the village school. They laughed and laughed a laugh of delight.

They had heard that the Kaiser was in Homberg and was leaving that day for Berlin. They waited for two hours at a certain point but no Kaiser passed by. Little did Henare then think that he would be, a few years later, a victim of a disastrous war, planned by that very monarch and his warlords.

The young Maori tourists were glad to get back to England, although their visit to Europe was like a dream. Henare said that the moment they set foot on English soil they instinctively felt that they were in the land of the free. In Europe they felt all the time restrained.

On Henare's return to New Zealand he married Ngarangi, daughter of the Rev. Mohi Turei, of Rangitukia. They page 75 had two daughters and one son. The elder daughter, Huinga, became the wife of George Nepia, the great Rugby full-back.

When the first World War broke out in 1914 Henare volunteered. He felt free to go because he had lost his wife, and another reason why he was anxious to get away was because his younger brother, Tawhai, had already sailed for the Middle East.

News of our troops’ struggles on Gallipoli had thrilled the whole world, and the Maori people none the less. Maori blood had been shed in foreign lands, and the tribes felt the breach in the ranks must be filled. The fact that Henare Kohere had enlisted stirred up the Ngati-Porou tribe, and no fewer than sixty young men of the tribe volunteered at the same time. During training at Narrow Neck, Henare was popular with the men and the staff. I accompanied the Maori second contingent from Auckland to Wellington, and all along the line large numbers of Maoris were at stopping stations to say good-bye to the young soldiers. Many I noticed were in tears. The farewell function in the Wellington Town Hall was a memorable occasion. The Maoris had a transport all to themselves, H.M.T.S. Waitemata.

Henare was a good correspondent; he kept up his correspondence and tenderly inquired after his young children. During training in Egypt the Prince of Wales (who later became Edward VIII) visited the troops while encamped near Ismailia. The Maoris performed a haka, which delighted the Prince, and Henare, being the leader, was introduced to his Royal Highness.

Because Gallipoli was evacuated the New Zealand Division was shipped to France at a time when the Allies were just about holding their own. It was during the Somme push that Second-lieutenant Kohere met his death. I shall here quote Padre Henare Wainohu's letter to my brother Poihipi.

Somewhere in France,
26th October, 1916.

Dear Poi,

Greetings to you and your family. So far the Maori Battalion has fairly come out of the German conflagration. Neither paper nor pen can express the bitter sorrow for the young Maoris who have made the supreme sacrifice for King, the nation and the whole world. Members of leading families of the Maori people, of both the North page 76 and South Islands, now lie on the fields of France. We as Maoris feel it very much, and our thoughts constantly wander homewards to the parents and the people. The letters we receive from home are brave and comforting when they say that to die on the battlefield is to die an honourable death. The boys who have made the supreme sacrifice all died like soldiers, and those of us who still survive are all well.
I suppose you and Reweti and all your family have learned that your brother Henare has gone with those who were prepared to die for King and Empire. We feel his death very keenly. Henare, like a true soldier, fell amongst his boys. Several of them, including Henare, were wounded by a bursting shell. On the 15th, the morning of the big push, after prayers, the enemy began shelling our position. Henare had given orders for his platoon to move forward to prepared trenches when a shell landed fairly close. The next shell caught Henare and a number of his boys. Although badly wounded in the arm and groin he inquired after his men. It was the wound in the groin that killed him.
Before he was taken to the dressing station that night he expressed a wish to see Major Buck (Te Rangi Hiroa). To him he said, “I ask of you that after I am gone to place my boys, all from the Ngati-Porou Tribe, under my cousin, Lieutenant Pekama Kaa.”
Major Buck replied, “Yes, I'll carry out your wish.”
Then, looking up to the major and myself, he remarked, “I have no anxiety now, for I know the boys will be in good hands, and as for myself I shall be all right.”
We never suspected that his wounds would be fatal. At midnight I buried those of his boys who were killed outright. After I went to have another look at him; he seemed quite calm. Before he was taken away he said, “I know the boys will be all right with you.” We didn't see poor Henare after that; none of us was with him when he passed away.1 We heard of his death from the newspapers. I put off writing to you hoping that the newspapers might be mistaken. Only the other day we received the official notice that my very dear friend was no more.
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Henare was very popular with everybody—with the great as well as with the lowly, with the general as well as with the humblest private. Now he rests from his labours.
Tawhai is bearing up very well, but we know he is feeling the death of his brother intensely.
Pekama is getting on well with his boys. He is a fine boy, quiet but popular with his men.
Thank you for your letter.

Your old friend,

Henare Te Wainohu.

1 On September 16, 1916.