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The Story of a Maori Chief

Lieutenant Hiki Kohere

Lieutenant Hiki Kohere

Hiki Kohere, only son of Lieutenant Henare M. Kohere and great-grandson of Mokena Kohere, enlisted in January, 1941. After six months’ training he left for the Middle East as a member of C Company, composed of members of his own tribe, Ngati-Porou, under Captain Tureia. He saw his first action at Sollum Bay in November, 1941. Captain Tureia was killed here. In a later action he was slightly wounded. He was appointed staff-sergeant (July, 1942) and second lieutenant (April, 1944). The rest of his time was spent in Egypt as adjutant. While in Rome Hiki was amongst the officers who saw and had a chat with the Pope. In Palestine he was much struck with the communal farms of the Jews and with the cleanliness of Tel Aviv as compared with Cairo.

Our family is amongst the lucky ones, for all our boys returned home. My son-in-law, Lieutenant A. Bennett, in his very first action at Cassino, was missed and practically given up for dead. While a tangi was being held over his presumed death an official message came that he was a prisoner of war in Germany. It was remarkable that his wife never once wavered in her faith that her husband would come home.

Lieutenant Bennett, who was severely wounded, was picked up by a German officer and practically carried to the dressing station two miles away. The prisoner of war camp was near the city of Kessel, and he was the only Maori in it. The prisoners knew fairly well all was not right with the Germans when the Allied armies had penetrated into Europe. This belief was confirmed when they received orders to pack up and leave camp. They were on the road several days. While encamped in a large barn for the night they received orders to move. Their English officer refused, as they were utterly fatigued. The German officer hesitated, then, saluting, gave orders to his guard to move, and thus they were left to their own devices.

Early next morning some men climbed to the roof of the barn and excitedly cried out that they could see tanks moving page 85 rapidly. It was General Patton's army. They knew then that at last the day of deliverance had come. Men broke down and wept. Others crowded into the little church to return thanks for their deliverance. They were taken by aeroplanes to Brussels and the next day they were in England.

Lieutenant Bennett said that as prisoners they were fairly well treated. The saddest sight he witnessed in Germany was the enslavement of Russian and Polish women, who were employed in repairing railways. They wore rags and some men's old trousers. He even saw mothers with their babies tied on their backs wielding pickaxes and shovels. Thank God that's all over now!