The Story of a Maori Chief
Chapter 11 — Mokena Kohere's Fighting Descendants
Mokena Kohere's Fighting Descendants
My Father, Hone Hiki, was the eldest of a large family, of whom, besides my father, I saw only five— four uncles and one aunt. Some were born at Kamiti and others at Waioratane, both places being in Kautuku, or Marangairoa 1 D. My father must have been old enough to have carried a gun when the Hauhau war on the East Coast broke out in 1865, but I never remember hearing him refer to it. He was, however, exceedingly popular, especially during our long residence at Kawakawa (the name of which for postal reasons was changed to Te Araroa).
When my father died he left behind large herds of cattle, which, although he did not formally do so, he left to the whole of the local sub-tribe. At any rate, members of the tribe helped themselves to the cattle. He died at Te Araroa in 1887, but his body was carried to Kautuku, in the Waiapu Valley, where it was buried. (Strange to relate, in 1913 my people put in a claim before the Native Land Court for that portion of the Kautuku block, but Judge R. N. Jones dismissed our claim, and for over 35 years I have unsuccessfully striven to recover our heritage and three burial grounds.) There were five of us in our own family, four boys and one girl, I being the eldest. The boys were all educated at Te Aute College, and my sister had only two years at Hukarere.
After the death of my grandfather in 1894 my mother felt that the last tie to my father's family was snapped, and she returned to her old home at Pakihi, East Cape. There was not one of her people then living to give her a welcome or to offer her a home. It was left to the loyal chief, Wikiriwhi Matauru, relative of her long-dead aunt Wikitoria, to take her in. Here my mother found shelter for a few years until my sister, Kuata, and her husband later followed her and erected a temporary home. My brothers, Poihipi, Henare and Tawhai, followed later.
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.page 74
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.page 77Henare 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,
1 On September 16, 1916.
The Passing of Kohere—A Rangatira's Wish
Under this heading in a London newspaper of 19th December, 1916, appeared the following article:—
Old Kohere was the chief of Ngati-Porou. He named Ropata Wahawaha to lead his taua for his prowess; and he himself sat in council in the New Zealand Parliament in his ripe years. Lieutenant Kohere lay on a stretcher in the dugout on the Somme. He was quite comfortable and happy. Two of the Pioneers were with him. In one hand he held a lighted cigarette; the other hand was smashed by a high-explosive shell. He was grievously wounded, too, in the groin. Kohere was a chief, and he was paying his small debts, his trifling mess accounts and so on, because he expected to die.
The Major (Rangihiroa) thrust his head and shoulders in at the door, darkening the dugout. “How is it, Kohere?” he asked in Maori.
“Ka nui te kino,” was the quiet reply. The tohunga might not know. But Kohere knew it was very bad, and he was squaring up with life like a chief.
Kohere's grandfather had named Ropata for the war captain, because a chief always wishes well for the tribe. Was there anything Kohere wanted?
“There is only one thing,” whispered the dying rangatira. “I want the platoon to go to Kaa.” It was the old tribal mana. Ngati-Porou had a full platoon of their own, and yet another platoon was chiefly of Ngati-Porou with a Ngati-Porou leader, Lieutenant Kaa. The rangatira wished to hand over his tribesmen to their chief.page 78
Kohere went down the line and died, and was buried, and far away at the Antipodes the greatest tangi of Ngati-Porou mourned his passing.
“What is to be done?” said the Colonel to the Major when they talked of subsequent appointments.” Well, the first thing to do is to be square with Kohere. Kaa must have the platoon.” And Kaa leads the Ngati-Porou to-day.
Captain Pekama Kaa was killed while in charge of men carrying the wounded to a place of safety.
James Cowan, in his book, The Maoris in the Great War, states: “Lieutenant Kohere died of his wound on 16th September, 1916, at the Casualty Clearing Station, and his Ngati-Porou and other comrades deeply mourned him. He was a grandson of Major Mokena Kohere,1 who, with Major Ropata Wahawaha, fought the Hauhaus on the East Coast from 1865 on. The two Ngati-Porou leaders received swords of honour from Queen Victoria.… Lieutenant Kohere's wound was in the groin, but the high-explosive fragment had been deflected up into the abdomen.… Thus on a faraway battlefield in France there was re-enacted a scene that had occurred on many a Maori chieftain's death-bed in the homeland of Aotearoa. Whether college-bred platoon commander or old-time tattooed chief of a tribe, the warrior's last dying thoughts and instructions were for the welfare of the people he commanded.”
Sir Apirana T. Ngata composed a tangi or lament in Maori for the Maori Pioneer Battalion, the second verse of which refers to the East Coast tribes and Lieutenant Henare Kohere. The song became very popular throughout all the tribes. This unmetrical translation into English of the second verse is mine:
|E te Ope Tuarua,||The Second Party|
|No Mahaki rawa,||Came from Mahaki,|
|Na Hauiti koe,||From Hauiti also,|
|Na Porourangi.||And from Porourangi,|
|I haere ai Henare||When Henare went|
|Me to “wiwi.”||And his “wiwi.”2|
|I putu ki te pakanga,||With misfortune they metpage 79|
|Ki Paranihi ra ia.||On the plains of France.|
|Ko wai hei morehu,||Was any left to bring|
|Hei kawe korero,||News and message|
|Ki te iwi nui e.||To all at home?|
|Taukiri e!||Alas! alas!|
The news of Henare's death was received with a shock by the whole of the Ngati-Porou Tribe. Obsequies were observed at Tikitiki by special request of the chief Neho Kopuka, instead of at Rangitukia, Henare's own marae. The chief contended that Henare was Mokena Kohere's grandson, and the least the tribe could do in return for Mokena Kohere's great services to the tribe was to hold the tangi at some central tribal marae.
Tawhai Kohere, Lieutenant Henare Kohere's younger brother and grandson of Mokena Kohere, left in the first Maori contingent, and went through the whole of the illstarred but heroic campaign on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Although he was mentioned in despatches he was too easygoing to make a good officer. He was nicknamed by his mates “Corporal Fine Day” because of his suavity. Tawhai often says that he found on the peninsula that the best cure for hunger was to go to sleep and forget it at least for a time. The Ngati-Porou men contend that it was Tawhai who started the haka just before the Maoris went into action. In one of his letters written from the peninsula he states: “I see in the bay below the New Zealand hospital ship Maheno, looking resplendent with her white coat and large red crosses, but the sight of her makes me homesick.”
During the evacuation of the peninsula Tawhai was amongst the few New Zealanders who remained behind to cover the embarkation.1 After leaving Gallipoli they rested page 80 on Lemnos Island, in the Ægean Sea, from where he wrote: "I am writing this under the shade of trees. It is so beautifully restful here after the terrible time we had on the peninsula. It is so lovely to drop off to sleep, forget the world and all its worries, and feel perfectly safe. There's no more booming of guns; instead there's peace and plenty to eat—fruits in abundance.”
In an earlier letter to his widowed mother he says: “So another son of yours is coming (Lieutenant Henare Kohere). You should be a proud mother to have two sons engaged in this terrible war. Be hopeful, for I feel we shall see each other again. I am looking forward to seeing Henare and others, fresh from old New Zealand. My thoughts are ever with you at East Cape. God be with you till we meet again.”
Tawhai went to France, where his brother, Lieutenant Henare Kohere died of wounds. He afterwards went to England on furlough, but was sent home from there after three strenuous years.
1 I may perhaps here place on record an incident that happened during the embarkation of the British troops from Gallipoli. It was told by Col. J. Gethin Hughes at a public meeting at Rotorua in 1916. I knew Col. Hughes when I used to play football for Te Aute College against his team. If I had heard the story from anybody else I would not have believed it. The meeting was well attended, one of those present being the present Bishop of Aotearoa. Col. Hughes said it was essential that the embarkation should be carried out as quietly as possible so as not to arouse the suspicion of the enemy. When everything was ready for the transport to move there was no movement in the engine-room. The C.O., puzzled, went on the bridge. Finding no captain there, he went into the captain's cabin and found him asleep-dead drunk.
My elder son, Paratene (Tene), after training in New Zealand for five months, left in the Second Echelon on 1st May, 1940. After seven months in England the echelon left Liverpool on New Year's Day, 1941, for the Middle East. The New Zealanders were only about three weeks in Egypt when they were sent across to Greece. All along I had my own misgivings about the wisdom of the campaign in Greece. A friend of mine, a district nurse, had positively declared that the campaign there would be another Dunkirk, and a Dunkirk it proved to be.
Tene had always been fond of Byron, and we enjoyed his recitation of the great poet's poems. I naturally thought he would immensely enjoy his visit to Greece, where he could see with his own eyes places mentioned by Byron, but on his return home he said that the movements were so tremendous that he'd no time for Byron or anything else.
Tene said he had no idea that the army in Greece was so wretchedly unprepared for its gigantic job to meet the finest army in the world—the Nazi war machine. When they got to Thermopylac they discovered that air cover was absolutely inadequate. The Germans bombed them at their sweet will. I shall let Tene describe his toughest experience in Greece:
Lieut. Henare M. Kohere
Died on wounds, September 16, 1916,
during the push on the Somme.
“Our platoon, in charge of Lieutenant Arnold Reedy, had gone on patrol to Scotina and we were supposed to rejoin the battalion at 9.30 that evening, but owing to miscalculation our platoon did not leave Scotina until 9 o'clock. We came across another platoon, who advised us to hurry back or we would be cut off by the Germans. We had gone up a steep hill only a quarter of a mile when darkness set in. What made it worse was that it began to rain heavily. Our way lay through a bush with dense undergrowth. The track was narrow, and zigzagged up the hill. It became so dark that we lost our way and could not see a yard ahead of us. But for the booming of our guns some distance away we would not have had the least idea where we were going to. The booming gave us our direction. Two of our most powerful men, Percy Goldsmith and Eitini Gage, hacked our way through with their bayonets, and now and then tore with their hands branches that barred our way. (Both Goldsmith and Gage were killed.) Occasionally we took brief spells and awaited the booming of the guns. We kept calling out all the time, lest some of us would wander off in the pitch darkness. The track seemed endless. All the time men were slipping, sliding down a bank, and stumbling all the way. Fortunately we travelled light. One man carried an anti-tank rifle.
“At last to our great relief we reached the top of the hill, but this was not the end of our troubles. We pushed on down the hill and arrived at the battalion headquarters at 2.30— five and a half hours of terrible work. However, we found the battalion gone in the general withdrawal and left us to our fate. We had a long walk down to the road towards Olympus Pass, and pushed on the best way we could. We were becoming awfully worn out, and to lighten our swags we threw away our blankets. The booming of the guns was our sure guide. Here the road became so slippery that we actually dragged ourselves through the mud, and it kept raining all the time. I had a touch of the 'flu, and this increased my troubles. I must say that I was so fatigued that I actually slept on my feet. A bump against a tree or a fall brought me to my senses. We were only too glad to rest in the mud when the order was given to rest.
“We slept soundly; the only one awake was our officer, Lieutenant Arnold Reedy. To keep awake he marched up and down. When the order was given to move on we were so page 82 done up that some of us could not awaken and were left behind. We had another sleep in the mud. We came to some men guarding the road. It was a welcome sight and we felt safe. The officer asked us if we had seen the Maori Battalion. Our platoon had actually passed it. Suddenly we heard the tramping of a large number of men, and, to be on the safe side, we rushed up the side of the hill. The engineers were ready to smash up the road but for the absence of the Maori Battalion. We found trucks waiting for us; we jumped in and dropped off to sleep, forgetting the world and its horrors. When we arrived at the rendezvous the men there gave rousing cheers, for the news had come through that the battalion had been cut off. I believe it was owing to superb leadership the battalion escaped by taking a detour.
“I was one of the lucky ones to escape from Greece when so many of my friends were taken prisoners. The New Zealand Division, instead of going across to Egypt and safety, stayed on the island of Crete. We thought then we were in Paradise. After we had been on the island for about a month a message was received from Greece that the Germans would attack the island within ten days. Sure enough, the Germans came in about that time. The Royal Navy prevented the enemy's landing on the island, but they took to the air. Handicapped as we were for the want of aeroplanes, tanks, etc., we were helpless. I really think that the olive groves everywhere saved us. They gave us cover. The Germans came on thick and fast, and the only thing we could do was to make bayonet charges. The New Zealand Division would have been overwhelmed if not for a grand bayonet charge by the Maoris. It was a fearful thing to hear the shouts and shrieks of the Maori Battalion. The Germans could not stand it, and so they took to their heels. If they only had had the courage to stand their ground and turn on their machine-guns the Maoris would have been wiped out. The result of the charge gave the Division respite. I met with my first wound during the bayonet charge. A German officer suddenly confronted me, and, raising his revolver, fired point blank at my head when he was only about ten yards from me. Luckily I had also raised my rifle. The bullet entered my wrist and later came out below my shoulder. My arm deflected the bullet which was meant for my head and I am alive to-day. Before the German could fire again he was dead.page 83
“The next day at the dressing station I was once more hit in the same arm by shrapnel. Two of my fingers were hanging by the skin and I tried to pull them off. Again I was lucky, for some white soldiers were killed outright by the bomb. I tried to walk across the island when a truck overtook me. An officer, revolver in hand, made the driver take me. With Bluejackets and a doctor fussing about us on a destroyer, attending to our wounds, supplying us with hot coffee and cigarettes, we began to forget our troubles.
“I must say something about the German paratroops. It was a pathetic sight to see such brave men descending only to be riddled with bullets. When a parachutist suspected danger he looked below and felt in a bag for his hand grenade. Before he could use it he was riddled with bullets, his head drooped and legs dangled stiff.”
Tene was reported missing, and this caused intense grief at home. He was amongst the earliest casualties and one of the first to come home.
Sergeant Ian Tawhai Kohere
Ian Tawhai Kohere, second son of the Rev. Poihipi M. Kohere and great-grandson of Mokena Kohere, left in the Sixth Reinforcements in 1941. After training in Egypt he went with the New Zealand Division for rest in Syria, was in the memorable journey of the Division from Syria to Egypt and in the great battle of Alamein, was severely wounded and was lucky to escape with his life. A bullet grazed his back and entered under his right shoulder into his lung. When convalescent he went to Palestine on furlough. He saw everything there to be seen. What interested him most was the orange groves and the fine farms. In November, 1942, he went with the Division to Italy, landing at Bari. He was at Cassino and went as far as Fienza, where he returned to Egypt.
When asked what was his unique experience in Italy, Sergeant Kohere said it was the intense cold at Orsogna. All the time they were there they could not get warm. It was a terrible experience. Their boots were wet night and day, and the only thing they could do was to change their socks once a day. Even with their greatcoats and blankets wrapped round them they could not get warm. He wondered how the poor muleteers could stand the cold and carry out their job. They page 84 had to choose night time to visit the lines with their mules to bring food and ammunition, and they did it in spite of the intense cold and snow. The Germans were only about fifty yards from them. It was a happy day when they left Orsogna.
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!