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28 (Maori) Battalion


page v


I am proud to be asked by the Maoris to write a foreword to the history of their Battalion, partly because they had such a distinguished fighting record, but also because they were such excellent wartime comrades. Speaking of their military record overseas—I believe that when this history is published, it will be recognised more widely that no infantry battalion had a more distinguished record, or saw more fighting, or, alas, had such heavy casualties as the Maori Battalion.

In this history you will read the whole story—how they went overseas from New Zealand in 1940, with the Second Echelon to England, to take part in ‘The Battle of Britain’. When the threat of invasion diminished they re-embarked for the Middle East, and arrived in time to take part in the disastrous campaigns in Greece and Crete. Later they fought in the 1941 Libyan Campaign and in the battles in 1942 in defence of Egypt. Later, when the tide changed, they took an active part in the victorious Western Desert Campaign, under Generals Alexander and Montgomery. They finished the war in Italy on the 2nd May 1945.

In all these many campaigns this Battalion took a great part, often a decisive part, in the fighting, as in the counter-attacks at Maleme and 42nd Street in the Cretan Campaign, or again in the Battle of Tebaga Gap, where gallant and young Ngarimu page vi gained his posthumous Victoria Cross, or in the capture of Takrouna. But as glorious as these battles were, and as gallant and brave as was the Maori part, it is not only of their bravery that we wish to write. We want to record what fine fighting comrades they are.

To know and appreciate their great qualities you must understand their background and their tribal traditions. The Maoris are a fighting race, and according to their traditions and in keeping with the laws of New Zealand, they did not come under the National Service Act, which called up men when they reached the military age. The Maori was always a volunteer. For them it was an honour to serve, an attitude strongly supported by their tribal leaders.

In this book you will discover that the Maoris are fine men and fine soldiers. They were a great joy to be associated with. They were ideal comrades in arms—high-spirited, happy and brave. They had a further great military virtue—their sense of humour never failed, they always saw humour even in the most difficult situation.

The Maori Battalion was raised from all over New Zealand. During this war the Maori Battalion made Maori history on two occasions. As a Battalion they were commanded in battle for the first time by Maoris. Some great leaders, such as Colonels Tui Love, Baker, Charlie Bennett, Keiha, Peter Awatere and Henare, were produced from officers of Maori or part-Maori blood. And Maori history was made when Ngarimu won the Victoria Cross.

I know that the Maoris would wish to record how much the Maori Battalion owed to their Pakeha leaders. They will always remember with affection such COs as Colonels Dittmer, Dyer, Fairbrother and Russell Young.

This is a fine story of one of the great fighting infantry battalions of World War II. I hope that it will be widely read by the Pakeha as well as the Maori, and especially by the people here in Great Britain.

Deputy Constable and Lieutenant Governor,

Windsor Castle

16 December 1955