In hon­our of the Ma¯ori Bat­tal­ion

The Northland Age - - Local News - By Peter de Graaf

One of New Zealand’s two sur­viv­ing veter­ans of the World War II 28th Ma¯ori Bat­tal­ion has helped lay the mauri stones for a new mu­seum ded­i­cated to the bat­tal­ion.

The Ma¯ori Bat­tal­ion Mu­seum is due to open at the Wai­tangi Treaty Grounds early next year, with the as yet undis­closed cost to be cov­ered by the govern­ment’s Pro­vin­cial Growth Fund.

Earth­works have al­ready be­gun, but last week’s cer­e­mony, the burial of mauri (life force) stones, marked the project’s of­fi­cial start.

Some of the stones were buried by 94-year-old Ro­torua man Robert (Bom) Gil­lies, a vet­eran of the bat­tal­ion’s B Com­pany, the oth­ers by De­fence Min­is­ter Ron Mark.

More than 100 peo­ple, in­clud­ing Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern and stu­dents of Whanga¯rei kura Te Ka¯pehu Whetu¯, at­tended the cer­e­mony, but the ex­act lo­ca­tion of the stones was shrouded be­hind a screen.

Speak­ers in­cluded Bernard Henare, son of Sir James Henare, the bat­tal­ion’s last com­man­der, who re­called the for­ma­tion of a Ma¯ori fight­ing force at the urg­ing of Sir A¯ pi­rana Ngata, and how its sol­diers had dis­tin­guished them­selves in Greece, the Mid­dle East, North Africa and Italy.

The bat­tal­ion also suf­fered the high­est ca­su­alty rate of any New Zealand bat­tal­ion in World War II.

For many young Ma¯ori, join­ing the bat­tal­ion had been a chance to “get out of the hills that had hemmed them in all their¯ lives,” he said, while for Sir Api­rana it was the price Ma¯ori had to pay for cit­i­zen­ship of New Zealand, yet when they re­turned they found lit­tle had changed.

“They fought and bled in coun­tries with for­eign names . . . but they kept their mana, they kept their spirit, they ac­quit­ted them­selves well as men and as war­riors,” Mr Henare said.

Mr Mark said he hoped the new mu­seum would re­mem­ber not just Ma¯ori who had fought in World War II, but ev­ery over­seas con­flict be­fore and since.

Although based in North­land, the home of A Com­pany, the mu­seum will tell the story of all four com­pa­nies.

The mauri stones were col­lected from sa­cred sites around the Nga¯puhi rohe. Two were taken from a place on Mo­tatau Moun­tain were war­riors used to bathe be­fore bat­tle. The last per­son to com­plete that rit­ual was Sir James Henare.

Only one other vet­eran of the bat­tal­ion’s orig­i­nal 3600 sol­diers is still alive. C Com­pany’s Epineha Rat­apu, 97, of Master­ton, was un­able to travel to Wai­tangi to take part in the cer­e­mony due to ill health.

Watch­man Waaka, of D Com­pany, died in the Hokianga on De­cem­ber 11 last year. He was 96.


Vet­eran Robert (Bom) Gil­lies (left) and De­fence Min­is­ter Ron Mark car­ry­ing mauri stones to be buried at the site of a new mu­seum ded­i­cated to the 28th Ma¯ ori Bat­tal­ion.

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