In honour of the Ma¯ori Battalion
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.