First battle for Ma¯ori equal­ity

The Press - - Opinion - Car­men Parahi

There was no roar­ing cho­rus, cel­e­bra­tory sounds or large crowds to mark the end of World War I for the sol­diers of the Ma¯ ori Pi­o­neer Bat­tal­ion, Te Hokowhitu a Tu¯ . For them, there was still more work to do in Le Ques­noy, where they were be­ing bil­leted. A nip of rum from the stores, a shared prayer of thanks with lo­cals in a church and it was back to work.

The ex­pe­ri­ence of Ma¯ ori in WWI forms part of the Wai­tangi Tri­bunal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the ex­pe­ri­ence of Ma¯ ori in the mil­i­tary.

The tri­bunal’s own ev­i­dence sug­gests that, al­though Ma¯ ori and Pa¯ keha¯ re­la­tions im­proved be­cause of the war, Ma¯ ori veterans did not re­ceive the same ben­e­fits and en­ti­tle­ments as Pa¯ keha¯ ser­vice­men. They also missed out on re­ceiv­ing equal med­i­cal and men­tal health sup­port.

De­spite their ser­vice, they faced dis­crim­i­na­tion be­fore, dur­ing and after the war. No­tably when the New Zealand Di­vi­sion was to sup­ply troops to oc­cupy Ger­many after the ar­mistice. The Ma¯ ori Bat­tal­ion was told they were go­ing back to Eng­land.

‘‘They were stopped right on the bor­der be­cause they were dark-skinned troops,’’ says Ma¯ ori mil­i­tary his­to­rian Monty Soutar.

He says some of them didn’t think it was fair so they jumped off the train and dis­ap­peared for a week into Ger­many. ‘‘They got ar­rested when they came out, charged and court mar­tialled. But at least they could say they set foot in Ger­many.

‘‘It was quite ironic after all of that they still weren’t treated as equals.’’

In the tri­bunal’s eco­nomic re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion re­port, TJ Hearn says that, de­spite the govern­ment’s in­sis­tence that Ma¯ ori veterans had equal ac­cess to its re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion scheme, they were, at worst, de­lib­er­ately ex­cluded from or, at best, in­ad­e­quately pro­vided for com­pared with Pa¯ keha¯ .

Hearn be­lieves the De­part­ment of Lands and Sur­vey dis­played el­e­ments of racism to­wards Ma¯ ori veterans. ‘‘It seems rea­son­ably clear the state, through its var­i­ous agen­cies, was not geared to­wards reach­ing out to and en­gag­ing Ma¯ ori.

‘‘In short, the state failed to recog­nise the kau­papa of Ma¯ ori vet­eran re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.’’

Soutar is part of the tri­bunal’s ex­pert panel that will hear claims against the Crown and make rec­om­men­da­tions at a date yet to be fi­nalised.

He has spent the past four years re­search­ing Ma¯ ori in WWI, com­pil­ing let­ters and di­aries of ser­vice­men to be re­leased in a book in April next year. ‘‘I can see through my re­search they de­serve more recog­ni­tion than they got,’’ he says. ‘‘My grand­fa­ther was in the pioneers. I didn’t know any­thing re­ally about what he did un­til I started delv­ing into the re­search.’’

A to­tal of 2227 Ma¯ ori and 470 Pa­cific Is­landers are known to have served over­seas with the Ma¯ ori Con­tin­gent. By June 1919, 336 mem­bers had died (in­clud­ing 27 Pa­cific Is­landers and an un­known num­ber of Pa¯ keha¯ in the Ma¯ ori units).

The 1st Ma¯ ori Con­tin­gent left New Zealand in Fe­bru­ary 1915 but was sent to Egypt and Malta on gar­ri­son du­ties. Ma¯ ori de­manded they be sent to the front­line at Gal­lipoli in­stead. They landed there in July.

Soutar says they dis­tin­guished them­selves dur­ing the Au­gust 1915 Battle of Chunuk Bair. ‘‘It’s at night, they’re do­ing the haka and then have to charge a trench. They’ve got no bul­lets in their ri­fles, just bay­o­nets to fight hand-to-hand.

‘‘They were go­ing up two ridge lines with a val­ley in be­tween try­ing to take out the Turk­ish trenches. One lot started a haka on one ridge, the Ma¯ ori on the other side heard it. So when they were go­ing to take a trench they’d do a haka also.

‘‘It was dur­ing the night and if you’ve never heard a haka be­fore like the Turks, how fright­en­ing it must’ve been.’’

He says a Turk­ish news­pa­per re­ported on hear­ing the haka and used it as pro­pa­ganda, say­ing, ‘‘We now have can­ni­bals on Gal­lipoli, they’ll eat you if they catch you.’’

On the bloody bat­tle­fields of Gal­lipoli, Ma¯ ori and Pa¯ keha¯ re­la­tions be­gan to change, re­spect grew as men worked to­gether, fought and died side by side. The Ma¯ ori Con­tin­gent was dis­banded and split up among the other units. Other than skir­mishes later in the war, Gal­lipoli was the only com­bat the Ma¯ ori Con­tin­gent mem­bers fought in.

By the time they were evac­u­ated in December 1915, just 130 able-bod­ied men were left of the 500 mem­bers.

In April 1916, the rem­nants and new Ma¯ ori re­in­force­ments, in­clud­ing Pa­cific Is­land and

Pa¯ keha¯ troops, were re­grouped into the Pi­o­neer Bat­tal­ion for a com­bat sup­port role on the Western Front. It be­came the Ma¯ ori Pi­o­neer Bat­tal­ion while serv­ing at Pass­chen­daele in late 1917.

Soutar says the work of the pioneers has been un­der­val­ued and de­serves more recog­ni­tion. ‘‘They were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing what the in­fantry was con­fronting. The only dif­fer­ence was they weren’t get­ting to climb out of the trenches with a bay­o­net fixed and charge like the in­fantry.’’


Ma¯ori sol­diers carry iron gird­ers up a hill at Gal­lipoli circa 1915.

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