Topic: ANZAC

Did you know Waikato Māori refused to fight in WWI?

By Te Ao - Māori News

While it’s common to think that support for the war effort in 1914-18 was more or less unanimous in New Zealand, the reality was quite different.

After the outbreak of war, Waikato and Maniapoto were the only iwi to volunteer for service, under the leadership of Sir Apirana Ngata and Sir Māui Pōmare.  Meanwhile, many Māori from Taranaki and Tainui-Waikato resisted the call to fight for ‘King and Country’.

It had only been 50 years since the first Taranaki war and invasion of the Waikato, which led to widespread land confiscation.  Considering many pakeke who had experienced the New Zealand Wars and their aftermath were still alive by the time WWI broke out, Māori of military age were inclined to stay at home.

Kīngitanga leader Te Puea Hērangi maintained throughout the war that Waikato had 'its own King' and had no need to 'fight for the British King'.

The government, desperate for new troops after the horrific toll of the war became apparent in the aftermath of the Gallipoli campaign, introduced conscription in 1916 for all Pākehā men.

They quickly grew impatient with what was seen as defiance and disloyalty from those that refused to fight, and included Māori the following year.

However, in what was likely a punitive measure, conscription was only enforced on Tainui.  In all, 111 men were arrested after failing to comply with conscription demands. Many others hid in remote areas of the country or escaped to Australia, where conscription was roundly rejected by the government of the time.

The detained men were taken from their homes to be held at Narrowneck Military Camp in Auckland, where they were forcibly trained as army recruits. While a group of 13 Pākehā conscientious objectors were sent to France in 1917, none of the Tainui men ended up leaving New Zealand before the war's end in November 1918.

The issue of conscription is a highly contentious one in New Zealand history, with the Labour Party steadfastly opposed during WWI.  In fact, three future party leaders - Peter Fraser, Bob Semple and Harry Holland - were arrested for sedition.  Paddy Webb, the MP for West Coast, lost his seat due to his anti-conscription stance and went to jail, but was re-elected while serving his sentence.

In WWII, Māori were exempt from conscription.  However a disproportionately large number volunteered anyway. 

Military conscription in any form was finally abolished in New Zealand in 1972.