Calling on the descendants of the NZ Māori (Pioneer) Battalion

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes
  • North Island: East Coast

Ngā Taonga a Ngā Tama Toa Trust is calling for volunteers to form a 100-man guard of honour to commemorate 100 years since the return of NZ Maori (Pioneer) Battalion soldiers in 1919 at the end of WWI.

The parade will coincide with the launch of the new book Whitiki: Maori in the First World War by Māori historian Monty Soutar.

"Most of the descendants of the soldiers don't quite know what they did or why they went overseas, as it was for me with my grandfather - it was for Māori to gain a better standing and similar to that of the Pākehā," says Soutar.

It took five years for the battalion to come home, just as it has taken Soutar five years to research and collate the information for his new book, including 1,000 photographs.

"I ventured overseas to the places where the soldiers were, I also went around the country to gather stories from individual families who gifted the letters of their ancestors and photographs."

The Hui Aroha in 1919 was the official welcome in Gisborne to the NZ Māori (Pioneer) Battalion who lived between Opotiki and Wairarapa.

The event also served as a fundraiser for the soldiers and an opportunity to unveil a monument in honour of the late Hon. Wi Pere MP.  The rangatira, who died in 1915, had given the name Te Hokowhitu-a-Tu to the Māori soldiers.

A tremendous powhiri was given them by tribal groups from Whakatohea, Tuwharetoa, Tuhoe, Apanui, Turanga, the East Coast, and Ngati Kahungunu from Wairoa, Hawke’s Bay and Wairarapa.

100 years on, the re-enactment will coincide with the launch of the new book.

“There's a one-weekend session where the volunteers will learn what to do, learn some haka and some songs from WWI, and then they will meet again the night before the launch of the book at Te Poho o Rāwiri (Marae), before it is revealed to the world,” says Soutar.

The parade is to reflect the NZ Māori (Pioneer) Battalion, which was made up of mostly Maori troops but also included some European and Pasifika men (Cook Islands, Niue, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati, and Tuvalu). 

“The Pioneer Battalion, some were from the Pacific, some were Pākehā, so we're calling to all, Māori, Pākehā, and Pasifika of this region to take part,” says Soutar.

For those interested in being part of the guard, there will be a training weekend on 3–5 May (commencing Friday evening).  The guard will be required to form up again on Friday 7 June to receive uniforms and final training before the parade the following day.

The trust invites volunteers to register for the guard by providing name and your contact details to the Ngā Taonga a Ngā Tama Toa Trust Facebook page.

The parade and book launch will take place on 8th June.