25 Apr 2020

Kei Warewaretia tātou - Lest We Forget

From Te Ahi Kaa , 6:05 pm on 25 April 2020

In today's Te Ahi Kaa ANZAC special, two descendants of the legendary Māori captain Harding Waipuke Leaf reflect on his extraordinary service in both WWI and WWII and Sir Wira Gardiner recalls the men of the 28th Māori Battalion's B Company.

The 100 man honour guard, Te Poho o Rāwiri Marae, Gisborne 2019.

The 100 man honour guard, Te Poho o Rāwiri Marae, Gisborne 2019. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

E te iwi Whitiki Whiti Whiti E! / Māori - rise up, rise up, ready your war belt!

In 1914, this 'call to action' and words from a haka were used during the recruitment phase for Māori soldiers.

The story of the Māori contingent and the New Zealand Māori Pioneer Battalion is captured in the book Whitiki Whiti Whiti E! Māori in the First World War by war historian Dr Monty Soutar.  

Soutar began researching the book in 2014 and it also includes the stories of the volunteer men recruited from the Pacific Islands.

Between 1914 and 1919 these men served in Malta, Gallipoli, Belgium, England and the Middle East.   

In preparing for the Pioneer Battalions' return to New Zealand, plans got underway in Gisborne to fundraise for the returning soldiers.

They sailed back home from England aboard the Westmoreland, and although Gisborne was touted as the place of disembarkment, the ship instead docked in Auckland in April 1919.

Hui Aroha would become both a fundraising event and a large-scale 'welcome home' celebration, Dr Monty Soutar says.

“The Westmoreland was carrying at least a thousand men from the Pioneer Battalion, plus soldiers who were returning from other units, the argument was why is it going to Gisborne?…and so another small ship was put on to bring the eastern seaboard guys here… [on board] were men from Tuwharetoa, Wairarapa, Tūhoe, Turanga Tribes even Te Arawa and Ngāti Awa.”

Onboard this ship, 290 men travelled to the Tairāwhiti region. At that time the population of Gisborne was 8,000, which doubled during the week of hosting the Hui Aroha.

Logistics-wise, ablution blocks were constructed, large marquees were built and nearby farms donated meat and produce for the feast at Gisborne racecourse.  

In one week over £25,000 was raised - the equivalent of $3 million today, according to Dr Soutar.

Fast forward one hundred years, and the return of the Pioneer Battalion to Gisborne and Hui Aroha was commemorated on June 8th 2019 with a 100-man honour guard staged as part of the New Zealand Government-led centenary commemorations of World War I and to complement the release of Dr Monty Soutar’s book.

Military advisor Rayner Jahnke trained the 100 young men who came from various colleges and training academies. Each wore replicas of pioneer battalion undergarments, uniforms and badges made by Peter Jackson's Wingnut Productions.

Sir Wira Gardiner, Te Papaiouru marae 2019.

Sir Wira Gardiner, Te Papaiouru marae 2019. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

In 2015, military historian Sir Wira Gardiner was given the task of writing about B Company of the 28th Māori Battalion by the B Company Trust.

The book's brief was that it be used as an educational resource, a legacy book for the whanau of B Company descendants and capture the stories of the men's experiences overseas and what life was like upon their return, Sir Gardiner says.

“I came upon examples of young men 14 or 15 years of age… before they went to primary schools they might have been Standard 5 or 6, and they went off to war. Some of them never came home and some came home at the age of 19 after 4 years of horrendous war and they were still 2 years off their 21st birthday… I felt for them and I thought about them.”

Gardiner's book Ake Ake Kia Kaha E! Forever Brave, B Company of the 28th Māori Battalion captures stories of the men's lives before recruitment and their efforts during World War II.

It was released in April 2019 at Te Papaiouru marae in Rotorua, with Robert Bom Gillies - the last surviving veteran of B Company - in attendance.

A copy of the book is handed to Robert Bom Gillies, the last surviving veteran of B Company of the 28th Māori Battalion

A copy of the book is handed to Robert Bom Gillies, the last surviving veteran of B Company of the 28th Māori Battalion Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

Kia Mate a Ururoa, Kaua hei mate a Tarakihi – Let us die like Sharks, not like the Tarakihi fish

Harding Waipuku Leaf. For use on Anzac Day with Lois' Williams story.

Harding Waipuku Leaf Photo: Auckland War Memorial Museum Online Cenotaph. provided by Bradley family

These words capture the fighting spirit of Captain Harding Waipuke Leaf, whose military service earned him a reputation as a ‘Ngapuhi Legend’.

Captain Leaf served in World War I as a Lieutenant in the Pioneer Battalion and a Captain in World War II.

His whakapapa links are to the hapū Te Hikutu, Whirinaki located in the Far North.

Known as an athletic man who possessed a keen sense of humour, Captain Leaf first enlisted in 1914 at age of 24, and again in 1939 at the age of 49, although his great grand-nephew Anania Wikaira disputes this, putting his age at 54 years old at the time.

Lois Williams interviewed Anania Wikaira and Helene Leaf at Mōria Marae, Whirinaki in 2015.

These stories are from the Te Ahi Kaa archives and feature as part of this ANZAC special.