Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa Go to Te Ao Hou homepage
No. 5 (Spring 1953)
– 28 –

After Ten Years

Picture icon


It is ten years ago now since the New Zealand Division landed at Taranto. The campaign which followed was an unforgettable experience. It was mostly fighting, but the memory usually fastens on the less painful happenings ….

To the men of the Maori Battalion, the Italian campaign meant a return to a warm social life, to which Italy lent itself admirably. As one veteran, Mr Edward Nepia, who kept the Maori Battalion's official records, put it, when interviewed by Te Ao Hou recently, the desert was — a desert. During the desert campaign the Maori Battalion naturally made the most of life, holding concerts, competing in action songs and hakas, and learning popular Arabic songs on the way. But Italy was different: there was leave in the towns and villages, there were dance floors and cafes, and the Maori soldiers were always welcome in Italian homes. The Italians were, in the opinion of many, not unlike the Maori; always friendly and cheerful, they entertained to the fullest extent and spared nothing.

There was, of course, another side to this friendship: there were instances where Maori troops saved rations out of their own mouths for the starving. They learned the popular Italian songs, Mama mia, Tornerai, etc. — and even sang them at concerts they held in Italian villages. When the men had to take leave of their Italian hosts, tears were sometimes shed. One wonders, said Mr Nepia, why there should be a need for war if understanding between two so different races in such difficult circumstances could be as warm and simple as it was.

In South Italy, where they landed, New Zealanders met a more backward type of Italian, still living the life of his ancestors; the walls around the South Italian towns are still walls —shutting the outside world out, and keeping those within isolated from the rest of the world. The peasants still had their wooden ploughs

– 29 –

Picture icon

Houses being built for the new owners in the province of Foggia (Summer 1952).

and yokes. They did not believe in fertilisers apart from animal droppings, which they carefully collected and spread over the ground. They often knew little of villages two or three miles away; the dialect differences were enormous.

The troops later, however, had an opportunity to visit the great, highly civilised cities like Rome. The education officers briefed the men and issued pamphlets, telling them what to expect in the cities about to be visited. In this way an impression was left of older and more established cultures than the New Zealanders had seen before. As Mr Nepia said, when you take a man to St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome, and encourage him to look at it not only as a church, but also as a work of art, then you have done something for that man.

What else did the war and the Italian campaign in particular do for the men of the Maori Battalion? First, it generally broadened people's views. Then, it enabled influential

Picture icon

New machinery is brought on to the farms in accordance with the Twelve Year Plan for the development of Italian Agriculture (Mantua — 15 January 1953).

Maoris of different tribes to come together and express opinions. Although the battalion was organized in tribal units, and therefore no complete breakdown of tribal barriers would occur, the war did undoubtedly promote mutual understanding of tribal points of view. The tribal representatives became more tolerant of each other. In the beginning there may still have been some distrust deep in their hearts, although perhaps not obviously so. At the end of the war little of this distrust remained. Undoubtedly present-day Maori leadership owes much to this change.

In the ten years since Taranto the Italians, too, have had some very profound experiences. First, the destruction of their country; statistics show that one-third of Italy's national wealth was destroyed during the war. Then reconstruction: by 1950, five years after the end of the war, most of the obvious traces of destruction had vanished. Houses, roads, bridges, aqueducts, railways had been rebuilt, olive groves and vineyards replanted. Most important of all: the new Italian Republic is gradually taking measures to lift the primitive peasant of the backward south of Italy to a higher standard of living. This great movement, Italy's twelve-year plan for the south, may perhaps be of some interest to Te Ao Hou's readers, especially those who have learnt to understand these

(Continued on page 64)


ITALY (continued from page 29)

peasant people and their problems. The method of effecting land development and closer settlement in Italy has some resemblances to our own Maori land development.

The Italian plan provides for the general development of 6,800,000 acres in Southern Italy and the islands. After spending about £60 million on this area in twelve years, the Italian Government expects to have fully developed it, and provided full employment for an additional million people. Most of the money is to be spent on land development — swamp reclamation, irrigation, drainage services and so on.

At the same time a law was passed, very hotly contested but quite inevitable, to expropriate many of the large estates of Italy, often more or less idle, and capable of feeding many of the unemployed peasants who were in a worse state than ever after the war. These large estates have existed in Italy ever since the beginning of Christianity, and even earlier. In fact, the ancient Romans knew them by exactly the same name as is still in use today: latifundia.

Almost 1 ½ million acres of this land was bought from the owners, mostly in South Italy and Sardinia. The government was careful to take most land from the worst managed estates. In 1952, 374,000 acres of this area was distributed to 34,977 peasant families. Thousands of similar allotments took place in Sicily. It is expected that the whole of the expropriated area will be distributed by the end of the year. As may be seen, the scheme allows each family about ten acres on the average. Where the land is suitable for olive groves and vineyards even smaller areas are quite economic by Italian standards. Land is given to settlers in a semi-improved state. The settler must complete development, with the technical, financial and social help of the government. After two years he obtains title if he is satisfactory. The debt has to be repaid in 30 years. A few hundred of these properties already contain State-built homes; many thousands are yet to be erected. In some places the government is building entire villages. Of the money so far spent more than half was on implements, that is, tractors and other modern machinery, much of which has been distributed to settlers. This machinery has already greatly improved yields of crops.

It is gratifying that the Italian Government has been helped in this great work by American and British finance, and that our victory has brought progress to these charming people, victims of an age-old poverty.