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No. 25 (December 1958)
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MAORI BATTALION REUNION

The spirit of the Maori Battalion lives on; memories of those things for which the unit stood in wartime have not been dimmed by the passing of the years. That was the impression left by the meeting in Auckland earlier this year to form a 28 (New Zealand) Maori Battalion Association.

It was as if the spirit of Sir Apirana Ngata himself had descended on the gathering. His immortal words, “an asset discovered in the crucible of war should have a value in peace,” were recaptured by the 40 former members of the unit who ranged themselves around the little room in the Community Centre in Fanshawe Street. They knew that as leaders they still had a significant part to play in the grim battles of peacetime.

For an hour before the meeting they listened while the Rev. Rangi Rogers reminded them of their duty and responsibility to their comrades who were not with them on that day. This, and the thought that as members of a unique military unit they were entrusted with the job of preserving the identity of the Maori people, remained with them throughout the afternoon.

In that way firm and lasting foundations were laid for an organisation dedicated to holding the ground in the New World which the battalion won for the people on the battlefields of the Old World. Not a man was not conscious of what he could do to build for the future by guiding and assisting the young generation which is launching forth into an even newer world.

Most of the men who attended the meeting took part in the Dawn Parade on Anzac Day when the formation of a battalion association was suggested. The spark which set off the movement was a breakfast provided for them at the Community Centre. Here they were reminded of the comradeships which were forged in the battalion itself. They recalled the receptions which were given the men coming back after the war when they ate the same sort of food and talked about the same things.

Then why not preserve those cherished associations? The suggestion was enthusiastically supported. A meeting was convened by Monty Wikiriwhi, now welfare officer in Pukekohe. The former intelligence officer has lost none of the calm efficiency which he demonstrated in the battalion. The way he dealt with the persistent demands to get on with the job of appointing a president testified to his diplomacy and patience.

The tribute paid Monty Wikiriwhi by electing him president was a sincere one. He had a worthy opponent for the important office in R. Rautahi. Also, the gathering rejected the offer of a secret ballot and elected Mr Wikiriwhi openly on a show of hands by 20 votes to 14. There was no division in installing Mr Rautahi in the responsible office of secretary.

With the two key positions filled, the meeting settled down to business. Mr Wikiriwhi had something worthwhile to say about the purpose of the new association and where it stood in relation to existing bodies. He made it clear that the new body would not cut across the Maori Returned Services League. This was reassuring, particularly to Kahi Harawira, who had been padre with the battalion, but had also been wounded on Gallipoli in the First World War. Like many other 1914–18 veterans, he valued his association with the league.

However, Mr Wikiriwhi was definite in pointing out that the weakness of the league lay in limiting its membership to Maoris. “We had a lot of Pakehas in the Battalion,” he said, “but they could not become members of the League. If we set up a unit association all our fellow Pakehas will be able to join.”

A long discussion followed on the question whether the association should be a New Zealand body or purely an Auckland organisation. It was decided to invite battalion members throughout New Zealand to join. More than 1800 men—both Maori and Pakeha—who served with the unit were to be circularised and it was announced that already names and addresses of more than 1000 had been obtained.

The election of a patron was no problem. Everybody was in favour of Colonel G. Dittmer, the first commanding officer of the battalion. There were those who remembered him respectfully as a strict disciplinarian. Others, no doubt, recalled his fast talking on their behalf after a farmer's pig had found its way into the battalion hangi on Salisbury Plain. The C.O.'s reply to a letter asking him to accept patronage of the association re-

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vealed his typical modesty and his abiding affection for the battalion. One could visualise his delight at being asked to renew a direct association with the men whom he had commanded.

In selecting vice-presidents, the choice fell on genial Roy Te Punga, former adjutant and intelligence officer and now senior probation officer in Auckland, and Matiu Te Hau, who has scope for his efficiency as an Adult Education tutor. The purse strings are being held for the association by H. G. Lambert who agreed to accept the post of treasurer although his time is fully taken up with his new appointment as lecturer in Maori studies at Auckland Teachers' College.

The executive was headed by a former officer in I. Harris and a non-commissioned officer in G. Harrison. Other members elected were T. Marsden, S. Royal, H. Harding and E. Emory. E. Reweti, who is with the Lands and Survey Department in Auckland, was installed as honorary auditor and the recently ordained Rev. Maori Marsden, of Frankton Junction, as honorary padre.

In asking Mr S. C. Clarke to accept the office of honorary solicitor, Mr Wikiriwhi said: “Mr Clarke has been with us in the Tokerau Land Court and knows us better than we do ourselves.” Mr Clarke represented the Auckland Returned Services' Association and with officers from other unit associations pledged support for the new organisation.

“We mean what we say,” said Mr Clarke. “The support offered is real.” He congratulated the association for appointing an honorary padre, adding: “One of the things which struck us as judges in moving around among the Maori people was how very rarely Grace is not said in Maori households and how rarely it is said in the Pakeha household.”

There was a feeling among those present that Auckland was the logical place for the national headquarters of the association. It was thought unlikely that there were as many former battalion members in other centres as there were in Auckland. No subscriptions were sought from those who attended the first meeting but they were asked for donations to cover initial expenses. Later, finance would be wanted for specific purposes, but it was clearly stated that the executive would investigate all immediate sources of money.

One source was revealed as soon as the members sat down to kai after the meeting. The ladies of the wartime reception committee announced that they had a substantial sum of money left over from their entertainment fund. They were willing to hand it over to the battalion body.

Those who attended the battalion meeting were satisfied that their efforts had started something really big. They had relit the lamp of the Maori Battalion in the country. If there was one thing which they wanted to achieve it was to retrieve the identity of the battalion as a military unit. They would like to obliterate those sorrowful words which provide the ending to the official history—“Trains throughout the afternoon carried the Maori soldiers to a hundred welcoming maraes. The 28th (Maori) Battalion had ceased to exist.”

The twenty-one year jubilee of the Maori Women's Health League was celebrated in the Tonuhopu meeting house, Ohinemutu, last September.

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A new youth club has been started in Hamilton. To be known as ‘Te Rau Aroha Hamutana,’ the club has been sponsored by the Anglican Maori Mission and is open to all denominations. Chairman is Mr H. Baker, secretary, Mr R. Paparu.

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The fine new cafeteria at the Otaki Maori Racing Club is now open. A full article on the Club appeared in our issue 23.

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The Department of Maori Affairs established a new district office in Christchurch. South Island Maoris had long desired such an office which enables them to do all their transactions concerning land in Christchurch, whereas previously the Court and title records were kept in Wellington. Land development, housing, and welfare will also be conducted from Christchurch. Reserved lands at Greymouth, Hokitika, Motueka, Nelson and other areas administered by the Maori Trustee, are now also controlled from this new office which is situated in the Public Trust Building in Oxford Terrace.