WHY MAORIS CHOOSE
My visit to Burnham Camp coincided with the heaviest rainfall of the year. The flow of water was a reasonable preparation for monsoon weather in Malaya, but the temperature in middle July added that extra twang which builds up endurance. Much to everyone's regret, two companies had gone on a long route march just before the full attack of the elements began.
The overwhelming impression of the camp was of high pressure activity. The outsider tends to imagine there is something essentially sleepy about a peacetime army; Burnham camp however is stirring day and evening, with a sense of purpose pervading almost everyone.
It was not until well into June that the battalion reached its full complement; it is due in Malaya in November. This poses the task of converting civilians into battle-fit soldiers within the space of a few months—teaching the handling of weapons, the practice of modern warfare and, most important of all, making the soldiers physically fit and mentally adjusted to active military service.
The men collaborate in this high pressure training because of their keenness to go to Malaya. Only well-trained men will be selected for transport this year; it becomes therefore everyone's ambition to reach the desired standard.
As a result the recruits not only accept the toughness of the programme but attend voluntary training sessions in the evenings as well. Even the men who came back at 4 p.m. on the day of my visit, frozen to the bone during the long, wet route march, were back with the training officer that same night.
The strength of the battalion is between 900 and 1000 men consisting of four rifle companies and a headquarters company. Of these, 700 men will go to Malaya, the rest being kept behind as a reinforcement company, comprising late enlistments, men under 21 years of age, men unfit for the tropics, and some married men. Naturally everyone has the ambition to belong to the chosen 700.
The force now at Burnham Camp is the 1st Battalion of the New Zealand Regiment. It is the first New Zealand force to be sent overseas entirely by air, by planes of the R.N.Z.A.F. The advance party has gone in August and September, the main body will go in November and perhaps in early December. The planes will, on their return flights, bring home men of the 2nd Battalion who are serving in Malaya at present.
The battalion commander, Lt. Col. L. A. Pearce, M.B.E., is a specialist in training, having been in charge of the Army Schools at Waiouru.
In Malaya, the New Zealanders will move into a new camp at Fort Terendak, which is in the southern part of the country, well away from the some time ago. They will be part of the 28th area where battles against the terrorists took place Commonwealth Brigade Group, a garrison force composed of three battalions (one British, one Australian and one New Zealand) as well as other Commonwealth units.
Fort Terendak will be a small township, with no less than 10,000 inhabitants. In this self-contained community, the New Zealanders will have 140 houses for married quarters, so that a large number of soldiers' wives can be accommodated there. The battalion will be stationed there for two years, with plenty of time and facilities for entertainment. Much rugby, soccer and tennis will be played, including sizeable inter-unit sports tournaments with other parts of the brigade and with other regiments in Malaya.
MAORI LIFE IN THE BATTALION
One remarkable feature of the battalion is the way in which Maoris and Europeans have been welded together into an integrated whole. There are 300 Maoris, including four officers and quite a number of NCO's. This is about the same proportion as in previous Malayan contingents. The Maoris form no unit of their own but are spread throughout the battalion. In the recreational programme, the Maori element is important. The two main clubs in the battalion are the sports club and the Maori club.
The sports activities this winter have been largely limited to rugby, with a few soccer and hockey enthusiasts practising. Soccer however will come into its own in Malaya, where it is widely played. There is a strong indoor basketball club and a good following of golf.
Rugby coach is Father P. M. M. Carmody, the Roman Catholic chaplain of the unit, the captain of the first fifteen being Corporal Rangitataura (Sam) Christie, from Opotiki, who served in Korea as well as Malaya with the first contingent.
Practice is on Wednesday afternoons and in the evenings but enthusiasm for rugby is limited just at present as most of the men concentrate all their efforts on military training.
The second major club, almost equally important in the battalion, is the Maori club. It is actively suported by Ltd.-Col. Pearce as Patron and by the company commanders as vice-presidents. The other club officials are all Maoris, led by the president. Captain J. P. (Joe) Brosnahan, from Mohaka. The chairman is Staff Sergeant Mat Edwards; among the committee members are Cpl. Christie (for Maori sports), Sgt. Rangiuia (for social activities), Cpl. Brown (for catering), and some others.
Coach of the Maori club is Padre Whakahuihui Vercoe, who is chaplain of the battalion for all denominations except R.C.
Activities of the Maori club are confined to practices every Monday night. As with the sports club, there is a membership fee of 10/- per year which at the time of my visit had been paid by 72 members although the active membership is actually a good deal greater. The club contains Europeans but Maoris form the majority. Activities include Maori hymns, choral pieces, action songs, hakas and waiatas. The men are very conscious of the high standard set for them by the concert party of the 2nd battalion now in Malaya. They realise they will be called upon to do much entertaining, and that they have to develop a pretty good programme. However, they consider themselves at least equal to and ‘probably better’ than the previous party.
The competition is all the fiercer because the tribal composition of this new group is different from the previous one. The Maoris of the 2nd battalion are mostly from the West Coast and the Bay of Plenty, whereas the 1st battalion's main tribes are Ngapuhi and Ngati Porou.
Battalion wives have an organization of their own. Like the men, some are learning Malay; other activities of their organization are: learning about life in Malaya, a drama group, a ‘keep fit’ group, and also a Maori club, which not only practises action songs and similar, but also makes poi balls, and taniko headbands and bodices for the men's entertainment group. Tutor in these activities is Mrs Vercoe, the chaplain's wife; among the active members are Mrs Pearce, the Colonel's wife, and her daughter.
Padre Whakahuihui Vercoe, the chaplain, is responsible for the spiritual welfare of both Maori and European. He attends not only to his Anglican flock, but also Presbyterians. Methodists, Ratana's and other religions—although some of the other churches hold occasional services in the camp. He told me he had been agreeably surprised at the deep interest many of the men took in religion. His office, comfortable with a well-stocked library, is next to the chapel, which is always open for prayer. His wife and family will go with him to Malaya.
Two of the Maori officers in the battalion are brothers—Capt. J. P. and 2nd Lt. T. D. Brosnahan. Both were teachers, and had finished part of a university degree, when they joined the army. The older brother has been in the army for ten years now, and intends to continue in this career; his younger brother Tom thinks of going back to teaching when his time in Malaya is up.
Last to join the small group of Maori officers is 2nd Ltd. N. A. Kotua, a Nelson man who has just graduated from Portsea Officers' Cadet School
I was able to meet several of the men during my short visit. Random though they are, the few conversations I had will give some picture of the men who make up the battalion, the reasons why they joined, and what they hope to do in the future. Sgt. Matu Rangiuia, of Tolaga Bay, is a permanent soldier with six years' service. He is an enthusiastic champion of Maori dancing, belonged to the original action song group at Linton Camp with Capt. Armstrong and Reupena Ngata. These other two have since published a book of action songs; Sgt. Rangiuia was transferred before this was written. To him the greatest satisfaction in army life consists of the seeing of strange peoples and overseas travel.
The same is true for Pte. Clark Edwards of Judea Pa, Tauranga. For seven years a driver at the Public Service Garage, Wellington, he took leave recently to take the trip to Malaya. After three years in the Army, he intends to go back to his previous job. His grandmother, Katerina Piahina, was a sister of Winiata, Maharaia Winiata's father. His hobbies are woodwork and machinery.
Pte. Hirahau Manihira comes from a village near Wanganui. After four years at the Technical College, Wanganui, he worked at Tokoroa and Taihape, became a member of the Morehu Club (Ratana Ch.) at Taihape. He is looking forward to further experience with the concert party—intends to remain in the permanent force.
Pte. Edward Tataurangi, an enthusiastic rugby player and haka performer, joined the army in 1957, after working with the Railways. His home is Ratana Pa. He is looking forward to the trip to Malaya which will be his second, intends to return to the Railways.
Pte. Hira, closely related to King Koroki and Ngapaka Kukutai, works in the Officers' Mess. Being very efficient at his job, he is among the advance party leaving in September so he can set up the officers' mess at Fort Terendak. During his week's final leave he will go home to Tuakau, where he will be given an ancient koroway, an heirloom of King Koroki's family, to use with the concert party in Malaya. This he looks forward to as a great event. He intends to become a regular soldier.
Clearly, the Malaya force holds special attractions to the Maori. It contains four times as many Maoris as one would expect from the size of the Maori population. Many come for adventure, but many also because of the regularity, the security and the close fellowship of army life. They are pleased to serve a patriotic cause. They are happy with the excellent race relations in the battalion.
What are the prospects for Maori boys in the army? I was told every sector, from the officers' corps downwards, is wide open to them, but like everywhere else, the higher positions demnad higher education. Officers have to be of U.E. standard, or S.C. with good mathematics. The Regular Force Cadet School trains boys from 15 to 18, with good technical abilities, in many of the apprenticed trades.