After a ceremony on the site of the battle, wreaths were laid at the memorial gates of the Rangiriri Maori war cemetery. Here Mr Pei Te Hurinui Jones of Taumarunui lays a wreath on behalf of King Koroki. Behind him, with black beret, is Lieutenant-Colonel J. Playle, Colonel Commandant of the Royal New Zealand Armoured Corps, who also laid a wreath, and (with taiaha) Mr D. Manihera, of Ngaruawahia.
Reflections on Battle Centenaries
In a six-month period stretching from last November to April this year the 100th anniversaries of three major engagements of the New Zealand wars of the 'sixties were commemorated. In addition there were the anniversaries of some minor actions.
The major anniversaries were those of the Battle of Rangiriri, observed on November 23, 1963; the Battle of Orakau, observed on March 31, 1964; and the Battle of Gate Pa, observed on April 29, 1964.
To one familiar with most of the standard and some of the unofficial history of that troubled period of our nation's life, especially to one of Maori ancestry, these anniversaries can be the subject of much thought and not a little concern.
A sense of being ill at ease in this matter, felt indeed by many, was manifest as far as I was concerned in a seemingly illogical combination of sorrow, anger, pride, foreboding and amusement. There was sorrow that the relationship of the two races from which I am myself descended should have once reached
such a stage that no course was left but to kill one another; anger that Pakeha greed dictated the viciously unjust confiscation of land; pride in the peerless courage of men and women irrespective of which cause they espoused; foreboding that those who were arranging ceremonies would not recognise such sorrow, anger and pride; amusement, wry though it may have been, at how so many Pakehas could have lived so long and closely with Maoris and yet brick by dropped brick demonstrate that they had learned next to nothing of their neighbours.
In the history of battles these actions were all very small affairs. The forces employed and the casualties sustained by both sides were insignificant compared with those of battles fought in other lands at the same period, such as in the American Civil War, and infinitely more so when compared with actions of the First and Second World Wars. But it is beyond doubt that economically and socially their effect has been felt throughout the past century in one way or another, economically in the opening of great areas of the country for European settlement and socially mainly in the attitude of large sections of the Maori race to the European way of life.
My own view was that it was best to let the anniversaries come and go unnoticed, or, if some ceremony had to be held, that it be a commemoration and not a celebration. I had seen, on March 27, 1960, a commemoration service held on the site of the Battle of Waireka, near New Plymouth, on the 100th anniversary of that engagement and I felt that if any ceremony should be planned for the Waikato it could well follow the same form.
The Waireka service was memorable for a magnificent address by the Rev. Mangatitoki Cameron, now Canon Cameron, of Auckland, but then Anglican Maori missioner at Waitara.
Among other things he said: ‘Today we are one nation. We stand here to give humble tribute to men who gave their lives as dutv called them. Your reading of history may lead you to regard our forebears as rebels; mine, on the other hand, leads me to exonerate mine and lay the chief blame on yours. What profit is there in this? Those whom we would castigate are dead. Could we have done better; can we who are living do better in our day?’
To me that was both admonition and challenge. With that in mind early last year I wrote an article which was published in the ‘Auckland Star’, of the literary staff of which I am a member, suggesting to those who would choose to mark the coming anniversaries that these be simple services, not celebrations.
It was with some misgivings that I read how Rangiriri planned to hold a service to be followed by a gala afternoon which included a raft race, Maori parties performing, people in period costume and all the fun of the fair. But because the Maori people of the district were participating I kept my thoughts to myself. Later, however, when attending a gathering at Turangawaewae Pa, Ngaruawahia, I was approached by a man of standing among the Waikato people who was concerned that the hundredth anniversary of Rangiriri was going to become a ‘circus’, using that word with a terse English adjective. He asked me to write a story recording the objection of Waikato elders to the whole proceedings.
Newspaperman though I am, controversy among Maoris on matters such as this disturbs me greatly. However, I sought the opinion of others and found about half a dozen responsible men who supported the first. The obvious question was: Does King Koroki hold these views too?
That was a most important interview because King Koroki dissociated himself from the views of the others, said he entirely approved of the action of the Rangiriri Maoris in combining with the Pakehas to honour the day and if he did not attend the commemoration himself would certainly see that someone else did on his behalf. The second century after the battles, he felt, should begin with demonstrations of harmony.
Contribution to Racial Harmony
It is greatly to be hoped that the Waikato. Pakeha and Maori, as a whole realizes what it owes in terms of racial harmony to this quiet, sincere thoughtful man. I feel that a lesser man on this occasion might well have chosen not without justification, sharp and bitter words and would probably not have lent his support to the Rangiriri commemoration. Those who chose to, co-operated wholeheartedly with their Pakeha friends. Those who were not of a mind to, held their peace. I was happy to see that his views received adequate publicity.
Rangiriri was commemorated, it seemed to me, with perhaps a bit more pageantry than was necessary but with the utmost sincerity.
I heard but could not see for sudden tears Pei Te Hurinui, standing within the once
blood-soaked little fort and welcoming soldiers of the 20th century. ‘I te rau tau o Rangiriri, na te kupu o to tatou ariki Te Kingi, e tu ai au i te wahi i heke ai te toto …’
I remember Major R. Whiteman, commanding the Waikato Squadron, standing to attention after picking up the sprig of leaves laid before him in the wero, a token that he came in peace.
I remember the choir of St Faith's, Ohinemutu, singing like earthbound angels ‘Tama Ngakau Marie’.
I remember fresh wreaths and garlands of flowers placed on each grave by school children and I remember how in each there were entwined blossoms and leaves of both England and New Zealand.
I remember how a present sadness deepened the poignancy of the century-old for that day President Kennedy had fallen to the bullet of an assassin.
‘Let us at this time pray especially for the United States of America. May God guide and bless and comfort the people of the United States of America in their time of tragedy,’ said the Rev. Manu Bennett.
As I had hoped there was the sorrow and there was the pride but of the anger—not a trace. And the amusement I had felt seemed too petty to remember.
Service at Orakau
And so to Orakau.
The first part of the service took place in the morning at historic St John's Church at Te Awamutu, conducted by the Bishop of Waikato, the Rt. Rev. J. T. Holland, and Canon Wi Te Tau Huata, M.C. With them was the Chief of the General Staff, Major General L. W. Thornton, C.B., C.B.E., who read the lesson.
Said the Bishop: ‘A few yards from where I am standing, on the wall of the baptistry of St John's Church, there hangs a slab of wood on which are written these words: ‘This tablet was erected by the soldiers of H.M. 65th Regiment as a memorial of the New Zealanders who fell in the actions at Rangiaohia on the 21st and 22nd of February, 1864, and at Orakau on the 31st of March, 1st and 2nd of April, 1864. I say unto you, love your enemies.’
‘That inscription needs to be blazoned far and wide today in a world loaded with strife and hate and petty mindedness. Everything about it, the rough hewn timber, the uneven lettering, the wording and the text itself is so utterly simple and sincere, a spontaneous tribute paid by gallant men to others no less gallant.’
This most famous battle of the wars ended for the Maoris in a defeat which had a ring of victory about it—which was how it should be, for except in a limited military sense, there could be no victory, certainly no moral victory, in such a war.
‘The Lessons They Taught Us’
‘As we pay our tribute this day to those who fought and fell in battle and whose bodies lie in this churchyard, let us thank God for the seeds they sowed and for the lessons they taught us, European and Maori alike. Let us resolve afresh, with the help of God, to act with chivalry and honour one towards another,’ said Bishop Holland.
That afternoon Major General Thornton unveiled suitably inscribed tablets erected on the site of the battle.
The smiling green fields lie like a great garden round the spot where heroes died for a lost and hopeless cause. It is easy to pray for those who bled there, men and women, whatever side they were on. The heart warms too at the compassion of the soldiers who pleaded with the Maoris to end the slaughter and to surrender. But looking round it calls for the utmost Christian charity to find within oneself a kindly thought, let alone a prayer for those who punished such heroes by confiscating their land.
Then came the centenary of Gate Pa.
Even more than the other two commemorations, this seems to have gone more surely to the heart of the matter, the utter tragedy of the conflict, tragedy deepened if anything by the displays of heroism and chivalry it called forth.
The organisers of the services spared no words to tell of the despair of the good missionary Archdeacon Alfred Nesbit Brown when war came to the land where he had laboured, where he was torn between his loyalty to his Queen and his love of the Maori people. They paid tribute to the courageous men and women whose faith and bravery will inspire New Zealanders down the centuries. They are the only ones, as far as I can see, who referred, in a play to be produced there, to European arrogance and intolerance.
Two memorials, a cairn and a plaque mark historic spots and Maori and Pakeha, Catholic and Protestant, joined in honouring those who had the courage to choose death before
All physical courage is to be admired and great courage is worthy of great respect. Let it be remembered, though, that physical courage is not a rare quality. Nearly all men and women, given sufficient cause, can at least for brief space, co-ordinate mind and body to face some fearful task, awesome ordeal or grave responsibility, disciplining the quivering nerves, cordoning off the marshes of the mind from whence rise imagination's paralysing miasmas, and commanding unwilling feet to tread the trails of terror.
Thus, to me, it seems that the lesson most necessary for us to learn from these battles of a century ago is not so much that men and women can rise to heights of heroism but rather that greed, intolerance, misunderstanding, arrogance and ignorance can split a nation so that Christian battles with Christian and brother kills brother. The lesson is that if any seed of such deadly plant remains or is detected, let it be ruthlessly destroyed.
There is no greed now for Maori land—or one would hope there was not. But there is intolerance and misunderstanding and arrogance and ignorance on both sides. If Rangiriri and Orakau and Gate Pa have any message, it is that these things of evil must be utterly destroyed, mercilessly excised from our national life.
Gala After the Service
After the service at Rangiriri I went to the bank of the Waikato where a crowd of about 5000 people had gathered. It was the very carnival I had looked to with foreboding, the circus my old friend of Turangawaewae had feared. There were laughing, sweating men toiling over hangis in the baking sunshine. There were poi dancers on a punt in the river. There was a ferris wheel whirling shrieking children high over the crowd. There was popcorn, soft drinks, water melons. There was love-making, back-slapping, beer-drinking. There were Pakehas, Maoris, Chinese, Indians. It contained every single thing which previously I had decided would be wrong and out of place.
But as I sat by the river I knew where the wrong lay most. It lay within me for I had not understood how laughter can conquer bitterness or understood until I had seen it that a Maori girl and a Pakeha boy holding hands on a merry-go-round are as happy a symbol of the future as flowers on the grave of a soldier dead a century are fitting tributes to the past.
So I left my anger by the river and went home content.