NZ Māori (Pioneer) Battalion
Gisborne historian and author Dr Monty Soutar will send his latest book to the publisher next week. It tells the story of Maori soldiers and the role they played in the First World War. Dr Soutar spoke to Gisborne Herald reporter Murray Robertson.
Historian and author Monty Soutar has finished the manuscript of his latest book, Whitiki: Maori in the First World War, which will feature hundreds of war-time photographs that have not been published before.
NZ Maori (Pioneer) Battalion The 500-strong Maori Contingent went into camp at Avondale Racecourse in October 1914. After embarking for overseas duty in Wellington on 14 February 1915 it saw service in Egypt, Malta and Gallipoli. At Gallipoli the Maori Contingent was used as infantry and performed well in the infamous August offensive. Like other New Zealand units however, their casualty rate at Gallipoli was very high, with two-thirds of the Contingent evacuated sick or wounded or killed. In January 1916 the survivors of the Contingent from Gallipoli were reformed along with the Otago Mounted Rifles into a Pioneer Battalion. The reinforcements for the Contingent had arrived and they went straight into this new battalion. Some of these reinforcements were Cook Islanders and Niueans. The New Zealand Pioneer Battalion went to France as part of the New Zealand Division and its duties as pioneers (eg trench-digging, road and bridge repairs) often carried it into the firing line and the battalion suffered numerous casualties as a result. In October 1917 most of the Pakeha soldiers and Pacific Islanders were transferred out of the pioneers to other units and the Battalion officially became the New Zealand Maori (Pioneer) Battalion. It was with this title that the unit ended the war. After the war ended, while other units were broken up before they embarked for New Zealand, the New Zealand Maori (Pioneer) Battalion returned to Auckland in April 1919 as a complete battalion, 1000 strong. Both Dr Soutar’s grandfather and his wife’s grandfather served in WW1. “My grandfather was awarded the Military Medal and until I started this research I had no idea why. I think it’s the same for many descendants of WW1 soldiers.” Dr Soutar said the formula he used for Nga Tama Toa was a successful one, so he has followed it for this book. “Whereas there were hundreds of letters, diaries and photos available for Nga Tama Toa, there are much fewer available for this publication. “However, because it’s the story of the entire Maori war effort in the First World War and not just one region (as was the case with Nga Tama Toa) there’s still lots of memorabilia that people have made available from all over New Zealand and overseas. “It will be as rich a story as Nga Tama Toa and will enlighten readers on Maori participation in WW1, a story which until now, has been overshadowed by the exploits of the 28th Maori Battalion in WW2.” Former Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae, whose grandfather served with the WW1 Maori Pioneer Battalion, will write the foreword to the book which is due to be published in August. “Sir Peter Jackson has had his Weta people colourise the cover image, which is of the Maori Contingent at Gallipoli,” Dr Soutar said.
This image was one of a range of photographs in the collection of a Major Roger Dansey from Rotorua who served with the Maori Contingent in World War 1. Brendon Butt made his great-uncle’s collection available for Dr Soutar’s book. It shows meal time for a squad in the Contingent at their training camp at Avondale in Auckland in l915. Photographer unknown
“Sir Peter’s grandfather was with the British at Gallipoli. Derek Lardelli has provided the Maori designs for the book. Derek’s father also served in the Maori Pioneers.” The book will be similar in size to Dr Soutar’s acclaimed book Nga Tama Toa — The Price of Citizenship, about C Company of the Maori Battalion. Dr Soutar has spent four years researching and writing this latest book, which will be submitted to the publisher next week. “It will take them eight months to convert the material into the finished product,” he said. “The 400-page colour publication will be well worth waiting for. It will contain hundreds of photos, most of which have not been published before. Many of them are from private collections handed down through the generations, and often treated as jealously-guarded heirlooms by the soldiers’ descendants.” Dr Soutar went to great pains to convince people to share the photos in the book. “Being able to show them the finished result with Nga Tama Toa helped immensely. The book has taken me almost as long as the First World War lasted, and the research has taken me to France, Belgium, England and Turkey.” While there was no more time to add to the text, there was still the opportunity to insert photographs. “I set out to include photographs of as many Maori who served in the First World War as I could find. There are now over 700 individual portraits that people have given to me of Maori in uniform during the 1914 to 1919 period.” Still accepting images for the book Images can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org The book is part of a series of authoritative and accessible print histories on New Zealand and World War 1 produced jointly by Manatu Taonga, Massey University, the New Zealand Defence Force and the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association (RSA). “The works in the First World War Centenary History Programme cover the major campaigns in Europe and the Middle East, New Zealanders’ contributions in the air and at sea, the experiences of soldiers at the front and civilians at home, the Maori war effort, and the war’s impact and legacy.” With the WW1 manuscript completed, Dr Soutar, who is working with the research and publishing team at
Manatu Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage, has turned his attention to a history project called Te Tai Settlement Stories. Along with other government agencies, the ministry, through Te Tai, is working with iwi to tell the stories of Treaty settlements and celebrate their positive impact. Dr Soutar is leading the digital project. “It is a huge undertaking as few New Zealanders know much about the Treaty or Treaty settlements, and many even question their validity. “Yet settlements are becoming significant in shaping our identity, and central to the making of modern New Zealand. They are going to lead to significant changes in communities throughout the country. I am buoyed by the fact that the project has already gained traction with the new Government, and look forward to its launch in the new year.” Dr Soutar said his next “personal” book would be about the history of Ngati Porou since colonisation. “It will cover the past 200 years. This will be a separate venture from my other work but certainly is a work I have always wanted to do.” Ngati Porou is the second largest iwi in the country. “Its contribution to and influence in national Maori development is well documented and yet our writers have never captured this within our own historical record.” Sir Apirana Ngata documented the iwi’s early history in his Nga Rauru-nui-a-Toi lectures but the history of the tribe’s last 200 years since its colonisation has never been published. “If I can get this project started this year I will be very pleased. It may take a team effort, as was the case when we did Nga Tama Toa, but I think many of our people will agree it’s worth doing.”
Kohitātea (January) 2018 edition of Pipiwharauroa