War Medals Not Awarded to Māori Soldiers

May 4, 2022, 2:30 p.m.

Muted recognition followed the return of our Māori soldiers after their service in the 28th Māori Battalion, although they battled equally alongside their comrades. Professor Makere Mutu spoke to Te Hiku Media about the inequalities experienced by our Māori in comparison to Pākeha and how this has contributed to generational trauma and colonisation since their return. Her father served in the 11th Māori Battalion and lost his leg to a grenade in Crete.

The 28th Māori Battalion was formed in 1939. A frontline infantry unit made up of 700 - 750 men, built on the backbone of Māori volunteers from across Aotearoa. This roopu was part of the second New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2NZEF) during the second world war (1939-1945), specifically divided into five companies which reflected iwi/tribal boundaries. 

A Company soldiers were of Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Whātua and other northern iwi. They were also known as ‘Ngā Kiri Kapia’ or The Gumdiggers. This was in reference to the long history of digging for kauri gum in the far northern territory. B Company, drew from the Te Arawa and the Mataatua tribes. Known as ‘Ngā Ruku Kapa’ or the penny divers, in reference to the tourist attraction in thermal Rotorua of diving for pennies. C Company, were drawn from the Tairāwhiti/East Coast region. The ‘Cowboys’ (Ngā Kaupoi), claimed their name in reference to their preference of riding horses for transport within their region. D Company, which was the division made up of men from the South Island and areas such as Waikato, Wairarapa, Taranaki and Manawatū, was also referred to as ‘Ngāti Walkabout’ or the Foreign Legion. The fifth division was the ‘Headquarters (HQ) Company’ who “drew its personnel from all over Māoridom”. Its diverse origins and roles earned it the name ‘Odds and Sods’.

“When the decision was made in October 1939 to form a Māori military unit, one suggestion was to call it the ‘Treaty of Waitangi’ battalion. It was felt that this would draw the attention of both Māori and Pākehā to their respective obligations under the Treaty. Article Three of the Treaty spoke of the rights and obligations of British subjects, something Āpirana Ngata saw as ‘the price of citizenship’. He believed that if Māori were to have a say in shaping the future of the nation after the war, they needed to participate fully during it. It was also a matter of pride” details the New Zealand History Government website.

A reflection of what was hoped for by those waving goodbye to their loved ones, as they set sail on vessels destined for Gallipoli, Africa, Greece and Egypt. Some lucky enough to return to their iwi, 649 not so lucky. Between 1939-1945 over 16,000 Māori volunteered their time and their lives to war. Both men and women across the army, medical, navy, engineering and other divisions. An example of ‘sometimes things aren’t what they turn out to be’.

‘There is no colour-bar for PTSD. It affects every colour. The experience at Gallipoli was the same for every man” explains Monty Soutar, Māori Scholar, Author and Historian of Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Tai te Tamaki and Ngāti Kahungunu descent. He was referring to the expectations while on the battlefield being of equal measure between all cultures. Upon returning from what some veterans described as “hell”, equality vanished and there was more assistance implemented for the Pākeha while Māori continued to suffer in many ways. 

The ‘Discharged Soldiers Settlement Act’ was introduced by the New Zealand Government in 1915 which targeted “surplus” Māori land, broke this up and gave it to returned Pākeha servicemen with large incentives and affordable loans to work the land. Waimanoni Native Reserve was once 100 acres "to remain for the natives of Awanui to live alongside these rivers forever” but it was slowly fragmented into smaller parcels of whenua, converted to General Title and gifted to the Eccleshall family, a returned soldier. 

Āniwaniwa is the maunga for the Ngāti Kahu, Te Paatu and Ngai Takoto people. Under the Public Works Act, a segment of this whenua was taken by the Government to construct an airfield during the war. This whenua has now been given back to the people of Ngāti Kahu and Ngai Takoto after the claim was submitted to the Waitangi Tribunal. These are only two of many, of the methods of whenua confiscation by use of new legislation introduction to allow European settlers an easier process to settle within Aotearoa, in this particular case, post war. 

When Te Tiriti o Waitangi was signed, Māori owned 66 million acres of land and by 1975 - 97% of this had been sold or confiscated.

A recent article by One News, and then later reshared by Kaye Dragecevich (Far North Historian) lists the names of Māori soldiers who fought for Aotearoa in the 28th Māori Battalion, and, upon their return, were never gifted their medals. The application form can be found here and must be accompanied by whakapapa and a birth, death or marriage certificate.

World War II, 28th Māori Battalion soldiers from Tai Tokerau that were not awarded their medals include Keith Pivac, Pomare Urlich, Stephen Urlich, Joseph Marino and Phillip Thocolich.

Pomare Urlich was born in Matangirau on February 16th 1917 and lived to the age of 92. He lived in Taupo before his enlistment and passed away in Whangaroa, where his family grew up and his parents lived at the time of his enlistment. His parents were Petar Urlich and Hiria Hoori and his wife was Te Aue Poata.  His siblings were Clem, George and Mary. Pomare served between 1939 – 1945 and his service number was 62706 and was captured in Tuturano, Italy.

Keith Pivac was the son of Mahae Kaio (Ngati Hine, Te Aupouri) and Marko Pivac of Podgora.  Keith was the Grandson of Mangumangu Kaio and Te Paea Wihongi. His siblings were Richard, Kaio, Samuel (Frederick), Sophie, Mary, Sadie, Marara I and Marara II. He was a labourer in Awanui before embarking on the vessel ‘Nieuw Amsterdam’ and was also a prisoner of war. Keith was captured on the 18th of February 1944 by German Forces. His service number was 801647 and he fought between 1939-1945. He died at age 35 and now lays at Maunu Cemetery. 

Joseph Marino, also known as Joe Petera served in WWI between 1914-1918 and WWII between 1939-1945 as a military gunner. His service numbers were 60607 (WWI) and 802047 (WWII). His father was Henry Marino (Bay of Islands) and his mother was M Clark (Kaitaia). He passed away in Kaikohe on the 20th of July 1961.

A raft of medals that were not awarded to a number of Māori soldiers amount to over 600, complimenting the raft of inequalities faced upon their return in comparison to the benefits and assistance received by Pākeha servicemen. 

Health and medical incentives as a returned soldier, superannuation, the 'Military Pensions Act 1866' where a Māori soldier was granted a lesser amount that Pākeha soldiers, mortgages and employment incentives rejected for Māori, whilst widely given to Pākeha to help them settle on land over the “less desirable settlers”. 

Some Māori were refused entry into local pubs whilst wearing uniform. Sir Apirana Ngata’s proposal to set aside Māori whenua to assist with rehabilitation post-war was rejected, although large portions of whenua were gifted to Pākeha. A total disregard for the sacrifices made by Māori. A total disregard for mātauranga Māori and a te ao Māori world view - required to assist our people holistically, with their best interests at heart upon their return.

Our soldiers may not have been able to shout their victories or heal their journey post-war enough to truly appreciate the pride and honour that adorned the weight upon their shoulders, but they understood the sentimentality, manaaki and awhi involved in being Māori, a Māori soldier, and we need to adopt Māori ideologies when commemorating these men, to not only uphold their mana, but to heal generational trauma faced by their descendents. 

Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision have a beautiful collection of recordings taken upon their return to Aotearoa which take us back in time. You can listen to Ihaka Poata (Ngāti Kahu, Ngāpuhi), speaking in Kaikohe and many others here.

(Photo credits: Alexander Turnbull Library and The 28th Māori Battalion Organisation)




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