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WW1 : Maori Contingent formed

September 16, 2014

Most Kiwis have heard of the Maori Battalion, and are proud of how they represented New Zealand during the First World War. 16th September was the date the Government announced the formation of a ‘Maori Contingent’ of 200 men for service with the NZEF, later expanded to 500.  But how did it come about?  After all, Mother England, at the time, had a policy that “native peoples” should not bear arms against European forces…

“By the end of the war, 2227 Maori and 458 Pacific Islanders had served in what became known as the Maori Pioneer Battalion. Of these, 336 died on active service and 734 were wounded.

maori battalionThe first Native Contingent sailed from Wellington in February 1915. Major-General Sir Alexander Godley, commander of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, sent the contingent to Malta for further training and garrison duties.  Eventually, the Native Contingent landed at Anzac Cove on 3 July 1915. Here they joined the New Zealand Mounted Rifles. When the contingent was evacuated from the peninsula with the rest of the ANZACs  in December 1915, it had only two officers and 132 men left.

In mid 1915, the Native Contingent ceased to exist and Maori troops were dispersed amongst other battalions, but in February 1916, Godley reorganised the New Zealand Expeditionary Force into the New Zealand Division and reunited Maori troops as the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion (sometimes referred to as the Maori Pioneer Battalion). The battalion was organised into four companies, each with two Maori and two Pakeha platoons, made up of the remnants of the Otago Mounted Rifles. Maori soldiers in other battalions were encouraged to transfer to the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion, but it was not compulsory.

The newly formed New Zealand Pioneer Battalion arrived in France in April 1916 and became the first unit of the New Zealand Division to move onto the Somme battlefield. They also were at the Messines offensive in 1917.

On 1 September 1917 the battalion became a fully Maori unit – the New Zealand Maori Battalion.  They captured Le Quesnoy from the Germans on 4 November 1918, and were then assigned to the Rhine Garrison and began their march towards Dunkirk. The complete battalion sailed for New Zealand in March 1919 where they received a heroes welcome.”

This web feature was written by Steve Watters and Monty Soutar and you can read the full article at NZ History Online.

 

If you’d like to delve deeper into the subject, Tararua District Library has several books of interest available. – Natalie

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