He kororia ki te ātua i runga rawa
He maungārongo ki runga i te whenua
He whakaaro pai ki ngā tāngata katoa
E ngā mate i waenganui i a tātou, moe mai, okioki e
E ngā uri o ngā hau e whā, kua tae mai nei i runga i te kaupapa o te rā, ka nui te mihi ki a koutou katoa
E kī mai ki ahau, “he aha te mea nui, he aha te mea nui o te ao?”
Māku e kī atu, “he tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata.”
Kei te mihi, tēnā koutou kātoa.
E rere rā te motu nei
Ki roto kōia o Parihaka
Nā Tohu rā i whakahaere mai ngā tikanga
I tere paepae ai te motu nei
Tō pikitanga kei Te Pūrepo
Tō heketanga kei Toroānui
Kia whakarongo koe
Ki te reka mai o te kōrero
Hei! Hei! Hei!
Mātau tonu rā ki a koe e Tōhu
E te ngākau whakapuke tonu
Me aha ia rā e mauru e
Ko te hau ka wheru whakamōmotu
E whiuwhiu ana
Kei te uru e
Kei te tonga
Ka haramai i roto ka kō harihari
Hei! Hei! Hei!
Ka mua, ka muri – Walking backwards into the future
Thank you for inviting me to speak on this special day in the life of the College. I was to speak last year, in the year that marked the 40th anniversary of girls at College, but I am glad that we are able to meet here today in 2021.
In 2018, Rhys Ball (Major, 1984-88) spoke about the meaning and spirit of ANZAC and how service and sacrifice are important civic responsiblities. In 2019, Sir Jim McLay (School, 1958-61) spoke movingly of the real people and real sacrifices represented by the memorials. He questioned whether we’ve really learnt any lessons from more than a century of modern conflict.
Today, I am here to speak about the Māori response to World War One.
Little is known by the public at large about the role of Māori soldiers in World War One. Unlike the celebrated Māori Battalion of World War Two, Māori participation in World War One has received muted recognition. It is only recently, with the publication in 2019 of Dr Monty Soutar’s excellent history “Whitiki! Whiti! Whiti! E!” that the place of Māori in the ANZAC narrative has been reclaimed.
The issue touches my family personally. On my father’s side we are Te Ātiawa originally from Taranaki, and my great-uncle, Corporal Alfred Sparks embarked with the Second Māori Contingent in 1916. In the course of an eventful 4 year military career he was seriously wounded in France, fined for losing equipment, promoted, treated for syphilis, and awarded the Military Medal in October 1917 for bravery at Ypres. The citation states his actions ‘set a splendid example to his section by his coolness under fire.’
Our family has always understood that Alfred Sparks and other Taranaki men who volunteered were criticised by their own people for having gone to fight for the Crown. For Taranaki Māori, 1914 was just over 50 years since being branded rebels and suffering large-scale confiscation of lands. It was less than 35 years since armed troops had invaded and occupied the peaceful community of Parihaka. The outrages perpetrated there were still fresh in the minds of the people. For these reasons many Taranaki Māori opposed their young men fighting a white man’s war.
The waiata E Rere Rā was composed and first sung in the 1880s and describes the pāhua or invasion of Parihaka in 1881, and its subsequent four year occupation. The colonial government were determined to break the will of the community who were conducting peaceful and principled resistance to confiscation of land. The leadership and men were arrested without warrant, imprisoned without trial and transported to the corners of the country to carry out hard labour.
The words of the waiata describe the enduring feelings of deep shame and despair experienced as a result of those events.
Every year we commemorate ANZAC Day with the focus on Gallipoli, although more New Zealanders were killed at Passchendale. Gallipoli has been portrayed as the great nation-building event in our history, even though women and Māori are largely missing from that narrative. There is something hegemonic there, where one principle dominates other views and perspectives that ought to be seen and heard.
In my view, ANZAC Day is also an opportunity to explore the ambivalence, reluctance, uncertainty and opposition to war that is also part of our history and our nation building.
On ANZAC Day we should also consider our own civil wars of the 19th century. We should remember Parihaka for its principled resistance to the illegal actions of the colonial Government. We should remember courageous and principled dissenters such as Archibald Baxter. We should remember those of our tīpuna for whom World War One was the colonisers’ war, not theirs.
These are all matters that can help us gain a more nuanced and reflective understanding of what peace means in 21st century New Zealand, and its cost.
I will return to some of these matters shortly, but first I want to describe something of the nature and context of Māori participation in World War One.
By 1914, some 74 years after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, Māori society had undergone a complete sea-change. In the 10 years between 1840 and 1850, Māori population declined by 30% as a result of loss of land, disruption to traditional ways of life, civil wars, and lack of immunity to imported diseases. By 1914 the Māori population had barely recovered from its lowest point in 1896 of 42,000.
Despite all this, more than 2200 Māori fought in World War One; more than 330 died.
Views about the war ranged within the Māori world. Māori parliamentarians Apirana Ngata and Maui Pomare wanted Māori on the front line with Pākeha soldiers, and of course many young Māori men, as with their Pakehā counterparts, were keen for the excitement and challenge of war.
However some iwi who had vast tracts of land confiscated following the civil wars of the 19th century, were less keen.
Waikato and Taranaki iwi in particular were distinctly apathetic given their recent history with the Crown. Waikato actively opposed enlistment. This opposition was lead by the formidable Princess Te Puea. The Government was determined to break the opposition and when conscription was introduced for Māori in June 1917 it was targeted only at Waikato-Maniapoto. More land was confiscated as punishment for failure to enlist, and numbers of men were rounded up and imprisoned at Narrow Neck. To show her support, Te Puea stood at the gate to the camp where the men could see her. The war ended before they were made to fight, and they were eventually released with charges dropped. However the imposition of conscription on Waikato cast a long shadow over its relationship with the Crown.
Other iwi particularly those from the North, Rotorua, the Bay of Plenty and the East Coast of the North Island enthusiastically answered the call to enlist.
Some Māori enlisted in provincial infantry battalions, but parliamentarians Apirana Ngata and Maui Pomare called for a separate Māori fighting unit to be formed. Their view was that to fight for your country was the price of citizenship, that Māori had an obligation under the Treaty of Waitangi to fight for the Crown and in return to receive the full benefits and entitlements of equal citizenship.
Initially the idea of a separate fighting unit was resisted by the Imperial Government in Britain who did not want indigenous people to participate in a war between white races. However, Ngata and Pomare prevailed and the First Māori Contingent left New Zealand in February 1915. They were first sent to Egypt and Malta on garrison duties before Māori leaders demanded they be sent to the front-line. They landed in Gallipoli in July 1915 and joined the New Zealand Mounted Rifles deployed as infantry on the peninsula. During August and September they were involved in the assaults on Chunuk Bair and Hill 60.
By the time they were evacuated in December 1915, 50 of the contingent (almost 11%) had been killed. Amongst the casualties, were 14 of the 16 officers, and 329 of the 461 rank and file. The casualty rate at Gallipoli for the Māori Contingent was almost 72%.
Gallipoli was to be the last direct combat role the contingent were involved in during the remaining course of the war. In April 1916, the remnants of the Māori Contingent and new Māori reinforcements including Niueans, Cook Islanders, and some Pākehā troops were regrouped into the Pioneer Battalion for a combat support role on the Western Front. It became the Māori Pioneer Battalion in late 1917 when it served at Passchendale.
The significance of the Māori contingent was how it united different tribes for the first time to fight together for the Crown. There were issues though. It was felt by some at that time, including Apirana Ngata, that Pākeha did not view Māori soldiers as equals because they weren’t infantry. Also, throughout the course of the war there was never a Māori in charge of the Māori unit. This reflected the paternalistic attitude that Māori were good soldiers but not suited to higher command posts.
The Pioneers carried out grim but necessary work. They provided labour for the infrastructure that infantry relied on such as roads and bridges. They also constructed fieldworks such as trenches, camps, and other facilities. They were required to execute the first New Zealand soldier for desertion. They were very often on the front-line and in the trenches being subjected to the same bombardment, gas, bayonet charges etc as infantry soldiers but without the means to defend themselves at close quarters.
There were many acts of bravery and selfless sacrifice. Over the course of the war, battalion members were awarded with 3 Distinguished Service Orders, 9 Military Crosses, 4 Distinguished Conduct medals, 29 Military Medals (including that won by my great-uncle), and 40 mentions in dispatches.
Battalion members were not returned to New Zealand unless they were injured. Many men toiled through all the bloodiest battles of the war and did not return home until 1919. They returned to their whānau, hapū, and iwi physically and psychologically damaged.
History reflects that although Māori/Pākeha relations improved following Māori participation in World War One, that Māori veterans did not receive the same benefits and entitlements as Pākeha serviceman, and also failed to receive adequate rehabilitation and care for trauma suffered during the war.
Ngata proposed that the Crown set aside a portion of lands acquired or confiscated from Māori, for settlement by Māori veterans but the government of the day would not change its policies to suit the particular requirements of Māori veterans.
So what of Apirana Ngata’s exhortation to Māori, that to fight was “the price of citizenship”? Have Māori received the full benefits and entitlements of equal citizenship as guaranteed in Article 3 of the Treaty of Waitangi?
The evidence indicates not. Rates of incarceration, ill-health, and unemployment show that inequality for Māori is entrenched in our society, which is struggling to find ways to close the gap.
Sir Apirana could never have envisaged the entrenched levels of systemic inequality and indeed racism that the descendants of those Māori soldiers who fought in two World Wars are still afflicted by in 2021.
In 2014 the Waitangi Tribunal began hearing the Military Veterans Kaupapa Inquiry. This inquiry will hear all claims alleging breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi involving past military service by Māori soldiers, including claims relating to World War One.
The claims relate to all types of military service, whether operational or routine, whether in time of war or peace, and whether at home or abroad. It includes the military service itself and the rehabilitation and remediation of service-related impacts on ex-servicemen and their whānau.
Of the 105 claims in that inquiry, 42 relate to the Crown’s conduct in relation to World War One. When the Tribunal comes to report, it will no doubt endeavour to provide practicable recommendations to assist the government to resolve these long-standing grievances.
Today, as we reflect on the response of Māori to World War One, I have argued that this must be seen through the lens of our colonial past particularly the civil wars of the 19th century. Also, that in order to learn more about our nationhood we must better understand our past, even the inconvenient and uncomfortable parts.
I also question whether in paying “the price of citizenship” through their service and sacrifice, Māori soldiers and their descendants have received the full benefits and entitlements of equal citizenship as guaranteed in the Treaty of Waitangi.
Knowledge of the past challenges dogmatic statements and sweeping generalisations. It helps us think more clearly and formulate good questions. Who owns the past? Can we renegotiate our history? Without challenging questions, we can’t think coherently about who we are today. History warns against the assumption that there is only one way of looking at events.
As the American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding.” The quest for resolution or justice is more than a reminder of wrongs that have been done and suffered. It should also and always be about a journey towards a better future.
I end my address today with the Māori whakataukī, “Ka mua, ka muri”.
We walk backwards into the future.
Nō reira, kei te mihi, tēna koutou, tēna koutou, tēna koutou kātoa.
- Judge Sarah Reeves (Marsden, 1980)