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Maori Battalion March To Victory

Tuesday April 18 2006

Maori Battalion March To Victory

The inspirational story and tragedy behind a legendary fighting unit of Maori volunteers is the basis of the feature documentary, MAORI BATTALION MARCH TO VICTORY, screening during Maori Television’s all-day ANZAC broadcast (Tuesday April 25 at 7.30 AM).

The 28th Maori Battalion was a vital part of the Second New Zealand Division army and saw action in Greece, Crete, North Africa and Italy. By the end of the war, the Maori soldiers had earned themselves a glorious name for valour in the searing heat of battle – the mere mention of their name struck fear into the hearts of their German and Italian enemies.

But their casualty rate was so high that post war New Zealand was robbed of the potential of an entire generation of Maori men. The loss of the dead and the damage that war did to the survivors was to handicap the development of Maori for decades to come.

MAORI BATTALION MARCH TO VICTORY was produced and directed by Tainui Stephens in 1990 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the battalion. It is introduced by the late Sir Charles Bennett and features the memories of veterans Ben Porter, Don Stewart, Bully Jackson, Hemi Wiremu and Wi Huata. George Henare is the narrator.

As a group, the old soldiers travel to the places where they once fought as young men and pay their respects to their fallen colleagues and brothers in arms. In Crete, Ben Porter recalls that while he was aiming his rifle at some Germans, he was shot but the bullet went right into the barrel of his gun. He was knocked over but safe.

In the North African desert Bully Jackson remembers the shock and awe of war, and the loneliness he felt for the daughter who was born after he had left home. Don Stewart tells how it feels to kill; and at the Souda Bay cemetery in Crete, he weeps at the grave of his slain brother Horton.

Hemi Wiremu takes us to the small German town where he was once a prisoner of war and meets up with one of his former guards in what is now a police college. Padre Wi Huata delivers a eulogy to the Maori Battalion from Pt 209 in Tunisia where Moana Ngarimu fought, died, and earned the Victoria Cross. In Italy, the old soldiers share wine, food and song with the citizens who they once helped to liberate from Nazism and Fascism.

Stephens says the great politician and leader Sir Apirana Ngata was considered to be the father of the battalion. He oversaw its formation and departure for the European battlefields of World War II and was to say later that the sacrifice of the Maori people in war was the highest price of citizenship.

“This special documentary is a unique and intimate insight into what compelled the flower of Maori youth to place themselves in danger when war in Europe beckoned. It examines the fact and folly of war, and presents the character of the Maori warrior.”

MAORI BATTALION MARCH TO VICTORY screens during Maori Television’s all-day ANZAC broadcast on Tuesday April 25 at 7.30 AM.


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