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Notice of Motion : World War One : Te Ururoa Flavell

29 JULY 2014

Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker.

Kia ora tātou katoa i tēnei ahiahi.

If you were to attend any significant Māori hui these days, you are likely to hear waiata, songs, that connect directly to the trenches of Passchendaele and the Somme.

The unofficial national anthem, ‘Pokare Kare Ana’, was popular with Māori soldiers preparing to go to war in 1915. ‘Te Ope Tuatahi’ was popular in 1916, a recruiting song crafted by Sir Apirana Ngata and Paraire Tōmoana. ‘I Runga o Nga Puke’ was sung in September 1915 to farewell the second Māori contingent. ‘Hoea Rā Te Waka Nei’ derives from a call for financial support for men in the trenches in France in 1917. ‘E Pari Rā’ was a song for Māori soldiers lost in battle during World War I. I remember all of these songs. We learnt them as a part of our kapa haka at school at St Stephens. They were songs that we learnt, maybe not necessarily recognising the significance of these particular songs and their message.

The fact that these waiata amongst many, many others are still part of our lives in effect means that the history and tragedies experienced in World War I live on in the hearts and the memories of this generation.

Other speakers have spoken of the loss. I want to focus instead on the decimation of whakapapa Māori experienced during World War I. The first Māori contingent, Te Hokowhitu a Tū, which there is a kapa haka group named after, sailed from Aotearoa in February 1915 and fought as combat engineers and snipers in Gallipoli.

In all, 477 men marched in; only 134 marched out. More than 2,000 Māori served in the *Māori Pioneer Battalion, a native contingent. I note that the word ‘native’ was not dropped from official use until 1947.

There was an interesting context to Māori participation in World War I. Promoters of imperial policy opposed the idea of ‘natives’ fighting in a war amongst Europeans, fearing that they might seek equal treatment with European soldiers or, worse still, might turn on their colonial masters. Indeed, imperial policy had officially excluded Māori from fighting in South Africa.

But some Māori leaders, such as Tā Apirana Ngata, saw participation in war as the price of citizenship. It was a view that involvement by Māori would strengthen the ability of other New Zealanders to accord tangata whenua equal status with non-Māori. Many years later, at the onset of the Second World War, Sir Apirana Ngata explained this view in the booklet he wrote in 1943, entitled The Price of Citizenship, which asks “whether the civilians of New Zealand, men, and women, fully realised the implications of the joint participation of Pakeha and Maori in this last demonstration of the highest citizenship.”

So it was that perhaps for the first time some New Zealanders went to Gallipoli and France to find out about their own indigenous peoples, the first peoples of the land. The four Māori members of Parliament at the time were united in their support for Māori participation in war. Indeed, the MP for Northern Māori, Te Rangi Hīroa, led the charge literally and sailed with the first contingent in February 1915.

In that recruitment waiata I mentioned earlier, Ngata singled out recruits from Te Arawa, my area, Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, Ngati Porou, and Ngāti Kahungunu as stepping up for the obligations and ideals of patriotic service. His waiata, in fact, names these tribes as an expression of honour.

It is important to note that there was also considerable opposition from Māori. Although some supported the approach and rushed in to join up, others did not see the value of fighting for the British Crown, which had done so much harm to whānau, hapū, and iwi throughout the nineteenth century. So when compulsory conscription of Māori was introduced in the Military Service Act 1917, those Māori who had had land confiscated for being deemed to have been in rebellion against the British Crown mounted a campaign of resistance.

The Kīngitanga leader Te Pūea Hērangi was notable in her courage and determination to support the men who resisted conscription. She openly questioned why Māori should fight for an empire that had, from within living memory, invaded and occupied their lands. If the land that had been confiscated in the 1860s had been returned, then perhaps Waikato may have well reconsidered their position. The Māori King at the time, Te Rata, also adopted the position that it was a matter of individual choice and no one should be forced to serve. Many of the men who refused to serve were imprisoned for refusing to serve.

Some who refused to wear the army uniform were subjected to severe military punishments, being fed only bread and water and provided with minimal bedding. The imposition of conscription had long-lasting effects on the people of Waikato, and it is important that we also remember that history as we acknowledge today the onset of World War I. Finally, when the Māori contingent returned in March 1919, they received a rousing welcome with parades and receptions throughout the country. A Māori Pioneer Battalion rugby team even toured the country for a series of provincial games.

There are indeed many faces to war and many experiences that have followed us throughout this century. The native contingent suffered heavily in France and by early 1919 the Māori reinforcement were being supplemented by our brothers from Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa, the Pacific, particularly Niue, Samoa, Rarotonga, and Tonga.

Today we remember the courage and the sacrifices of those who occupied the ranks of the mighty Te Hokowhitu-a-Tū. We remember those who were evacuated from Gallipoli and survived physically, but they bore the scars of psychological warfare for the rest of their time on this earth.

We will remember the whānau who supported their families, their fathers, their husbands and brothers as they wrestled with the demons and their memories of devastation in the trenches, many of them turning to alcohol as a medicine to try to help them forget—a coping mechanism that would have disastrous effects. We remember the sheer determination of those who constructed the trenches, earning them the name of the ‘diggers’, the expertise and the genius evident in the military architecture they created. We remember the whānau who, through the policy of compulsory conscription, were deprived of their men either on the battlefields or from being imprisoned and we remember the suffering of family members who became casualties of that spirit

ENDS


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