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Māori and Pacific Islanders march to war

On Saturday 5 February 1916, the 3rd Māori Contingent of Reinforcements and others made their way from Parliament along Lambton Quay to their departure point at Wellington’s waterfront. Members of the Māori Contingent are easily identified by their uniform of pith helmet, shorts, putties (a long strip of cloth around the lower leg) and lack of ammunition pouches, which distinguished them from the ‘lemon squeezer’ hat and full uniform of the other troops. The idea of engaging in a battle in foreign lands so far from home must have raised excitement as well as doubt as the Māori Contingent headed for the challenge and conflict of World War One.

Troops from several South Pacific countries formed part of the 3rd Maori Contingent. Among them was Sergeant-Major Uea of Lalofetau, Niue. He had helped to encourage support for the war effort and was the oldest of the Niuean volunteers who sailed that day.

Year:1916

Location:Wellington, New Zealand

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Māori and Pacific Islanders march to war

On Saturday 5 February 1916, the 3rd Māori Contingent of Reinforcements and others made their way from Parliament along Lambton Quay to their departure point at Wellington’s waterfront. Members of the Māori Contingent are easily identified by their uniform of pith helmet, shorts, putties (a long strip of cloth around the lower leg) and lack of ammunition pouches, which distinguished them from the ‘lemon squeezer’ hat and full uniform of the other troops. The idea of engaging in a battle in foreign lands so far from home must have raised excitement as well as doubt as the Māori Contingent headed for the challenge and conflict of World War One.

Troops from several South Pacific countries formed part of the 3rd Maori Contingent. Among them was Sergeant-Major Uea of Lalofetau, Niue. He had helped to encourage support for the war effort and was the oldest of the Niuean volunteers who sailed that day.


Year: 1916

Length: 01:10

Production Company: Pathé Freres

Credits: Footage supplied by British Pathé

Source: Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Catalogue Reference: F245692 [NEW ZEALAND REINFORCEMENTS LEAVING]


Location: Wellington, New Zealand


Less than a year into the war effort, recruiting for reinforcements to replenish the reduced ranks of the Māori Contingent had already become an issue. The MP for Western Māori, Māui Pōmare, chaired the committee to encourage Māori recruitment, and was having a devil of a time raising volunteers. He and fellow MP Apirana Ngata shared the belief that involvement in the campaign would strengthen Māori claims for equal citizenship in New Zealand.

The reluctance to volunteer from tribal groups among Pōmare’s own consitutents in Taranaki and the Waikato was born from the experiences they had endured during the New Zealand Wars 50 years earlier. Prominent Tainui leader Te Puea Herangi actively discouraged young men from the Waikato to sign up for war service. The conflict was seen by these Maori as a ‘white man’s war’ . The initial Imperial policy on conscripton of ‘native peoples’ in a war among Europeans also regarded deemed the participation of non-whites as inappropriate. However, as resentment grew among iwi groups who had men in the ranks, particularly Te Arawa, Ngāti Porou and Ngāpuhi, conscription of Waikato Māori was introduced in June 1917.

Pōmare was also Minister Responsible for the Cook and Other Islands, and he looked to the New Zealand-annexed territories of Niue and the Cook Islands to fill the ranks in 1NZEF. In October 1915 Pōmare returned from Niue with 150 men to add to 45 Cook Island volunteers already beginning their training at Narrow Neck Camp, Takapuna.

Other volunteers from the Pacific region made their own way to New Zealand to enlist. Those who arrived in time were trained and attached to the Niuean and Cook Island trainees, while the remainder were sent home.

Many doubted the ability of men from the sub-tropics of the Pacific to withstand the harsh conditions of France in midwinter. They were given further training at the New Zealand Base Camp at Ismailia, Egypt, as part of the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion, later known as the New Zealand (Māori) Pioneer Battalion. However, they were confined deployed to garrison, rather than front line, duty.

In April 1916 New Zealand troops, including the Maori and Pacific Islanders, moved to the Western Front in northern France. They began training, route marching, bayonet and gas mask drills, within earshot of the front line. That Spring in France was cold and harsh and illness saw over 80% of the Niuean troops hospitalised by the end of May. They were withdrawn from service and returned to Auckland via England. Most  of the ablebodied Cook Island men remained and in early 1918 joined the Rarotongan Company in Palestine.

Later recruits from the Pacific Islands saw service in Sinai and Palestine. Later an offer from the British colonies of Fiji and the Gilbert and Ellice Islands was accepted. They were still training in Auckland when the end of ‘The War to End All Wars’ was declared in November 1918.